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Are the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals headed for a first round series?

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The most accurate and immediate way to describe tomorrow’s Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals SuperBowl Sunday game is as a rematch of the 2011 Winter Classic. That being said – and forgive us for being dreamers* – but could that early game also be a preview for a captivating first round series?

If the 2011 playoffs began at this moment, the Penguins would host the Capitals in a fourth vs. fifth seed series. There are justifiable reasons why each team might stay in second place in their divisions, too.

Odds are that you know that Pittsburgh will likely be without Evgeni Malkin’s services for the rest of the season while Sidney Crosby’s return is indefinite, two huge losses that may eventually wound them in their neck-and-neck run against the Flyers. Even after finally besting the Southeast-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday, the Capitals also have the deck stacked against them. They play six of their last seven February contests on the road and face a six-game road trip in March while the Lightning still have eight games left in their mammoth homestand.

(Really, the biggest threat to this first round series might be the sixth-ranked Montreal Canadiens, who only have one less point than the Capitals while owning two more wins.)

With this possibility in mind, here are a few thoughts on this hypothetical series.

Would a first round series be a good thing for the league?

A Pens-Caps first round series would be a great “glass half-full vs. half-empty” barometer for league executives. The optimistic side would be obvious: the league would receive a guaranteed pay-off from the 24/7 documentaries and the years of buzz created by this budding feud. On the other hand, a pessimist will point out the fact that the stakes aren’t as high in a first round match as they would be in, say, the Eastern Conference finals. Of course, an even deeper Debbie Downer would say that the playoffs would lose one of its marquee teams after four to seven games.

How would the Capitals handle the pressure of facing an ‘underdog’ Penguins team?

Even if the Penguins hosted the series, Alex Ovechkin & Company would have to deal with the fact that Pittsburgh would probably go in with a “nothing to lose” attitude since they would play without Malkin. Pundits would likely quip that the Caps just have to win this series and would likely call them “gutless” if they lost. Washington would skate with some added weight on their already-burdened shoulders.

Would HBO’s cameras return?

The NHL would have a lot to gain if they permitted a behind the scenes look of such a playoff series. Surely the two sides would be a little more secretive – and the typical two week shelf life of a playoff series would introduce some interesting obstacles – but can you put a price on the kind of buzz a 24/7 sequel would generate? Obviously, this is the purest of speculation, but it’s a fun thing to think about, isn’t it?

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Anyway, those are a few things that come to mind while pondering the tantalizing possibility of a Pens-Capitals first round series. Feel free to share your two cents in the comments.

*- Don’t get us wrong, it’s beyond-early to say that the Penguins won’t win the Atlantic Division title and the Capitals are out of the hunt for the Southeast crown in 2010-11. Both teams are only three points behind their respective division leaders, which are far from insurmountable margins. In other words, don’t call HBO to set up 24/7: playoff edition just yet.

Early thoughts – and praise – for Capitals landing Kevin Shattenkirk

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Jaws dropped around the hockey world when news broke that the Washington Capitals landed Kevin Shattenkirk in a blockbuster trade. Heads were then scratched as people tried to make sense of the “conditions” of a conditional second-rounder involved in the move.

With a little time for the smoke to clear and with the assets revealed, here are some scattered thoughts.

PHT will likely cover more of the fallout on Tuesday and beyond, though, so stay tuned.

Brian MacLellan deserves consideration as a top GM

Judging an executive can be really tricky; while a GM of the Year award is easy to justify, it’s also easy to mock. Even the best managers inherit a roster (aside from MacLellan’s predecessor George McPhee, who will build one in Vegas), so you have to credit some successes to the guy who came before.

And, yes, McPhee helped put together a core that includes Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom.

Even so, MacLellan evokes Stan Bowman in masterfully adding tremendous electrons to a fantastic nucleus.

He added Matt Niskanen (and, admittedly, flubbed it with Brooks Orpik) to beef up a defense to help the shrewd hiring of Barry Trotz as head coach. Trotz seems like he’s ending what was a busy procession of shaky bench bosses.

MacLellan really nailed it the next summer, trading for T.J. Oshie and signing Justin Williams to a bargain deal. A year later, the Capitals added a fantastic third-line center option in Lars Eller via a smart trade.

And now this. It’s not clear where Kevin Shattenkirk will fit in the Capitals’ lineup, but either way, he boosts an already formidable group.

Misc.

Let’s lightning round some other thoughts.

