PHT staff predicts the Stanley Cup finals and award winners

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It’s time once again for all of us here at PHT to put our butts on the line. To put our money where our mouths are. To come up with another cliché for things.

That’s right, it’s our Stanley Cup predictions. We’ll give you who we think is making the finals and who’s going to take it all. As a bonus, we’ll even tell you who we think will take home the NHL’s biggest awards. As we’re expecting, you’ll make sure to remember all of these predictions by the end of the year and hold them over our heads when we’re wrong. Of course, if we turn out to be right, we’re going to gloat. A lot.

Without further ado, here’s our thoughts on the Stanley Cup finalists and winner. If you think we got it wrong, go ahead and comment here or vote in our poll. And make sure to check out previews for all 30 teams here.

Joe Yerdon says:

Stanley Cup finalists: Los Angeles Kings vs. Washington Capitals

Stanley Cup champions: Washington Capitals

Yeah, I know what you’re saying. “But Joe, you picked the Capitals to make the finals last year. When are you ever going to learn.” To that I say, “Hey… Shut up.” Much like a kid that can’t keep from touching a hot stove, the Capitals offseason addition of Tomas Vokoun as well as their blue collar additions of Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward along with Roman Hamrlik makes me believe they’ve got it figured out. Put me firmly on the Kings’ bandwagon this year as well. They would’ve been heavily in the mix last year if not for Anze Kopitar getting hurt, but such is life. The Kings are for real but the Capitals are ready to get over all the humps to win it all this year.

James O’Brien says:

Stanley Cup finalists: Los Angeles Kings vs. Washington Capitals

Stanley Cup champions: Washington Capitals

I picked the Sharks to win the Pacific, but the Kings sport the West’s best makeup for the playoffs – two impressive goalies, two first line-caliber centers and perhaps the best defense in the NHL (their fragile group of wingers needs to stay healthy, though). They’re a tough matchup for any West team, but Washington will have just enough of everything to steal the Cup away. The Capitals have a more potent offensive attack, a versatile defense and one of the best goalies in the world. It’s now or never for a significant chunk of this Capitals team – coach Bruce Boudreau included – and I’m leaning toward “Now.”

Matt Reitz says:

Stanley Cup Finalists: Vancouver Canucks vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Stanley Cup champions: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Canucks were far and away the best team in the West last season. Most of the team returns intact with even more motivation.

The Pens lost the best player on the planet AND a former Hart winner, yet still were able to transform themselves into a defensive team and earn the 4th seed. Crosby and Malkin rejoin and already strong team–no teams’ offseason moves can compare.

source: Getty ImagesAs for our award predictions, here goes nothing.

Joe Yerdon says:

Hart Trophy:  Evgeni Malkin, Penguins
Art Ross Trophy:  Henrik Sedin, Canucks
Rocket Richard Trophy:  Steve Stamkos, Lightning
Vezina Trophy:  Tomas Vokoun, Capitals
Norris Trophy:  Zdeno Chara, Bruins
Calder Trophy:  Adam Larsson, Devils

James O’Brien says:

Hart Trophy:  Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Art Ross Trophy:  Henrik Sedin, Canucks
Rocket Richard Trophy:  Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
source: APVezina Trophy:  Pekka Rinne, Predators
Norris Trophy:  Duncan Keith, Blackhawks
Calder Trophy:  Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche

Matt Reitz says:

Hart Trophy:  Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Art Ross Trophy:  Sidney Crosby, Penguins
Rocket Richard Trophy:  Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Vezina Trophy:  Ryan Miller, Sabres
Norris Trophy:  Duncan Keith, Blackhawks
Calder Trophy:  Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche

Point gets Lightning extra point against Kane, Blackhawks

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The Tampa Bay Lightning edged the Chicago Blackhawks – barely – on Wednesday to leapfrog back over the St. Louis Blues for the top record in the NHL.

The Bolts capitalized on a power-play opportunity in overtime, with Brayden Point scoring the decisive goal in a 3-2 OT win. It was an exciting overtime period, with Point being stopped all in alone earlier in the OT, and the same happening to Patrick Kane on a breakaway.

