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2011 Eastern Conference playoffs: First round series matchups

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The NHL’s schedule release show airs on Sunday, but thanks to Saturday’s games, we at least know which East teams will face off in the four first round series.

This post features quick recaps to explain how Saturday’s games determined the different matchups and some quick thoughts to whet your appetite for some great-looking series. If you’re left wanting more, don’t worry; there will be much more preview fun to be had during the next few days.

1. Washington Capitals vs. 8. New York Rangers

Saturday’s games: The Capitals lost a 1-0 game against the Florida Panthers, but their fate as the No.1 seed was already sealed. Meanwhile, the Rangers beat up on the Devils and celebrated a surprising flop by the Carolina Hurricanes to take the final spot. New York’s playoff fate has been decided on the last game of their season for two straight years, but the 2010-11 edition came out on top.

Quick thoughts: The Rangers are a serious thorn in the side of the Capitals. They pounded Washington in a game that was immortalized by HBO’s cameras and won the season series too. New York also pushed Washington to a seven-game series two years ago, so this might not be a cakewalk for the Caps.

2. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 7. Buffalo Sabres

Saturday’s games: The Flyers continued their dominance against the New York Islanders to (barely) earn the second seed in the East while the Sabres gave themselves a chance to win the sixth seed by beating the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Quick thoughts: How much do you believe in momentum? How about quality depth vs. elite goaltending? Your feelings about both questions will likely determine if you like the staggering,but notably deep Flyers or the streaking, top-heavy Sabres to win this series.

3. Boston Bruins vs. 6. Montreal Canadiens

Saturday’s games: The Bruins clinched the Northeast Division quite a while ago, but kept themselves in position to steal a second seed by winning against the Senators. The Habs managed to retain the sixth seed thanks to a 4-1 victory versus Toronto.

Quick thoughts: Anyone who’s been eye-balling the standings for the last few months can attest to the fact that this was a likely series (much like the four/five match). Even with that being said, this one still seems too good to be true. It’s not just the next chapter in one of the most storied — if imbalanced — rivalries in all of hockey; it’s also a grudge match between teams who genuinely dislike each other for much more immediate reasons. The only obviously negative thing about this series is that we’ll probably have to watch replays of Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty approximately 3,000 times.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5. Tampa Bay Lightning

Today’s games: The Penguins were hoping the Islanders would win to give them a chance to steal the Atlantic Division (and second seed) from the Flyers, but it was not to be. The Lightning didn’t really have anything to play for in their game against the Hurricanes — beyond the delicious flavor of spite — but they still made a statement by pummeling the playoff-needy team.

Quick thoughts: The Penguins would be wise to keep Sidney Crosby on the shelf, even if a Steven Stamkos vs. Crosby showdown would be tantalizing for the NHL.

Instead, this is a tough series to gauge, as both teams have gone through spurts in which their shootout wins made their point totals a bit deceptive. It’s tough to imagine Pittsburgh being able to keep up with Tampa Bay’s offense, so this might come down to how much better Marc-Andre Fleury can be than Dwayne Roloson.

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Honestly, there’s really not a dud of a series in any of these matches. If you’re not getting excited yet, then your status as a hockey fan must be questioned.

Little-known Langhamer spurns Ducks comeback for Coyotes

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 14:  Ryan Getzlaf #15 of the Anaheim Ducks skates with the puck during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 14, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. The Ducks defeated the Coyotes 3-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Both of Monday’s games could have gone beyond regulation, yet the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks were left kicking themselves after failing to generate standings points.

In the case of the Ducks, they simply couldn’t overcome a lousy start to the Arizona Coyotes. They erased most of a 3-0 deficit but ultimately fell 3-2 on Monday.

Again, it was an ugly opening for Anaheim.

Randy Carlyle turned to John Gibson to start the second period and the red-hot goalie didn’t give up a goal; even so, his strong work wasn’t rewarded with anything but nice numbers.

Ryan Getzlaf scored both of Anaheim’s goals, including one with less than 30 seconds remaining in the third period and the Ducks’ net empty. You’d think that would be the end of the drama, but that wasn’t the case.

Mike Smith needed to leave the net during the third, likely because of a collision with Jakob Silfverberg. (Sounds like he’s OK, though.)

This forced Marek Langhamer to close out the game, meaning he had to deal with Anaheim’s endgame barrage. That included making quite the clutch stop against Sami Vatanen, spurning quite the attempt to tie:

Wow.

