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Thursday's NHL playoff action: What bettors need to know

New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins (-209, 6)

Series tied 2-2.

Tomas Vokoun was signed to a two-year contract in the offseason, with the primary purpose to serve as the understudy to stud goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. With the latter clearly struggling, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has elected to trust the 36-year-old Vokoun with the start for Thursday's Game 5 of the Eastern Conference first-round series versus the New York Islanders. Fleury was blitzed for six goals on 24 shots as the eighth-seeded Islanders evened the series at two games apiece with a 6-4 triumph on Tuesday.

"We brought Tomas Vokoun in to play big games for us and be a goaltender we could count on to go in and play big games," Bylsma said of Vokoun, who will be making his first postseason start in six years. Vokoun will have the task of shutting down Kyle Okposo, who has scored in three consecutive games - after finding the net just four times in the regular season. John Tavares has also scored in two straight contests.

TV: 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, MSG Plus (New York), ROOT Sports (Pittsburgh)

ABOUT THE ISLANDERS: While Pittsburgh made a change in goaltenders, New York isn't ready to go that route - despite Evgeni Nabokov's less-than-stellar numbers. Despite having a gaudy 4.56 goals-against average and an .846 save percentage, the veteran Russian isn't getting down on his performance. "If you look at the goals, they score good goals, they score off their sticks, off their feet. ... I think the biggest thing is, move on to the next shot," Nabokov said. "I tried to make saves and trust the guys that they're going to do the job."

ABOUT THE PENGUINS: Evgeni Malkin has recorded four consecutive two-point performances in the series, but his giveaway in the third period on Tuesday led to Pittsburgh's undoing. The reigning Hart Trophy winner's ill-advised clearing attempt up the middle was intercepted by Tavares, who skated in on Fleury and cleaned up his own rebound to give New York a 5-4 lead. James Neal and defenseman Brooks Orpik returned from lower-body injuries - with the former scoring a goal.

TRENDS:

* Over is 8-3-1 in the last 12 meetings.
* Under is 7-3-1 in the last 11 meetings in Pittsburgh.
* Islanders are 17-36 in the last 53 meetings.
* Islanders are 5-22 in the last 27 meetings in Pittsburgh.

OVERTIME:

1. Vokoun stopped 98-of-101 shots to win all three contests against the Islanders in 2013. The veteran has struggled in the playoffs, however, posting a 3-8 mark in 11 career appearances with Nashville.

2. New York D Andrew MacDonald suffered a broken hand in Game 4 and could miss the remainder of the postseason, Newsday reported.

3. Fleury has started 79 consecutive postseason games for the Penguins, securing a 45-34 mark with six shutouts.

Ottawa Senators at Montreal Canadiens (-122, 5)

Ottawa leads series 3-1.

The Montreal Canadiens were seconds away from returning home tied with the Ottawa Senators in their Eastern Conference first-round series. Instead, the Canadiens are on the brink of elimination and could be without their starting goaltender and captain when they host the seventh-seeded Senators in Game 5 on Thursday night. Ottawa scored the tying goal with 22.6 seconds left in regulation before Kyle Turris won it in overtime Tuesday to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Montreal goaltender Carey Price suffered a lower-body injury in the waning seconds of regulation and will miss the remainder of the series. The Canadiens will also be without captain Brian Gionta, who will undergo season-ending surgery Friday to repair a torn biceps muscle, as well as well as forwards Brandon Prust and Ryan White. The Senators have owned a decided edge in the pivotal third period of the series, scoring three goals in their Game 1 victory, four times in the Game 3 romp and twice in Game 4 to erase a 2-0 deficit. "That's the nature of our team," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. "We play the whole game and don't stop playing until the game is over and that means 60-plus minutes to do it, and we found a way."

TV: 7 p.m. CNBC, CBC, RDS

ABOUT THE SENATORS: Turris got off to a fast start this season, scoring three goals in the first four games. An injury to No. 1 center Jason Spezza forced him to play on the top line and Turris did not respond well, scoring in only three of 35 games at one point, but he has come up big when it counted. Turris scored the winning overtime goal and assisted on the tying tally in Game 4 and also delivered the backbreaking goal in Game 3. He finished the regular season strong by scoring four times in the final six games. "He's been a player that's grown a lot with us this year, having to take over the No. 1 center position even if he's not that No. 1 center," MacLean said. "But he played against a lot of the best guys in the league. He's really started to come out of the tunnel at the other end and there's a light there. His overall game has improved so much this year."

