NHL playoff notes: Key injury updates; Stars name starting goalie
Finally, a definitive statement out of Dallas as to Tyler Seguin's availability for Thursday night's playoff opener against Minnesota. The league's fourth-leading scorer is close to being ready but the lingering effects of his Achilles injury will keep him out of Game 1.
Coach Lindy Ruff, who revealed the news after the team's skate on Thursday morning, added that he expected Seguin to be good to go for Saturday's Game 2.
With health concerns aside, the question about Seguin shifts from when he'll skate to how much of an impact he'll make upon his return.
For all his regular-season success, Seguin has always been an underwhelming presence come playoff time. He was scapegoated after scoring just one goal in 22 games during Boston's 2013 climb to the Stanley Cup Final and in his sole playoff run with Dallas back in 2014, he lit the lamp once in six games against the Ducks. That's two goals total in his past 28 playoff contests, and just seven in 48 career games. For someone with his abilities, that's not good enough.
Some of that might be attributable to bad luck over a short sample of games. Seguin, after all, boasts a career 11.8% shooting percentage during the regular season. Consider his time in Dallas alone and that success rate rises to 12.6%.
In the playoffs though that number drops to just 4.7%. And that's surprising considering how many of his chances tend to be created down low, in the high-danger scoring areas.
If he continues to get to those areas and put pucks on the net—Seguin ranked eighth with 278 shots this season, despite missing 10 games—it's a good bet the bounces will start going his way. And he'll shake that reputation as a playoff lightweight once and for all.
• Asked how he'll handle his goaltending in the playoffs, Stars coach Lindy Ruff told a Dallas radio station that "I really believe both of them will play." He probably meant that as an expression of confidence in both Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, but it also suggests that there'll be a short leash on Lehtonen, who will get the start in Game 1. Not the best approach, historically, but Ruff has shown a knack for pushing the right buttons during the regular season. We'll see if that magic touch extends to a postseason where much is expected of his team.
• The early prognosis on Henrik Lundqvist is promising. “He’s been checked by our doctors, but at this time we don’t feel that it’s anything too serious,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault told reporters on Thursday morning. “There’s a little bit of swelling near the eye. We’ll have more news tomorrow.”
The star keeper was injured in the first period of New York's 5–2 Game 1 loss to the Penguins when the stick blade of teammate Marc Staal slid into his facemask and clipped him dangerously close to the right eye. Lundqvist stuck it out for the remainder of the frame, allowing Pittsburgh's Patric Hornqvist to open the scoring before taking a seat for the final two periods.
On Thursday, the team recalled third stringer Magnus Hellberg from the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack. The 25-year-old has played in just two career NHL games and could be pressed into service as the backup to Antti Raanta, who allowed three goals on 19 shots in the loss.
Given the latest news though, it seems more likely Hellberg is just on hand to provide a second goalie for practice during the next two days before Game 2 gets underway on Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh. That would be the best-case scenario for the Rangers, whose only real chance at upsetting the Pens relies on a brilliant performance from their franchise player.
• Is it possible that the most important player for the Flyers in their series against the Capitals will be Radko Gudas? There's plenty of buzz about the fractious defender heading into the showdown, and understandably so. Few play the game as dangerously as Gudas, and it's easy to imagine him getting the Caps to veer off the tracks with a cheap shot on a star player. Philly's only real chance here is to turn this from a track meet into a wrestling match, and Gudas has all the dirty tricks at his disposal to make that happen.
• It was just one game, but what a statement Jonathan Drouin made in the Tampa's 3–2 win over Detroit on Wednesday night. Even though he wasn't involved in the scoring, he made himself known on nearly every shift, using his speed, his puck wizardry and a commitment to physical play and net presence that kept the Wings on their heels.
Coach Jon Cooper appreciated the effort, giving Drouin 17:39 of ice time (second only to three-zone wizard Ondrej Palat among the team's forwards). "You talk about somebody that was into it," Cooper said in his post-game press conference. "He threw some big-time body checks tonight."
Cooper was probably less pleased with the pair of minor penalties that Drouin earned, but both were aggressive calls (roughing in the second, cross checking in the third) indicating that Drouin was involved in the play, rather than reacting to it. And Drouin was the guilty party on a contested offside call that cost the Bolts a go-ahead goal in the third period.
But from start to finish, he competed like a player who was fully on board with his coach's plan. And Cooper, never one to take chances, rewarded the effort, putting Drouin on the ice in the closing minutes to help protect the one-goal lead.
That's no small thing. Drouin, who was sidelined for much of the season by a team suspension after refusing to report to an AHL game, still has a lot to prove to Cooper and to his teammates. But a year after being a healthy scratch for 20 of Tampa's 26 playoff games, he brought the intensity that's needed to keep him on the ice.
* Ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr has a shot at another milestone when the Panthers open up their first-round series against the Islanders on Thursday night. Already the only non-Oiler among the NHL's top-five leading playoff scorers, he's just one point shy of reaching the 200-point plateau. Jagr, who'll be playing his 203rd career postseason game in the opener, sits 15 points behind Glenn Anderson for fourth place on the all-time list.