No. 8 Philadelphia Flyers at No. 1 Washington Capitals (A:+190, H:-230, O/U: 5)
After exceeding expectation by capturing the second Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history, the Washington Capitals look to avoid the end result that befell them the last time the club emerged with the NHL’s best record. No stranger to early exits in the playoffs, the Capitals attempt to get off on the right foot on Thursday when they host the upstart Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of their opening-round series.
“I can’t go to the bank and they’re going to give me anything,” coach Barry Trotz said after his club finished 11 points better than the next closest team (Dallas). “Other than (home ice), we’re entitled to nothing.” While Washington had a fair amount of time to prepare for the playoffs, Philadelphia punched its ticket during its penultimate game of the regular season. The Flyers rode a blistering 15-5-3 stretch over the final 23 contests to leap over four teams and secure the final wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference. Included in that stretch was a 2-1 shootout win over the Capitals on March 30 that evened the four-game regular-season series at two victories apiece.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, TVA
ABOUT THE FLYERS (41-27-14, 46-36 ATS, 32-30 O/U): To a man, many of the Philadelphia players dedicated the team’s spirited late-season surge to owner Ed Snider, who died on Monday after a two-year battle with bladder cancer. “We’ll be playing with heavy hearts. But at the end of the day, I think Mr. Snider wanted us to win a Stanley Cup,” forward Wayne Simmonds told Philly.com. Simmonds scored seven times in his last seven games to set a career high in goals (32) and added two more assists in that stretch to match a personal best with 60 points.
ABOUT THE CAPITALS (56-18-8, 37-45 ATS, 33-33 O/U): Captain Alex Ovechkin reached the 50-goal plateau for the seventh time in his career this season, with two of those tallies coming against Philadelphia. The three-time Hart Trophy winner traditionally has tormented the Flyers to the tune of 48 points (31 goals, 17 assists) in 41 career encounters. Goaltender Braden Holtby tied Martin Brodeur’s NHL record with 48 wins in a season, but managed only two at Philadelphia’s expense and owns a 6-4-6 mark with a 2.76 goals-against average versus the Flyers.
* Flyers are 4-1 in their last 5 road games vs. a team with a home winning % of greater than .600.
* Capitals are 1-4 in their last 5 after allowing 2 goals or less in their previous game.
* Under is 12-3-3 in Flyers last 18 after scoring 5 goals or more in their previous game.
* Under is 4-1 in Capitals last 5 Conference Quarterfinals games.
* Flyers are 8-3 in the last 11 meetings.
No. 7 New York Islanders at No. 2 Florida Panthers (A:+120, H:-140, O/U: 5)
The visiting New York Islanders and Florida Panthers begin their first-round playoff series on Thursday in search of something neither team has seen in a long time: the second round. The Islanders last won a postseason series a staggering 23 years ago while the Atlantic Division champion Panthers’ most recent visit to the second round came during their unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.
“I know our fan base is dying for it,” New York captain John Tavares (team-leading 33 goals) said of ending the prolonged drought. “They’ve been itching for us to obviously get past the first round, get over that hump.” Whether the club did its best to get over the hump at the end of the season is open to debate, with Rangers coach Alain Vigneault heaping criticism toward Islanders coach Jack Capuano – noting that the latter openly rested his players to avoid a date with white-hot Pittsburgh in favor of a series with Florida. The Panthers are pretty potent in their own right, setting franchise records in wins (47) and points (103). Future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr has tormented the Islanders like no other, recording 64 goals versus the club in his decorated career.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, CNBC, RSN, TVAS2, MSG-Plus (New York)
ABOUT THE ISLANDERS (45-27-10, 34-48 ATS, 34-40 O/U): After missing last year’s first-round loss to Washington, Travis Hamonic isn’t about to let history repeat itself as the defenseman eyes a return to the ice on Thursday. “I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some deja vu there, certainly, but the prognosis was better than we originally anticipated,” Hamonic told the team’s website. While Hamonic is a game-time decision after missing his last six contests with a lower-body injury, goaltender Thomas Greiss has been confirmed to start after posting a career high in wins (23) – including a 23-save performance in a 3-2 victory over Florida on March 14.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (47-26-9, 41-41 ATS, 33-31 O/U): Veteran goaltender Roberto Luongo, who was selected by New York with the fourth overall pick of the 1997 draft, turned aside 81-of-87 shots as Florida took two of three in the season series. “I’m glad we are at the point we are right now, but that being said, there is still a lot of work to be done,” Luongo told the Miami Herald. “So right now, I don’t really want to reflect on anything but (Thursday) night.” Aleksander Barkov has benefited from the presence of Jagr, scoring a team-leading 28 goals – with two tallies and three assists coming in three games versus the Islanders this season.
* Islanders are 6-1 in their last 7 games following a loss of 3 or more goals.
* Panthers are 13-3 in their last 16 games playing on 3 or more days rest.
* Under is 4-1 in Islanders last 5 Conference Quarterfinals games.
* Over is 7-0-1 in Panthers last 8 home games.
* Islanders are 1-4 in the last 5 meetings.
