Playoff update: The fittest survive

Tuesday night seemed like a day in which “the establishment” put down a few puck-based insurgencies. The Boston Bruins won their second game a row against their biggest bubble threat, the Ottawa Senators widened what was once a shrinking lead for fifth place in the East and the San Jose Sharks seemed to reestablish reason by taking back the Pacific.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference scenario (apologies for my lack of technical grace):

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Boston 4, Atlanta 0

The bad news for Atlanta and the other East underdogs is that Boston keeps moving away from that pack. The Thrashers might actually want to cast their net wider, now, because Philadelphia or Montreal might end up being easier targets than the Bruins. Could one of Boston, Montreal or Philadelphia falter enough to allow the Thrashers to sneak into the post-season?

Ottawa 2, Philadelphia 0

The Senators outlasted the Flyers in a notably rugged affair last night. So far Ottawa looks like they are in the driver’s seat to take the fifth spot, which is essentially turning into the right to play whomever turns up second in the Atlantic division. (Then again, I might prefer to test my luck against Buffalo than take on either Pittsburgh or New Jersey. That’s just me, though.)

New Jersey 6, Columbus 3

The Devils are once again positioned nicely for an Atlantic division title. They simply keep doing things their way. It might not always be sexy, but it works exceptionally well.

Western Conference scenario

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Chicago 2, Phoenix 0

The Blackhawks grabbed a nice hold of first place in the Conference while Phoenix relinquished their Pacific division lead to the Sharks. Some might wonder if Antti Niemi is “the answer” in net for Chicago after a performance like this.

San Jose 4, Minnesota 1

The Sharks took advantage of lowly Minnesota to re-gain their lead in the division. Can they hold off the hungry Coyotes?

Calgary 3, Anaheim 1

The Flames’ playoff hopes are dwindling right now, but they’re still making things stressful for Detroit by keeping up a steady pace. They need to finish the season strong to make the playoffs, though, there’s no doubt about that.

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    Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

    Steven Stamkos
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    He’s in.

    As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

    Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

    More:

    Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

    That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

    Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

    It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

    To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

     

    Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

    In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

    And then Stamkos took the warmup.

    As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

    “If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

    No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

    Stay tuned…

    Parise rehabbing back injury without surgery, ‘no question’ he’ll play in World Cup

    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 17:  Zach Parise #11 of the Minnesota Wild skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 17, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Wild 7-4.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    EDINA, Minn. (AP) Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise has been rehabilitating his back injury without surgery, putting him on track to be at full strength by September.

    Parise said Thursday he’s “happy with the way everything’s going.” He said he’s been able to work out as he normally does during the summer, despite missing the playoffs because of the injury.

    Parise said there’s “no question” he’ll be ready to play for Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey tournament.

    Parise joined teammates Erik Haula, Jason Pominville, Nate Prosser, Jared Spurgeon and Jason Zucker at an autograph signing to raise money for people affected by the wildfires in Alberta. The parents of Spurgeon’s wife, Danielle, lost their home to a fire in the Edmonton area.

    WATCH LIVE: Lightning at Penguins, Game 7

    TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Alex Killorn #17 of the Tampa Bay Lightning falls to the ice at the net against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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    Not much more to say than this:

    GAME 7.

    Puck drop is at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, but you can also catch the game online using NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

    CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

    Some relevant linkage for tonight’s affair:

    It’s been a ‘roller coaster’ — Pens, Bolts ready for Game 7

    Vasilevskiy ‘is the big reason we’re in Game 7,’ says Bolts coach Cooper

    Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

    Video: Johnson pays the price for Tampa Bay