Does the West have a 'true' favorite?

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For most of this season, the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks clearly have been the class of the Western Conference. Yet, now, both teams face some serious questions.

For Chicago, the problem is a mixture of bad luck, goalie worries and late game struggles. As I just wrote, the team is without three of their defensemen because of injuries and is on a three game losing streak.

Unlike Chicago, most of the Sharks’ wounds appear to be self-inflicted (although they must miss the heady work of underrated defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic). They, too, are on a three game losing streak highlighted by a tremendous beating at the hands of the Dallas Stars, who humbled them 8-2. That’ll Cheech You of Fear the Fin had this to say about the team.

Talking with a coworker yesterday, the old adage “at least we’re getting the slump out of the way now” came up. Although that could be an apt point, it didn’t hold true for the team last year. This isn’t just a slump; the team is facing some major personnel issues and an overall lack of effort. That’s not to say that these issues can’t be fixed, but as of this point in the season, I’m not seeing it.

Now, it’s natural for people who cover a team everyday to truly feel each win and loss that much more. Ultimately, I think that Chicago and San Jose both can bounce back from these obstacles (although the Blackhawks better hope that Brent Seabrook’s problems are minimal.) 

Still, I have to wonder: is there a true favorite to come out of the West if Chicago and San Jose falter? Let’s look at some of the other West contenders.


Vancouver: The odd thing about the Canucks is that Roberto Luongo might be the problem right now. According to the Vancouver Sun, Luongo’s been pulled a stunning four times in his last 13 starts.

Phoenix: When is this team going to “show up on the radar”? They might just be the hottest team in the NHL right now with a six game winning streak. It’s obvious that they’re more than just a feel-good story.

Colorado/Los Angeles/Nashville: You have to hand it to these three scrappy teams for doing so well this season, but I don’t see them getting to the Cup Finals this year.

Detroit: You might say that the Red Wings have “finally woken up” with a three game winning streak, but I think a lot of that comes with getting healthy. No one wants to see this team in the first round.

Calgary: Who knows if the Flames will even make the playoffs? Then again, a team with Kipper, Bouwmeester and Iginla could be dangerous if they indeed make it. I doubt it, but it’s at least … slightly plausible.

Could one of these teams steal the West or will it be Chicago or San Jose as it seemed for much of this season?

Penguins ride Murray’s masterpiece to 2-1 series lead vs. Capitals

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) deflects a puck over the net during the first period of Game 3 against the Washington Capitals in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals in Pittsburgh, Monday, May 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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If Marc-Andre Fleury suiting up bothers Matt Murray, then the rookie goalie channeled those feelings into a masterful performance on Monday.

The Washington Capitals absolutely dominated Game 3, but Murray was even better, stopping 47 shots as the Penguins stole one 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.

(Capitals fans might see some parallels to Washington’s Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers; they fell 2-0 despite a 44-11 shots on goal edge thanks to Michal Neuvirth‘s heroics.)

Murray stopped chance after chance before Alex Ovechkin finally broke through for his first goal of this series. Justin Williams then brought the Penguins’ lead down to 3-2 to make for a hold-your-breath final minute.

A driven Ovechkin and strong overall play from the Capitals (despite this defeat) aren’t the only reasons why Game 4 might present some twists.

First things first: Kris Letang might get suspended for Game 4 (if not for more than one game) thanks to this controversial check on Marcus Johansson.

Beyond that, there could be some bumps and bruises from this contest.

Bryan Rust left during the first period and didn’t return to the game after blocking a shot. Brian Dumoulin seemed shaken up after an Alex Ovechkin hit in the third period. The Capitals might have a player or two to look at, as well.

In other words, the Penguins could really lack for quality defensemen with Letang possibly suspended and possible injury absences for Dumoulin and Olli Maatta.

This series is living up to the hype … and really building up the hate.

Yes, NHL is reportedly looking at Letang’s hit on Johansson

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It remains to be seen if Kris Letang will get suspended for his hit on Marcus Johansson … and if he does, for how long.

(You can read initial reactions and some analysis about the specifics of the check vs. the one that got Brooks Orpik suspended here.)

There are a few things we do know already.

For one thing, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly looking into it.

Another factor that could help Letang avoid a suspension or limit the duration of supplemental discipline: Marcus Johansson returned during the second period.

In fact, Johansson delivered some hits on Letang.

There have been some nasty moments in Game 3, and more might be coming. The Penguins lead 2-0 with a few minutes remaining in the middle frame.

Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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Update: Reports indicate that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is indeed looking into the hit.

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As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

Things could get ugly in Game 3:

One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

Also, lateness of the check:

The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

Fleury suits up (but won’t start) and other Caps – Pens Game 3 notes

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been out of action with concussion symptoms, participates in a practice session for the NHL hockey playoffs against the New York Rangers, Monday, April 11, 2016, at their practice facility in Cranberry, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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The Brooks Orpik hit on Olli Maatta isn’t the only factor in lineup changes for Game 3 between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Maybe the most interesting change starts on the Penguins’ bench … where they likely hope that tweak will stay for at least one night.

Marc-Andre Fleury is apparently healthy enough to suit up for the Penguins, although it appears as though Matt Murray will start:

That’s a clear sign that “The Flower” is healthy enough to play, as Murray would be an injury or a coach’s pull away from giving up the net to Fleury. (One would assume.)

Murray has been fantastic for the most part since taking over for Jeff Zatkoff during this postseason, yet you know how the playoffs can be; people may clamor for Fleury after a loss even if it’s not really Murray’s fault.

Circling back to that Orpik hit, the dominoes seem to fall this way:

Penguins: Derrick Pouliot replaces injured Maatta.

Capitals: Dmitry Orlov in for suspended Orpik.

PHT will make note if there are any swerves.