Tonight's best: Atlantic, Pacific races take spotlight

Considering the fact that eighth place in the Eastern Conference isn’t really much to brag about, I’d say that the two most interesting tug-o-wars going forward are for the Atlantic and Pacific divisions. Today’s best games feature bouts that will affect those intriguing races. Since the remaining eight games vary from bland to lighting candles and listening to Enya, I’ll just discuss the three best of the night.

Phoenix Coyotes (46-23-5, 97 pts) at Nashville Predators (42-27-5, 89 pts) 8:00 PM ET

If you went three months back in time and told me that the Coyotes would regularly be involved in the most intriguing games of any given night in March, I either would have directed you to the nearest AA meeting or wondered if something drastic happened with their tortured fan base. Thankfully, the answer to that imaginary multiple choice is “none of the above.” Can the Coyotes really out-last the Sharks and win the Pacific, though?

New York Rangers (32-32-9, 73 pts) at New Jersey Devils (43-25-4, 90 pts) 7:00 PM ET

The Rangers will need to get their voodoo dolls out for Montreal, Boston and Philadelphia, but they’re also going to have to win some games to sneak into the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Rangers, the Devils have every reason to win this one as they continue their neck-and-neck race with the Penguins for the Atlantic Division.

Dallas Stars (32-27-14, 78 pts) at San Jose Sharks (44-19-10, 98 pts) 10:30 PM ET

The Stars are in full-on wishful thinking mode. They will need a staggering winning streak and probably a minor miracle or two to make the playoffs. Don’t expect bitter rival San Jose to do them any favors, either, since they have those pesky Coyotes to deal with. You may find this game on NHL Network tonight, by the way.

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    Video: Johansen, Fisher join in Predators’ conference title celebration

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    After reaching their first ever Western Conference Final, the Nashville Predators topped that in a big way, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

    There were a lot of firsts and rarities along the way.

    In ousting the Anaheim Ducks with a 6-3 victory in Game 6, GM David Poile’s team advanced to the championship round for the first time in his lengthy time as an executive.

    Peter Laviolette also became the fourth coach in NHL history to bring three different team to a Stanley Cup Final. The Predators are also the first 16th seed to make it this far.

    Yep, that’s a long list of milestones (and not a comprehensive one). And, to think, the Predators haven’t even been on the brink of elimination during the Stanley Cup Finals yet.

    It’s special stuff, so don’t be surprised by the boisterous celebration you can see in the video above this post’s headline.

    P.K. Subban: No city in the NHL ‘has anything on Nashville’

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    If there’s one thing we can agree upon about the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s that these months have really cemented just how hockey-mad Nashville has become for its Predators.

    (Yes, you can call it “Smashville” if you’d like.)

    The scene at Bridgestone Arena was as boisterous as ever in the Predators’ 6-3 Game 6 win against the Anaheim Ducks, with legions of fans packing and surrounding the building.

    Sights like these have becoming resoundingly normal for a hockey market that was once questioned by media and other fan bases:

    Yeah, wow.

    As the Predators advanced to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final, plenty of people were making jokes at the expense of the Montreal Canadiens for trading P.K. Subban. Of course, Subban wouldn’t take a shot at the Habs during such a great moment, but his praise for puck-nutty Predators fans says a lot in itself.

    “I played in an A+ market my whole career,” Subban said, via Jeremy K. Gover of the Nashville Predators Radio Network. “There’s not a city in the league that has anything on Nashville.”

    Whether their opponent is the Pittsburgh Penguins or Ottawa Senators, we already know that Nashville will begin the Stanley Cup Final on the road. That’s OK … Predators fans might need some time to get their voices back and recover from celebrating, so waiting until Games 3 and 4 might be a blessing in disguise.

    Ducks’ Cogliano just doesn’t think Predators were the better team

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    The Anaheim Ducks battled their way to Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, but Colton Sissons and the Nashville Predators ended their season on Monday.

    The Ducks are processing that disappointment – being just two wins away from a trip to the championship round – and some of their reactions might spark a little controversy.

    Specifically, it sounds a bit like Bruce Boudreau believing that his Minnesota Wild were superior to the St. Louis Blues despite falling in that series.

    Andrew Cogliano, it must be noted, was spurned by Pekka Rinne on some early chances in Game 6. He likely feels as frustrated as any Ducks player right now.

    Sisson’s hat-trick goal, making it 4-3 before two empty-netters cemented the 6-3 finish, was the dagger that finally put the hard-working Ducks down.

    One can understand some of those feelings from Anaheim, especially considering the frustration of a) getting over Jonathan Bernier‘s early struggles to make a very real game of this and b) occasionally carrying the play in a dramatic way, including in Game 6.

    Still, the Predators got the right combination of great stretches of play from Rinne and strong work from the expected and the unexpected, such as Sissons.

    For an aging star like Ryan Getzlaf – a player who produced some of his best work late in the season and during the playoffs – you have to wonder how many chances remain.

    Predators eliminate Ducks, reach first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history

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    Colton Sissons made a serious argument that the Nashville Predators do, indeed, still have a No. 1 center.

    At least, he certainly played that way on Monday, generating a hat trick as the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks via a 6-3 win, taking the series 4-2.

    In doing so, the Predators advanced to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

    That 6-3 score is very misleading. While Nashville managed 2-0 and 3-1 leads, there was plenty of drama in this one, as the Ducks did not go down easily. Cam Fowler tied it up 3-3 in the third period, briefly stunning a rowdy crowd in Nashville.

    Sissons was up to the task, however, settling down a bouncing puck on an otherwise stupendous Calle Jarnkrok pass to score the game-winner, notching a hat trick in the process. Sissons continues to be an unlikely hero for a Predators team dealing with the absence of Ryan Johansen (not to mention Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, and others).

    Two empty-netters inflated the score, and they also sapped drama from the closing moments, which must have been quite the relief considering how much resolve Anaheim showed.

    Peter Laviolette distinguishes himself as one of the NHL’s most underrated bench bosses, becoming just the fourth coach in league history to take three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final. He couldn’t win it all with the Philadelphia Flyers, but he does have a ring thanks to his time with the Carolina Hurricanes. Perhaps he’ll take another one this spring?

    It’s quite the moment for GM David Poile, too, after trading Shea Weber for P.K. Subban and Seth Jones for Johansen, among other pivotal moves.

    The Ducks might wonder what could have been if John Gibson played instead of Jonathan Bernier. Bernier struggled early, allowing two goals on the first three shots he faced and generally having a tough Game 6. Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, maintained his mostly great run in the playoffs; he protected a Predators lead even when the Ducks dominated long stretches of play.

    Now the Predators get a nice rest, as the Eastern Conference Final continues with a Game 6 on Tuesday (and possibly a Game 7 on Thursday).

    They’ll limp a bit toward that final round, but the Predators seem to be embracing new territory. And sometimes new heroes.