Of the eight series, which one is shocking you the most and which one are you not surprised by at all? — @nyrprpokemon
Clearly the most shocking of the eight is the Chicago-Nashville series. I picked the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup and I know I wasn’t alone. Nine of the 21 NHL.com and NHL Network staff members who made predictions for us on April 11 had the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup. Seventeen of the 21 had them in the Stanley Cup Final. So, yeah, to see them trailing the Nashville Predators 3-0 in the Western Conference First Round is quite shocking. To see that they have two goals in the three games is as shocking, if not more. I thought Nashville would be a tough opponent for Chicago because the Predators play fast, have some productive forwards, and generate offense from their defense much the way the Blackhawks do. I worried that if Pekka Rinne got hot, it could be difficult for the Blackhawks, but I still didn’t think Chicago would struggle the way it has. Pretty sure nobody did.
I’m not at all surprised that the Anaheim Ducks lead the Calgary Flames 3-0. Maybe at this point I thought Anaheim would be up 2-1 instead of 3-0, but I thought the Ducks would win the series in five or six games. I figured their size and the production they get from their top six forwards would be too much for the Flames. Rickard Rakell, Ryan Getzlaf, Jakob Silfverberg and Corey Perry have combined for seven goals in the three games. Johnny Gaudreau hasn’t scored.
What is going on with the Capitals, and if they continue to underperform will it affect Barry Trotz’s job? — @gdohlke79
I think the Washington Capitals are tight, and it’s a problem because the Toronto Maple Leafs are loose and their confidence is growing. I thought for sure after the Capitals went up 2-0 in Game 3 that they would run away with it and start to control the series. Couldn’t have been more wrong. I’m actually kicking myself for underestimating the Maple Leafs. I know everyone is amazed by what they’re doing in this series, but let’s not forget that Toronto has been one of the better teams in the NHL since just before Christmas. Toronto was 12-12-7 through 31 games going into its game at the Colorado Avalanche on Dec. 22. The Maple Leafs went 28-15-8 in their last 51 games. They were sixth in points (64), fourth in goals (163), second in power play (27.7 percent) and 10th in penalty kill (82.8 percent) from Dec. 22 to the end of the regular season. They’re good. They should not be underrated. Yes, they’re an underdog in this series, but they also might be the worst possible opponent the Capitals could have drawn in the first round. A lot of people were saying the Capitals escaped danger by not having to play the Boston Bruins. I thought differently and figured the Maple Leafs would put a deep scare into them. It’s happening.
As for Trotz’s job, if the Capitals lose in the first round this season I think everything is on the table. It’ll be a full organizational evaluation. Does that mean Trotz is gone? I doubt it, but I’d hesitate to guarantee anything one way or the other. There’s still time. Let’s not go there yet.
What do the Penguins do in net if/when [Matt] Murray is healthy, assuming round 2? Bonus: What does [Mark] Streit have to do to get in the lineup? — @Badbradpj
Ride the hot hand. The Penguins don’t owe Murray the starting goalie’s job if he’s healthy just because he helped them win the Stanley Cup last season. If Marc-Andre Fleury is playing well, then you have to leave him in there and ride him out until either they win the Stanley Cup or coach Mike Sullivan thinks he’s not doing the job and needs to make the change. What happens in the Stanley Cup Playoffs should not change what will happen in the offseason. The Penguins have to find a way to protect Murray in the NHL Expansion Draft, and that means either trading Fleury or making a trade with Vegas so it does not take him (if Fleury chooses to waive his no-movement clause). Pittsburgh can’t let Murray go, but the Penguins have to ride Fleury now if he’s playing well.
As for Streit, it’ll take an injury or a few losses with some poor play from the defensemen for Sullivan to make that change. The Penguins acquired Streit and Ron Hainsey to add depth to their back end. Streit is seventh on the depth chart now, and it doesn’t help him that he’s a left-handed shot. Hainsey, Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley, Brian Dumoulin and Ian Cole are lefties too. Justin Schultz is the only righty defenseman in the Penguins lineup.
Do you think the Rangers would do a defensive overhaul anytime soon given that Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Kevin Klein are “dead weight?” — @absolutejrb
I don’t agree with your “dead weight” opinion, nor do I understand why you put it in quotes. I think Staal has value, especially on the penalty kill, because of his long reach and his ability to cut off the seam pass through the middle of the ice. Is he the best skater? No, but he’s a serviceable defenseman who can play 18-20 minutes per game. Though I don’t think Girardi should be playing on the top pair with Ryan McDonagh, I think he can be in the top six playing between 16-18 minutes per game. Girardi shouldn’t be playing more than 21 minutes, but I’d also argue who on the Rangers blue line should be playing more than 21 minutes per game besides McDonagh and, maybe, Brady Skjei? That’s why I do think they need to make some changes in the offseason. I’d say McDonagh, Skjei and one of Girardi or Staal are guaranteed to be back. If it were me, it’d be Staal. The Rangers might have to buy out Girardi to get some salary-cap space to improve the defensemen. I’ve said that before as well. They should try to re-sign Brendan Smith. He’s been good, especially when paired with Skjei. Nick Holden is signed for next season but I’m not sold on him and I think scratching him for Game 3 is an indicator that coach Alain Vigneault isn’t sold on him either despite the fact he wasn’t scratched during the regular season. They’ll likely go hard after Kevin Shattenkirk and he’d be a huge get. I do think the Rangers need to make some significant changes on the back end, and I think they will.
Is Alain Vigneault out if the Rangers have another first-round exit? — @mattcarps
I doubt it, and I don’t think he should be. For starters, the Rangers gave him a contract extension in January, a sign they believe in him and see him as their coach of the present and the future. But if they were to fire him, I don’t think they’d be on the hook for what he’s owed on his contract for long because I think he’d get another job quickly. He might make some decisions fans disagree with (scratching Pavel Buchnevich and playing Tanner Glass and using Girardi on the top pair with McDonagh to name two), but on the whole his teams have been good and players have improved. Chris Kreider has gotten better under Vigneault. So has J.T. Miller. Kevin Hayes has too, although he hasn’t shown it of late. Skjei showed massive improvement from start to finish this season. Jesper Fast has gotten better too. I think Vigneault is safe and I think he should be safe.
What is it that the Maple Leafs learned from their 4-1 defeat in their last regular-season game vs. the Capitals? — @aljosa_zvirc
Not one thing they didn’t already know about themselves and the Capitals. That night, April 4, the Maple Leafs were playing the second game of a back-to-back after defeating the Buffalo Sabres 4-2. The Capitals were rested, having two days off. It wasn’t a fair fight, so to speak. The Maple Leafs already knew enough about themselves before playing the Capitals two weeks ago to know that they could challenge them in a playoff series. They’re a confident, good team playing with nothing to lose, and that’s a dangerous combination.
What are your thoughts on the Nashville series? Is Nashville playing its best hockey of the year or is Chicago beating itself? — @KarroMiles
Chicago beat itself in Game 3. Yes, give the Predators a ton of credit for coming back, but the Blackhawks simply can’t allow themselves to blow a 2-0 lead in the third period when they know they are already trailing 2-0 in the series. They have to play a safer game. They have to cover the front of the crease. They can’t let a bad bounce haunt them. Beyond that, I think you have to give the Predators credit for playing some of their best hockey of the season. They’ve been opportunistic, determined and fearless. And all of that has been backed by excellent goaltending from Rinne. They’ve basically played their game, and by doing so they’ve stuffed the Blackhawks’ game right back in their faces. Now let’s see if the Predators can close it out, because I think we can all agree that the Blackhawks aren’t done yet. Never count out their core group of players.