Breaking down the race for the West’s final playoff spots

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Earlier this week, the NBC Sports Network gang took a look at the Western Conference playoff picture, as you can watch in the following clip:

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Want a more detailed playoff picture? NBC’s standings page provides more in-depth numbers, from games played to full records.

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No one’s truly untouchable, but for the sake of this exercise, let’s say that the Vancouver Canucks and every Central Division team not named the Columbus Blue Jackets are safe for now. With that in mind, let’s look at the two most interesting races.

Kings, Sharks battle for Pacific

Much like the Southeast Division race, the top two Pacific teams could get a gift of a top-three seed if they win the division. The difference is that the gap between the San Jose Sharks (60 points in 47 games played) and the Los Angeles Kings (58 points in 50 games played) is larger than the one between the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers. Still, one must at least acknowledge the Kings’ chance to make a mini-run at take the Pacific.

Race for the bottom two spots

For the sake of the bigger picture, the Kings should be considered a part of the race for one of the bottom two spots. They’re generally in a good position, although they’ll have to survive on the road with 20 of their last 32 games away from home.

Wild vs. Avalanche

The next group one can notice is the eighth and ninth seeds are the Minnesota Wild (eighth place with 55 points in 49 contests) and Colorado Avalanche (ninth place with 54 points in 51 contests). This week’s Wild win gave them a nice buffer ahead of Colorado and it doesn’t stop there. The Wild play 19 of their last 33 games in Minnesota while the Avalanche only has one extra home game (16 in Colorado, 15 on the road).

Three at 52

The Dallas Stars, Calgary Flames and Phoenix Coyotes take spots 10-12 with 55 points apiece. The 10th place Stars are in a decent position to move up since they’ve only played 48 games and already piled up 25 wins. Sixteen of their final games are at home while 18 are on the road, so it’s not all great news.

Both Calgary and Phoenix reached 52 in 50 games with the Flames in the No. 11 spot because they have an extra victory. Calgary will play 19 games at home and 13 away while the Coyotes play 18 games in Phoenix and 14 on the road, so their dreams are far from dead.

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Overall, I’d guess that the Sharks have a great shot at the Pacific Division, the Kings should get a lower seed and Minnesota at least has a head start on eighth place. Colorado’s ninth spot might be inflated, the Stars have some games in hand and Phoenix/Calgary have enough home games to make some noise. We haven’t even discussed the Anaheim Ducks.

When it comes to the West, you never really know … unless you’re the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Maple Leafs help SickKids Foundation make giant cookie for Santa (Video)

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It’s always special to see NHL teams give back to their communities in original ways. The Toronto Maple Leafs found a pretty unique way to help out the SickKids Foundation. It even involved putting on a hairnet.

The Leafs made their annual visit to the SickKids Foundation earlier this month and some of them took part in a special tradition that involves making a giant cookie for Santa “no-trade” Claus (sorry).

Mike Babock, Wendel Clark and a few of the current members of the team worked hard to make sure that the finished product was all quality.

Babcock barking out orders in the kitchen is hilarious. Him emphasizing “cream your sugar” is pretty good, too.

“I come here on a regular basis and the people here are stars,” Babcock said, per the Toronto Star. “If you think of your children getting diagnosed with something, let’s say cancer, it’s an awful thing and you want to go to the best place, with the best doctors, so you can feel the best. To me that’s what this place is all about.

“Sometimes when things are going really good in your life you need to take a step back, take a deep breath to understand how lucky you are.”

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

It’s supposed to be pretty cold during tomorrow’s NHL 100 Classic in Ottawa

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We’re just over 24 hours away from the “NHL 100 Classic” outdoor game between the Canadiens and Senators at TD Place in Ottawa. Don’t forget, you can watch that game online tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. ET via the NBC Sports app.

If you’re considering watching the game at home, that’s probably a wise move considering it’s going to be freezing in Ottawa on Saturday night.

According to the Weather Network, it’s supposed to be mainly clear. It’s also going to be 7 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’ll feel more like minus-4 because of the wind-chill factor.

“There are going to be moments we wish we were inside,” Sens captain Erik Karlsson said, according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

And Bobby Ryan is a little confused:

“I can’t even pronounce the thing that goes over your head,” Ryan told TSN Radio’s Ian Mendes. “It’s sounds like a dessert — a balaclava or whatever.”

As fun as this might be, it’s still a huge game between two Atlantic Division rivals. The Canadiens are two points behind Boston for third in the Atlantic and the Sens are five points behind Montreal.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

A deeper look into the Bruins’ 11-game losing streak against the Caps

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There are some streaks in professional sports that simply don’t make sense. How some teams continue to dominate others year after year even though coaches and rosters change is kind of weird.

