Four sleeps without hockey was too many, if you ask us. The NHL returns tonight with five games opening the slate of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs. Here's what to watch for in today's edition of ESPN Stanley Cup Playoffs Daily:
About last night...
There was some NHL action last night. The draft lottery was held in Toronto, and for the second time in three years, the Devils will be picking No. 1. Yes, New Jersey won the Jack Hughes sweepstakes. The New York Rangers got second, and the Chicago Blackhawks bucked their 8.2 percent odds to finish in the top three. The Colorado Avalanche, with Ottawa's pick, ended up at No. 4 -- a rare moment of reprieve for Senators fans.
The big picture? Hughes is the next big American hockey star -- and he'll likely play for an American team (unlike Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Brady Tkachuk, Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser -- all stashed above the border on Canadian teams). That's a boon for fans in the U.S.
Winners of the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery: 1. New Jersey Devils, obviously, in winning the Jack Hughes Derby and giving star winger (and lottery good luck charm) Taylor Hall a reason not to leave as a UFA next summer. 2. New York Rangers, who moved up from 5th to likely end up with NHL-ready Finnish star Kaapo Kakko, thanks to the Hockey Gods being impressed by their commitment to an actual rebuild. 3. Chicago Blackhawks, who jumped all the way from 12th (as GM Stan Bowman dreamt they would) and will get a dynamic player on an entry level deal. 4. Those fans who caught the image of the lottery winners that Sportsnet accidentally aired about 25 minutes before they were announced (whoops). 5. Ottawa Senators, who kept their 2018 fourth overall pick to select Brady Tkachuk and then saw the Avalanche end up picking fourth with the Sens' 2019 pick, despite having the best odds. And by "win" we of course mean "are slightly less devastated by having traded that pick for Matt Duchene."
The Lightning open as the big Cup favorites, at 2-1. Don't discount the John Tortorella-coached Blue Jackets in putting up a fight, though. Several Columbus players -- notably star winger Artemi Panarin and two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky -- are playing for new contracts this summer.
A 2019 playoff game at Nassau Coliseum? Yeah, we didn't see this one coming, either. The Islanders have been plucky underdogs all season and now take on a Sidney Crosby-led team that's peaking at the right time.
Everyone expected Winnipeg to be a wagon this season, but they haven't looked quite right. The Blues, meanwhile, didn't look right at all when they were the league's worst team on Jan. 2, but since then, they have been among the league's hottest. Bring on a classic Western Conference slugfest.
Just after Christmas, Stars CEO Jim Lites went on an epic rant, calling out the play of his two star players as "f---ing horses---." Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin can get the last laugh if they pull an upset over the Central Division champs in Round 1.
The misfits are back -- and brought reinforcements, like Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone and Paul Stastny. They'll look to spoil it for the Sharks yet again. San Jose would like to win one for Jumbo Joe Thornton before the 39-year-old (possibly) hangs them up this summer.
Social post of the day
They talk about Gretzky's 92 goals or Sittler's 10 pts in one game as records that may never be broken. But winning 5 draft lotteries in your first 9 years in the league? In 2 different draft lottery eras, no less. That is a record that will stand forever.— Taylor Hall (@hallsy09) April 10, 2019
We didn't see much of Taylor Hall for the second half of the season as he nursed a knee injury; the reigning MVP came in hot on Twitter this week, though.
"I want to straighten it out: If you've had one shot, it's like you've had a million." -- New Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville, appearing on the ESPN on Ice podcast, discussing his viral moment during his unemployment period, when he ripped shotskis with Chicago Bears fans while tailgating at Soldier Field.