Henrik Sedin, Alex Ovechkin

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.

Lonnie Cameron, hockey-tough linesman, shakes off puck to head (Video)

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Talking about hockey toughness is pretty much a trope at this point, yet there are still moments that impress even the cynical among us.

Linesman Lonnie Cameron accomplished that for many on Tuesday, as he returned to the Nashville Predators – Vancouver Canucks game despite taking a puck to the head in a scary moment.

Judging by the Twitter feed of Brooks Bratten from the Predators’ website, Cameron missed mere minutes of time.

So, yeah, it seems like Cameron qualifies as “hockey tough.”

As far as the game itself went, the Canucks beat the Predators 1-0 thanks to Henrik Sedin‘s goal (his 999th point) and Ryan Miller‘s 30-save shutout.

Is this more than just a slump for Henrik Lundqvist?

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People have been wondering for years if Henrik Lundqvist would finally fall off track and, you know, look human. After the New York Rangers’ zany 7-6 loss to the Dallas Stars, those rumblings are probably getting a little louder.

Don’t expect the Rangers to throw their star goalie under the bus, though, especially after a wide-open game like Tuesday’s goal-filled game at Madison Square Garden.

In fact, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is already penciling Lundqvist in for Thursday’s game against the rising Toronto Maple Leafs.

“He’s going to play, he’s going to try real hard, and we’re going to try to play better in front of him,” Vigneault said, according to the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis. “This is a team.”

Lundqvist, meanwhile, said about what you’d expect:

Naturally, Lundqvist and plenty of other Rangers threw the word embarrassing around quite a bit to describe this game, or at least the first 40 minutes. It’s just that no one’s really raking Lundqvist over the coals.

Is this time different?

Again, Lundqvist is no stranger to struggles, even if he struggles less often than just about any franchise goalie in recent memory.

Still, the sample size is getting large enough for this stretch to be a concern for the 34-year-old netminder.

While goal support and stretches of good play open the door for a respectable 18-12-1 record, Lundqvist’s allowing almost three goals per game (2.89 GAA) and has a backup-level .902 save percentage this season. And that’s over 32 games.

Things get even uglier if you focus on more recent events.

He’s allowed 20 goals in his past four starts, including allowing 12 tallies over four periods during the past two games. Lundqvist has a putrid .841 save percentage in January after producing great work in November (.925 save percenate in 11 games) and nice numbers in December (.915 in eight games).

Lundqvist has given up four goals or more on nine different occasions since Nov. 23.

In other words, there are a lot of different ways in which he’s struggling:

Is this a matter of Lundqvist regaining his focus or is “The King” finally abdicating his throne?

The Rangers are going to let him try to work through this. Otherwise, they might just need to hope that this is an off-year and *gulp* at least consider how far (an eventually healthy?) Antti Raanta could take them.

Supporting cast rallies Blackhawks in win against Avalanche

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For much of the season, the Colorado Avalanche’s biggest names have let them down while many believe that the Chicago Blackhawks are getting it done despite a mediocre supporting cast.

On Tuesday, the script was essentially flipped. The Avs’ stars were productive, yet so were lesser-known Chicago forwards like Tanner Kero and Vinne Hinostroza.

The most important narrative stayed the same, however, as the Blackhawks found a way to get by the Avalanche in a 6-4 decision.

The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but the Avs put together one of their best stretches of this lousy season. Blake Comeau tied it up, Matt Nieto scored his first goal with Colorado and then Matt Duchene answered Chicago’s only goal of the second period (by Kero) to give the Avalanche a 4-3 edge.

The Avalanche doubled Chicago’s shots on goal in the second period, generating an 8-4 edge. It felt like a rare moment where Colorado’s talent actually flexed its collective muscles.

Then the Blackhawks turned it on in the third, generating a 12-5 shot edge of their own and finding a way to win.

Hinostroza ended up making the biggest difference, scoring the tying and game-winning goals before Kero iced it with an empty-netter thanks to an unselfish pass by Jonathan Toews.

(It’s not to say that Chicago’s big names outright slept through this game, either. Toews got that assist and Marian Hossa made a bunch of plays to help make life easier for Hinostroza and Kero.)

This wasn’t always pretty, but the Blackhawks are doing enough to get points night after night. On some nights, that’s the real difference between a contender like Chicago and a languishing squad like Colorado.

Blue Jackets move back to first in Metro, NHL after beating Hurricanes

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 7:  Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets warms up prior to the start of the game against the New York Rangers on January 7, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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After stumbling for a bit, Tuesday was a reassuring night for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus moved back to the top of the Metropolitan Division (and thus, the NHL) because they now match the Washington Capitals’ 64 points but have more wins (30 to 29) and hold a game in hand.

Also comforting for Columbus: Sergei Bobrovsky returned to the Blue Jackets net, allowing one goal on 25 shots.

They were probably also happy to see Brandon Dubinsky enjoy a strong night (two goals) and Boone Jenner collect an assist and this absolute beauty of a goal:

The Hurricanes actually did hold a 1-0 lead in this game, but it lasted all of 11 seconds, as that Jenner goal erased that advantage.

The Blue Jackets face the Senators in Columbus on Thursday and then host the Hurricanes once again on Saturday. They follow that up with five straight road games and six of seven away from home beginning on Jan. 22. Columbus will pass another big test if they can stick with the Capitals and the rest of the NHL’s best through that stretch.