NHL playoffs standings update: Phoenix eyes top spot

We’re getting near the part of the season where every game involves a heavy dose of scoreboard watching. Teams not only need their two points, but some help from other teams to either grab a playoff spot or take a better playoff position headed into the post season. We’re going to start updating the playoff picture daily here on Pro Hockey Talk, starting today as we gear up for matchup between the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, two teams fighting for the final spot in the East.

After the jump, the standings of the Eastern and Western conferences, as well as some thoughts on each.

Western Conference

DIV GP W L OT Pts GF GA DIFF Home Away L10 Streak
1
Chicago Blackhawks
CEN 71 45 19 7 97 234 179 +55 26-7-3 19-12-4 4-4-2  
2
San Jose Sharks
PAC 71 43 18 10 96 231 187 +44 22-6-8 21-12-2 3-6-1 Lost 4
3
Vancouver Canucks
NW 72 44 24 4 92 236 187 +49 26-8-2 18-16-2 6-2-2  
4
Phoenix Coyotes
PAC 72 45 22 5 95 198 177 +21 26-10-2 19-12-3 8-2-0 Won 8
5
Los Angeles Kings
PAC 70 41 24 5 87 207 185 +22 20-12-3 21-12-2 5-4-1 Won 1
6
Nashville Predators
CEN 72 41 26 5 87 203 201 +2 21-12-2 20-14-3 7-3-0 Won 5
7
Colorado Avalanche
NW 70 40 24 6 86 211 185 +26 22-11-2 18-13-4 5-5-0 Lost 1
8
Detroit Red Wings
CEN 71 35 23 13 83 193 192 +1 19-10-5 16-13-8 7-2-1 Won 1
9
Calgary Flames
NW 71 36 26 9 81 181 177 +4 18-16-3 18-10-6 7-3-0 Won 2
10
St Louis Blues
CEN 71 34 28 9 77 194 196 -2 12-17-5 22-11-4 7-3-0 Won 2
11
Dallas Stars
PAC 71 31 27 13 75 206 227 -21 20-10-6 11-17-7 3-6-1 Won 1

 

There are three big races right now, that will have a major impact on the playoff picture in the West. First, the Chicago Blackhawks have been able to — somehow — overcome the San Jose Sharks for the lead in the conference. Thanks to the Sharks’ unseemly losing streak, they’ve opened the door for a three-way battle for tops in the West that includes…. the Phoenix Coyotes.

Yes, the franchise and team that was the laughing stock of the sports world last summer has now snuck into the picture for the No. 1 seed in the West, riding an incredible eight-game winning streak. A win today against the Dallas Stars — coupled with a San Jose loss to Edmonton — and the Coyotes could find themselves in first place in the West. Incredible.

The other race is towards the bottom of the conference, with the Detroit Red Wings trying to hold off the Calgary Flames. Mathematically, this is the closest race but they also have St. Louis and Dallas still within shooting distance as well. The Stars are too inconsistent to put together the sort of streak needed to be considered seriously, but a losing streak of any kind by those above them and it’s certainly a possibility. The Red Wings have a chance to open up their lead today, as they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Eastern Conference

DIV GP W L OT Pts GF GA DIFF Home Away L10 Streak
1
Washington Capitals
SE 72 48 14 10 106 283 203 +80 26-4-4 22-10-6 7-1-2 Won 1
2
Pittsburgh Penguins
ATL 72 42 24 6 90 224 205 +19 21-10-4 21-14-2 6-2-2  
3
Buffalo Sabres
NE 70 38 22 10 86 195 177 +18 21-9-6 17-13-4 5-4-1 Won 2
4
New Jersey Devils
ATL 71 42 25 4 88 189 169 +20 24-10-1 18-15-3 5-4-1 Lost 1
5
Philadelphia Flyers
ATL 71 37 29 5 79 211 196 +15 21-12-2 16-17-3 4-4-2 Lost 1
6
Ottawa Senators
NE 72 37 30 5 79 194 212 -18 23-10-4 14-20-1 2-7-1 Lost 5
7
Montréal Canadiens
NE 72 36 29 7 79 196 198 -2 18-13-4 18-16-3 7-2-1  
8
Boston Bruins
NE 70 31 27 12 74 174 180 -6 14-14-6 17-13-6 4-5-1 Lost 1
9
Atlanta Thrashers
SE 71 31 29 11 73 215 229 -14 18-13-5 13-16-6 4-5-1 Won 3
10
New York Rangers
ATL 71 31 31 9 71 185 195 -10 15-17-6 16-14-3 4-4-2 Lost 2
11
Carolina Hurricanes
SE 71 30 33 8 68 198 221 -23 19-14-3 11-19-5 6-3-1 Won 2

 

Currently, the Washington Capitals are the only team that’s locked up a division title, but the Sabres have a good firm grasp on their lead in the Northeast division; I doubt the Ottawa Senators are going to go off on any sort of winning streak anytime soon. The Capitals also have a good firm lockdown on the No. 1 spot in the conference.

