NHL Playoff Update: Big Day Ahead

I generally don’t like being the melodramatic type, but today is a pretty huge day for playoff jockeying. I’m not going to go off the deep end and call it an “epic” day, but there’s a lot of things that can get squared away in both conferences.

eastplayoffs.jpg Things get started early this afternoon for the Atlanta Thrashers as they continue their schedule from hell to try and muscle their way into the playoffs and take on the Penguins in Pittsburgh. Luckily for the Thrashers, the Pens have been less-than impressive of late losing five of their last eight games.

Tonight, Montreal will try to keep things going against Buffalo. With the Habs’ win over Philadelphia last night, they were able to keep down another team looking to make the playoffs and improve their own standings in the race.  Montreal currently sits in sixth place in the East, two points ahead of both Boston and Philadelphia.  The Bruins face off with the Maple Leafs tonight as the Leafs will continue to try and play spoiler.

The Rangers are in Sunrise, Florida to take on the Panthers and after beating the Lightning in convincing fashion last night, one has to wonder if perhaps the Rangers are getting warm at the right time. I won’t say they’re hot because no one in this playoff race in the East is hot, but if anyone can even get lukewarm a playoff spot could be had.

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In the Western Conference, Calgary helped get themselves back into the playoff picture by beating the Avalanche.  As for others still jockeying for position, Detroit takes on Nashville in a game where one point can clinch a playoff spot for the Predators, meanwhile a win in regulation for the Red Wings could vault them ahead of the Predators for fifth place in the meantime.

Los Angeles can make life for themselves a lot less stressful if they can beat the Ducks later tonight. The Ducks come into the game with nothing but pride to play for but have won seven of their last ten games. Meanwhile, the Kings have lost six of their last ten games but are coming off a definitive 8-3 win over Vancouver on Thursday night.

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    Capitals accuse Letang of leaving his feet, hitting Johansson in head

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    Get this: the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins seem divided on the legality of Kris Letang‘s hit on Marcus Johansson.

    (Take a moment to gather your thoughts amid this shocking revelation.)

    You can watch the hit over and over in the video above. This post features some takes on that check, which the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly reviewing.

    Generally speaking, the three things people discuss regarding the check is how late it might be, if Letang used his feet and if Johansson’s head was the principal point of contact.

    Letang told his side of the story:

    The Capitals disagree:

    While Barry Trotz pleads the Fifth after his previous comments about Brooks Orpik‘s suspension:

    No doubt about it, Letang’s status is the top story to follow in this series between Games 3 and 4. We’ll find out soon enough how it all shakes out.

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

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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.

    ***

    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.

    Update: The Penguins won the game 3-2.

    Read reactions to the check here.