Jeff Carter, Thomas Vanek

PHT Predicts: Flyers vs. Sabres — Who do you have?

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These two teams can’t seem to go a few years without renewing their rivalry in the playoffs. Some classic battles have gone down between these two teams over the last 15 years and this one promises to be more of the same. The Flyers struggled at the end of the season but head into this series with Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Claude Giroux, and Buffalo’s most hated figure Daniel Briere ready to turn it on. The Sabres counter with Thomas Vanek carrying the offense along with Jason Pominville and Tyler Myers doing their part to score. While the status of Chris Pronger hangs in the air, drama in this series is oozing about everywhere.

With rookie Sergei Bobrovsky and his sweet new mask going up against American hero Ryan Miller in goal, there certainly will be some intrigue there to see if either goalie can carry them to victory. As for how we’re viewing this series, we’re expecting things to be especially fun if you like dramatic playoff series.

James says:
Much like the Capitals-Rangers series, this one smells a little fishy. The Sabres have Ryan Miller in net; the Flyers once again have uncertainty as their co-pilot. Yet the biggest question for me is: will Chris Pronger be healthy enough to play somewhat close to his normal game-altering level? Without Pronger, I would feel my hand shaking over the “Buffalo” button. With Pronger, I still wouldn’t bet against another run to the Stanley Cup finals for Philly. He’s truly that important.

Flyers in 7. If Pronger is too redundant, how about Danny Briere, a man who could break the hearts of fans who once adored him?

Matt says:
This looks like it could be the upset special of the first round. All year the Flyers looked like they were built for a long run and a repeat visit to the Finals—but the last month of the season has been a different story. They’re a different team without Chris Pronger and it’s always difficult for a team to “flip the switch.” On the other side of things, the Sabres have a sparkling 8-1-1 record down the stretch to earn their spot in the playoffs. Ryan Miller looks like he’ll be back—and he even got an injury-induced rest at the end of the regular season. There’s always an upset in the first round when a hot team entering the playoffs faces off against a team that has been complacent for months. This looks like it could be it. Sabres in 6.

Joe says:
Pronger’s presence in this series is huge. If he plays, the Flyers are instantly much more snarly and get a bit more of that swagger back that Bobrovsky could use to his benefit in goal. The Sabres play in the latter half of the season cannot be discounted though and Thomas Vanek’s play has been stellar. For as much of a thorn as he’s been in the Flyers’ side, Briere feeds off of the hate Sabres fans shower him with. It’s tight, but I see this one going seven. Flyers in 7.

With opinions all over the place on this one, we want to know what you think. Do the Flyers win and make another deep playoff run or does Pegula-mania run wild in Buffalo and lead the Sabres to the second round? Vote in our poll and let us know.

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.