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Road trips and Homestands that will shape the Atlantic Division

On Monday night, we posted some reactions to a piece that claimed the Buffalo Sabres were getting “screwed” by their schedule thanks to a tough road trip. That got us thinking about which groups of home and away games might have the biggest impact on every team in the NHL.

To look at that more deeply, we decided to analyze each squad through the prism of the league’s six divisions over the next few days.

First up – because we’re arbitrarily going in alphabetical order – is the Atlantic Division.

New Jersey

Not that it will matter much, most likely, but let’s look at them anyway.

Best home span: They are involved in their best homestand right now, as they’re playing at home in six of seven from December 23-January 6th.

Worst road trip: No streaks stand out too much, although they do have a couple four-game trips.

NY Islanders

Like the Devils, it might not really matter but let’s go over it anyway.

Two big alternating sets of home and away trips:

Part 1: Five in a row on the road (Dec 31-Jan 9) then five home games in a row and six of seven at home overall (Jan 11-23).

Part 2: Five in a row at home (March 2-11) then five away (March 12-22).

NY Rangers

OK, now we’re getting to the teams that are a little more relevant. The Rangers don’t have any especially big homestands or road trips, though. Their toughest road trip might actually begin on Wednesday, as they play five of their next six away from Madison Square Garden from December 29-January 8th.

Philadelphia

The Flyers are neck-and-neck with Pittsburgh for the division (and therefore league/conference) lead, but their schedule is awfully tough going forward.

Brutal road ahead: Philly faces five road games in a row (Dec 28- Jan 6) then they host the Devils for one game on January 8th followed by four more consecutive away games (Jan 11-16).

Followed by a nice home-heavy run: At least the league will reward them a bit after that, as they play eight of 10 games in Philly from January 18-February 10th.

Pittsburgh

Finally, let’s look at the Penguins’ situation.

For the most part, they don’t have too many huge spans one way or the other, but chunks of streaks at home and on the road. However, their best stretch is probably four of five at home from February 2-10th while the toughest one might be a five game road trip from February 23-March 5th.

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Looking at the Atlantic Division from this perspective, the Flyers’ work on their upcoming stretch of road games and then a big run of home contests through mid-February might be the biggest factor from a schedule perspective. It should be a fun race to watch.

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

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.