Flyers

NHL playoff predictions: Quarterfinals

043013_playoffs_ap.jpg

NHL playoff predictions: Quarterfinals

It's time to drop the puck on the NHL playoffs. With that said, Tim Panaccio and Sarah Baicker provide their predictions for the first round.

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Pittsburgh vs. No. 8 New York Islanders
Panotch: Sidney Crosby and John Tavares both got votes from CSNPhilly.com for the Hart Trophy as league MVP. After a prolonged playoff absence, the Isles are back, but they’ll get rolled. Pittsburgh played the final weeks without key personnel and was scary strong. Pick: Penguins in five.

Baicker: It’s great to see the Islanders finally get a chance at a postseason run … but they’re not going to last very long. The Penguins -- with or without Sidney Crosby -- have so much depth on offense, they’re almost unbeatable at this point. There’s not much more to say than that. Pick: Penguins in four.

No. 2 Montreal vs. No. 7 Ottawa
Panotch: This is one of those “much anticipated” rivalry series within Canada that will have the Hockey Night fans glued to their sofas for two weeks. Can the Sens’ Craig Anderson be the ultimate difference? He has a 1.69 goals against and .942 save percentage, but played less games than Carey Price. We smell upset. Pick: Senators in seven.

Baicker: Montreal has looked shaky in recent weeks despite its second-place finish. They’ll face a tough task in Ottawa, which as Tim points out, can and has won some goaltending battles with Anderson in net. But I think the Habs, who were 1-1-1 vs. the Sens this season, can pull out a series victory -- if Price plays up to his potential. Pick: Canadiens in six.

No. 3 Washington vs. No. 6 New York Rangers
Panotch: Oh well, Winny-peg died in the final weeks and forked it over to the up-and-down Capitals. Alex Ovechkin finished as highest goal scorer in the league (32), while the Rangers floundered as the eighth seed nearly the entire final two months of the season. Gotta like the Rangers with Henrik Lundqvist. Pick: Rangers in six.

Baicker: What happened to the Rangers? Expectations were so high at the beginning of the season, and the acquisition of Rick Nash should have helped propel them forward. Instead, they’re lucky to have finished sixth. That said, the Rangers didn’t lose to the Caps in regulation this season, and I can see their success in this matchup continuing, in spite of Ovechkin’s domination. Pick: Rangers in seven.

No. 4 Boston vs. No. 5 Toronto
Panotch: If any team is ripe for an upset in these playoffs, it’s the Bruins, who managed to blow the No. 2 seed in the East at the end. The Bruins lacked their usual bite over the final month of the season but … the Maple Leafs aren’t the team that can upset them either unless Phil Kessel and James Reimer steal the series. Pick: Bruins in six.

Baicker: The Bruins lost a step as this season came to a close, but that doesn’t mean they’ll fall to Toronto. In fact, the B’s have had the Leafs’ number this season, going 2-1 against them and outscoring them 5-2 in their two victories. The Leafs had an impressive season, and it’s nice to see James van Riemsdyk have some success, but I just don’t see their playoff stint lasting very long. Pick: Bruins in five.

Western Conference

No. 1 Chicago vs. No. 8 Minnesota
Panotch: It would have been nice if Columbus had won the eighth seed. Guess Ryan Suter and Zach Parise only had so much influence on the lame Wild, which was lucky to make it. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Co. are going to make mincemeat of them anyway. Pick: Blackhawks in five.

Baicker: Like Pittsburgh in the East, Chicago is the team to beat in the West right now. Nevermind their record-breaking start to the season -- the Blackhawks are a smart team with great coaching, and the Wild barely made it to the postseason … even with Parise and Suter. Pick: Blackhawks in five.

No. 2 Anaheim vs. No. 7 Detroit
Panotch: This isn’t yesteryear in which the fabled Red Wings scared the hell out of everyone in postseason. The Wings were good down the stretch. It should be an interesting trade-off series between the Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf and the Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk. Jimmy Howard would have to win this series for Detroit. Pick: Ducks in seven.

Baicker: This could be a fun one to watch -- Anaheim very well could be fighting for the Cup come June. Of course, they’ll have to fight past Datsyuk and the Wings first. I think the Ducks learned last year’s lesson (they missed the playoffs altogether) and won’t let this year’s opportunity go to waste. Pick: Ducks in six.

No. 3 Vancouver vs. No. 6 San Jose
Panotch: When was the last time you saw a playoff club like the Sharks sell off assets at the trade deadline and still finish sixth? Goalie Cory Schneider’s health is everything to the Canucks. No one sees the Sharks as a legit Cup contender. Those days are long gone. Pick: Canucks in six.

Baicker: The Sharks were lukewarm even after their deadline moves, but they did win all of their meetings with the Canucks this season. The odds might be against them, but they were stellar in their home arena this season, posting a 17-2-5 record in front of their fans. I think they’ll come close, but fall just shy of the upset here. Pick: Canucks in seven.

No. 4 St. Louis vs. No. 5 Los Angeles
Panotch: Talk about having a delightful coaching matchup: Ken Hitchcock vs Darryl Sutter. Oh baby! It’s hard to look past the reigning Cup champions and goalie Jonathan Quick and truthfully, both of these teams deserve to stick around but … the Blues have the better defense. Pick: Blues in seven.

Baicker: I want to pull for the Blues, if only because Hitchcock is a great coach and I spent four great years living in St. Louis. But the Kings have won four in a row over the Blues, going back to last season. I don’t believe a lengthy run is in the cards for the Kings, but I do think they’ll just barely beat out Blues, who would probably have had little trouble facing almost any other Western Conference foe. Pick: Kings in seven.

