Pictured: David Krejci
Source: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images North America

Preview: Lightnings at Bruins

The Boston Bruins are playing some of their best hockey of the season despite missing an important player as they prepare to host the NHL-best Tampa Bay Lightning for an Atlantic Division showdown on Thursday. The Bruins knocked off red-hot San Jose 4-1 on Tuesday to extend their point streak to 14 games (10-0-4), but All-Star David Pastrnak (thumb) has missed half of them.

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“At this time of year, (we are) just focusing game by game,” Boston’s David Krejci told reporters. “Obviously, we know where we are at in the standings, and that’s where we want to be. But we know that it’s going to be a battle. Hockey in March is one of the hardest months of the season.” The Bruins sit 19 points behind Tampa Bay in the Atlantic but are just one ahead of Toronto for second place and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Tampa Bay set a franchise record on Wednesday with its 10th straight victory as it coughed up a two-goal lead before defenseman Victor Hedman scored in overtime for a 4-3 triumph over the New York Rangers as it matched Boston’s 14-game point streak (12-0-2) – all this month. Nikita Kucherov set up Hedman’s game-winner for his third assist of the contest and league-leading 104th point of the season for the Lightning, who can reach 50 wins on Thursday.

TV: 7:30 p.m. NBC Sports Network, Sportsnet One, Sportsnet East, Sportsnet Ontario, TVA

ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (49-11-4): Kucherov is four points shy of matching the franchise single-season record set in 2006-07 by Vincent Lecavalier while Brayden Point reached 80 for the first time in his career on Wednesday with an assist. Captain Steven Stamkos added a pair of assists in the win, giving him 16 of his 77 points in his last 10 games, and J.T. Miller has scored in three of his last four contests. Andrei Vasilevskiy recorded his 29th win on Wednesday and is 9-0-2 with a .950 save percentage in February while backup Louis Domingue has won a franchise-best 11 straight starts.

ABOUT THE BRUINS (37-17-9): Brad Marchand has picked up his production level in linemate Pastrnak’s absence, collecting 17 of his team-high 74 points in the last 11 contests after scoring one goal and setting up two others on Tuesday. Krejci also has been a major factor during Boston’s 14-game run, registering five goals and 10 assists over the last 12 contests to push his season total to 55 points. Marcus Johansson notched an assist in his team debut on Tuesday, telling reporters: “It’s such a good team, you just go out and play, you don’t have to think too much.”

OVERTIME

1. The Lightning were 6-for-6 on the penalty kill during Wednesday’s win and are 25-for-25 over their last seven contests.

2. Boston C Noel Acciari, who took a puck to the face in Tuesday’s game, is questionable to face the Lightning while D Kevan Miller (upper body) is doubtful.

3. Tampa Bay C Tyler Johnson’s goal in the first period against the Rangers was the 300th point of his career.

Posted in NHL, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: (From Left to Right)
Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy & Steven Stamkos
Source: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images North America

Preview: Dallas vs Tampa Bay

One of the major reasons the Tampa Bay Lightning have a healthy lead on everyone else in the league with 88 points is their depth and they hope to put it on display again Thursday night against the visiting Dallas Stars. The Lightning had six goal scorers, including at least one from each forward line, and 11 players posted a point in Tuesday’s 6-3 triumph against Western Conference heavyweight Calgary.

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“We’ve got the top guys going and we’re getting scoring contributions from the other guys as well,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos told reporters. “Pretty dangerous combination to have. That’s why I think we’re having a lot of success is we’re getting contributions from everyone. That’s when we’re at our best is when everyone’s rolling and it’s tough to keep up with everyone.” The Lightning have won the last four meetings, including a 35-save performance by Andrei Vasilevskiy in a 2-0 victory Jan. 15 at Dallas, which held Tampa Bay to 21 shots in the encounter. The Stars are 1-1-1 on their five-game road trip after blanking Florida 3-0 on Tuesday as red-hot center Tyler Seguin scored twice and set up another while Anton Khudobin turned aside 30 shots. “We had to have a couple guys get X-rays just to make sure their bones weren’t broken from blocked shots,” Dallas coach Jim Montgomery told reporters. “I mean, that’s a team commitment to our identity, and I’m just really proud of the positive talk on the bench. It was a real good group effort.”

TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, Sportsnet One, Sportsnet East, Sportsnet Pacific, FS Southwest (Dallas), FS Sun (Tampa Bay)

ABOUT THE STARS (29-22-5): Seguin leads the team in goals (24) and points (54) after scoring six times, setting up three others and posting a plus-7 rating in six contests during February. “Over the (All-Star) break I just took some time to – I don’t want to say reset, but it was a good break,” Seguin told reporters. “It was refreshing for me. I just felt a little more boost of energy. Personally just feeling good and glad the puck is going in.” Right wing Alexander Radulov registered five of his 46 points in the last five games while captain Jamie Benn owns four assists in the past four, but scored only one goal in his last 11 contests.

ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (42-11-4): Tampa Bay managed only seven goals in five games coming out of the NHLPA-mandated bye week/All-Star break, but have recorded 16 during a three-game winning streak. “We stick to the same routine and stay confident,” right wing Nikita Kucherov, who leads the league with 88 points after notching seven the past two games, told reporters Tuesday. “We’re just trying to play the same way every time. Sometimes pucks go in, sometimes they don’t.” Stamkos reached 30 goals for the sixth time in his career and fellow center Brayden Point scored his career-high 33rd against Calgary on Tuesday.

OVERTIME

1. Dallas D Esa Lindell scored his career-high eighth goal Tuesday and is a plus-6 in six games this month.

2. Tampa Bay D Erik Cernak (lower body) and Ondrej Palat (upper body) missed Tuesday’s game, but could be back as soon as Thursday.

3. The Lightning lead the NHL on the power play (29.6 percent) and the Stars are fifth on the penalty kill (83.2).

Posted in NHL, Top Fantasy Picks

Two of the NFL’s most explosive offenses in the early going face off in Tampa to wrap up Week 3

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had much different starts to the 2018 season. Seeing that sentence isn’t much of a surprise, except everyone thought it would be for a very different reason.

The Bucs are off to a perfect 2-0 start after beating the New Orleans Saints and the reigning Super Bowl champs, the Philadelphia Eagles, during the first two weeks. Considering they were expected to finish with one of the worst records in the NFL, that’s as good of a start as one could ask.

On the other hand, the Steelers are winless after two weeks. They tied the Cleveland Browns in Week 1, and then proceeded to lose a 42-37 shootout against the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday.

Now, the Steelers are traveling to Tampa Bay to try to avoid falling into a 0-2-1 hole while quieting some of the off-field noise that has dominated the early headlines.

Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay

Kickoff: Monday, Sept. 24 at 8:15 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Spread: Tampa Bay -1

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Ryan Fitzpatrick keep it up?

Fitzpatrick will turn 36 years old in November. He’s been in the NFL for 14 years, but he’s never started a season the way he has in 2018.

In two starts, the Harvard product has thrown for 819 yards and eight touchdowns while completing an eye-popping 78.7 percent (48 of 61) of his passes. Fitzpatrick has been the main reason for Tampa Bay’s 2-0 start, but there are people who wonder if he can keep up this level of play.

Jameis Winston is eligible to return from his three-game suspension following Monday night’s matchup against the Steelers. If Fitzpatrick can remain productive, it may be difficult for Winston to reclaim the starting job.

2. Antonio Brown after his comments last week

The Steelers have already been dealing with the absence of Le’Veon Bell. The star running back is still looking for a massive payday after emerging as one of the top players at his position, and it’s unclear how long his holdout with last.

As if that wasn’t enough, there seems to be growing frustration coming from the team’s other star skill position player Brown due to the 0-1-1 start to the season. That frustration even led to a tweet from Brown requesting a trade after last week’s loss.

Pittsburgh isn’t known for being a dysfunctional franchise, but the off-the-field issues don’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

3. James Conner’s emergence as the lead back

Speaking of Bell, his replacement has put up good numbers, while struggling in some other areas. The second-year running back out of Pittsburgh has already exceeded last year’s rushing totals in the first two weeks of this season.

