No. 5 Detroit Red Wings at No. 4 Tampa Bay Lightning (A:+135, H:-155, O/U: 5)
The Tampa Bay Lightning have traveled a long, bumpy road to arrive back where they stood a year ago as they prepare to host the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday for Game 1 in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The Lightning won last season’s series in seven games and went on to lose in the Stanley Cup finals before hurdling several obstacles to seal a third straight postseason berth in 2016.
“It’s been an eventful season,” Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop told reporters of the injuries and slumps the team endured. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs. It’s kind of nice to accomplish the first goal – to make the playoffs. Now it’s a new season.” The Lightning won’t have captain Steven Stamkos (blood clot) or top-pair defenseman Anton Stralman (broken fibula), but it is possible all their other injured players could be available for the first contest. The Red Wings had to battle their way to a 25th straight playoff appearance, clinching their spot on the second-to-last day of the regular season, and will lean on veteran forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk to show a group of young players the way. Datsyuk, who is contemplating retirement from the NHL after the season, finished with 49 points – one behind Zetterberg for the team lead – and they are expected to play together with Justin Abdelkader on the top line.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, CBC, TVAS, FSN Detroit, FSN Florida (Tampa Bay)
ABOUT THE RED WINGS (41-30-11, 30-52 ATS, 31-36 O/U): Jimmy Howard, who was relegated to backup duty in mid season, has appeared to regain his No. 1 job from struggling Petr Mrazek after allowing two or fewer goals in seven of his last 11 games (6-5-0). “It’s easy to have great character when things are going well. When things aren’t going well it’s not easy,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill told reporters of Howard. “He didn’t feel sorry for himself, he went to work.” The Wings need a big effort from rookie forward Dylan Larkin, who tired the last few months despite finishing with a team-high 23 goals.
ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (46-31-5, 34-48 ATS, 34-39 O/U): Top-pair defenseman Victor Hedman, along with forwards Ryan Callahan and Nikita Kucherov, all practiced Monday after missing stretches late in the regular season and center Tyler Johnson (upper body) joined the team on the ice Tuesday. Johnson, who had six goals in last season’s playoff series against Detroit, skated between Kucherov (team-leading 66 points) and Alex Killorn at practice and will be a game-time decision. Bishop, who coach Jon Cooper called a “model of consistency,” led the league in goals-against average (2.06).
* Red Wings are 0-4 in their last 4 vs. a team with a winning record.
* Lightning are 8-2 in their last 10 after allowing 5 goals or more in their previous game.
* Over is 5-0-3 in Red Wings last 8 vs. a team with a winning record.
* Under is 9-1 in Lightning last 10 games playing on 3 or more days rest.
* Red Wings are 2-8 in the last 10 meetings in Tampa Bay.
No. 6 New York Rangers at No. 3 Pittsburgh Penguins (A:+116, H:-154, O/U: 5)
The Pittsburgh Penguins have seen their New York Rangers end their season in the playoffs in each of the last two years, but they will try to turn the tables on their Metropolitan Division rivals this time around. Both teams have myriad injury issues entering Game 1 of the best-of-seven series at Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.
The Penguins begin the postseason as the hottest team in the league, winning eight in a row and 14 of 15 before a meaningless loss in the regular-season finale. They have major concerns in net after goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury suffered his second concussion on March 31 and backup Matt Murray sustained a concussion on Saturday. The news is more positive for the Rangers, who will be without captain Ryan McDonagh (hand) at least for the series opener but saw fellow defenseman Dan Girardi and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist return to practice Tuesday. Although Pittsburgh won the season series 3-1-0, New York has won seven of the last eight meetings in the playoffs.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, USA, Sportsnet, TVAS2, MSG (New York), ROOT (Pittsburgh)
ABOUT THE RANGERS (46-27-9, 39-43 ATS, 36-28 O/U): Lundqvist left Monday’s practice after not feeling well and stumbled down the stretch, giving up at least three goals in nine of his last 13 appearances, but he has been a nemesis for the Penguins. He has surrendered only four goals in winning his last four postseason starts in Pittsburgh and has the full confidence of his teammates, with defenseman Kevin Klein noting that “if you make a mistake, Hank is there to save you.” While coach Alain Vigneault said there’s a chance McDonagh has a shot to play at some point, Derek Stepan is the team’s hottest scorer with 15 points in the last 10 games.
