John McCarthy, Ilya Bryzgalov

Pacific Division Watch (February 19)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Pacific Division outlook (February 19 -25)

1. Phoenix Coyotes (31-19-9 for 71 pts; 59 Games Played)

Current streak: Six wins in a row.

Week ahead: Four road games – vs. Nashville (Saturday), Philadelphia (Tuesday), Tampa Bay (Wednesday) and Columbus (Friday).

Thoughts: With five away games in a row and 12 games against teams in the two conferences’ playoff picture, the Desert Dogs might be the next Pacific Division team to see a painful drop. If they make it through that run at No. 1, maybe they’ll do some legitimate damage in the playoffs too.

2. San Jose Sharks (32-20-6 for 70 pts; 59 GP)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: One home game (vs. Colorado on Sat) then three away games – vs. Detroit (Tues), Pittsburgh (Wed) and Calgary (Fri).

Thoughts: The Pacific is such a confusing mass of quality (but not quite dominant) teams that I’ll just stick with my off-season prediction that the Sharks would win the division again.

3. Los Angeles Kings (32-22-4 for 68 pts; 58 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ NY Islanders (Sat), @ Anaheim (Wed), home vs. Minnesota (Thurs).

Thoughts: The impressive thing about the Kings’ nice run back into the thick of things is that they’ve been successful during a brutal 10-game road swing so far. They are 5-0-3, meaning that they’ve squeezed at least a point from every game. If they can beat the Isles and at least make it a three point game between the hated Ducks, this tour would be an outstanding success. As it stands, it’s a testament to a strong willed team that unfortunately (for them) resides in a conference and division full of like-minded squads.

4. Dallas Stars (31-21-6 for 68 pts; 58 GP)

Current streak: Three straight losses.

Week ahead: @ Vancouver (Sat), home vs. New Jersey (Tues), @ Detroit (Thurs).

Thoughts: It’s not a snowflake-level original thought but jeez, they’re all the way down to fourth place just like that? This week’s games obviously aren’t going to make the climb back any easier, with games against the two highest ranked teams in the West and possibly the hottest team in the NHL.

5. Anaheim Ducks (32-23-4 for 68 pts; 59 GP)

Current streak: Two losses.

Week ahead: @ St. Louis (Sat), home vs. Los Angeles (Wed), home vs. Minnesota (Fri).

Week ahead: With the possible exception of the long-shot Blues, the Ducks face two teams that are just a touch ahead of them. It’s been impressive to watch Anaheim stay in the picture despite losing Ryan Getzlaf and Jonas Hiller for patches of games.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning – Game 6

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 22:  Tyler Johnson #9 of the Tampa Bay Lightning collides with Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 22, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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Tonight could be the final game of the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. You can catch Game 6 via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 6 is on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Bolts lead the series 3-2.

Here’s some relevant reading material to get you ready for tonight’s game:

Malkin guaranteed a Penguins win in Game 6

Lightning coach doesn’t seem flustered by Malkin’s guarantee

Kucherov continues to be clutch for the Bolts this postseason

Marc-Andre Fleury: ‘I should have been better’ in Game 5

Will Ward be back with Carolina? Francis discusses ‘interesting summer’

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 29:  Cam Ward #30 of the Carolina Hurricanes skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 29, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Hurricanes 3-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Honestly, if you look at Cam Ward‘s numbers, it’s difficult to imagine the Carolina Hurricanes signing him to another contract.

(Unless perhaps you just keep circling “Stanley Cup: 1.”)

His numbers have been putrid by just about any metric, especially if you look at the numbers he generated since signing the bloated $37.8 million deal that is set to expire.

Maybe the Hurricanes are just going through the media motions in appearing open-minded about bring back Ward, but GM Ron Francis indicated that it’s under consideration in discussing Carolina’s off-season with the News & Observer.

“We’re still looking at that,” Francis said. “We plan to meet in early June to see where we’re at.”

More details:

Francis said “term and money” would be the key elements of the contract discussions – that is, the length of contract and salary being proposed. At the same time, Francis said the Canes would evaluate free agents or possibly goalies who might be available in a trade.

Teams play things pretty close-to-the-vest, but how would Hurricanes fans feel about Ward coming back? What kind of price would be palatable?

Here’s a list of potential free agent goalies if you want to pass some time pondering such questions.

Stanley Cup Final to begin Monday

NHL_2016_StanleyCupPlayoffs
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We don’t know who’s in or where it will begin, but we do know this — the 2016 Stanley Cup Final will begin next Monday.

From the league:

The National Hockey League today announced the schedule of dates for the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, which will begin on Monday, May 30. Additionally, Stanley Cup Final Media Day will be Sunday, May 29, in the host city for Game 1.

The Stanley Cup Final will match the winner of the Eastern Conference Final, either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning, against the winner of the Western Conference Final, either the St. Louis Blues or San Jose Sharks.

The club which earned the greater number of points in the 2015-16 regular season standings will have home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Final and will host Games 1, 2 and, if necessary, Games 5 and 7. The other club will host Games 3 and 4 and, if necessary, Game 6. The Blues collected 107 points during the regular season, most among the remaining teams, followed by the Penguins (104), Sharks (98) and Lightning (97).

The start time for all Stanley Cup Final games will be 8 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Group has exclusive coverage of the Final in the U.S., while CBC and TVA Sports have exclusive coverage throughout Canada.

2016 STANLEY CUP FINAL SCHEDULE
(all start times 8 p.m., ET)

Game 1 Monday, May 30
Game 2 Wednesday, June 1
Game 3 Saturday, June 4
Game 4 Monday, June 6
Game 5* Thursday, June 9
Game 6* Sunday, June 12
Game 7* Wednesday, June 15

This marks the first time the Stanley Cup Final will begin in May since 2012, when the Kings took on the Devils in New Jersey (on the 30th).

L.A. went on to capture that series in five games, wrapping things up on June 11.

After two years in Switzerland, Tom Pyatt signs with Sens

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 22:  Tom Pyatt #11 of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Simon Despres #47 of the Pittsburgh Penguins battle for a loose puck during the game at Consol Energy Center on March 22, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Tom Pyatt is back in the NHL.

Or, at least, back with an NHL organization.

After spending the last two seasons with Swiss club Geneve Servette, the 29-year-old forward has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Ottawa Senators.

“We’re very pleased that Tom has committed to our organization for next season,” said GM Pierre Dorion in a release. “He has already accumulated a significant amount of experience at both the American and National Hockey League levels and provides us with solid depth at forward. Having spent his last two seasons playing professionally in Switzerland, members of our coaching staff are familiar with his versatility. We’re looking forward to seeing him in training camp.”

The Sens, of course, just hired a head coach in Guy Boucher who’s spent the last few years in Switzerland. (Also, an assistant coach.)

Pyatt’s deal is worth $800,000 in the NHL and $200,000 in the AHL.

Before leaving for Switzerland in August of 2014, Pyatt played 245 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring 27 goals and 27 assists.