The 6-foot-1, 233-pound bruiser has 257 total yards (152 rushing, 105 receiving) to go along with three rushing touchdowns. But Conner has really struggled as a pass protector. According to Pro Football Focus, he has a 27.5 grade in that area through the first two weeks. That ranks him near the bottom.

There have been reports surfacing that the Steelers are listening to trade offers for Bell, which could mean they’re starting to view Conner as a long-term replacement. He’ll need to continue to prove that against the Buccaneers, though.

Final Analysis

The high level of play from Tampa Bay’s offense must come to an end eventually, right? Sure, but it may not be this week after seeing the struggles from Pittsburgh’s defense to start the season. The good news is the Steelers will welcome cornerback Joe Haden back into the starting lineup after he missed last week’s game due to a hamstring injury.

Another factor that could play a significant factor in this game is Ben Roethlisberger’s struggles on the road. The team can’t afford to put him in a position where he has to win a shootout away from Heinz Field. Roethlisberger did well with his 60 pass attempts last week (452 yards and three touchdowns), but will he see similar results on the road? That’s doubtful.

Expecting 79 combined points like last week would be foolish, but the over (54 points) still looks appealing. If Fitzpatrick can continue to play at an MVP-caliber level, Tampa Bay should do enough to pull out a close home victory.

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Posted in NFL, Top Fantasy Picks

Top Fantasy Picks from the NHL Eastern Atlantic Division

The fantasy hockey staff identifies relevant players from each team for 2018-19. Today, we look at the Eastern Atlantic division franchise players.

Top Tampa Bay Lightning Players

Nikita Kucherov, RW — The 25-year-old finished third in the NHL with 100 points (39 goals, 61 assists) in 80 games. He also finished top 10 in shots on goal (279), power-play points (36) and even-strength goals (31). He’s a near lock to finish top 10 in fantasy points this season based on his 100-point potential.

Steven Stamkos, C — The 28-year-old had his highest point total since 2011-12. His 86 points (27 goals, 59 assists) were second on the Lightning behind Kucherov and 12th in the NHL. He finished tied for third in the NHL with 15 power-play goals, a trend he carried over to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he scored six (T-1st). The Lightning had the third-ranked power play in the NHL (23.9 percent) and should have the opportunity to be among the best in the NHL for a second straight season. Given the chemistry formed with Kucherov and Tampa Bay’s overall team security, Stamkos should a top center in fantasy drafts.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, G — The No. 1 goalie had a breakout season with 44 wins (T-1st in NHL), including eight shutouts (T-1st), a 2.62 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. He has the potential to finish as the best goaltender in the NHL.

Top Boston Bruins Players

David Pastrnak, RW — The 22-year-old has increased his point total in each of the past two seasons, including an NHL career high 80 points (35 goals, 45 assists) last season. He was plus-10, led the Boston Bruins in power-play points (26) and finished tied for 10th in the NHL with 13 power-play goals. Pastrnak, who finished among Stanley Cup Playoff leaders with 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 12 games, forms the NHL’s most potent line with left wing Brad Marchand and center Patrice Bergeron.

Brad Marchand, LW  — The left wing had 85 points, tying his NHL career high from the previous season, despite being limited to 68 games. He scored 34 goals and had 51 assists, his third straight season with at least 34 goals. Marchand has been plus-21 or better in six of his past eight seasons, and factors in on the power play (23 PPP) and penalty kill (four shorthanded points). He’s also had at least 63 penalty minutes in each of the past five seasons and has greater value in PIMs leagues compared to ones with hits (37 last season; 0.9 per game in NHL career).

Top Toronto Maple Leafs Players

Auston Matthews, C — Matthews, who turns 21 on Sept. 17, leads the NHL in even-strength goals per game (0.42; minimum 100 games) since entering the League in 2016-17. He was better than a point-per-game player (63 points in 62 games) last season despite missing 20 games because of multiple injuries. The potential 2019 restricted free agent has room for improvement in power-play points (13 last season) and could exceed 90 points with a plus/minus (plus-25 last season) among the NHL leaders on a line with wings Patrick Marleau and William Nylander.