A quick primer on Langhamer: he was a seventh-round pick by the Coyotes (then Phoenix, 184th overall in 2012). He’s spent chunks of this season in both the AHL and ECHL, so this must be quite the moment for the 22-year-old.

As cool as that story is, the Ducks have to be kicking themselves. Instead of going ahead of the Edmonton Oilers for the second spot in the Pacific, both teams remain locked at 72 points (with Edmonton holding two games in hand).

Coyotes fans might have mixed feelings about the returns for Michael Stone, but beating their division rivals had to feel like a resounding win.

Yes, the Florida Panthers are indeed on fire

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  Michael Sgarbossa #48 of the Florida Panthers is congratulated after scoring a goal during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers are on a ridiculous roll right now. They’re even hotter than the also-quite-hot St. Louis Blues.

You could practically hear the air leave the building in St. Louis as Vincent Trocheck‘s goal made it 2-1 with just five seconds remaining in regulation. To little surprise, that ended up being the final score on Monday in what was otherwise quite the goaltending duel between James Reimer and Jake Allen.

The Panthers won all five games of what seemed to be a harrowing road trip on paper:

Feb. 11: 7-4 win against Predators
Feb. 15: 6-5 OT win against Sharks
Feb. 17: 4-1 win against Ducks
Feb. 18: 3-2 win vs. Kings
Tonight: 2-1 win over St. Louis

The Panthers now face a four-game homestand to close out February and also play seven of eight in Florida. (Actually, eight of nine, as they close out that run by visiting the Lightning on March 11).

Anyway, the Cats are in the catbird seat, and they finish the night back in front of the Boston Bruins for third in the Atlantic Division:

1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 GP
2. Senators: 68 in 57
3. Panthers – 66 in 58

Bruins – 66 in 59
Maple Leafs – 65 in 58
Sabres – 62 in 60
Lightning – 60 in 58
Red Wings – 58 in 59

As you can see, games in hand stand as Florida’s advantage over Boston, but with the Bruins holding the second wild card spot, the Panthers’ position in the playoff picture is clear (if vulnerable).

Again, it wasn’t like the Panthers outright dominated the Blues.

St. Louis and Florida both looked sharp in this one, but the Blues have lost two straight games in regulation after reeling off a six-game winning streak. With a ton of road games on the docket through the next month, the Blues will just need to keep fighting.

At least Mike Yeo has an easy team to point to in explaining how the Blues can overcome such challenges.

Video: Reimer, Allen shut down dangerous one-timers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  James Reimer #34 of the Florida Panthers makes a save during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In an ideal world, goalie equipment wouldn’t be such an issue. Teams would be able to “get goalies moving” with great passing and chances just about no one could stop.

Then again, there are also those saves that a select handful of humans can pull off. A big reason why there’s only been one goal between the Panthers and Blues tonight is the lateral movement shown by both James Reimer and Jake Allen.

First, watch as Reimer robs Jori Lehtera on what’s likely the save of the night:

Allen really hasn’t been that far behind Reimer, right down to making a similar stop:

Considering the two nearly identical one-timer goals scored by Arizona against Anaheim in finding seams for big passes through opposing defenses, tonight’s goalies might want to do some extra stretching during intermissions.

Dvorak, Coyotes put Ducks in early hole with slick goals (Video)

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 11:  Connor Murphy #5 (second from left) of the Arizona Coyotes celebrates with Alexander Burmistrov #91, Shane Doan #19 and Christian Dvorak #18 after Murphy scored the game winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on February 11, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Penguins 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes’ happy thoughts are mostly centered on the future. Christian Dvorak possibly being more than a guy who put up nice junior numbers with Matthew Tkachuk and Mitch Marner could fuel some really nice thoughts.

He’s been red-hot in February, in particular, including a goal already tonight as the Coyotes raced off to an early 2-0 lead against the Anaheim Ducks.

Check out that smooth play for his 10th goal of 2016-17:

Again, he’s been on quite the roll lately.

February: nine points (and counting?) in nine games
Rest of the season: 13 points in 45 games

He only had one assist in 12 January contests, so this outburst is even more unexpected than the Coyotes racing off to this lead.

Interestingly, the Coyotes two goals looked awfully similar, at least in the finish:

Randy Carlyle’s mood? Probably not too chipper right now.