Could the Penguins steal the Atlantic Division title from the Flyers?

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It seems like a far-fetched goal considering the fact that they will try to do it without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the next few days present a solid opportunity for the Pittsburgh Penguins to steal the Atlantic Division title from the Philadelphia Flyers.

First, let’s take a look at why not (beyond the fact that the team lacks Crosby and Malkin). The Flyers currently hold a four-point lead for the division title, as well as the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They also have one more win – 45 to Pittsburgh’s 44 – and an important game in hand.

That being said, Sunday and Tuesday could provide the Penguins with an outstanding opportunity to make Philadelphia’s lead uncomfortably small. The Penguins are about to host the fading Florida Panthers at home this afternoon, which is a great opportunity for a win. Meanwhile, the Flyers host a far hungrier and more dangerous opponent in the Boston Bruins tonight.

The best part comes on Tuesday, though, when Pittsburgh faces Philadelphia in what could be a big home game for the Penguins.

If the Penguins win both games while the Flyers lose to Boston and Pittsburgh in regulation, the two teams would be tied at 100 points and the only advantage Philadelphia would have is their single game in hand. At that point, the Penguins would have five games to earn one more point than the Flyers, who would have six games left.

Pittsburgh’s last five games after their big game against the Flyers:

The closing schedule might or might not be friendly to Pittsburgh. The negative side is that four of their final five games are on the road, but the plus is that four of those opponents (the Panthers, Devils, Thrashers and Islanders) might be in “tank mode.” The toughest game is against the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning in what might be a preview of a fourth vs. fifth seed match … if the Penguins can’t steal the Atlantic, that is.

Philadelphia’s final six after Tuesday:

The Flyers play three home games and three away games in their last six. You can break down those six games into three groups: tanking teams (Atlanta and maybe New Jersey), teams that should be tanking but aren’t totally committed (Ottawa and the Islanders) and teams fighting for playoff positioning (Buffalo and the Rangers).

In some ways, Philadelphia’s closing schedule is easier. In others, it might be a little bit tougher, since the Sabres and Rangers have plenty to play for while the Senators have been a tough out lately.

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Overall, Philadelphia remains the odds-on favorite to retain their Atlantic Division lead. That being said, those plucky Penguins have a legitimate chance to usurp them, although they must rely on a few “ifs.” Today’s games plus Tuesday’s match will go a long way in either giving Pittsburgh a serious chance to win the division or confirm the fact that Philly will stay on top.

Naturally, we’ll let you know which side prevails.

Kapanen overwhelms Marchand, scores ridiculous goal

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To the chagrin of the coaches and goalies, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs are keeping things hectic during the second period of Game 7.

Kasperi Kapanen seems like he’s perpetually battling for a permanent/more prominent spot with the Maple Leafs, but it’s not for a lack of trying or moxie. He’s been hitting posts on some near-misses lately, but saved some magic for tonight.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THIS DECISIVE GAME LIVE.

You can see that in a 4-3 goal that currently stands as the Maple Leafs’ lead. Kapanen overpowers Brad Marchand and then outwaits Tuukka Rask for an absolutely tremendous shorthanded goal.

(Check out that goal in the video above this post’s headline.)

Impressive, especially considering who that came against. At one point, the Maple Leafs had converted on both of their shots on goal early in the second period to go from being down 3-2 to up 4-3. As mentioned after that wild first period, you have to wonder about both goalies’ confidence, but that’s especially true of Rask right now.

To be fair, Kapanen’s showed a real knack for scoring big goals so far during his brief NHL career. As you may remember, he scored the game-winner in double overtime of Game 2 against the Washington Capitals during that tight series to start the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He also helped them punch their ticket to the postseason in 2016-17 with his first NHL goal.

Then again, maybe this sort of goal is in the blood? Kasperi Kapanen’s shorthanded goal feels reminiscent of a great goal by his father Sami Kapanen:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins – Leafs Game 7 off to wild start, Reilly hit by puck

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You can forgive fans of the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs for hyperventilating right now, unless they’re merely staring blankly at their screens.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THIS DECISIVE GAME LIVE.

