PHT Predicts who wins the Stanley Cup

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If we learned anything from last year’s playoffs it’s that anything can happen. We saw top seeds crumble in the playoffs last year in the Eastern Conference as the top three teams all lost in the first round creating mayhem for the rounds to follow. After all, it’s not every year when the seven seed hosts the eight seed in the conference final, but when Philadelphia did that last year against Montreal, it left prognosticators and self-appointed know-it-alls everywhere baffled.

The Western Conference last season was a bit more friendly to those who bet on the higher seeds to roll through. Top seeded San Jose made it all the way to the conference final against the second seeded Blackhawks while they each dispatched the the third seeded Canucks and fifth seeded Red Wings in the conference semis.

With things going half-and-half last year as far as long shots and favorites went, we’re going to err on the side of caution this year. Showing that we don’t give much thought to what happened in the past and it is what it is, we’re going out on a major league limb with who we think is going to take things in each conference.

In the Eastern Conference, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau has us sold on the Caps dedication to defense and playing a more sandpaper-like brand of hockey. Mix that in with the all-universe talent of Alexander Ovechkin and a supporting cast including a healthy Mike Green along with forwards Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble that mix of vertan savvy and youth has us buying heavily into the Caps. It might not be the high-flying offense we got used to in the past, but they’re consistent now and they’re good. With Michal Neuvirth set to start in goal for Washington, he’s been their steady man all season long.

The flash and dash is gone and boring steadiness is the rule of the day for Washington. While there’s always the threat of a team getting hot and going on a tear through the postseason, we’re sold on the Capitals out of the East.

The West makes us a bit more scared and why not, it’s loaded out West. We could see any of the top five teams making a run through the playoffs and finding a way to steal the Western Conference bid to the Stanley Cup final. Vancouver is the heavy atop the standings, the Sharks are on fire in the second half, Detroit has the veteran knowhow, Anaheim has the best line in the NHL and a potential game-stealing wild card in goal should Jonas Hiller return, and Nashville has the kind of goalie that can win you 16 games in the postseason with the nasty defense to support him.

The choices aren’t easy out West, but when it comes down to it all Vancouver is just disturbingly good. They’ve dealt with countless injuries along their blue line and yet still Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider won the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed. They continued to pound on teams after they had nothing to play for, and their offense boasts two 90+ point scorers in the Sedin twins including Art Ross Trophy winner Daniel.

Ryan Kesler is their top shutdown forward and even he had 40 goals this season. Factor in supporters like Alex Burrows, Mikael Samuelsson, and Mason Raymond and it boggles the mind to think what they can do in the playoffs. Vancouver is sickeningly good and they’ll show the West they mean business winning the Western Conference.

In the final, with two teams that have yet to win the Stanley Cup in franchise history, desperation takes on a whole new meaning but in the end, destiny belongs to the Canucks as they dispose of the Capitals. Canucks win the Stanley Cup in 6 games in what turns out to be a memorable and legendary series and gives Vancouver something major to celebrate in their 40th anniversary season.

Should Erik Gudbranson get suspended for boarding Frank Vatrano?

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The Boston Bruins power play made Erik Gudbranson and the Vancouver Canucks pay with three goals during the major for his hit on Frank Vatrano, but the NHL might decide to go further.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety confirmed that Gudbranson, 25, will receive a Friday hearing for the boarding check. The league tends to be vague about this, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that it’s expected to being an interview over the phone, rather than the in-person variety that can bring about harsher punishments.

Vatrano returned to the Bruins’ eventual 6-3 win against the Canucks, yet there’s a chance that he might have a setback. (Knowing Boston’s recent luck, don’t count on good news until you see it.)

Watch the video and Gudbranson’s fight with Tim Schaller in the video above, via Hockey Fights.

Fans responded to that announcement by pointing out one of Thursday’s other questionable hits: Zack Kassian on Ryan Hartman, which only drew a minor penalty:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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McDavid dazzles again, Oilers break slump with OT win vs. Blackhawks

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Update: The Edmonton Oilers ended up needing every bit of Connor McDavid‘s brilliance, as goals weren’t coming easily against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night.