One of those strange streaks was extended on Thursday night, as the Washington Capitals defeated the Boston Bruins for the 11th straight time. The last time the Bruins took down the Caps was in March of 2014. The B’s have made a coaching change, they’ve altered the roster, but they still can’t beat the Caps.

As Washington’s Barry Trotz pointed out earlier this month, every squad seems to have a “unicorn team”. On Dec. 5, Trotz’s team beat the San Jose Sharks for the first time since 2009. Fine, the Capitals and Sharks might not play each other that often, but that’s still an eight-year losing streak.

“Every team has a unicorn team, you do,” Trotz said at the time, per the team’s website. “I was talking to the Columbus broadcasters [on Saturday], and they said, ‘Do you know what your record is against Columbus?’ And I said, “I have no idea.’ They said, ‘It’s pretty good.’

“For years, Nashville was [the Blue Jackets’] unicorn. They could never beat them. I think every team has that. The ones that come to mind for me with this club are San Jose and Dallas. We’ve been a unicorn for a few franchises, too. I just think everybody has one of those.”

Trotz is right. The Capitals have definitely been Boston’s unicorn.

The last time the Bruins took down the Capitals, Claude Julien was still their head coach, Jarome Iginla was the third-leading scorer on the team, and Milan Lucic, Reilly Smith, Loui Eriksson, Carl Soderberg and Andrej Meszaros were still on the roster.

Also, Barack Obama was still the president of the United States, the hoverboard scooter wasn’t invented yet, Nico Hischier was just 15 years old, and Tom Brady was “only” a three-time Super Bowl Champion.

“At some point you definitely want to get it over with and win those games,” Patrice Bergeron said after last night’s 5-3 loss, per NHL.com.  It’s not something necessarily that I was thinking before the game … we knew it was a challenge and we had to be good and be smart. A few breakdowns and a little lack of discipline [and they] made us pay is the bottom line.”

Here’s the game-by-game breakdown of the 11-game losing streak:

• Oct. 11, 2014: 4-0 loss at home (Alex Ovechkin scored twice, Braden Holtby had the shutout)

• Mar. 15, 2015: 2-0 loss on the road (Nicklas Backstrom assisted on both goals, Holtby had the shutout)

• Apr. 8, 2015: 3-0 loss on the road (Backstrom had two more assists, Holtby had the shutout)

• Nov. 5, 2015: 4-1 loss on the road (John Carlson had a goal and an assist)

• Jan. 5, 2016: 3-2 loss at home (Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist)

• Mar. 5, 2016: 2-1 OTL at home (Matt Niskanen scored the game-winning goal)

• Dec. 7, 2016: 4-3 OTL on the road (Justin Williams scored twice, Backstrom netted the OT winner)

• Feb. 1, 2017: 5-3 loss on the road (Backstrom had three points)

• Apr. 8, 2017: 3-1 loss at home (Kevin Shattenkirk scored the game-winning goal)

• Nov. 4, 2017: 3-2 loss at home (Tom Wilson had two goals)

• Dec. 14, 2017: 5-3 loss at home (Alex Chiasson scored twice, Ovechkin had a goal (empty-netter and an assist)

These two teams will play each other one more time (Dec. 28) this season. Will the Bruins be able to figure out how to beat their “unicorn” by then?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: What’s holding the Islanders back?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• University of Alabama hockey player Jon Lovorn is dedicating this season to the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School. (SECCountry.com)

• It’s time for the NHL to give all 31 teams an outdoor game next season. (Vice Sports)

• Philly.com takes a look at Sean Couturier‘s “well-balanced” life and how it got him to the NHL. (Philly.com)

• A strong end to 2017 could help the Predators land home ice advantage in the playoffs (Predlines)

• If/when Seattle makes it to the NHL, there might be too many teams in the Pacific Division. How would realignment look? (Five for Howling)

• One of the reasons the Oilers have struggled for so long is because of their inability to select solid players late in drafts. (OilersNation.com)

• The only thing that appears to be holding the Islanders back is goaltending. (The Hockey News)

• The Hershey Bears released their 2018 Outdoor Classic Jersey for their game against Lehigh Valley next month. (RussianMachineNeverBreaks.com)

• The Rangers’ recent struggles prove that they need to be sellers before the trade deadline. (NY Post)

• The Devils and Coyotes swapped minor-league forwards yesterday. New Jersey got Michael Latta while the Coyotes got Ryan Kujawinski. (NHL.com/Coyotes)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.