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.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Sunday, April 30

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The second-round continues on Sunday afternoon with another doubleheader of games on the NBC Networks.

All of the action starts at 3:00 p.m. ET when the Nashville Predators return home to host the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of their series and look to rebound from their first loss of the postsesaon.

Then, at 7:00 p.m. ET, the Edmonton Oilers return home to what should be a frenzied crowd as they try to take a commanding 3-0 series lead on the Anaheim Ducks.

Here is all of the information you need for Sunday’s games.

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: Chris Cuthbert, Joe Micheletti

Holtby ‘wasn’t as sharp as he can be,’ says Trotz

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Presidents’ Trophy winners once again in the regular season, the Capitals once again face an uphill climb if they are to advance beyond the rival Penguins and the second round of the playoffs.

What began with a strong first period for the Capitals in Game 2, albeit without a reward on the score board, faded into a frustrating 6-2 rout, as the Penguins took a commanding 2-0 series lead as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 3 on Monday.

Braden Holtby was pulled after the second period. He gave up three goals on 14 shots, while his opponent at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant with 34 saves.

“He’ll tell you that he can be better. He’s a straight up guy and he will be. I was just trying to change the mojo,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz of his decision to sit Holtby.

“I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. So when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit there. That’s all. Braden’s our backbone. He has been all year. We’ve got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby.”

Now in a deep but not insurmountable hole against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Capitals reportedly held a players’ only meeting following this latest defeat.

After failing to open the scoring in an otherwise dominant first period, Washington surrendered three goals in the second, as the Penguins broke it wide open with their transition game, led by two great plays from Sidney Crosby.

“We can’t get frustrated. I think that would be our biggest mistake is to get frustrated right now,” said T.J. Oshie, before expanding on the meeting between the players.

“It was things that people need to say and things that some people need to hear. We were very together with what we said. I don’t need to go into details. Sometimes in our game … you need to hear from your teammates more than your coach. And tonight was one of those nights.

“It was the players in here and what was said is what needed to be said.”

We’ll find out Monday if what was said actually has any impact on the ice.

Penguins rout Capitals to take commanding series lead

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The Washington Capitals are in trouble. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Again.

Despite a dominant first period, at least in terms of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury and puck possession, the Capitals saw this game go sideways in a hurry during the second period, on the way to a 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2.

Washington is now in quite a hole, trailing its nemesis 2-0 in this second-round series.

Last year, Matt Murray stymied the Capitals. Though it’s only been two games this year, Fleury has stepped up in the absence of the injured Murray and given the Penguins solid goaltending and frustrated a dangerous Capitals lineup.

After withstanding the storm of pressure from the Capitals in the first period, the Penguins broke this game open with a trio of second-period goals. It started with a shorthanded goal from Matt Cullen, and later continued with a beautiful goal from Phil Kessel and then Jake Guentzel‘s sixth goal of these playoffs.

That led Barry Trotz to take Braden Holtby out of the game, after he gave up three goals on 14 shots, putting in Phillip Grubauer to begin the third period. The Penguins continued the onslaught.

For the Penguins, there are some injury concerns to keep an eye on.

Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot around his foot or ankle. He didn’t return. Ron Hainsey had to go to the locker room late in the third period after taking an Alex Ovechkin shot up around the head.

Game 3 goes Monday in Pittsburgh.

‘I wasn’t good enough,’ says Lundqvist after double OT loss to Senators

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The task wasn’t impossible, but certainly daunting.

The Ottawa Senators needed five goals on Henrik Lundqvist just to send Game 2 into overtime.

The Rangers goalie had been spectacular for most of this post-season entering Saturday’s contest, but the Senators, led by a sensational four-goal performance from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, found a way to break through for a 6-5 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead against New York.

They did so on just 34 shots through almost 83 minutes against Lundqvist.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Lundqvist, per the New York Daily News. “Coming up with the extra save there in the end, that’s my job. Even though it’s tough plays on deflections, I’ve got to find a way.”

On three occasions, the Rangers held a two-goal lead. That includes with under five minutes remaining in regulation. They even had a pair of shorthanded goals. But they couldn’t hang on, as Pageau scored twice in the final 3:19 of regulation to record his hat trick.

That set the stage for the eventual winner, as he beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder with a shot from his off-wing on a two-on-one rush.

With the Senators in control, the series returns to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” said Lundqvist. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly they’ve gotten the bounces here in the first two games.”