West update: Stars capture Pacific lead – again

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Hockey writers should be awfully careful during the next week and a half – at least when it comes to the Pacific Division.

Normally, it’s easy to question the “heart” and “fortitude” of a given team, but let’s face it – things are changing far too frequently to safely make ridiculous assumptions based merely off of results. Case in point: as quickly as the San Jose Sharks took the division lead, another loss to those bedeviling Anaheim Ducks switched things back up again.

As is becoming customary, let’s go in order of where the teams finished at the end of Wednesday night.

Stars shine atop Pacific again

The Dallas Stars’ previous era contained plenty of skirmishes with an Edmonton Oilers team that often included Ryan Smyth, so it only makes sense that the current model went through the latest group that includes the beloved mulleted winger. They did just that, too, as Michael Ryder (two goals) and Mike Ribeiro (one tally) scored some beauties on their way to a huge 3-1 win.

Well, huge for now …

4. Detroit gives up ground to 5. Nashville, who clinched yet another playoff berth (seven in its last eight seasons) while 6. Chicago sat idle.

7. Kings win the Sutter Bowl against the 11. Calgary Flames 3-0, with Jonathan Quick breaking the franchise record with nine shutouts in one season.

8. Sharks open themselves to more snark

The beauty of this San Jose season is that lazy writers can just swoop in and out depending on their whims. When the Sharks take the Pacific lead, they can conveniently take a trip to the golf course or grocery store (depending on that writer’s place in the tax bracket). On moments like Wednesday night, those same guys can fill in the blanks for the latest discussion about who lacks heart and whatever intangible doesn’t require any research whatsoever.

Jaded media critiques aside, one can see a very obvious trend: the Anaheim Ducks have been a nightmare for the Sharks over the years. They upset a Presidents’ Trophy-winning Sharks game in the first round of the 2009 playoffs and if San Jose misses the postseason this year, its performance against Anaheim might be the most direct example.

Not convinced? The Ducks’ 3-1 victory marks Anaheim’s fifth victory against San Jose – all in regulation. If you don’t think that those 5-10 points aren’t a matter of regret for the Sharks, you’re kidding yourself.

Idle 9. Phoenix Coyotes slip while 10. Colorado Avalanche lose a 1-0 shutout to the Vancouver Canucks.

With these updates in mind, here’s what the West bubble race looks like:

3. Dallas: 89 points, 35 regulation/OT wins with five games left

7. Los Angeles: 88 points, 32 regulation/OT wins with five games left
8. San Jose: 88 points, 31 regulation/OT wins with five games left

9. Phoenix: 87 points. 31 regulation/OT wins with five games left
10. Colorado: 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins with three games left
11. Calgary: 85 points, 32 regulation/OT wins with four games left

All things considered, it looks like a four-Pacific team race for the final three Western playoff spots, with the best of those four gaining the division title (and the third seed overall) while the worst won’t be in the playoffs at all. Now, the Avalanche and Flames could change that situation, but it’s hard not to think that way when you weigh the odds.

Either way, let me make a reasonably safe prediction: things will change a lot over the next week and a half until the game of high-stakes musical chairs ends.

Suspension-worthy? Sharks’ Hertl ejected for boarding

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Brad Marchand isn’t the only player who delivered a questionable hit on Tuesday, as Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks is also likely to draw the attention of the Department of Player Safety.

Hertl received a game misconduct and major penalty for boarding Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, as you can see in the video above this post’s headline.

For whatever it’s worth, Hertl, 24, hasn’t been suspended in the NHL. It seems like Kulikov suffered at least some ill effects from the hit.

Some put at least a portion of blame on Kulikov for turning his back before the check.

Is the major penalty sufficient or should Hertl sit for that hit?

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.

Should Brad Marchand be suspended for elbow on Marcus Johansson?

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Much has been made of Brad Marchand cleaning up his act, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Boston Bruins forward has totally stopped blurring the line between “physical” and “illegal” play.

Marchand was everywhere in the Bruins’ 3-2 win against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, and that was mostly in a good way, scoring a goal and an assist, easily leading all forwards with 20:06 time on ice.

Devils fans were unhappy when Marchand wasn’t penalized for a highly questionable elbow on forward Marcus Johansson. You can watch the infraction in the video above this post. You can also see it in GIF form below.

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that the Department of Player Safety is aware of the elbow, and supplemental discipline may come:

Again, many recall other incidents with Marchand, so plenty were unhappy with the situation:

What do you think? Is a suspension appropriate in this case?

More on the Bruins:How will they cope without Charlie McAvoy?

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.

Canadiens end Avalanche winning streak at 10 games

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If asked to guess, just about any honest hockey fan would expect the Colorado Avalanche to be surrounded by rebuild talk and the Montreal Canadiens to be reeling off winning streaks in 2017-18.

Instead, the roles have been reversed; the Avs came into Tuesday with a 10-game winning streak, while Montreal is facing some serious soul-searching during a huge letdown of a season.

They flipped the script again tonight, however, as the Canadiens ended the Avs’ run at 10 games by winning 4-2. Colorado’s 10-gamer is the longest winning streak in the NHL so far this season.

The game followed the sort of script Habs management envisioned for 2017-18. Carey Price didn’t need to do a ton, amassing 20 saves. Jonathan Drouin played like the star they pictured, scoring a game-winning goal and collecting two assists. Offense came from four different goal-scorers, with Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, and Nicolas Deslauriers also chipping in.

Montreal flexed its muscles with the Avalanche closing off a back-to-back set. The Habs generated a 40-22 shots on goal advantage, and even with that much puck control, also hammered Colorado with 43 hits.

Even with this win, the Canadiens’ playoff hopes look pretty dim. Meanwhile, the Avalanche really cannot rest on their laurels even after that incredible run; despite piling up 10 consecutive wins, Colorado is just ranked fifth in the Central Division with a slim lead on the Minnesota Wild.

Considering how dour things have been for Montreal, they’ll gladly take a night like this, even if they’ve been in shorter supply than they expected.

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.

Flyers edge Red Wings, stay hot in 2018

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At this rate, Travis Konecny might earn the nickname “OT.”

For the second straight game, the young forward scored the OT-winner for the Philadelphia Flyers. In this case, it salvaged a 3-2 overtime win against the Red Wings in Detroit, pushing Philly’s winning streak to four games.

Red Wings fan left the building booing, as Konency just barely avoided being offside on the decisive goal. Such a finish will probably sting a little extra for Tyler Bertuzzi, who was all over the place in the third period but couldn’t seal the Red Wings’ rally.

Three of the Flyers’ four straight wins have come in overtime, so they’re gutting out some close wins lately.

It’s a sweet deal for the Flyers, as they’ll end the night in the Metropolitan Division’s third spot, even if the New York Rangers win their game against the Anaheim Ducks.

Such a rise isn’t just about this four-game winning streak.

After ending 2017 on a down note (losing three of their last four games of the year), the Flyers are now 8-2-0 in 2018. Tuesday was promising for Philly even beyond its own work, as the Carolina Hurricanes (loss to Pittsburgh) and New Jersey Devils (fell to Bruins) both fell in regulation.

Quite the turnaround for a team that once dropped 10 straight games and saw fans calling for head coach Dave Hakstol’s head, huh?

A strong second period played a big role in Philly’s win. Detroit carried a 1-0 lead into the middle frame, but the Flyers scored twice to take a lead that would ultimately get them into overtime. They generated an 18-7 shots on goal advantage in the second period and a 31-21 edge overall.

The Flyers continue to do enough of everything to win games, and such versatility might just earn them a playoff berth. For all we know, that might even end up battling for a round of home-ice advantage.

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.