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Playoffs Tonight: Loaded Penguins take on Islanders

May 1, 2013, 8:06 AM EDT

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 30: Jarome Iginla #12 of the Pittsburgh Penguins moves the puck up ice in front of Keith Aucoin #10 of the New York Islanders on March 30, 2013 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images) Getty Images

Last night we had two games go into overtime and a third was tied through 40 minutes. Is that the start of a trend of tight games?

There are three more Game 1s tonight and they can all be viewed on NBC Sports Live Extra.

Game 1: The Boston Bruins host the Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET, CNBC)

The Toronto Maple Leafs have finally ended their seven-season playoffs drought, but what will they do now that they’ve made it? Boston did finish the season with six games in nine days and had a 2-5-2 record in their last nine contests, so perhaps the Leafs can capitalize on those woes and take the series opener.

The big x-factor in this series is Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel. Typically Kessel is their biggest offensive threat, but he has just nine points and a minus-22 rating in 22 career contests against Boston. The Maple Leafs will have a hard time beating Boston if Kessel doesn’t hold his own against his former employers.

It’s also worth noting that Boston had a 3-1-0 record against Toronto in the regular season and were a perfect 6-0-0 versus the Maple Leafs in 2011-12.

Game 1: The Pittsburgh Penguins host the New York Islanders (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

The Pittsburgh Penguins might not get Sidney Crosby (broken jaw) back for tonight’s contest, but that still leaves them with forwards James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, and Jarome Iginla. On top of that, they have Chris Kunitz, who might not be a household name, but still had an impressive 22 goals and 52 points in 48 games this season.

So its safe to say that the Pittsburgh Penguins can score goals, but will they be able to stop them? Their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012 was light on defense or goaltending and the Penguins ultimately lost in six matches despite scoring 26 goals. They need to play a more balanced game this time around.

This will also be New York Islanders forward John Tavares‘ playoff debut. The 22-year-old has helped the Islanders turn their franchise around and could cause headaches for the Penguins in this series.

The Vancouver Canucks host the San Jose Sharks (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

There are lots of veterans on both teams that have been to the playoffs many times before and still haven’t won the Stanley Cup. 32-year-old twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin recently acknowledged that they’re running out of chances and San Jose Sharks captain Joe Thornton, 33, is in the same boat.

The fact that both teams have an aging core also means that as franchises they’re in serious jeopardy of letting their respective windows of opportunity slip away. Every series will be hard fought, but these are two teams that might play with an added level of desperation.

Beyond that, the big source of intrigue heading into this game is the status of Vancouver Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider, who is day-to-day with a “body” injury. If he’s unavailable, Roberto Luongo will be asked to bounce back from his 7-2 loss against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.

  1. hockeywithdrawal - May 1, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    Go….PENS….

    Islanders are a great team – as long as the Pens don’t get into a run-and-gun with them, they should be ok…maybe…

    • jpelle82 - May 1, 2013 at 9:51 AM

      they need to make sure they dont give up shorthanded breakaways to grabner and they will be fine. he’s really their only speed threat, pens 3rd line should be able to bottle up the tavares line as they have all year long.

  2. haterzinc - May 1, 2013 at 8:32 AM

    Yes the isles are one of the teams that can bait others in to a run and run type game…maple leafs have been doing it for years too. Pens can keep up but, not the system they want to play.

  3. myspaceyourface - May 1, 2013 at 8:34 AM

    I think the Pens will be just fine. I don’t think the Isles have the defense or fire power to keep up with this team. . .

    • phil4444phil - May 1, 2013 at 8:57 AM

      They are a +46 (second in the NHL) in goals. They’ll be fine alright.

    • blackfoot11 - May 1, 2013 at 10:05 AM

      True, the Pens have 4 skilled lines, but the Isles are not all about the Tavares line anymore. They are getting good 2nd line scoring, the third line is pretty good with Mike Gradner leading the way, Nabokov is solid, and the D has been playing better down the stretch. I would not discount the Isles depth, D, and skill, so quickly.

  4. steelpenbucs87 - May 1, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    Pens will need to continue their “They can’t score if they don’t have the puck” style of defense. Get it deep, cycle, knock the D-Men around, and take advantage of breaks when you can get them with the stretch pass.

    The Islanders have some skill but I still think they’re a year or so away. The thing that scares me is if Nabby steals a game or two.

  5. jpelle82 - May 1, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    pens lost the series last year to the flyers in 6 games – not seven matches Ryan.

  6. valoisjoeybfeld69 - May 1, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    I doubt the Islanders will want to play run & gun hockey in the playoffs. Matter of fact there isn’t a team who would want to do so at this juncture. Pens should play a very tight game, be patient and use their speed and talent to create chances when they transition from D to O. O wins games, but D wins championship. The great builders of the game will tell you that you build a great from the back.

  7. 950003cups - May 1, 2013 at 9:33 AM

    If you shut down Tavares, Isles can’t win. If he gets going, he’ll light up Fleury all night.

    • jpelle82 - May 1, 2013 at 9:48 AM

      pens dont have to worry about tavares, he hasnt showed them something to worry about to date. letang and his closing speed should be able to work him over just fine. you just gotta make sure you know where he is at, he likes to just drift around and wait for someone else to do the work so he can clean up.

  8. President Charles Logan - May 1, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    lol i get a kick out of reading some of these posts ya’ll put on here.. about getting the puck deep and cycling, etc.. almost sounds as if a few of you thought you were a hockey player in another lifetime or something … keep up the good work guys! playoffs will be gone and summer will be here before you know it (thank god)

  9. trick9 - May 1, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    Nabokov to steal this game for Isles.

  10. buccobrigade - May 1, 2013 at 9:16 PM

    So much for Nabakov stealing this game. LOL

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