John Tavares, C — Leaving the New York Islanders to sign a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Maple Leafs (average annual value $11 million) has catapulted Tavares back into the top 10 overall fantasy rankings, right behind fellow elite center and new teammate Matthews. Coach Mike Babcock said he plans to start Tavares on a line with right wing Mitchell Marner (led Maple Leafs with 69 points last season) and left wing Zach Hyman (38 even-strength points; tied for fourth on Toronto). Tavares, who had three seasons with at least 81 points and two with at least 30 PPP for the Islanders (often with ordinary linemates) joins a power play that ranked second in the NHL last season (25.0 percent) behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (26.2).

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Posted in NHL, Top Fantasy Picks

Lightning at Capitals Game 4 Preview

The Tampa Bay Lightning fought their way back in the series with a vastly improved performance and the reward is a chance to even the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night when they visit the Washington Capitals for Game 4. All-Stars Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov combined for seven points as the Lightning recorded a 4-2 victory Tuesday in Washington after dropping the first two games of the series at home.

“We believed all along,” Stamkos, who has scored a goal in five of the last six games, told reporters. “We knew we weren’t good enough, and credit to them, they played really good hockey the first two games. We needed to make adjustments. We did that. We worked on it. The players went out there and did what we needed to do.” Tampa Bay was much tighter defensively despite allowing 38 shots overall, and scored twice on the power play to improve to 5-for-12 with the man advantage in the series and extend their streak to eight games with at least one. Evgeny Kuznetsov finished with 12 shots on net and a goal for the Capitals in Game 3 while linemate Alex Ovechkin did not have a point despite accumulating nine shots, but coach Barry Trotz told the media his team was “off a little bit” and will be better Thursday. “We believe in each other,” Ovechkin told reporters. “We know exactly what we have to do. Nobody said it was going to be easy. They’re not going to give us two wins in a row in our house. We just have to play more desperate and play smarter.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA

ABOUT THE LIGHTNING: Coach Jon Cooper shuffled his top three forward lines for Game 3, putting Ondrej Palat with Kucherov and Stamkos, flipping J.T. Miller to a unit with Anthony Cirelli and Alex KIllorn while moving Yanni Gourde in with Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson. “We needed to put guys in positions to succeed,” Cooper told reporters. “We probably needed to spring a little life into our group.” Point has four goals in his last five games and four of his 14 playoff points in the past two contests while Hedman owns a franchise-record eight-game point streak after scoring once and assisting on two Tuesday.

ABOUT THE CAPITALS: Center Nicklas Backstrom (13 points, 11 playoff games) skated again Wednesday and could possibly return to the lineup Thursday after missing the last four contests with a hand injury. Kuznetsov boasts four goals and seven assists during a six-game point streak and owns 20 points overall – six in the series – while Ovechkin scored twice and set up two others in the first two contests against Tampa Bay. Goalie Braden Holtby owns an .899 save percentage in the series, but has stopped 57 of the 60 shots he has faced at even strength (.950) and leads the league with 10 playoffs wins entering Wednesday.

OVERTIME

1. Washington C Lars Eller has posted two goals and three assists in the series, taking Backstrom’s spot on the second line.

2. Stamkos needs one power-play goal to pass Martin St. Louis (10) for first on the franchise’s all-time playoff list.

3. Capitals RW Brett Connolly, who was drafted sixth overall by the Lightning in 2010, boasts a point in each of the first three games of the series.

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Posted in NHL

Lightning at Capitals Game 3 Preview

The suddenly struggling Tampa Bay Lightning look to begin digging out of a deep hole in the Eastern Conference final series when they visit the red-hot Washington Capitals for Game 3 on Tuesday night. The Lightning dropped the first two games of the series at home by a combined score of 10-4 and a team has not rebounded from down 2-0 to win a conference final since Pittsburgh beat Boston in 1991.

