Pittsburgh @ NY Rangers- Rangers lead 3-1 (Game Five – 7PM – Madison Square Garden)
-The Garden should be rocking tonight. It’s Friday night, and the Rangers have a chance to end a quick series with the rival Penguins. Past Pittsburgh playoff failures can be linked back to goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, but this year’s won’t be (2.24 GAA / .921 save percentage) if the Blueshirts finish the job. You’d like to see the Rangers power play get going and generate some more offense (all three of their victories have been 2-1), but they’ve dominated Pittsburgh otherwise. Examining why the Penguins have been the most disappointing playoff team in the East is for another time, but one main reason is Evgeni Malkin. He’s clearly playing injured (not hurt, everyone plays hurt in the playoffs, he’s injured), and he’s nothing more than a known-about decoy at this point. All of that said, the President’s Trophy winners need to take care of business tonight. If they learned anything from their 2014 Cup run, it’s that you can’t play a long series in every round if you want to be the last team standing. As great as Henrik Lundqvist has been so far, tonight would be a perfect time to earn his tenth career playoff shutout.
Ottawa @ Montreal – Canadiens lead 3-1 (Game Five – 7PM – Bell Centre)
-The Senators staved off elimination on Wednesday night thanks to a 28 save shutout by Craig Anderson and a third period tally from Mike Hoffman. Even though they’re down 3-1 (and have to pull off the 0-3 comeback, which has only happened four times in Stanley Cup Playoff history), the pressure is mostly on the Canadiens. The Senators were the hottest team down the stretch of the regular season and had multiple come-from-behind wins. If Ottawa wins again tonight, now they have the series’ momentum and some of their late season mojo back. They’d also be heading home to a raucous Canadian Tire Center for Game Six, and the Canadiens don’t want any part of that. Anderson looked reenergized in the last game, and he’ll need to be that good again. All of that said, I like the Habs to close it out tonight and wait out the winner of Detroit–Tampa Bay. I can’t see Carey Price losing four games in a row.
Minnesota @ St. Louis – Series tied 2-2 (Game Five – 9:30PM – Scottrade Center)
-Each team has decidedly outplayed the other twice in this series, so we’re left with a Best-Of-Three between Minnesota and St. Louis. The Blues offense (besides Vladimir Tarasenko) woke up in the blow-out Game Four victory (6-1). St. Louis got back to playing their physical brand of hockey, and it worked very well for them. If the Blues are going to be a true contender in the West, they need the offense to be there again. It will be interesting to see how the Wild (and goalie Devan Dubnyk) respond to getting shelled in the previous game. The six goals the Wild allowed were the most in a game since a January 13th 7-2 loss to the Penguins. That was the last game Minnesota played before adding Dubnyk (three straight months of good, reliable goaltending). Something tells me this series is going seven games no matter who wins tonight.
Calder Finalists Announced
-The three guys that are up for the Calder Trophy (Rookie Of The Year) all have strong arguments behind them. Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau (RW – 24 Goals / 40 Assists) is a big reason why the Flames are still playing hockey right now and their rebuild took a big jump forward this season. He’s been continuing his strong play in the playoffs when the stakes are higher, too. Florida’s Aaron Ekblad (D – 12 Goals / 27 Assists) was the top overall pick in last year’s draft, and GM Dale Tallon hasn’t regretted it for a nanosecond. A defenseman going to the NHL level directly from the minors or college is one the toughest transitions to make in pro sports. Ekblad quickly earned a spot on Florida’s top-pairing, and played quality, heavy minutes patrolling the Panther blueline. Ottawa’s Mark Stone (LW – 26 Goals / 38 Assists) was a big producer during their hot streak to make the playoffs. An argument can also be made for him being the Senators top forward this season.