May 12 — Playoffs, Lindblom & Shattered Ceilings

Tuesday’s Toe Drags

LAND OF 1000 GAMES: Jets veteran Paul Stastny played in his 1000th career game Tuesday. Congrats, Paul, only 778 games to catch Marleau! Blake Wheeler also added two goals and two assists in the game, as the Jets secured third place in the Scotia North Division.

BE-LEAF IT: Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen will return to the ice Wednesday against Ottawa, his first game since March 19 due a knee injury. The Leafs have clinched the Scotia North Division and will face Montreal in the first round.

SHATTER THAT CEILING: 25-year-old Kelsey Koelzer is a true trailblazer and — after a wildly successful collegiate hockey career — she became the first Black hockey coach in the NCAA. She’ll coach her first game for Arcadia University in the upcoming 2021-22 season.

SEE YOU LATER, ABDELKADER: Former Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader has quietly been launching a comeback bid, and impressed enough in the Swiss National League to earn a spot on Team USA at the IIHF World Championships. He’ll be joined by 36-year-old Brian Boyle, as well. Good luck, fellas!

FAUX-LEY PAS: Longtime Blackhawks play-by-play announcer Pat Foley apologized for an off-putting remark around mental health that he made on Monday. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (United States here, Canada here). Help end the stigma against mental health and know — You are not alone!

Lindblom Nominated for Second Consecutive Masterton

The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy nominees were announced on Monday and after skimming the list, one name stands out more than the others — Oskar Lindblom. The 24-year-old forward has had quite the journey since he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in December 2019. He immediately began treatments and on July 2, 2020, completed his chemotherapy at Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Lindblom returned to the ice on September 3, 2020 to play in Game 6 against the Islanders in the playoff bubble.  

He was nominated for last season’s Bill Masterton Trophy as well, though that was ultimately awarded to the Ottawa Senator’s Bobby Ryan. Not to say Ryan did not deserve to win in his own right, but it is time Lindblom is recognized for his journey back to the NHL. In 50 games played during the 2020-21 season, Lindblom has notched eight goals and six assists for a total of 14 points and on April 18, 2021, he experienced his first Hockey Fights Cancer night as a cancer survivor.

Oskar Lindblom, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“It was emotional to be honest. I didn’t expect to react like that when I skated on the ice,” Lindblom said after the game. “Just a lot of emotion and try to take it all in and focus on the game, but it was tough. It’s been a tough year, or more than a year. Like I said, to be able to be out with this team, it’s amazing.”

Other nominees this year include Danny DeKeyser from the Detroit Red Wings, who made a comeback after undergoing back surgery, and Roope Hintz of the Dallas Stars, who for the entire season has been dealing with a lower body injury that has made it difficult for him to participate in morning skates, let alone games. Hintz appeared in 41 games this season and finished with 43 points which was good for third best on the team — despite his injury.

So many players battle injuries, personal demons, and tragedies throughout a season, it is impossible to compare or rank these players and their tribulations. Lindblom’s story is an inspiration and, as our colleague Max Nason said it best, “There is really no way to properly honor the strength and perseverance that Lindblom has shown in his fight with Ewing’s sarcoma, but the Masterton Trophy would be a solid start.”

First Round Forecast

At long last, the NHL playoff picture is finally coming into focus, and with the postseason set to begin on Saturday, we’ll take a look ahead at each upcoming series. Given the division-exclusive regular season format we just witnessed, each of these matchups will feature teams that are — shall we say — painfully familiar with one another.

Discover Central Division

No. 1 Carolina Hurricanes vs No. 4 Nashville Predators

The Discover Central Division featured both of last season’s Western and Eastern Conference champions, but it was the Carolina Hurricanes who took the crown. Though their 16-point regular season disparity with the Predators suggests a mismatch, don’t sleep on Nashville’s momentum.

Looking like sellers ahead of the NHL trade deadline after a slow start to their season, the Predators turned it on — going 20-7-1 over their final 28 games to capture the final playoff spot away from the Dallas Stars. Carolina owns a 6-2-0 head-to-head record against Nashville this season, but the Predators have won their two most recent meetings — outscoring the Hurricanes 8-1.

This series could come down to a “future-is-here” goaltending duel between Carolina’s Alex Nedeljkovic and Nashville’s Juuse Saros. The 25-year-old Nedeljkovic has thrived in a platoon role with James Reimer and Petr Mrazek, going 15-5-3 with a .932 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.90 goals against average (GAA) in 23 games. Likewise, the 26-year-old Saros seized the Preds’ starting role away from franchise great Pekka Rinne by going 21-11-1 with a .927 SV% and a 2.28 GAA.

No. 2 Florida Panthers vs No. 3 Tampa Bay Lightning

We knew that the defending Stanley Cup champions would be here, but the Florida Panthers — with home ice advantage — are the surprise of the season.

Florida has only reached the postseason twice in the past 19 seasons — unless you count a Qualifying Round loss in the Toronto bubble last year — and carry an NHL-worst 25-year drought without a playoff series victory. While history certainly seems to favor Tampa, the Panthers handled their in-state rivals well this season, winning five of eight games between the two. That was, in fact, the Lightning’s worst record against any opponent this season.

It should be noted, however, that most of those games didn’t involve Steven Stamkos and none included Nikita Kucherov. Both Lightning forwards are scheduled to return for the playoffs and their presence could be instrumental in swinging this series in the defending champs’ favor.

MassMutual East Division

No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs No. 4 New York Islanders

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders have more famous rivals, but their own history is pretty rich in its own right. Boasting a contentious history that dates back to the 1970s, the Islanders own a 4-1 postseason record against the Pens — most recently earning a 4-0 sweep in the first round of the 2019 playoffs.

This February marked the 10th anniversary of the infamous brawl between the teams. Dubbed “Fight Night,” the melee stemmed from an earlier concussion-causing hit by Pittsburgh’s Maxime Talbot on New York’s Blake Comeau. With tensions high, the teams combined for 346 penalty minutes.

While few players from “Fight Night” remain with either organization, there are plenty of holdovers from the 2019 series. Sidney Crosby has historically dominated the Isles, scoring 122 points — 39 goals, 83 assists — in 75 career games against the team from Long Island. The Islanders, meanwhile, remain without injured captain Anders Lee, and hope that deadline additions Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri bust through from their slow starts.

Check back tomorrow for more First Round Forecast!

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