“I’m confident in our group,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper told reporters Monday. “They’ve got 113 points (in the regular season) for a reason. … They’ve got a ton of experience, and when their backs have been against the wall, they’ve shown the propensity to fight back. This is a tough one. We lost two at home and it’s definitely not an ideal situation. But we’re not done. It’s not over.” Washington lost the first two games at home in the first-round series against Columbus, but won four in a row to move on and are 10-2 in the last 12 games after scoring the final five goals of Sunday’s 6-2 triumph. The Capitals have scored seven of their 10 goals at even strength and Tampa Bay, which dominated Boston while playing 5-on-5 in the semifinal series, has scored three of its four on the power play in the opening two contests. “It’s huge, but it’s not over yet,” Washington captain Alex Ovechkin, who scored in each of the first two games, told reporters. “We’re going to (have to) come back home and do our thing and take another one. It’s going to be hard. They have tremendous players over there and we just have to play the same way and don’t give them anything.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA

ABOUT THE LIGHTNING: The team has plenty of confidence in Vezina finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has allowed 10 goals in five periods of hockey during this series with little help from his defense after posting a .927 save percentage in the first two rounds. “We all have tremendous belief in him, and he’s a rock for our team,” Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman told reporters. “He’s going to be back and be his best. We’re not making his job easier by executing our game plan defensively and offensively. The scoring chances are way up compared to the previous series and that’s on us, not him.” Captain Steven Stamkos has scored in four of his last five games while compiling seven points in that stretch.

ABOUT THE CAPITALS: Lars Eller is prospering after moving up to the second-line center role with Nicklas Backstrom (hand) missing the last three games, recording two goals and two assists in the first two contests of this series. “He’s got all the qualities of a playoff-type player,” Washington coach Barry Trotz told reporters of Eller. “He’s big. He’s strong. He’s got some experience. He’s very competitive. He’s got a good skill level. He’s playing to his ability right now. … He’s one of the guys that’s stepped up in a major way for us.” Ovechkin, who shares the team lead with Kuznetsov at 19 points in the playoffs, is the second Washington player to reach 10 goals in a postseason run by joining John Druce (14 in 1990).

OVERTIME

1. Washington D John Carlson has three assists in the series and 13 points in the playoffs, most by a Capitals blue liner in team history.

2. Tampa Bay D Victor Hedman boasts a seven-game point streak, passing Martin St. Louis (2004) for the franchise playoff record.

3. The Capitals are 0-2 in their playoff history when winning the first two games of a series on the road, including a loss to Tampa Bay in 2003.

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Posted in NHL

2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Second-round previews

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Boston Bruins

The Lightning will come into this series as the more rested team after making quick work of the New Jersey Devils in Round 1. But after coming off an emotional high from a wild Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, don’t take the Bruins lightly. In fact, the Bruins owned the Lightning during the regular season after walking away with the W in three of their four meetings.

The matchup should be highlighted by a battle between two of the best lines in hockey: Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak versus Kucherov-Stamkos-Miller. The Bruins’ trio combined for 30 points in Round 1, while the Lightning’s top three had 20 points in its five-game series with the Devils.

Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins

What would a second round be without the Capitals and Penguins going head to head?

The Capitals will be looking for revenge after being eliminated by their Metropolitan rivals the past two postseasons. And, of course, the spotlight will once again shine brightest on the renewed showdown between the teams’ respective captains. While Sidney Crosby (10 goals, 22 points) historically comes out on top in terms of series wins, Alex Ovechkin (12 goals, 26 points) has statistically fared better between the two in their 20 playoff contests against one another.

Play our NHL Playoffs Contest 

Nashville Predators vs Winnipeg Jets

It’ll be a Battle of the Titans in this second-round series. The Predators and Jets finished first and second league-wide, while their regular-season meet ups were always competitive. One key to the series could be the Predators’ Pekka Rinne, who was only average in Round 1 against the Colorado Avalanche, while Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck put up a far superior performance in eliminating the Minnesota Wild.

Vegas Golden Knights vs San Jose Sharks

Both sides made quick work in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, sweeping away the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, respectively. If Vegas isn’t already getting its due credit, it should after taking out a two-time Cup champion. Netminder Marc-Andre Fleury played like a virtual wall, while Sharks goalie Martin Jones was no slouch either. San Jose could also get a boost in the second round should Joe Thornton return from injury.

