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Eastern Conference update: Capitals take No.1, plot thickens for bubble teams

Eastern Conference

x-1. Washington – 103 pts (3 GR)
x-2. Philadelphia – 102 pts (4 GR)
y-3. Boston – 99 pts (4 GR)
x-4. Pittsburgh – 100 pts (3 GR)
x-5. Tampa Bay – 97 pts (4 GR)
6. Montreal – 91 pts (3 GR)
7. Buffalo – 88 pts (4 GR)
8. NY Rangers – 87 pts (4 GR)
9. Carolina – 86 pts (4 GR)
10. Toronto – 84 pts (3 GR)
e-11. Atlanta – 78 pts (4 GR)
e-12. New Jersey – 77 pts (4 GR)

x – clinched playoff spot
y – clinched division title
e- eliminated from playoffs
GR – games remaining

Washington 5, Buffalo 4 (OT)

Click here for the full recap.

The Capitals now have a one-point lead over the Philadelphia Flyers for the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference, although Philly holds a game in hand (which you can witness tomorrow afternoon, in the NBC Game of the Week against the New York Rangers). Meanwhile, the Sabres at least earned a point to keep themselves one point ahead of the eighth-place Rangers and two points ahead of the ninth place Hurricanes.

This sets up an incredibly juicy Sabres-Hurricanes contest in Carolina on Sunday evening.

Carolina 4, NY Islanders 2

Speaking of the Canes, they played against the Islanders tonight in a game they had to win (regardless of the fact that the Isles have been notably scrappy lately). Carolina did just that, as Erik Cole won it for his team once again while Joe Corvo had a goal and two assists. Again, the Hurricanes are now only two points behind the Sabres and one point behind the Rangers for one of the final playoff spots.

Boston 3, Atlanta 2; Montreal 3, New Jersey 1

Three things were clinched in these two games. First, the Bruins guaranteed themselves a top-three seed by clinching the Northeast Division with today’s win. This defeat eliminated Atlanta from the playoffs (read the full recap here).

Meanwhile, Zach Parise returned to the Devils’ fold just in time to watch his team get eliminated from the postseason for the first time since the 1995-96 season. Mathieu Darche scored two goals and Carey Price made 20 saves to win this one for the Habs.

Toronto 4, Ottawa 2

The Maple Leafs’ playoff dreams are still alive, even if their chances are pretty slim. Phil Kessel hit the 30-goal mark for the third straight season by scoring the game’s opening goal, Jason Spezza scored twice in a losing effort and James Reimer made 23 saves in this Toronto win. The Leafs are a little short on points and games remaining, but they can still dream of an unlikely playoff run thanks to this victory.

Pittsburgh 4, Florida 2; Tampa Bay 3, Minnesota 1

The Penguins reached the 100-point mark tonight, but the Lightning kept pace for home ice advantage in their near-definite first round matchup. Pittsburgh has three more points than Tampa Bay, but the Bolts have an extra game in hand so they can close that gap to just one point if they earn two points in that extra contest.

Jordan Staal earned three assists in the game to help the Pens come back from a 2-1 deficit while Dwayne Roloson stopped 29 out of 30 shots to officially eliminate the Wild from the West playoffs, which must have been slightly sweet since Roloson was once in Minnesota’s goalie rotation.

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It was an interesting and game-changing Saturday in the East, with teams jockeying for position in fascinating ways. Keep your eye on PHT tonight, as we’ll handicap the race for the top spot in the East as well as the slugfest for the final two seeds.

Beard breakdown: Burns vs. Thornton (Video)

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Sometimes you need to ask important questions, breaking down positional battles and strategies.

Other times you can’t help but ask “Which guy has the better beard?”

In the case of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks boast two players with elite beards to match their elite skills. “Jumbo Joe” drew a lot of attention for his wild facial hair, yet Burns may very well have inspired Thornton to go heavy-whisker in the first place.

The video above breaks down those two beards, in case you’re itching for a comparison.

One thing that sparks little debate? Both players’ wives are real troopers.

Brouwer mulling signing with Canucks in free agency

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Troy Brouwer #36 of the St. Louis Blues looks on against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Troy Brouwer grew up in North Delta, a suburb of Vancouver.

We mention this because, on Monday, Vancouver’s News 1130 spoke with Brouwer — a pending UFA — about his plans for the future. And, lo and behold, Brouwer has thought about a return home.

“I have thought about it, for sure,” Brouwer said. “Family and friends, playing for my hometown, it would be an experience for sure.”

The 30-year-old added his father is a “huge” Canucks fan and that Mark Messier, who spent two ill-fated seasons in Vancouver, was a “big influence” on Brouwer’s career.

So, file that one away for the future.

Brouwer will likely have a number of suitors come July 1. A Stanley Cup winner with Chicago in 2010, he’s been a very reliable goalscorer — at least 17 in seven straight seasons — and is coming off a terrific playoff, in which he scored eight goals and 13 points in 20 games for the Blues.

The Blues, of course, would probably like to retain Brouwer. They paid a high price to get him — T.J. Oshie, in last summer’s deal with Washington — and used him quite a bit this year. Brouwer averaged 16 minutes per night in the regular season and nearly 19 during the playoffs.

Problem is, St. Louis might not have the cap space to retain him. Brouwer will almost certainly be getting a raise on the $3.66M he earned annually on his last deal, and the Blues have some other financial decisions to make this summer (like captain David Backes, for example.)

“Not sure what the Blues plans are,” Brouwer told News 1130. “I’m assuming we will talk with them before July 1st.”

Bettman: The ‘word’ on expansion should come June 22

NHL hockey commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, after attending an NHL owners meeting in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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PITTSBURGH — Mark June 22 on the calendar. That’s when the NHL’s Board of Governors will meet in Las Vegas, and that’s when we should get word about the league’s expansion plans.

“That word,” commissioner Gary Bettman said today at his annual Stanley Cup Final press conference, “will probably come in one of the following forms:

“Whether there will be no expansion; whether expansion will be deferred until a later time in the future; or whether there will be expansion, and if so whether it will be a one-team or a two-team expansion.

“I am not going to handicap what’s going to happen. But again, when the board meets in Las Vegas on June 22, I am fairly certain that we will know more than we do today.”

The NHL is currently considering two expansion bids, one from Las Vegas and another from Quebec City. The former is optimistic about its chances, while the latter’s fortunes may have been dashed by the decline of the Canadian dollar.

On Las Vegas, the commissioner and his deputy, Bill Daly, were asked if the NFL’s potential foray into that market could affect the NHL’s decision. The answer to that question was no.

The other theme of today’s press conference was the Olympics. Specifically, the IOC’s decision to stop covering millions of dollars in transportation and insurance costs for the players.

On that, Bettman had a strong message for the IOC and IIHF.

“I’m pretty sure that our teams are not really interested in paying for the privilege of disrupting our season,” he said.

In other words, if the IOC and IIHF can’t resolve the “expense issue,” it’s practically a certainty that the NHL will not be sending its players to Pyeongchang‎, South Korea.

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.

The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.

Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE