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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.

Sharks scratch Flames’ big lead, Calgary wins anyway

Calgary Flames' Mikael Backlund (11) chases down the puck against San Jose Sharks' Tomas Hertl (48) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
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If you turned off Thursday’s Calgary Flames – San Jose Sharks game early, you’ll probably be stunned to see that Calgary won 6-5 via a shootout.

For instance:

  • A Sharks fan may have bitterly called it a night when Calgary went up 4-1.
  • Conversely, a Flames devotee might have retired after San Jose took a 5-4 lead, possibly with a broken remote.

The Flames only trailed for about two minutes before scoring the last “real” goal of the game, eventually taking their third straight win thanks to a shootout triumph.

It’s been a strange ride for Calgary, with its most recent win happening after Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Lance Bouma were punished with a healthy scratch. As strange as this game was, the “charity point” can leave both teams looking through a lot of film, yet with something gained as well.

Ultimately, the message may very well be: don’t sleep on these teams.

(In less positive news, Karri Ramo is injured, and it doesn’t look good.

Jonas Hiller closing out the game on a hot streak could be pretty important if Ramo’s out for some time.)

By winning fifth straight, Caps extend Wild’s slump to seven losses

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Alex Ovechkin scored three times in the second period for his 14th career hat trick, and the Washington Capitals beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Thursday night.

Ovechkin, who leads the league with 34 goals, has 13 in his past 13 games. Nicklas Backstrom had three assists and Jason Chimera added an empty-netter for Washington, which improved to a league-best 20-5-2 on the road.

Braden Holtby made 33 saves for the Capitals, who won their fifth consecutive game and became the first team to reach 40 victories this season.

Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund scored for the Wild, but Minnesota lost for the 12th time in its past 13 games (1-10-2). Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves for the Wild, who have lost seven in a row at home (0-4-3).

Ovechkin’s third goal, which deflected off both the post and the back of Dubnyk into the net, was upheld following a coach’s challenge. Wild coach Mike Yeo challenged that the puck had left the zone for offsides, but the call stood after a review showed that Backstrom stopped the puck before it crossed the blue line.

The goal gave Ovechkin his first hat trick since he scored four goals against Tampa Bay on Dec. 10, 2013.

It wasn’t the only fortunate bounce for Ovechkin on the night, and the five-time 50-goal scorer capitalized on each opportunity.

A shot from T.J. Oshie deflected off of Minnesota forward Zach Parise across the ice right to Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle and Ovechkin quickly snapped off a shot to beat Dubnyk, who couldn’t get across the crease to get into position. Three minutes later, Ovechkin scored on the power play when a point shot bounced off the end boards right to Ovechkin in front of the net.

The tally provided some relief for the Capitals’ surprisingly ineffective power play. Washington had one power play in its previous six games, an empty-netter for the only goal in its previous 20 power-play chances. The Capitals were 1 of 5 on the power play on Thursday.

Coyle scored for the fifth time in eight games in the second, but second periods have doomed the Wild during their slump. Minnesota has been outscored 13-3 in the period in five straight losses.

Suter scored his sixth goal of the season on the power play in the third as Minnesota went 1 of 5 with the man advantage.

NOTES: Washington C Evgeny Kuznetsov left in the third period after he was hit in the face by the stick of Mikael Granlund off a faceoff. … Backstrom has 20 points in his last 17 games. … Minnesota D Jared Spurgeon missed his second straight game with an unspecified deep bruise. Spurgeon has returned to practice, but was held out again. … Holtby is 27-1-3 in his last 31 games with two shutouts, a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Watch the Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp tribute video

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Over the years, the Chicago Blackhawks have been forced to let some important players leave to keep their core together, which ultimately meant parting ways with Patrick Sharp.

The talented winger now wears a Dallas Stars jersey, so Blackhawks fans must face the reality of watching Sharp ply his trade for a formidable Central Division opponent.

Even if that might feel awkward, Blackhawks fans gave Sharp (and Johnny Oduya) a warm reception in Chicago on Thursday.

CSNChicago.com provides video of that ovation, which you can see in the clip above.

The Stars currently lead the Blackhawks 4-2, thanks in large part to Patrick … Eaves.

Ovechkin’s 14th career hat trick helps him make more history

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Death, taxes and Alex Ovechkin winning the Maurice Richard Trophy.

OK, the third thing on that list isn’t technically inevitable. It just feels that way lately in the NHL.

It’s unclear if the Washington Capitals can hold on against the Minnesota Wild, but we know for certain that Ovechkin already has a hat trick, the 14th of his high-scoring career.

(He also passed Jean Beliveau for 39th all-time in goals with his 509th, as NHL.com notes.)

This propels Ovechkin to the goals lead as of this writing, as he already has 34. As impressive as Patrick Kane has been, No. 8 is heating up, and may just edge No. 88 if Ovechkin can remain healthy.

One has to feel a little sympathy for the struggling Wild. They played well but lost against the Dallas Stars earlier this week and now must deal with Ovechkin and the just-as-hot Capitals.

Update: Minnesota managed three goals, but it wasn’t enough, as Washington got the edge 4-3.