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Posted in NHL

2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs

First-round previews

Tampa Bay Lightning vs New Jersey Devils

From first overall pick to first playoff berth in six seasons, the surprising New Jersey Devils are set to take on the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning. The series features a pair of Hart Trophy candidates in Nikita Kucherov and Taylor Hall, but the X-factor should be Devils netminder Keith Kinkaid, who emerged as the starter down the stretch and played phenomenally, but will now be tasked with shutting down one of the league’s most potent attacks.

Boston Bruins vs Toronto Maple Leafs

The cruelty of the playoff format pitted two of the top teams in the conference against each other in Round 1, but this one should be a doozy. The Maple Leafs won three of four contests versus Boston this season, and Mitch Marner led the way with nine points. However, the red-hot Bruins were merely one point away from capturing the East’s top seed. Don’t be shocked if this one goes the distance.

Washington Capitals vs Columbus Blue Jackets

Metropolitan Division adversaries are poised to do battle in what should be an evenly contested matchup. The biggest questions for this series lie between the pipes, as Washington has elected to lean on backup Philipp Grubauer as its starter, while Sergei Bobrovsky’s career postseason save percentage is a dreadful .887. Whoever wins out in goal is likely moving on.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers

The defending champs begin their quest for a three-peat against their most bitter rivals, a spectacle that was can’t-miss television last time they met in the playoffs in 2012. Pittsburgh holds a notable depth advantage, emphasized by the acquisition of Derick Brassard before the trade deadline. That said, five of the NHL’s top 15 scorers are in this series, so buckle up.

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Nashville Predators vs Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche were dreadful a season ago, but, to the surprise of just about everybody, have qualified for the playoffs in a year when nobody gave them a chance. Their reward? A matchup with the NHL’s most complete team, which is looking to avenge last season’s Stanley Cup disappointment. If the task wasn’t already tall enough, the Avs will have to get by without starter Semyon Varlamov, who was ruled out for the season.

Winnipeg Jets vs Minnesota Wild

The Jets concluded the season with the second-most points in the NHL (114), and have plans far beyond earning their first series win in franchise history. To do so, though, they’ll need to take down a Wild squad that went 14-6-5 down the stretch. While they’re missing their top blue-liner in Ryan Suter, the animosity between these Northern rivals should make for quite an entertaining series.

Vegas Golden Knights vs Los Angeles Kings

Even though it’s been decided for weeks, the Golden Knights making the playoffs in their inaugural season is nothing short of astonishing. The atmosphere in Vegas should be rocking to get things started, but the NHL’s 31st franchise has a tall order on its hands. Shutting down MVP candidate Anze Kopitar will be tough, but it could make the difference in what promises to be a fast-paced, intense series.

Anaheim Ducks vs San Jose Sharks

The start times are late, but this West Coast battle should be fought tooth and nail. Both the Ducks and Sharks match up quite evenly and know each other quite well, but health will be a big factor. San Jose is doubtful to have Joe Thornton in the lineup, while Anaheim starter John Gibson is banged up as well. Regardless of who’s in and who’s out, expect this one to be neck-and-neck.

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Posted in NHL

Fantasy Hockey Playoffs

Eastern Finals Preview

The best team in the NHL over the past two month just defeated the best team this season. Now, the Pittsburgh Penguins are off to face last years Eastern Champions Tampa Bay Ligthning in the Eastern Finals. Fantasy hockey playoffs (click to join) doesn’t get any bigger than this. Game 1 starts Friday night at the Consol Energy Center, and will be presented on NBCSN starting at 8PM ET. The Penguins went 14-2-0 to end the regular season before knocking off the New York Rangers and, offcourse, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in the postseason.

The Pens made the conference final for the first time since 2013 with balanced scoring, improved defense and rookie goalie Matt Murray’s solid play that has kept veteran Marc-Andre Fleury on the bench. They still must find a way to contain a dangerous Tampa Bay offense that is led by Nikita Kucherov (nine goals, 12 points) and Tyler Johnson (13 points). The Lightning lineup could even become more lethal, potentialy having back top-pair defenseman Anton Stralman (broken fibula) and captain Steven Stamkos (blood clot)at some point in the series. Tampa Bay has beaten the Penguins three straight in the regular season, despite being outshot 109-74 combined.