ABOUT THE PENGUINS (48-26-8, 37-45 ATS, 36-32 O/U): Fleury returned to practice but has yet to be cleared to play and Murray is day-to-day after the head-scratching decision to start him in the season finale, so Pittsburgh may be forced to go with Jeff Zatkoff, who has not started since Feb. 20. Captain Sidney Crosby overcame a slow start to spark the late-season surge with points in 20 of his last 21, including an eight-game streak entering the postseason. Kris Letang also has scored in his last eight games and hopes for the return of his defensive partner Olli Maatta, who is a game-time decision after missing the last nine contests.
* Rangers are 0-6 in their last 6 games playing on 3 or more days rest.
* Penguins are 8-0 in their last 8 vs. a team with a winning record.
* Over is 4-0-4 in Rangers last 8 vs. Metropolitan.
* Over is 12-3-4 in Penguins last 19 home games vs. a team with a losing road record.
* Rangers are 4-1 in the last 5 meetings in Pittsburgh.
No. 6 Chicago Blackhawks at No. 3 St. Louis Blues (A:+105, H:-125, O/U: 5)
The Chicago Blackhawks begin the upcoming playoffs in a familiar place, as they defended their 2013 Stanley Cup title the following spring with a spirited opening-round series against the St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks start their quest for their fourth championship in seven years in the Gateway City on Wednesday against a St. Louis club that has been unceremoniously bounced in the first round in each of the past three seasons.
Blues captain David Backes doesn’t have fond memories of that 2014 series, a competitive set that saw his team win the first two contests in overtime before losing four straight – highlighted by a brutal hit he absorbed at the hands of defenseman Brent Seabrook. “We’ve got a heck of a group in here,” Backes said after returning to practice on Tuesday following a three-game absence due to a lower-body injury. “It’s our time in here to make a real dent in this tournament.” St. Louis skated to a 2-1 overtime victory over Chicago on April 7 to win three of the five meetings in the season series and 14 of its final 17 games overall before a setback to Washington two nights later enabled Dallas to claim the division title. The Blues’ consolation prize for finishing second is a date with the now-healthy Blackhawks, who finished the season on a 5-1-2 run.
TV: 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TVAS, SN360, CSN Chicago, FSN Midwest (St. Louis)
ABOUT THE BLACKHAWKS (47-26-9, 35-47 ATS, 30-32 O/U): Patrick Kane put an exclamation point on becoming the first American-born player to win the Art Ross Trophy by collecting seven goals and five assists during a season-ending five-game point streak. The 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy winner scored two goals and set up another in the finale versus Columbus, with his involvement in an otherwise meaningless game being necessitated as Chicago dealt with a bevy of injuries. Fellow forwards Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov and Andrew Shaw are expected to return from various ailments and goaltender Corey Crawford had no setbacks after facing the Blue Jackets following a near-month-long absence due to an upper-body injury.
ABOUT THE BLUES (49-24-9, 37-45 ATS, 32-40 O/U): Vladimir Tarasenko continues to get better with age as the 24-year-old Russian scored six of his career-high 40 goals during an eight-game point streak to end the season. Tarasenko, who also posted a personal-best 74 points in 2015-16, recorded seven (five goals, two assists) versus Chicago this campaign – including both tallies in the overtime victory on Thursday. Tarasenko traditionally comes up big in the playoffs even when the rest of his team doesn’t, as he scored four times in the 2014 series against the Blackhawks before netting six of his club’s 14 goals in a first-round ouster versus Minnesota last spring.
* Blackhawks are 8-2 in their last 10 Conference Quarterfinals games.
* Blackhawks are 2-9 in their last 11 vs. Central.
* Blues are 7-0 in their last 7 vs. Western Conference.
* Blues are 2-8 in their last 10 Conference Quarterfinals games.
* Over is 7-1-1 in Blackhawks last 9 Conference Quarterfinals games.
* Over is 5-1-3 in the last 9 meetings in St. Louis.