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.

Robin Lehner certainly has swagger

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  Robin Lehner #40 of the Buffalo Sabres stretches during the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on February 24, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Robin Lehner is a big goalie, and barring possible language barrier issues, sure seems to have a pretty big personality.

That at least seems to be the case with the Buffalo Sabres’ top guy, who provided the Buffalo News’ John Vogl with a great quote:

“There’s a lot of pressure on me, and that’s fine. … I know I’m a good goaltender,” Lehner said.

Hey now.

As much as the Sabres feel like a work in progress, acquiring Lehner was one of GM Tim Murray’s boldest moves. Murray was able to observe Lehner in Ottawa, and despite some struggles, the big Swede (6-foot-5, 240 lbs.) was sneaky-good in 2015-16.

Twenty-one games serves as a limited sample size, yet a .924 save percentage seems quite promising. His 107 career regular season games are spread over six seasons, so to some extent, the 25-year-old is still something of an unknown entity.

If nothing else, it looks like he could provide some Bryzgalovian entertainment.

Back in March, Ben Scrivens admitted he was happy to avoid a fight with a guy he called a “bit of a psycho.”

Sounds like a guy to watch.

Clarke MacArthur helped off ice during Sens scrimmage

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 8: Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on October 8, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/ Getty Images)
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Rough news for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday: forward Clarke MacArthur needed help off the ice following a big hit during a team scrimmage.

The hit was delivered by Patrick Sieloff, prompting an immediate response from Bobby Ryan, according to The Hockey News’ Murray Pam.

MacArthur has been hoping to return to NHL action after some serious concussion issues, so this is a troubling situation. More than a few people wonder if this might end his career.

Team Europe is happy to play underdog role

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TORONTO (AP) When the World Cup of Hockey started, Team Europe was not picked as a team to beat.

In fact, the unique team made up of eight nations outside of the continent’s traditional hockey powers was expected to be out of the best-on-best tournament.

Team Europe had other plans.

The blended group of players opened the tournament with a 3-0 win over the U.S. and then beat the Czech Republic in overtime to seal a spot in the semifinals before losing to Canada.

“I know nobody really expected us to be here right now,” Danish and Detroit Red Wings forward Frans Nielsen said Saturday. “But when you look in the room and go over the team, there’s not a lot of players better than (Anze) Kopitar in this tournament. We got (Marian) Hossa. We got some good guys on the backend and good goaltending.”

The Europeans will face Sweden on Sunday for a spot in the best-of-three finals against the winner of Saturday night’s Canada-Russia game.

When Team Europe players have faced Sweden for their countries – Switzerland, Denmark, Slovakia, France, Germany, Slovenia, Austria and Norway – in previous, they didn’t have a legitimate chance to win.

They do now.

A veteran group of skaters and a star in Kopitar along with Slovak and New York Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak give them a shot on any sheet of ice.

“He’s the kind of goalie that almost every night, he gives you a chance to win,” said Nielsen, who played with Halak in New York. “And, he’ll make that save when you need it.”

Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger said he’ll likely save his rah-rah speeches for another team because this one simply doesn’t need it.

Krueger began to sense something special was in store for Team Europe nearly a year ago when several candidates to be on the team met when Boston and the New York Islanders played. When the entire group gathered nearly three weeks ago in Quebec, Krueger got even more excited about the natural chemistry the team already had from their shared experiences.

“We didn’t have to do a lot of extra team-building,” Krueger said. “It just happened with a combination of leadership and personalities and character and will – of pure will – of these eight nations that are forever underdogs, forever going home when the final four is staged, forever watching other teams play in finals of best of best. That opportunity has fueled the fire that taken us here.”

Follow Larry Lage at http://www.twitter.com/larrylage and follow his work at http://www.bigstory.ap.org/content/larry-lage

Sadly, Crosby praise still comes at Ovechkin’s expense

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Alex Ovechkin #8 and Sidney Crosby #87 shake hands following Team Canada's  5-3 victory to move on to the finals during the World Cup of Hockey at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
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Here’s a homework assignment for you: praise Sidney Crosby‘s incredible work without downgrading Alex Ovechkin.

Yes, it’s not easy.

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun presented an interesting column that spotlighted an admittedly “tired narrative” while still ultimately pumping up Crosby at Ovechkin’s expense.

LeBrun quoted anonymous executives who, yes, trotted out tired narratives. One executive did the baseball thing in making it Crosby (“five-tool guy”) vs. Ovechkin (“home run hitter”) while another equated it to a full-court player vs. a “half-court” player.

It’s all … well, tiresome.

Ovechkin may not have had the greatest game of his life on Saturday, but watching that game, was the takeaway really that he let Russia down? That the difference between the two teams was, in any way, about Crosby over Ovechkin?

You can throw out all sorts of stats or lean on the eye test to note how over-matched Russia really was in that game. Or you can consider the defensemen Russia dressed in a best-on-best clash:

Dmitry Kulikov, Dmitry Orlov, Nikita Zaitsev, Alexey Marchenko, Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov and Nikita Nesterov.

Yikes.

Search your soul for a second and ask: how uneasy would an NHL team feel about that group of blueliners? Such a collection would struggle against one of the league’s 30 squads, let alone against a virtual All-Star team.

Is Crosby better than Ovechkin? There’s a strong chance that is the case, because of the whole “Crosby probably being the best player of his generation” thing.

How about this for a daring idea, though: why not enjoy the work of both players?

Ovechkin is easily the best sniper of his generation, and with 82 points in 84 career playoff games, sure seems like a strong big-game player. As we all know, hockey is a team sport, yet the blame falls on Ovechkin again and again.

Instead, let’s give Crosby and the rest of his brilliant teammates our attention, as we’ve seen here, here and here.