  • Scottie Upshall joked about all the one-timers Shattenkirk is primed to set up for Alex Ovechkin … but he has a point.
  • It’s difficult to imagine the Capitals re-signing Shattenkirk, putting continued emphasis on the talk of Washington being in the last season of a “two-year window” to make their greatest push for a Stanley Cup. At the same time, there aren’t a lot of problem contracts beyond Orpik’s in Washington, so the plus side is that MacLellan can also show how he might be Bowman-like in making the right calls in who to bring back. Make no mistake about it, getting Shattenkirk is about now, not later.
  • Oh yeah the Capitals also got a nice sneaky bonus in landing Pheonix Copley, who better have the nickname “typo.”

All things considered, it’s no surprise that the Capitals are excited.

There’s at least a chance Shattenkirk might be able to suit up for Washington as soon as Tuesday’s game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, but either way, this sure looks like a slam dunk.

Wild just wouldn’t stay down, edge Kings in OT

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Don’t blame Ben Bishop if, deep down, he was glad that he didn’t make his Los Angeles Kings debut on Monday.

After seeing the kind of speed, drive and all-around electric play displayed by the Minnesota Wild, you can understand a goalie shuddering at the often wide-open action. Despite falling behind four times against the Kings, the Wild ultimately edged Los Angeles 5-4 in an overtime thriller.

Mikael Granlund‘s 20th goal of the season ended it in OT, and quickly. And it was beautiful:

…. Unless you’re Jonathan Quick and the Kings, that is.

Granlund is absolutely on fire right now.

Ryan White made a great first impression for the Wild, scoring a goal and an assist (while displaying great flow). Martin Hanzal wasn’t able to score, though he did make his presence felt with five hits. And, again, Bishop might have secretly been relieved to put his Kings debut on hold.

Marian Gaborik turned back the clock a bit to his Wild prime, scoring a goal and an assist. He generally made quite a bit happen for Los Angeles.

It was a tough one for Anze Kopitar, meanwhile, who was unable to generate offense and suffered a -3. He wasn’t able to stop Granlund in OT, though who could?

The Wild still must worry as mumps sidelined at least Zach Parise and Jason Pominville, but for now, they’re battling on. Just ask the Kings how resilient this group really is.

Sell this: Kucherov, Lightning put trades behind them, blast Senators

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The Tampa Bay Lightning might be in sell mode, but that doesn’t mean their players are quitting on this season.

After shipping Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle out of town, they could have rolled over against a hungry Ottawa Senators team. Instead, they blew them out, winning 5-1 on Monday.

Nikita Kucherov was the biggest standout, collecting a natural hat trick, which you can watch above. (He also generated an assist.)

Jonathan Drouin had a big night in his own right, assisting on all three of Kucherov’s goals. Victor Hedman and Tyler Johnson generated two assists apiece, as well.

And, yes, Andrei Vasilevskiy inspired at least a few “Ben who?” jokes by making 39 out of 40 saves, including this beauty:

As you can see, Ottawa actually had a 1-0 lead at that point, so it could have been a different game if the agile goalie did do the splits there.

The Lightning are still five points out of the final wild card spot, trailing Boyle’s new team in the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Senators, meanwhile, find themselves slipping a bit out of the race to win the Atlantic Division, especially considering Montreal’s comeback win against New Jersey.

Tampa Bay may may not be done making moves and recognizing painful truth that the odds are against them rallying to a playoff spot. That said, nights like these make you wonder if a run is at least possible.

Canadiens’ big guns trigger comeback OT win against Devils

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 27:  Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates the game winning power play goal by Alex Galchenyuk #27 at 2:54 of overtrime against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 27, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey.  The Canadiens defeated the Devils 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Things were looking a little grim there for the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.

The New Jersey Devils had, at one point, a 2-0 lead. At least in some corners there were murmurs about a bad start for Claude Julien. Then their big guns swung the game.

The comeback started with Alex Radulov, though the drama was just beginning:

Travis Zajac made it 3-1 for the Devils on the power play, only for Radulov to assist on two Max Pacioretty goals to send the game to overtime.

From there, Alex Galchenyuk scored the overtime-winner for Montreal on the man advantage. Radulov got yet another secondary assist – he ended up with four points tonight – while Shea Weber nabbed the primary helpers on the last two tallies.

Long story short, the Canadiens biggest names came through, allowing Julien to maybe utther a sigh of relief.