There are still some good races to keep an eye on. The Penguins, thanks to an overtime loss to the Hurricanes yesterday, have opened up a shot for the New Jersey Devils to take over the lead in the Atlantic division, although New Jersey was shutout yesterday against St. Louis as they failed to take advantage of Pittsburgh’s slip. Neither team plays today.

Finally, we have the most intriguing race in the NHL. Everyone’s attention has been on the battle between New York and Boston for 8th in the conference, all the while the Atlanta Thrashers have snuck into the picture and threaten to knock both out of the playoffs. The Rangers and Bruins have been amazing to watch, as they’ve stumbled and struggled to even muster a fight when the opportunity arises to make a move.

Don’t take your eyes off the Ottawa Senators, however. They’re historic fall could take them out of the playoffs, opening up the chance for two of the Atlanta, New York and Boston trio to make the playoffs. And then, most likely, get promptly ousted by the Washington Capitals.

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    Chris Kunitz found the fountain of youth in Game 7

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    PITTSBURGH — Chris Kunitz has put together an impressive and often times overlooked resume during his 13 years in the NHL. He has been a top-line player on three Stanley Cup winning teams, he has an Olympic Gold Medal, and before Thursday’s Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators had scored 275 goals (regular season and playoffs) in the NHL.

    By any objective measure that is a fantastic career.

    During the Penguins’ 3-2 overtime win on Thursday to send them back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row, he played what was perhaps the biggest — and best — game of his career.

    It could not have come at a better time for the Penguins.

    Or at a more unexpected one.

    Kunitz played a role in all three Penguins’ goals, scoring two of them, including the overtime winner, and providing the key screen on Justin Schultz‘s third period power play goal. As if that was not enough, he also recorded an assist on that Schultz goal.

    He was, to say the least, a force and the single biggest contributor in the Penguins’ win. Even if he downplayed his overtime winner as simply being the result of a little bit of luck.

    “I was just trying to get into a soft spot,” said Kunitz. “The puck fluttered off my stick a little, I don’t know if it touched [Jean-Gabriel Pageau] or kept going right in, but it looked like there was a good screen on the goalie, it looked like he maybe fell down, it just found its way into the net. Sometimes you just get lucky when you put one on net.”

    Lucky or not, Kunitz was the unexpected hero in Game 7 and it came on a night where he seemed to rediscover his game.

    Kunitz playing such an essential role in a big playoff win wouldn’t have been that big of a shock four or five years ago.

    He has been a core player since arriving in Pittsburgh during the 2008-09 season and spent years skating on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby.  That presence on Crosby’s wing almost did more to hurt his reputation because there was always that belief he was simply a product of skating alongside the best player in the world. But he has always been more than that. He has been a legitimately good top-six winger that had also found success even when away from Crosby.

    But on Thursday it was a taste of the old days with Crosby setting up the overtime winner.

    “[Sheary] did a really good job bringing it up the wall and walking the blue like, and I think Sid was coming right off the bench,” said Kunitz. “When he drives it deep everyone gets scared and you can find that soft area because obviously Sid has great vision, and he put it right there. I just found a way to put it on net and got lucky.”

    What makes his performance such a stunner this season, and in this game, is that it came at a time when his best days were clearly in the past and he had gone from being a top-line, core player, to being more of a bottom-six role player.

    At the age of 37 that had to be expected. He was still able to do enough to be a useful contributor, but the consistent impact on the scoresheet wasn’t always there. Entering Game 7 on Thursday night he had yet to score a goal and had recorded just a pair of assists in his first 13 playoff games. Along with that postseason scoring drought he only scored nine goals during the regular season and had not found the back of the net since Feb. 16, a stretch of 78 days.

    Then there he is playing the role of hero in what was, to this point, the Penguins’ biggest game of the season.

    “He played his best game of the playoffs when it matters the most,” said Penguins forward Carl Hagelin. “That’s the type of guy he is and that’s the reason he has three Stanley Cup rings already. He’s just one of those guys you love having on your team.”

    This is pretty much what Game 7’s in the Stanley Cup playoffs are all about. Anything can happen when a series and a season all comes down to one game.

