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West playoff picture: Canucks make it official, Predators win and Sharks crush Stars

Western Conference playoff race

p – 1. Vancouver – 113 pts (4 GR)
x- 2. San Jose – 99 pts (5 GR)
3. Detroit – 98 pts (5 GR)
4. Phoenix – 95 pts (4 GR)
5. Los Angeles – 94 pts (5 GR)
6. Nashville – 94 pts (4 GR)
7. Anaheim – 93 pts (5 GR)
8. Chicago – 90 pts (6 GR)
9. Dallas – 87 pts (6 GR)
10. Calgary – 87 pts (4 GR)

p – clinched conference title and Presidents’ Trophy
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
GR – Games Remaining

Nashville 3, Colorado 2

The Predators only have four games left, so some of their seeding fortunes will be out of their hands, but Nashville is taking care of business. The fact that the questions are drifting from “Will they make the playoffs?” to “Who will they face?” is a testament to their strong finish. Three of their last four games are at home and three of four against teams outside of the postseason, so they should be able to earn plenty of points (especially after their Saturday contest against the Red Wings).

Nashville built a 3-0 lead before the Avalanche showed a little pride in making in 3-2 in a decent third period finish, but the Predators were able to hold off Colorado in this one. Pekka Rinne made 27 saves and Martin Erat scored a goal and an assist in another nice win, as Nashville is 8-2-0 in their last 10 games.

Vancouver 3, Los Angeles 1

Before we get to the Canucks’ Presidents’ Trophy clinching win, let’s focus on the Kings’ loss for a second. With 94 points and five games remaining, Los Angeles isn’t likely to catch the Sharks for the Pacific Division crown. That being said, their playoff spot is fairly comfortable and they can make it even cozier by beating the Stars on Saturday. Their final five games are against Pacific teams, including a home-and-home against the Anaheim Ducks to finish the 2010-11 season. It isn’t panic time for the Kings, but failing to get a point hurts.

Then again, not many teams are earning points against the Canucks, who clinched the Presidents’ Trophy tonight. Here’s some of the big numbers from the NHL’s press release on the subject.

The Canucks, celebrating their 40th anniversary season in 2010-11, have claimed the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time. Tonight’s milestone victory caps a regular season in which the club already has set franchise records for most points (113), most wins (52) and most road wins (26). Their 17-1-2 run in games from Nov. 24 through Jan. 8 marked the best 20-game stretch in franchise history.

The Canucks have scored the most goals in the NHL (253), allowed the fewest (177) and have recorded the top power-play and penalty-killing percentages (24.7% and 86.6%, respectively). No club in the League’s ‘expansion era’ (since 1967-68) has finished first in each of these categories in a single season.

Yup, they’re pretty good.

San Jose 6, Dallas 0

Obviously, it’s not as fancy as clinching everything like the Canucks did, but the Sharks joined the Tampa Bay Lightning in guaranteeing a playoff bid tonight. They did so by absolutely humiliating the playoff-desperate Dallas Stars 6-0.

It’s interesting that former Blackhawks did so much damage tonight, considering how much this Sharks win helps Chicago. Antti Niemi earned a 29-save shutout while Ben Eager – yes, Ben Eager – scored what might be the Goal of the Night to help San Jose spank the Stars. Patrick Marleau scored twice while San Jose out-shot Dallas 52-29.

The Stars aren’t totally out of it, as they play four of their last six games against teams outside of the playoff picture, but this obviously hurts their chances by a great margin. They trail the Blackhawks by three points with both teams having six games left. Dallas might actually need four more points than the Blackhawks down the stretch because Chicago also has some win-related tiebreaker advantages right now.

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So the ultimate trend of tonight’s games was that the rich West teams got richer. Is this is for the Stars? We’ll have to wait and see, but there’s a good chance they’ll need to deal with San Jose or Vancouver if they manage to make the playoffs.

Capitals accuse Letang of leaving his feet, hitting Johansson in head

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Get this: the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins seem divided on the legality of Kris Letang‘s hit on Marcus Johansson.

(Take a moment to gather your thoughts amid this shocking revelation.)

You can watch the hit over and over in the video above. This post features some takes on that check, which the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly reviewing.

Generally speaking, the three things people discuss regarding the check is how late it might be, if Letang used his feet and if Johansson’s head was the principal point of contact.

Letang told his side of the story:

The Capitals disagree:

While Barry Trotz pleads the Fifth after his previous comments about Brooks Orpik‘s suspension:

No doubt about it, Letang’s status is the top story to follow in this series between Games 3 and 4. We’ll find out soon enough how it all shakes out.

Penguins ride Murray’s masterpiece to 2-1 series lead vs. Capitals

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If Marc-Andre Fleury suiting up bothers Matt Murray, then the rookie goalie channeled those feelings into a masterful performance on Monday.

The Washington Capitals absolutely dominated Game 3, but Murray was even better, stopping 47 shots as the Penguins stole one 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.

(Capitals fans might see some parallels to Washington’s Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers; they fell 2-0 despite a 44-11 shots on goal edge thanks to Michal Neuvirth‘s heroics.)

Murray stopped chance after chance before Alex Ovechkin finally broke through for his first goal of this series. Justin Williams then brought the Penguins’ lead down to 3-2 to make for a hold-your-breath final minute.

A driven Ovechkin and strong overall play from the Capitals (despite this defeat) aren’t the only reasons why Game 4 might present some twists.

First things first: Kris Letang might get suspended for Game 4 (if not for more than one game) thanks to this controversial check on Marcus Johansson.

Beyond that, there could be some bumps and bruises from this contest.

Bryan Rust left during the first period and didn’t return to the game after blocking a shot. Brian Dumoulin seemed shaken up after an Alex Ovechkin hit in the third period. The Capitals might have a player or two to look at, as well.

In other words, the Penguins could really lack for quality defensemen with Letang possibly suspended and possible injury absences for Dumoulin and Olli Maatta.

This series is living up to the hype … and really building up the hate.

Yes, NHL is reportedly looking at Letang’s hit on Johansson

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It remains to be seen if Kris Letang will get suspended for his hit on Marcus Johansson … and if he does, for how long.

(You can read initial reactions and some analysis about the specifics of the check vs. the one that got Brooks Orpik suspended here.)

There are a few things we do know already.

For one thing, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly looking into it.

Another factor that could help Letang avoid a suspension or limit the duration of supplemental discipline: Marcus Johansson returned during the second period.

In fact, Johansson delivered some hits on Letang.

There have been some nasty moments in Game 3, and more might be coming. The Penguins lead 2-0 with a few minutes remaining in the middle frame.

Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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Update: Reports indicate that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is indeed looking into the hit.

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As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

Things could get ugly in Game 3:

One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

Also, lateness of the check:

The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

Update: The Penguins won the game 3-2.

Read reactions to the check here.