(Even though, as you can see with that highlight-reel assist, McDavid often makes it look easy.)

McDavid also managed a secondary assist on Mark Letestu‘s overtime-winner, ending the Edmonton Oilers’ losing streak at four games. The Blackhawks continue to be resourceful in getting standings points, in this case falling 2-1 in OT.

Anton Forsberg made 40 of 42 saves, but it wasn’t enough against a driven group led by number 97.

Here’s the OT goal.

If you haven’t seen the more amazing of McDavid’s two helpers, do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t regret it.

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Connor McDavid’s speed and skill are glorious, but the thing that makes him extra-sensational is just how unstoppable he seems. Even against some of the NHL’s best.

To start the season, McDavid made very-solid Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie look downright permeable during the most impressive goal in his opening-night hat trick.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, the superstar tore through the Chicago Blackhawks – including certain future Hall of Famer Duncan Keith – and then sent absolutely obscene pass to Patrick Maroon for an easy goal.

You know how people used to say that a fire hydrant could score 50 goals with Mario Lemieux? We might need to bump that down to 30 for modern hockey, but either way, Maroon might laugh uncomfortably at such jokes.

If you prefer your jaw-droppers in GIF form, drop away:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Bergeron bombastic in return, but Bruins lose Krejci to injury

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The roller coaster isn’t slowing down for the Boston Bruins.

With Tuukka Rask‘s concussion looming over the proceedings, the Bruins gave fans some reason to celebrate; Patrice Bergeron scored a goal and three assists in an impressive 6-3 output by the B’s top guns against the overmatched Vancouver Canucks.

Even Anders Bjork enjoyed some measure of redemption after bowling over Rask in practice, as the young player scored two goals and an assist despite being limited to 12:29 TOI.

Other big guns like Brad Marchand did their increasingly reliable damage, with David Pastrnak probably providing the most exhilarating goal of the contest:

Yeah, that might get some attention from Canucks coach Travis Green in film sessions, assuming he doesn’t just burn the tape.

Bergeron broke down his night to Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy after the game:

The Bruins really made Erik Gudbranson and the Canucks pay for boarding Frank Vatrano, as they scored three power-play goals on the major penalty. Vatrano’s another health situation to watch, although it’s heartening that he returned during the game.

MORE: Gudbranson faces hearing for hit

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So … solid stuff overall, as the Bruins provided ample evidence that they might have the weapons to scrap through all this bad luck.

Then again, if opponents can slow the top-end guys, you wonder what kind of supporting cast the Bruins will have left through this run of attrition. David Krejci is the latest name to land on Boston’s troubling list of walking wounded.

Here’s hoping that it isn’t a big issue for a veteran center who’s dealt with nagging injuries in recent years.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Kucherov’s goal run ends, but he helped Sergachev make history, Bolts win

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Gosh, that Nikita Kucherov is such a slacker.

The underrated, rising star saw his historic, season-opening seven-game goal streak end with eight in seven games. This leaves him just one game short of tying Wayne Gretzky.

It’s fitting, though, that Kucherov made a little history even as his historic run ended. He earned two primary assists on the first two goals of Mikhail Sergachev‘s NHL career, factoring into the Tampa Bay Lightning’s surprisingly low-scoring 2-0 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

(C’mon, you pictured some fireworks there too, didn’t you?)

Here’s the first-ever goal for Sergachev, who matched trade mate Jonathan Drouin‘s two goals with tonight’s outburst.

And here’s the second:

Yeah, you can’t give Sergachev that kind of space and time; then again, maybe the Blue Jackets were a little preoccupied with stopping Kucherov and his red-hot partner-in-crime, Steven Stamkos?

The real star of tonight’s game/reason why it was so low-scoring was probably Andrei Vasilevskiy. Another key Russian for the Lightning, Vasilevskiy stopped all 43 shots for an impressive shutout. This marks his first of the season and only the fifth of what’s been a promising young career.

After falling just short against the New Jersey Devils via a shootout, the Bolts improve to 6-1-1 while winning another early temperature check against Columbus, who are still off to a strong start at 5-2-0.

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