Stralman has gone through full practice over the last few days, but he doesn’t look like he’s a 100% percent yet. Versatile forward J.T. Brown (upper body) could be back in the lineup after missing almost a month. Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn (nine points) and the emergence of Jonathan Drouin (eight assists) stepped up to take the offensive reigns during superstar Steven Stamkos’ absence. In defence, 6-foot-6 Victor Hedman was the key figure during the second-round series victory over the New York Islanders. He stopped captain John Tavares clean, denying him of a point for the last four games while recording eight points for himself.

It will not be an easy task for Lightning coach Jon Cooper to decide which line his best D-Man, Victor Hedman, will go up against. Pittsburgh’s four forward units have all produced in the postseason with three of them represented among the top four scorers. Captain Sidney Crosby (10 points) and Evgeni Malkin (nine) each center a line while the trio of Phil Kessel (five goals, 12 points), Nick Bonino (eight assists) and Carl Hagelin may be their best in the playoffs thus far.

Posted in NHL

Daily Fantasy Hockey Lineup

There are only five games on the NHL schedule tonight, and with the season coming to a close, matchups become even more important when considering your daily fantasy hockey lineup.

Some daily fantasy players like to spread their wealth over an abundance of games, but as some teams are fighting for their playoff lives others are dreaming of greener pastures so effort levels can waver significantly.

In this edition of my daily fantasy hockey lineup, I’ve loaded up on Kings, and Panthers, while rounding out my team with stalwart’s from playoff teams (one exception: Columbus’ hot Boone Jenner)

  • My Lineup

NHLDFS04

The Tampa Bay Lightning were expected to be contenders this season, but have dealt with their share of drama from the get-go. Captain Steven Stamkos has had a whirlwind season including the non-stop trade rumours due to his status as an impending unrestricted free-agent, while top prospect Jonathan Drouin refused to report to their minor league affiliate for a while leading to an in-house suspension.

Just as Tampa thought that things would turn up in time for the playoffs, those hopes took a major hit when the club announced the loss of Stamkos for one-to-three months with a blood clot this weekend, and top pairing defenseman Anton Stralman with a broken leg last week. 

Scoring winger Ondrej Palat missed over 20 games this season due to injury, but has heated up of late going on a tear about a month ago and recently producing 4 goals and 8 assists for 12 points over his last 10 games.

Though the Vancouver Canucks have won two straight, the Kings are still the heavy favorite. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Canucks hadn’t won one in their previous 10 and LA is true Stanley Cup contender.

Enter a trio of Kings: Jonathan Quick, Jeff Carter and value pick Kris Versteeg.

Jonathan Quick is one of the league’s few elite goaltenders, and is aiming for a career-high 40 wins tonight. He’s at least $1000 cheaper than the St-Louis Blues tandem of Jake Allen (injured) and Brian Elliott, more talented than them and has the desired matchup.

I also stacked two members from the Florida Panthers top line. Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr. Barkov has made a habit of wrecking the Montreal Canadiens this year, and capped off the season with a 4-point effort (2 goals, 2 assists) on Saturday night. The young Finn is fresh, confident and primed to wreck the Maple Leafs tonight.

Linemate and living-legend Jaromir Jagr has points in 5 straight games, while scoring at least one point in 16 of 21 games since turning 44 years old on February 15th (9 goals, 13 assists). He shows no signs of slowing down heading into the NHL playoffs.

 

 

Posted in NHL

Florida Panthers vs Tampa Bay Lightning

NHL Fantasy Hockey Preview

Two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference face up tonight in this battle for the Atlantic Division supremacy when the Florida Panthers travel to the Tampa to face the Tampa Bay Lightning. This NHL Fantasy Hockey preview is brought to you by FanPicks and WIN up to a $1 million with only $1 when you play in our NHL Magic Million promo contest at FanPicks.com

 

NHL Fantasy Hockey Preview

The Florida Panthers come into this game having 3 out of 4 games against the Tampa Bay Lighting this year. They’re currently tied with the lightning in terms of points at 91 but are second behind them in the Atlantic Division due to few regulation/overtime wins (Tampa Bay 40 vs Florida 34). Both teams have 8 games remaining and are battling this late season for the divisional lead. This will be a huge and great game for both teams. Their Forward Vincent Trocheck has goals in 3 straight games and 4 of his past 5 games.

The Lightning come into this game having set a season high for goals in a game this year in a 7-4 win against the New York Islander and moving up into 1st place at the same time. They unfortunately lost a key player during the game. Their Defenseman Anton Stralman is out indefinitely with a non-displaced fracture of his left fibula, an injury that happened in the 1st period. It’s a tough loss with big shoes to fill for the Lightning. He will most likely miss the rest of the regular season and come back for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Tampa Bay has won 3 straight games. Kucherov scored a goal at least in 4 consecutive games with their start forward Steven Stamkos has 6 goals in his past 6 games.

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Toronto Maple Leafs vs Tampa Bay Lightning 1/27/16 Preview

Toronto Maple Leafs (17-21-9) at Tampa Bay Lightning (26-18-4) (7 pm EST)

The Lightning are well rested, having not played since suffering a 5-2 defeat at the hands of division and state rivals the Florida Panthers on Saturday night. That loss ended a seven-game win streak they had going, and the Maple Leafs themselves lost to the Panthers last night as well, 5-1.

With that loss and the approaching All-Star break, the Lightning want to finish strong and get two points tonight. The Maple Leafs are probably just thinking about the beach (and not in Tampa), so another blowout loss could be on the horizon.

Nikita Kucherov has been the DFS player of the week over the past seven days. His 11 points over the last eight games summarize that, and is the team’s leading scorer since the season began.

Defenceman Victor Hedman is on fire himself of late, scoring 10 points in his last eight games.

Steven Stamkos‘ name has been a target of the media for the last few years due to his impending free agency status, and even though they have begun contract negotiations Leaf fans can still dream of their hometown boy coming home. A matchup with your boyhood team often brings out the best in athletes so don’t be surprised if Stammer has himself a nice outing tonight.

Leo Komarov will be the only Maple Leaf around the rink this weekend as he is the club’s lone All-Star representative, so don’t be surprised if he’s the only Leaf to bring his A-game tonight…not that his A-game is to be feared. Komarov only has one goal in his last 15 games.

If you’re looking for a mid-range option who may pot a goal, Maple Leaf Nazem Kadri has a goal in two straight.

 

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Chicago Blackhawks vs Tampa Lightning – 01/21/16 Preview Prediction & Fantasy Picks

The Tampa Bay Lightning (25-17-4) have home crowd advantage this time around in this 2nd matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks (32-13-4) this season. It’s also a rematch of the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals, which Tampa lost. Both team are on fire right now, and one of them will be put out at the end of this confrontation.

Starting Lineup

Chicago is on a 12 game winning streak. They have set a Blackhawks record for consecutive wins by defeating the Nashville Predators 4-1, on Tuesday. The Blackhawks have won the last 4 meetings between the two, a stretch that includes last year’s NHL finals. To make matters worse, Tampa Bay has not scored against goaltender Corey Crawford since the second period of the finals Game 5. To be exact, that’s 149 minutes and 24 second of shutout. Crawford will have the chance to extend that streak tonight.

Tampa Bay is on a season-high 6th straight win, thanks to center Brian Boyle. He returned to the lineup on Tuesday, after missing one game due to injury, and scored the winning goal against the Edmonton Oilers. The Lightning’s offense is going well nowadays, scoring no fewer than 3 goals during the winning streak. Coach Jon Cooper decided to give Ben Bishop the day off Tuesday, letting backup Andrei Vasilevskiy play instead. Bishop should be back tonight. The 6-foot-7 goalie won his last 3 starts, while holding a .959 save percentage.

Fantasy Pick and Prediction:

C Vadislav Namestnikov (Tampa Bay)

LW Artemi Panarin (Chicago)

RW Patrick Kane (Chicago)

D Duncan Keith (Chicago)

D Brent Seabrook (Chicago)

G Corey Crawford (Chicago)

Scores Prediction: Chicago 3-2

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