Kane had been getting the best of the Lightning earlier in the game, scoring the first two goals of the contest in the first period. Not a lot of players can make plays like this off the rush:

Then again, few teams can score a goal this pretty, especially while shorthanded:

Steven Stamkos and Vladislav Namestnikov collected assists on Wednesday, but the top line (including Nikita Kucherov) failed to score a goal, though they created quite a few chances. The best – at least in regulation – came when Stamkos seized an opportunity against the Blackhawks, but Corey Crawford was game:

Wow.

Again, both goalies made some big stops. Here’s that Kane miss in OT, with Andrei Vasilevskiy depriving number 88 from a hat trick:

So, with that, the Lightning hold a one-point standings edge (34 to 33) over the Blues in the early race for the Presidents’ Trophy, and most importantly, gives them a five-point edge in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay’s impressive start to 2017-18 is especially notable since they’ve played one fewer game than St. Louis and two fewer than the Toronto Maple Leafs (the second-ranked team in the up-and-down Atlantic).

Check out the logjam at second-to-last in the competitive Central for Chicago, as of this writing, with these three teams all at 21 games played:

Dallas Stars: 11-9-1, 23 points
Blackhawks: 10-8-3, 23 points
Minnesota Wild: 10-8-3, 23 points

It has to be a little frustrating for the Blackhawks to see a two-goal lead dissolve, but plenty of teams would struggle to secure such an edge against the powerhouse Lightning. Maybe the Blackhawks will gain some confidence in merely sticking with them (and grabbing a point for their troubles).

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.

Much-needed response from Oilers vs. Red Wings

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One win can’t cleanse the palate of a bitter 21-game start, but beggars can’t be choosers, and the Edmonton Oilers really needed a W tonight.

That’s not to say it would be easy, either, as they faced a rested Red Wings team in Detroit to close off a back-to-back after Tuesday’s humiliating loss to the St. Louis Blues. Edmonton got that sorely needed response, chasing Jimmy Howard and beating the Red Wings 6-2.

While Connor McDavid (two assists) and Leon Draisaitl (one helper) made their typical impacts, it’s especially heartening for the Oilers to see less-obvious names show up in the box score. Jesse Puljujarvi, Jujhar Khaira, Mark Letestu, and Drake Caggiula ranked among goalscorers, while Ryan Strome collected a pair of assists.

Any bit of confidence gained, particularly for supporting cast members, could be very important for the fledgling Oilers.

It doesn’t take long to ruin the party; now at 8-12-2, the Oilers’ 18 standings points still leave them at second-worst in the West.

Still, all the Oilers can do right now is gradually, slowly dig themselves out of the troubling hole they’ve created for themselves. This won’t be easy, and even this early on, they might need a few other teams to hit a wall.

But, hey, it’s better than the nothing this team showed last night, right?

Catch up on Edmonton’s struggles

Why they’re the NHL’s most disappointing team

The uncomfortable parallels between McDavid and Jack Eichel

These struggles are the results of some bad moves from Peter Chiarelli

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.

Scott Darling: Latest goalie beaten from center ice (Video)

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Here’s a thought: considering an 82-game regular season and about a two-month-long postseason, it’s almost a little surprising that we don’t see more center-ice goals.

Such a goal can happen in so many ways. A puck can take an odd bounce. A goalie might take his eye off the puck for a second while deciding what to do next, much like an NFL receiver who drops an easy pass while dreaming of those sweet, sweet, yards up ahead.

So, let’s not be too hard on Carolina Hurricanes goalie Scott Darling, who padded Mika Zibanejad‘s already-robust goal totals with the center-ice flub you can see in the video above.

If you prefer a GIF form, this one nails the spirit of the thing:

(Agreed, little emoticon monkey. Agreed.)

Since we’re on the subject of goals netminders would want back even more than usual, we might as well also consider Tyler Ennis beating Chad Johnson here:

Ouch. Hey, we’ve all been there (vaguely speaking).

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.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks – Lightning, Wednesday Night Rivalry

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The latest edition of “Wednesday Night Rivalry” features a rematch of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, as the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Chicago Blackhawks.

During that competitive series, the Blackhawks were the favorites. The tide has turned now, however, as the dynamite duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov have propelled the Bolts to the upper crust of the NHL. Chicago, meanwhile, strains to remain a contender.

But it’s worth noting that the Blackhawks cannot be taken lightly. They still feature Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Corey Crawford, so tonight should provide plenty of entertainment.

Along with watching on NBCSN, you can also check the action out on online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE