Inside the Eastern Conference Standings – December 26

Every now and then, we’ll take a look at each conference’s standings to see if there are any trends or quirks that explain why some teams are failing and others are overachieving. Obviously, these results will reveal bigger truths once we advance later into this season … but it’s still fun and interesting to take a peek at bigger picture numbers.

Want to compare and contrast? Check out the November and October editions of the Eastern Conference standings analysis.

Which teams are the hottest and coldest? Which teams are road warriors and who depends too much on home cooking? Let’s take a look.

Tampa Bay should rise.

With Atlanta briefly stealing the top spot normally held by Washington, Tampa Bay kinda-sorta slipped under the radar. If there’s one team that should be even better going forward, it’s the Lightning because:

  • They hold two games in hand over the Caps and Thrashers.
  • Most importantly: they’ve only played 14 games at home versus 21 on the road. They have 27 games in Tampa Bay for the rest of the regular season versus only 20 more away from their arena.

Carolina and Florida are justified in a little schedule griping.

Much like Tampa Bay, Carolina and Florida are dealing with some odd early season scheduling. Unlike the Lightning, those teams sit outside the playoff picture to boot.

Along with playing overseas, the Hurricanes have played 14 games in Carolina versus 19 on the road. They cannot complain much louder than the Panthers, though, as Peter DeBoer’s squad played 13 games in Sunrise and 20 away from home so far.

Philadelphia and Washington must face the possibility of a 4/5 seed series.

Because they’re both facing stout divisional competition and will face more road games than home contests going forward. The Capitals have played in the most games (37) of any team in the East (although the Thrashers played in 37 as well). Washington already played 21 at home, so they’ll face five more road contests.

The Flyers must face the Penguins’ push, Pronger’s injury and more road contests (five more as well) too. Then again, they have 10 wins on the road already so they don’t have to worry as much as the Capitals, who own a 7-8-1 away record so far.

Who knows how that will shake out, but unbiased hockey fans would surely get a treat if those two teams met in the first round.

Road warriors

The Penguins (12-4-1) and Rangers (12-6-0) are the best teams in the league at bringing their shows on the road. Again, the Flyers are pretty efficient away from Philly too (10-2-3) while the Lightning are scrappy but not elite away from Tampa Bay (10-8-3).

This indicates that the Atlantic Division teams are going to be tough outs in the playoffs.

A long season in Long Island

The Islanders have played the least games (32) of any team in the NHL. If any fan base could get a fast forward button, it would probably be theirs (or the Devils’ fans, I guess).

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Overall, I think that the Capitals might be in a little trouble (at least as far as winning a division title is concerned) while the Flyers might face a bump in the road. The Lightning could move up while the Hurricanes and Panthers probably have the best chance among the teams outside of the top eight to make a run for the playoffs.

Oh, it wasn’t quite bold print worthy, but with Boston’s two games in hand and the Canadiens facing three more games on the road than at home for the rest of the season, the Northeast Division race could be awfully interesting too.

And, yes, the far-off possibility of a Flyers-Capitals first round series does get me kind of excited.

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.

Brace yourselves, Senators – Penguins Game 7 goes to overtime

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It’s dangerous to assume much of anything in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators seem like they’re taking turns flipping the script.

After the Senators received the only two power-play opportunities through the first two periods, Phil Kessel drew a call on Dion Phaneuf. Justin Schultz almost immediately reminded us of part of the reason why his presence had been so sorely missed, scoring an authoritative 2-1 tally.

Here’s that goal:

There seemed to be a possibility that officiating would be a huge sticking point, as some didn’t like that call and Guy Boucher was incensed when a whistle was blown when Phil Kessel was hit in the ear with a puck. Penguins haters probably felt especially irritated since the Penguins scored while Zack Werenski was down (and bloodied) during a somewhat similar exchange earlier in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Some will bring that up, especially once we find out how this one will end, but Ryan Dzingel shifted the focus to how the Senators just won’t quit as he scored soon after that 2-1 goal to tie it 2-2, the second time Ottawa’s fought back (quickly) from a seemingly huge Penguins goal.

Watch that goal above, then hold your breath as this game goes to overtime.

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.

Video: Marc Methot’s impressive hip check on Evgeni Malkin

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So far, the Ottawa Senators are getting their way in Game 7, as their 1-1 contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins has been a grinding, sometimes stifling affair.

This sets the stage for a dramatic finish, as the two teams are locked up by that 1-1 score heading into the third period.

With a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line, everyone’s pushing hard, and sometimes that means delivering hard hits.

All things considered, you’d be hard-pressed to top Marc Methot‘s hip check on Evgeni Malkin from a degree-of-difficulty standpoint.

Hip checks are already endangered species in the NHL because it’s just so difficult to lineup in this speedier, more skillful game. But to do it in a tied Game 7, against a driven Malkin, in your own zone? That’s borderline audacious. Then again, Methot’s fighting through that gruesome finger injury (along with … maybe other things given playoff secrecy), so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.

Check it out in GIF form, too:

Some Penguins fans are grumbling about that not being a penalty, and that’s a debate for the comments. Most of us can agree that it was an impressive feat either way.

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.

Calm, then storm: Penguins, Senators trade Game 7’s goals in 20 seconds

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Here’s hoping that you didn’t take a poorly-timed break in the second period.

For much of Game 7, the Ottawa Senators have been able to slow down the Pittsburgh Penguins, resulting in a contest that went scoreless for what sometimes felt like ages.

Chris Kunitz changed that, long after missing on a golden opportunity shortly after Mike Sullivan decided to put him on Sidney Crosby‘s line. Kunitz finished a nice rush play to make it 1-0 9:55 into the second. Check out that goal below.

Guy Boucher didn’t have to deploy “attack mode” very long, as Mark Stone stunningly tied it up 1-1 just 20 seconds later. That surprising tally can be seen in the clip above this post’s headline.