No. 8 Minnesota Wild at No. 1 Dallas Stars (A:+155, H:-175, O/U: 5)
It will be a meeting of the past and the present when the Central Division champion Dallas Stars open the postseason against the visiting Minnesota Wild on Thursday night in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series. The Stars, the top seed in the Western Conference, played 26 seasons in Minnesota before bolting the state and relocating to Texas in 1993.
The ties to the past aside, Dallas may be more interested in another history – making a deep run in only its second postseason appearance in the past eight seasons. The Stars, who were bounced in the opening round two years ago, could receive a huge boost with the potential return of second-leading scorer Tyler Seguin, who missed the final 10 games of the regular season. The situation is just the opposite for the Wild, who will be without top goal scorer Zach Parise for at least the first two games. Dallas won four of the five regular-season matchups – three in overtime – and prevailed in all three meetings at Minnesota.
TV: 9:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, TVAS3, Sportsnet360, FSN North/FSN Wisconsin (Minnesota), FSN Southwest (Dallas)
ABOUT THE WILD (38-33-11, 39-43 ATS, 29-35 O/U): Parise, who scored 25 goals and averaged 29 tallies over the past three seasons, aggravated a back injury and is listed out as indefinitely, prompting goaltender Devan Dubnyk to term his absence “an extraordinary loss for us.” Forward Thomas Vanek, an 18-goal scorer, is dealing with an upper-body injury and also will miss at least the first two games while center Erik Haula (14 goals) will travel with the team to Dallas but already has been ruled out for the series opener. Dubnyk sparked last season’s run to the playoffs and came on strong over the second half this year, but he lost his final four decisions following a six-start winning streak.
ABOUT THE STARS (50-23-9, 41-41 ATS, 45-36 O/U): Seguin, who was within reach of matching his career-high total of 37 goals when his Achilles tendon was sliced by a skate on March 17, practiced fully Wednesday and has been cleared to play, but coach Lindy Ruff said “First is health” when determining his availability. Dallas doesn’t lack for firepower with captain Jamie Benn finishing second in scoring with 89 points after leading the NHL last season while Jason Spezza matched Seguin with 33 tallies and Patrick Sharp scored 20 times. Ruff has not settled on one goaltender, alternating the tandem of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, who each registered 25 victories this season.
* Wild are 0-8 in their last 8 games playing on 3 or more days rest.
* Stars are 6-0 in their last 6 home games.
* Over is 5-1-3 in Wild last 9 Conference Quarterfinals games.
* Over is 13-3 in Stars last 16 vs. Central.
* Wild are 5-22 in the last 27 meetings in Dallas.
No. 5 San Jose Sharks at No. 4 Los Angeles Kings (A:+120, H:-140, O/U: 5)
The Los Angeles Kings pulled off the near-impossible in their last postseason meeting with the San Jose Sharks, overcoming a 3-0 series deficit to win their first-round matchup, and went on to capture their second Stanley Cup championship in three years. San Jose will have revenge on its mind when the Pacific Division rivals meet in Los Angeles on Thursday for Game 1 of their opening-round showdown.
The Sharks are comfortable away from home as they set a franchise record for road wins by posting a league-best 28-10-3 record. Los Angeles is hoping its trend of winning Cups in alternate years continues as it claimed the trophy in 2012 and 2014. That likely will depend on the performance of 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick, who set a franchise record with 40 wins during the regular season. San Jose went 3-1-1 in the season series, winning both visits to Los Angeles.
TV: 10:30 p.m. ET, CNBC, CBC, TVA; CSN California (San Jose); FSN West (Los Angeles)
ABOUT THE SHARKS (46-30-6, 38-44 ATS, 42-33 O/U): San Jose will turn to someone familiar with its opponent in Game 1 as former King Martin Jones will start in net. The 26-year-old goaltender, who was acquired from Boston four days after Los Angeles traded him to the Bruins last summer, went 37-23-4 with six shutouts and a 2.27 goals-against average in his first season as a starter and got the decision in all five meetings with the Kings. The Sharks likely will receive a boost on the blue line as Marc-Edouard Vlasic is expected to play in the series opener after missing the final 12 regular-season games with a knee injury.
ABOUT THE KINGS (48-28-6, 28-54 ATS, 28-32 O/U): Los Angeles is hoping to have Marian Gaborik and defensemen Alec Martinez and Matt Greene in the lineup at some point during the series, as all three participated in practice Wednesday. Gaborik has been sidelined for two months with a knee injury, Martinez sat out the final week of the regular season with an undisclosed ailment and Greene has not played since Oct. 13 because of a shoulder ailment that required surgery in December. Tyler Toffoli, who became the first King to hit the 30-goal plateau since Anze Kopitar in 2008-09 with 31, looks to carry over his strong play as he finished the season with nine points (four goals) in his final eight games.
* Sharks are 5-0 in their last 5 road games vs. a team with a home winning % of greater than .600.
* Sharks are 0-4 in their last 4 Conference Quarterfinals games.
* Kings are 4-0 in their last 4 Conference Quarterfinals games.
* Under is 7-0-1 in Sharks last 8 road games.
* Over is 5-1-1 in Kings last 7 Conference Quarterfinals games.
* Sharks are 4-12 in the last 16 meetings in Los Angeles.