Game 7 accelerated to 100 mph seemingly in mere seconds on Wednesday:

  • After a Sean Kuraly penalty, Patrick Marleau deflected a puck past Tuukka Rask to give Toronto a stunning 1-0 lead off of a power-play goal just 2:05 into the contest.
  • A delay of game infraction gave the Bruins a chance to tie things up on the power play, and they did just that as David Krejci and David Pastrnak set up Jake DeBrusk. That happened 4:47 into the game.
  • Less than two minutes later, Patrick Marleau scored again, giving Toronto a 2-1 edge that wouldn’t last.
  • The two teams combined for four goals through less than half of the first period, as Danton Heinen showed why he should be playing with the 2-2 goal with 11:50 remaining in the opening frame.
  • The Bruins took their first lead (3-2) of Game 7 with less than a minute left in the first period thanks to a goal by Patrice Bergeron.

Those were just the goals, too, as there were some close calls, making you wonder about the confidence of Rask and Frederik Andersen:

The two teams are also accruing some bumps and bruises, which must be to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s liking.

In the most dramatic instance, Brad Marchand ducked a high Zdeno Chara shot, leaving an unsuspecting Morgan Rielly to take a puck to the face. It’s a scary moment, although the good news is that Rielly was able to return for the beginning of the second period.

Yikes.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Chara also seemed stung by a blocked shot during the first period, as he took a puck to his ankle/foot area. He didn’t appear to miss any time, and it would be tough to imagine him not fighting through it during a Game 7, yet you wonder if the hulking defenseman’s mobility might be hindered after that.

The Bruins and Leafs already put on a show through 20 minutes. We’ll see who’s left standing to face the Bolts, whether this game ends in regulation or hits sudden death in a Game 7.

*Gulp*

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bednar, Cassidy, Gallant are 2018 Jack Adams Award finalists

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Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche, Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins and Gerard Gallant of the Vegas Golden Knights have been named as the three finalists for the 2017-18 Jack Adams Award. The winner of the award, voted on by the NHL Broadcasters’ Association and given to the the head coach who has “contributed the most to his team’s success,” will be announced during the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 20.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Jared Bednar: With a full summer to work with compared to 2016-17, Bednar helped guide the Avalanche to a 47-point improvement and a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2014. The production of their youth was key in the resurgence, with Bednar using 11 rookies throughout the season, tied for the most in the NHL. Led by Alex Kerfloot (43 points), J.T. Compher (23 points) and Tyson Jost (22 points), Colorado rookies played an NHL-high 419 games. The offense also posted its best numbers since 2006-07 with the number of goals scored (shootout excluded) increasing from 165 last season to 255 in 2017-18.

The Case for Bruce Cassidy: During his first full season in Boston, Cassidy led the team to 50 wins and 112 points, the Bruins’ fourth-highest total in 40 years. Like Colorado, the Bruins received contributions from their kids with an NHL-best 58 goals from rookies in 2017-18. Cassidy’s impact extends back to when he took over for Claude Julien over a year ago. The Bruins went 18-8-1 in final 27 games of last season to help return to the playoffs following a two-year absence. This season, Boston cruised through the regular season and was in contention until the final few days for not only the top spot in the Eastern Conference but also the Presidents’ Trophy.

The Case for Gerard Gallant: What else can you say about the job Gallant, an Adams finalist for the second time, and the Golden Knights did during an historic inaugural season? Vegas finished with 51 wins and 109 points to become the first modern-era expansion team from any of the four major North American professional sports leagues to win its division. After a hot start, the Golden Knights saw their goaltenders hit with injury, which included losing Marc-Andre Fleury to a concussion for two months. They would use four netminders to stay afloat and set an NHL record on Feb. 1 with their 34th win, most by a team in its first season.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Ted Lindsay Award (Thursday)
Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award
King Clancy Trophy
Calder Trophy

Bill Masterton Trophy
Lady Byng Trophy
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins, Maple Leafs battle in Game 7

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Game 7: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, 7:30 p.m. ET (Series tied 3-3)
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Call: Mike Emrick, Pierre McGuire, Eddie Olczyk
Series preview
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[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Heinen over Wingels right choice for Bruins in Game 7

Game 7, and the next career-defining moment for Tuukka Rask

• Maple Leafs hope playing ‘desperate’ hockey aids them again vs. Bruins

SECOND ROUND OPENING GAMES

Thursday, April 26
Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
San Jose Sharks at Vegas Golden Knights, 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Friday, April 27
Winnipeg Jets at Nashville Predators, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Saturday, April 28
If Boston advances… Bruins at Tampa Bay Lightning, 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
If Toronto advances… Maple Leafs at Tampa  Bay Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.