    It only takes one shot, one bounce, one play, one call or one huge performance from an unexpected player to totally re-write history.

    In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago it was Bryan Rust, representing the next wave and younger generation of the Penguins, playing the role of hero with his two goal-game.

    This year, it was one of their long-time core players rediscovering his past glory for one night.

    2017 Stanley Cup Final schedule: Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins might celebrate their hard-fought tonight, but they’d probably be wise to rest up. It won’t be long before they’ll face the well-rested Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

    That first contest will take place on Monday, May 29. The Penguins ended their series on Thursday (or, maybe Friday if you’re being a stickler) while the Predators get a week of rest after dispatching the Ducks this past Monday (May 22).

    NBC and NBCSN will have you covered for what should be a fast and fascinating series with a whole lot of gold/yellow going around. Game 1 will be on NBC, Games 2 and 3 will air on NBCSN and then the remaining contests will take place on NBC.

    Here’s the schedule in list form, as that may be easier to follow:

    2017 STANLEY CUP FINAL SCHEDULE
    Subject to Change/All Times ET

    Game Date Time (ET) Pittsburgh vs. Nashville Networks
    Game 1 Monday, May 29 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
    Game 2 Wednesday, May 31 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
    Game 3 Saturday, June 3 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
    Game 4 Monday, June 5 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
    Game 5* Thursday, June 8 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
    Game 6* Sunday, June 11 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
    Game 7* Wednesday, June 14 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
    * If necessary

    Penguins end Senators’ magical run, reach second Stanley Cup Final in a row

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    The Ottawa Senators put up a resounding fight, but the Sens’ “Cinderella” story came to an end tonight.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins needed a double-overtime in Game 7 to write the final chapter, yet that’s what happened; now the defending champions prepare to face a well-rested Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final.

    An unforgettable night for Kunitz

    Hot take: Mike Sullivan made the right move in placing Chris Kunitz on Sidney Crosby‘s line.

    Crosby created some chances early on in Game 7, but things just weren’t clicking for the Pittsburgh Penguins. That swap opened up some opportunities for Kunitz – once a constant linemate of Crosby – and the veteran winger provided perhaps the best performance of his impressive career.

    As surprising as this turn was, maybe it should have been expected; Kunitz is one of the greatest success stories of any undrafted players, after all.

    Plenty of twists and turns

    After a scoreless second period, the two teams traded goals within just 20 seconds; Chris Kunitz cashed in on a nice rush while Mark Stone finished a great Erik Karlsson setup to make it 1-1.

    More: Video and other details regarding those opening tallies.

    The third period featured plenty of drama, even if some of the larger points echoed earlier narratives. To be more precise, the Penguins leveraged their power-play opportunity to a 2-1 lead (via Justin Schultz), but Ryan Dzingel‘s rebound 2-2 goal ensured that the lead wouldn’t last.

    Read more about the 2-2 goals and some controversial moments from the third period here. You may also enjoy this Marc Methot hip check on Evgeni Malkin.

    The overtime period began with a frantic pace; even fans probably needed the breather. Some great Phil Kessel chances didn’t end the opening overtime period, so things went to double-OT.

    Ponder Kessel’s tumultuous times in the first overtime here.

    It wasn’t beautiful, but Chris Kunitz’s knucklepuck beat a keyed-in Craig Anderson to end the contest and the series. He came into Thursday with zero goals and two assists in 13 playoff games; he generated the game-winner, the game-opener and an assist, factoring into all three Penguins goals.

    Deep playoff runs come down to some combination of stars being stars and unexpected heroes shining in huge moments. The Penguins keep finding ways to get that equation just right.

    Penguins – Senators Game 7 goes to double overtime, try to breathe

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    Try to breathe. Maybe meditate during this overtime intermission, if you need it.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators didn’t just need overtime to decide who would win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final. It turns out that, despite an angry Penguins crowd, that they’ll need double OT.

    There were plenty of big chances during that span of “free hockey.” You could probably argue that Phil Kessel was the most frustrated player during that frame; he was unable to score but generated some golden opportunities.

    One really looked like it might have beaten Craig Anderson:

    Wow. This one likely stings more for Kessel, as he had a ton of time and space but missed the net.

    Kessel wasn’t the only player to get chances. There were a ton in this first overtime as both teams took thrilling swipes at victory. Still, number 81 provided some of the most memorable moments.

    You can watch Game 7 live on NBCSN. The game can also be viewed online and via the NBC Sports App. Here is the livestream link.