Welcome back to the Stanley Cup Daily. Each day during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Canes Country recaps the night before, previews the games for that night, and gives you game times and broadcast information. Each series has a beat writer who will be following it, and today, we look at the three big storylines for each series that begins tonight.
(C3) Minnesota Wild at (C2) Winnipeg Jets
7:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN
- Is Hellebuyck ready for the big-time? Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck went 44-11-9 and finally cashed in on the potential Winnipeg front-office brass had been drooling about for years. The 24 year old netminder set a record for most regular season wins by an American goalie this year, but can he carry that regular season success into the playoff where games are often close and emotion can spill over like my son’s Capri Sun at the end of our dinner table? He will have to be stellar against a Wild team that is no slouch and brings 42-goal scorer Eric Staal as well as a defensive core that was second in the league in total scoring.
- What’s the ripple effect of Ryan Suter’s injury? Suter is probably the template for a franchise defenseman. He logs minutes like Pac-Man eats yellow dots and takes on opposing teams’ best players on a nightly basis. But five games before the season ended, Suter broke his leg and underwent surgery to repair the bone only a few days ago. His workload will be divided among Minnesota’s remaining D-core, especially Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin. All three are great players who would probably slot into anyone’s top-4, but by elevating those three up the line-up, the Wild’s third pair could be exposed against a Jets team as deep as any.
- Experience versus Skill: The one area where Minnesota bests Winnipeg is playoff experience, which they’ll hope to use to their advantage. Minnesota players boast 748 games of post-season experience to Winnipeg’s 265. But the Jets have firepower, they have depth, and perhaps most crucially, they have home-ice advantage. Young guns like Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele will have to brush off the early awe of the Winnipeg white-out crowd shaking Bell MTS Place to the core to lead their team to their first-ever playoff game win - and beyond. -Liam Goff
(M3) Philadelphia Flyers at (M2) Pittsburgh Penguins
7:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN
- Giroux’s Offensive Outburst: Claude Giroux has been revitalized. The veteran center finished second in the league behind Connor McDavid with 102 points and posted career highs in points, goals and assists. However, in the Flyers’ last playoff appearance, a first-round loss to the Capitals in 2016, he had just one assist. Look for him to be better in this series; the Flyers’ postseason fate may well depend on it.
- Oh Yeah, That Guy’s Good Too: Evgeni Malkin had a quietly fantastic season, finishing fourth in league scoring with 98 points. He had an outstanding playoffs last year as the Penguins captured their second straight Stanley Cup, accumulating 28 points in 25 games. He will have to continue his dominance if Pittsburgh moves on in past this series.
- Fleury out, Murray in: This will be the first Penguins playoff run without Marc-Andre Fleury on the roster since a loss to the Devils in the 2001 Eastern Conference Final (!). Yes, Matt Murray carried the load over the past two seasons, but he had a Cup-winning safety net behind him in Fleury. Now, if things get tough for Murray early in the series, the Penguins have...uh, Casey DeSmith behind him. Murray’s performance could be the difference between a Penguins three-peat or a first round exit. -Justin Lape
(WC1) Los Angeles Kings at (P1) Vegas Golden Knights
10:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN
- Can Vegas withstand playoff pressure? They’ve shocked the hockey world with an unparalleled first season as an expansion franchise. Now, the Vegas Golden Knights have to back up an impressive 82-game campaign with their first trip to the postseason, where regular-season success is never guaranteed — just ask the Capitals. Vegas certainly seems up to the task of continuing to raise the bar with an impressive starring cast and some previously-underrated depth, but the new kids still need to handle crunch time.
- New-look Kings: After a down year in 2016-17 that saw them miss out on the playoffs by eight points, the Los Angeles Kings underwent a bit of a facelift. Gone were the coach and GM that brought them two cups in three years, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar swapped the “C” and “A”, and some fresh faces were introduced in an effort to rebuild on the fly. While this year’s campaign was hardly the return to dominance LA likely sought, they’ve done enough to be dangerous entering the playoffs. And with Kopitar putting up Hart Trophy-worthy numbers ahead of some sneaky-good scorers in the Kings’ forward corps, it’s easy to see them relying on veteran savvy and a bit of momentum to drop the Golden Knights.
- Cage(s) Fight: For all of Vegas’ inexperience in the playoffs, they can certainly turn to their man between the pipes to provide some veteran calmness. Marc-Andre Fleury, despite his, uh, notable playoff struggles, is playing with confidence and poise this season, and certainly features as an X-factor for the Golden Knights in this series. Meanwhile, at the other end, Jonathan Quick just added another Jennings Trophy to his case and looks set to backstop another deep Kings run, just a year removed from seeing only 17 games of action in 2016-17. -Peter Dewar