The New York Rangers finally won a game on their home ice, and now they go back north of the border with a chance to take the lead in their series against the Montreal Canadiens.
The series between the two Original 6 teams is tied at 2-2, and the Rangers rebounded nicely in Game 4 with a 2-1 victory at Madison Square Garden. New York had lost its previous six home playoff games.
The Rangers won the series opener at the Bell Center and were seconds away from a 2-0 lead there until Montreal's Tomas Plekanec tied the game and Alexander Radulov won it in the extra period.
The pivotal fifth game will feature the Rangers' speed and agility against the Canadiens' strong defensive game and ability to counter New York's offensive thrusts. Here's a look at the full first-round schedule.
While both teams have premier-level goaltending, the presence of Carey Price gives Montreal a slight edge over Henrik Lundqvist. The Habs don't leave a lot of openings in the neutral zone or their own zone, and any misplay by the Rangers can lead to a Montreal counterattack.
|Thursday night's NHL playoff schedule|
|Game||Series Standing||Time||TV||Predicted Winner|
|New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens||Series tied, 2-2||7 p.m.||USA||Montreal|
|Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins||Pittsburgh, 3-1||7 p.m.||NHL Network||Pittsburgh|
|Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators||Nashville, 3-0||8 p.m.||NBCSN||Nashville|
|San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers||Series tied, 2-2||10:30 p.m.||NBCSN||Edmonton|
|NHL.com; Silverman predictions|
The Habs need their top scorer Max Pacioretty to have an impact as the series moves to its crucial stage. His ability to fire a wicked wrist shot and get it away in a split second is Montreal's biggest threat, but he has been held to one assist in the first four games of the series.
Head coach Claude Julien has shaken up his lines in an attempt to improve the goal scoring, and Pacioretty explained the move. "Trying to get sparks going," Pacioretty told Stu Cowan of the National Post. "I think you're looking a little bit too much into it."
If Pacioretty can get loose early in the game and score a goal in the first period, it could give the Canadiens a jolt of energy. The longer the game goes without either team scoring, the greater the pressure will be on the home team. Their demanding fans want to see their team take charge, and while they are supportive, they can also turn their home arena into a pressure cooker.
The Western Conference series between the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks is tied at 2-2, after San Jose came through with a remarkable effort in their Game 4, 7-0 victory. The Sharks had been shut out in their two previous games, but Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski scored two goals each to lead the effort.
Don't think for a second that the Oilers will be shaken by the loss. They are returning home and have arguably been the better team in three of the first four games, and they have one of the game's most explosive weapons in Connor McDavid.
McDavid's explosive speed is his greatest weapon, but he also sees the ice like few others and does a sensational job of setting up his teammates.
Leon Draisaitl is another Oiler who is capable of making plays for his teammates and himself, while veteran power forward Milan Lucic is a major threat when he keeps his feet moving and then plants himself in front of the net.
Edmonton should come out with a vengeance, and the Sharks will have to show they can withstand the early pressure. If they can, this could be a tight game into the third period. If not, the Oilers should be in an excellent position to win this pivotal game.
The Columbus Blue Jackets staved off elimination in Game 4 at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but if John Tortorella's men are going to remain alive, they must find a way to win at Pittsburgh.
The Penguins seized control in the first two games on their home ice, and they played with confidence and relentlessness in both game. While the Penguins have a strong supporting cast that includes Jake Guentzel and Patric Hornqvist, superstars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel can seize control at any time.
The Blue Jackets have been a solid team all season, but they don't have the firepower to trade chances with the Penguins. If goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky does not have a spectacular game, it seems likely the series will end Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
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Per @EliasSports: Kevin Fiala (20 years, 269 days) is youngest in @PredsNHL history to score an overtime goal in the #StanleyCup Playoffs. https://t.co/LJWg9hWvW92017-4-18 06:03:34
The Nashville Predators have been one of the most remarkable stories in the first round of the playoff as they have reeled off three straight victories and have put the Chicago Blackhawks on the brink of elimination.
Chicago was the favorite to win the Stanley Cup at the start of the playoffs (according to OddsShark), and they are the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. However, they have found it difficult to score in this series.
They were blanked in their two home games, and after building a 2-0 lead in Game 3, they seemed to ease off the gas pedal. That was just the break the Predators needed as they rallied for two goals in the third period and won it in overtime on Kevin Fiala's slick move.
The Blackhawks are now in the unlikely position of having to reel off four straight wins to win the series.
As strong as their nucleus is with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford, it is unlikely that the Blackhawks will mount that kind of comeback.
What is more likely is that the Preds will write the most exciting story in their history and move on to the conference semifinals.