ABOUT THE CANADIENS: Price is scheduled to be re-evaluated Thursday, putting backup Peter Budaj in the precarious position of possibly having to win an elimination game despite making only one start in three weeks. Budaj won seven consecutive starts this season and compiled an 8-1-1 record and 2.28 goals-against average. He will need to have a short memory after getting beat by Turris on a bad-angle shot in the extra session. Budaj made his first start of the season against the Senators and wound up on the short end of a 5-1 rout. Norris Trophy candidate P.K. Subban sounded unconcerned over who was in net. "When we come out of the gates and we're flying, guys are going to realize that we're the better team and there's still life in this series for us," Subban said. "We've been outshooting them every game, we've got good goaltending no matter who's in the net, so I wish them the best of luck."

TRENDS:


* Home team is 10-1 in the last 11 meetings.
*Over is 3-1-1 in the last five meetings.
* Senators are 1-5 in the last six meetings in Montreal.

OVERTIME:

1. Budaj, a former backup to Ottawa G Craig Anderson with Colorado, has never started a postseason game. He had made five career playoff appearances.

2. Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, 40, has five points to tie reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson for the series lead.

3. Game 6 - if necessary - will be played Saturday night in Ottawa.

Minnesota Wild at Chicago Blackhawks (-265, 5)


Chicago leads series 3-1.

The Minnesota Wild might run out of goaltenders before they run out of opportunities to stay alive in their Western Conference first-round series. The eighth-seeded Wild will likely start rookie netminder Darcy Kuemper when they visit the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday in Game 5, trailing 3-1 after losing both Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding. Backstrom suffered a leg injury while warming up for Game 1, while Harding - absent for most of the season due to complications with treatment for his multiple sclerosis - left Game 4 with what appeared to be a lower-body injury following a collision with Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. Kuemper was unable to stop the first shot he faced in his postseason career but finished Tuesday’s contest with 16 saves on 18 shots.

The Blackhawks have dominated Minnesota at home in the series, outshooting the Wild 85-55 over the first two contests. Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford made 25 saves in Game 4 for his second career playoff shutout. After Tuesday’s triumph and victories at home in the first two games, the Blackhawks have a chance to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. Chicago is 5-0-1 in its last six home contests against Minnesota, the one blemish coming in a 5-4 shootout loss on April 1, 2012. The Blackhawks are 47-12-11 at United Center - including playoffs - since the start of last season and went 4-1-0 in elimination games during their 2010 Stanley Cup championship run.

TV: 9:30 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS2, NBCSN, Fox Sports North, Fox Sports Wisconsin, Comcast Sportsnet Chicago

ABOUT THE WILD:
Ryan Suter was nominated for the Norris Trophy on Tuesday as the league’s top defenseman along with Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang and Montreal’s P.K. Subban. Suter, who led the league in time on ice with 27:16 per game, played 30:23 on Tuesday - the third time in four games he reached 30 minutes of ice-time in regulation. Suter has yet to record a point in the series after finishing the season with 32 and has 13 points in 43 career postseason contests. Minnesota coach Mike Yeo would not commit to starting Kuemper in net for Game 5 as Harding and Backstrom both remain day-to-day with their respective injuries. Kuemper, who had a total of 288 minutes in net over six games during the regular season, was selected in the sixth round -161st overall - in 2009 and has one NHL victory to his credit.

ABOUT THE BLACKHAWKS: Patrick Sharp scored twice for the second time this series on Tuesday after also recording two in the third period of Game 2. Sharp, who was limited to 28 games and only six goals due to injuries during the regular season, leads the series with five points and has 27 career postseason tallies. Ray Emery and Dave Bolland, who have missed the entire series thus far with lower-body injuries, are doubtful for Game 5 despite practicing with the team this week. Bryan Bickell has scored in three of the four games, raising his career playoff total to seven goals and 10 points in 19 contests. Captain Jonathan Toews has yet to record a point in the series after entering the postseason with 50 points in 52 career games.

TRENDS:

* Over is 4-1 in the last five meetings in Chicago.
* Under is 3-1-1 in the last five meetings.
* Home team is 6-2 in the last eight meetings.
* Wild are 1-5 in the last six meetings in Chicago.
* Wild are 1-5 in the last six meetings.

OVERTIME:

1. Chicago’s penalty killing has been flawless in 15 opportunities for the Wild over the first four games.

2. Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu is minus-5 with eight penalty minutes and has been held off the scoresheet for the duration of the series.

3. Wild RW Jason Pominville returned from a concussion on Tuesday and fired three shots in 12:12 time on ice.

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