We took a look at what will start to shake loose in the Eastern Conference playoffs with today’s games already today, but we know for sure how the West will stack up after tonight. The battle for the final two spots will be figured out between Columbus, Detroit, and Minnesota but there is still one spot left for home ice advantage to be decided.
Here’s how the Western Conference sets up going into tonight’s games:
No. 1 – Chicago: They’re the top seed Central Division champs and Presidents’ Trophy winners. They’ll face either Columbus, Detroit, or Minnesota in the first round.
No. 2 – Anaheim: The Ducks won the Pacific Division and locked down the second seed in the West. They too can face any of Columbus, Detroit, or Minnesota in the opening round.
No. 3 – Vancouver: The Canucks won the Northwest Division and have the third seed locked down. They’ll get to face either Los Angeles, St. Louis, or San Jose in the first round.
St. Louis: The Blues can lock down the No. 4 seed with a victory of any kind over Chicago tonight. The Blackhawks should be resting plenty of guys so they may have an easy go of it. If they lose and San Jose beats L.A. in overtime or a shootout, the Blues could land in sixth. If the Kings win and the Blues lose, those two will meet up in the first round starting in California.
Los Angeles and San Jose: These two face each other tonight with the winner potentially getting home ice in the first round or a date on the road against the Blues should St. Louis win. San Jose can move up to fourth with a win and Blues loss.
The only way the Sharks can host the Kings in the first round is to beat L.A. in overtime or a shootout and have the Blues lose in regulation to Chicago. No matter how things shake out with St. Louis, if the Kings win they’re getting the Blues.
We already glossed over what can happen with the seventh and eighth seeds today. You’d have to think Chicago and Anaheim are hoping to see the Dallas Stars step up and help find a way to get Detroit out of the playoffs for the first time since 1990.
The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the San Jose Sharks in the first period of Game 1, no doubt about it.
Even so, the Sharks entered the middle frame down 2-0, and responded rather than shriveling up. They basically switched roles with the Penguins in the second period, ultimately tying things up 2-2.
The first goal was one Matt Murray would probably like back (even more than a goalie would want any goal back, mind you), as Tomas Hertl beat him five-hole for a power-play goal.
Witness the Sharks’ first-ever goal in a Stanley Cup Final:
Fittingly, a grizzled veteran and longtime face of the Sharks’ franchise tied it up, as Patrick Marleau made it 2-2 with a clever wraparound:
Which team will win the third period? Could we see overtime? Find out on NBC.
Yes, the St. Louis Blues fell short of the Stanley Cup Final, but they still broke some playoff hexes in 2015-16. Apparently Blues management saw enough to bring back Ken Hitchcock.
That’s the word from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos, who report that the Blues are expected to announce a one-year deal with the veteran head coach on Tuesday.
Friedman wonders if these one-year pacts (Hitchcock was on one for 2015-16 as well) may chase away other staffers:
When asked about these scenarios, Hitchcock seemed like he was in favor of experiencing a perpetual “contract year.”
“I scare myself because I think if I take long-term deal, I’m gonna get sloppy,” Hitchcock told Hockey Central at Noon and Sportsnet back in mid-May. “I want to stay on one-year deals.
For plenty of fans, it makes perfect sense to bring Hitchcock back after the Blues took steps forward.
Others wonder if Hitchcock’s style (which leans toward dump-and-chase and “gritty” hockey more than some other teams) may leave the Blues in the dust, however.
That’s a debate for a bar or a message board, yet one can see deeper logic in giving Hitchcock one more shot.
While the Blues have decisions to make – including what to do with free agent captain David Backes – the team is also structured to make another run. Brian Elliott, Jake Allen, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colton Parayko all have deals that will expire after 2016-17, and each contract is a bargain.
If St. Louis believes that Hitchcock is the right fit for that personnel group, then it makes sense to give him another go.
Generally speaking, the strategic talk heading into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final focused on the San Jose Sharks’ deeper defense vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blinding speed.
It’s very early, but so far: advantage Penguins.
Pittsburgh came roaring out of the gate in front of a boisterous Consol Energy Center crowd, but it took them a while to break through.
Once the Penguins did, they raced ahead to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals just 1:02 apart.
First, Bryan Rust kept his red-hot streak going with the 1-0 tally.
Moments later, Sidney Crosby made a beautiful pass to Conor Sheary to put the Penguins up two.
There were a few other moments in which the Sharks looked like they were really struggling with the Penguins’ speed, but Martin Jones made some saves that could be big if San Jose can gather its wits.
Sometimes you need to ask important questions, breaking down positional battles and strategies.
Other times you can’t help but ask “Which guy has the better beard?”
In the case of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks boast two players with elite beards to match their elite skills. “Jumbo Joe” drew a lot of attention for his wild facial hair, yet Burns may very well have inspired Thornton to go heavy-whisker in the first place.
The video above breaks down those two beards, in case you’re itching for a comparison.
One thing that sparks little debate? Both players’ wives are real troopers.