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

ap-bluejackets-sergei-bobrovsky.jpg
AP Images

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 saves for his 21st career shutout and Zach Werenski and Artemi Panarin scored in the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday night.

New York ran into a hot goalie in Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner who notched his second shutout of the season in powering Columbus to its third straight victory.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was nearly as good against the increasingly aggressive Blue Jackets, stopping 40 shots on the night. The Rangers (11-8-1) lost their second straight following a six-game win streak.

After a scoreless first period in which both goalies made some slick, sprawling saves, Werenski found the back of the net with his sixth goal of the season 13:34 into the second.

Brandon Dubinsky lost the handle of the puck in the slot, and Werenski picked it up just inside the right circle and beat Lundqvist with a one-timer.

Columbus (12-7-1) was the aggressor in the second frame, outshooting the Rangers 19-9, and kept up the pressure in the third.

Panarin scored his fourth goal of the season on a power play 7:14 into the third period, rocketing a slap shot from the high slot that ricocheted off the bar and in.

The Blue Jackets are 9-1-0 this season when allowing two goals or fewer (see full recap).

Red Wings’ 3rd-period goals enough to top Sabres
DETROIT -- Tomas Tatar scored a go-ahead goal midway through third period and the Detroit Red Wings went on to beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Friday night.

Detroit's Luke Glendening broke a scoreless tie late in the second period. Ryan O'Reilly pulled Buffalo into a 1-all tie 5:50 into the third.

Dylan Larkin scored late in the game and Jimmy Howard had 19 saves for the Red Wings. They have won consecutive games at home for the first time this season.

Buffalo's Robin Lehner stopped the first 20 shots he faced and finished with 30 saves.

The Sabres have lost four straight, one away from their longest losing streak of the season, but were thankful they didn't lose more than a game in Detroit.

Jack Eichel went to the dressing room late in the second period after coming off the ice slowly, keeping weight off his right skate following a collision with Glendening, and making a brief stop on the bench. Buffalo's standout center was cleared to return at the start of the third period.

After a scoreless first period with a combined 14 shots, Detroit outshot Buffalo 13-4 in the second and took control without that translating to a big lead (see full recap).

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes.

Dougherty
If Thursday night's 3-2 shootout loss in Winnipeg confirmed anything, it's the Flyers cannot break up their top line. They might not be able to score much, but their only scoring is coming from Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

The Couturier line accounts for 48 percent of the Flyers' offense, or 25 goals. Factor the defense and top line together, and that's 59 percent, as the blue line has produced six tallies this season.

Of the 21 goals the Flyers have scored that do not come from the top line or blue line, 12 have come from two players, Wayne Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula. Simmonds hasn't scored in 11 games, and Filppula has one goal in his past nine games.

Two lines have stayed intact since Day 1 — the Couturier line and the fourth line of Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl. Head coach Dave Hakstol has been hesitant about breaking up his fourth line, and rightfully so. Laughton, Leier and Raffl have chemistry, and they're almost always cycling in the offensive zone.

Nolan Patrick just returned after missing three weeks because of a "suspected" concussion and played sparingly against the Jets. He should help the Flyers' scoring woes, but he won't solve them. I think it's time to break up the fourth line, and based on the Winnipeg game, it looks like a possibility Hakstol is considering.

Here's why. Raffl played on the second power-play unit against the Jets, which was a first this season. Perhaps Hakstol didn't want to throw Patrick back into the fire and watched the rookie's minutes.

Breaking up lines Nos. 2, 3 and 4 is the best course of action. Travis Konecny is struggling with confidence, Jordan Weal hasn't been great, and those are two players the Flyers need to get going. It's time to end the Dale Weise in the top-nine experiment.

With what the Flyers have, here is what I would do:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Travis Konecny-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Michael Raffl
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Dale Weise

Hall
There's no need to panic if you're the Flyers.

First, you finally have a no-doubt-about-it top line. Voracek, Couturier and Giroux have blended beautifully and are doing damage, as the Flyers entered Friday one of only three teams in the NHL with a trio of players over 20 points each. Don't break that up just because there's an imbalance below it. 

And second, it's a long season. Ups and downs are common and things can change quickly. Just look at last season. The Flyers ripped off 10 straight wins and scored the NHL's second-most goals through the first two months of 2016-17. As we all know, they didn't make the postseason and finished as a bottom-third goal-scoring club.

The Flyers simply need to continue experimenting with their middle six and see what eventually works best. A little patience was going to be required when you're relying on a 19-year-old rookie in Patrick, a 20-year-old still finding himself at this level in Konecny and a 25-year-old facing his first full NHL season in Weal.

And let's not forget, the defense is exceptionally young with two rookies (Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim), a 20-year-old leader (Ivan Provorov) and a third-year player coming off a sophomore slump (Shayne Gostisbehere).

But back to the forwards. 

If you recall, a stretch from Oct. 10-17 featured Filppula centering Weal and Simmonds on the second line, with Patrick centering Konecny and Weise on the third unit. It resulted in a pretty productive three-game span in which the Flyers picked up two wins and outscored the opposition 18-9.

I really liked the dynamic of that middle six. And the Flyers can now return to it with Patrick suiting up. He will be eased back into heavier minutes, but he can make a difference when healthy and comfortable. Patrick and Konecny can still play plenty of minutes on the third line with less pressure and potentially more favorable matchups.

We've seen Weal and Simmonds work well together, and Filppula adds smarts and steadiness down the middle.

But the important thing to remember is the Flyers are only 19 games into an 82-game grind. Scoring can come and go at times, and there's no reason it can't come down the line.

So, here's what I like best for the Flyers right now:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Travis Konecny-Nolan Patrick-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl