The Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins have to grind out at least one more game apiece without a star contributor. Can they maintain their series momentum?
Two teams in control of their respective series must soldier on without key contributors for at least one more game in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Dallas Stars center and second-leading regular season scorer Tyler Seguin will officially miss Game 5 against the Minnesota Wild as he continues to recover from his lacerated Achilles, reports Stars beat writer and THN correspondent Mike Heika. Seguin sustained the injury March 17 against the Tampa Bay Lightning and missed a month, returning only for Game 2 against Minnesota April 16.
Did Seguin aggravate his injury by returning too early last week? Not exactly, reports Heika. He asked coach Lindy Ruff and got the following answer: “Not his injury, but this is kind of related and might be kind of a fallout of all of the sudden playing at a high pace.”
Perhaps a compensatory injury, then? Either way, Ruff confirmed Seguin is still rehabbing and won’t play Game 5 Friday in Dallas. The secondary injury is mysterious, with no clear timetable for Seguin to return, but at least Dallas has the luxury of heading home with a 3-1 series lead. Even without Seguin, the Stars continue to get timely scoring from their modified top-six forward group. Jamie Benn is still Jamie Benn. Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza have scored twice each, as has Patrick Eaves in a checking-line role. The Wild have outpaced the Stars in possession the past couple games according to war-on-ice.com, but the Stars have had a massive edge in shot attempts at home in the series, even without Seguin in Game 1. There’s no doubt they generate more chances with Seguin in the lineup, but they still have the firepower to outgun Minnesota’s mediocre attack with him sidelined. It helps that Stars goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi have each picked the post-season to play their best hockey of the year. Lehtonen was solid in Games 1 and 2, and Niemi shone in Game 4.
In the Eastern Conference, the Penguins don’t look like they’ll get their starting goaltender back anytime soon. Marc-Andre Fleury, suffering from his second concussion of 2015-16, will miss Game 4, coach Mike Sullivan confirmed, and still has no timetable to return. Sullivan told reporters Fleury had not skated the past two days and is still “day to day.” Concussions are tricky, multiple concussions less than four months apart even trickier, so Fleury’s status is as murky as ever. He could return for Game 5 or miss the rest of the season. It’s anyone’s guess.
At least the Penguins appear to have a capable fallback option. Rookie Matt Murray returned from a head injury of his own for Game 3 Tuesday and looked competent in a 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers. Murray wasn’t challenged too much in his first career playoff game, facing just 17 shots, but that may be a positive, as it highlights how impenetrable the Pens were defensively. A second straight road victory at Madison Square Garden is a big ask but would buy Fleury some time if it happens.
Lastly: the New York Islanders appear to have lost defenseman Ryan Pulock for the rest of their Atlantic Division semifinal against the Florida Panthers. Pulock sustained an undisclosed injury in Game 4 Wednesday night and did not travel with the Isles to Florida. He will miss Game 5 and likely the rest of the series, reports Newsday’s Arthur Staple.
It’s not like Pulock, 21, is a crucial big-minute defenseman at this stage of his career in the vein of Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic and Johnny Boychuk, but the Isles will miss Pulock nonetheless. He has an absolute bomb of a point shot and profiles as a long-term power play darling. That’s why GM Garth Snow spent the 15th overall pick on Pulock in 2013. He had a power play goal and three points in the first four games of the series.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin