NHL on NBCSN: Pacific-leading Ducks take on Stars

NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Dallas Stars host the Anaheim Ducks at American Airlines Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

By now we know the Western Conference is beastly to deal with. That hasn’t stopped the Anaheim Ducks from picking up where they ended last season, however.

The Ducks are on top of the Pacific Division and head into Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Stars having won two in a row. Before that, they dropped five straight. Despite numerous injuries throughout the year, the Ducks haven’t let that get them down and that’s mostly thanks to the play of captain Ryan Getzlaf and 2011 MVP Corey Perry.

Getzlaf leads the team in scoring with 27 points and Perry is right behind him with 25. Getzlaf’s point total puts him in the top-five in the NHL. They’re each tied for the team lead in goals with 13, a total that also puts them in the top-five in the league. Their play has also brought the best out of new-old Ducks forward Dustin Penner.

With six goals and 11 assists, Penner is third on the team in points. After last season with the Los Angeles Kings was a big letdown, he’s been outstanding in his return to Anaheim.

One thing the Ducks have had to stress about of late is goaltending. Jonas Hiller has had some struggles recently and Viktor Fasth’s injuries have held him back. Frederik Andersen has been outstanding when he’s played, however, and if he continues to do that, Hiller may need to break in his baseball cap on a more regular basis.

Things haven’t quite gone as they’d hoped in Dallas this season. They’re currently last in the Central Division and have had their struggles at home going just 3-3-2 there. The bright spots are easy to pick out.

Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin have been all they could’ve hoped for and they lead the team in scoring with 24 and 23 points respectively. Their play has been strong enough to get them talked about for being on Team Canada for the Olympics after neither was invited to their camp this summer.

Rookie forward Alex Chiasson got off to a quick start but has cooled off recently. Still, his six goals and 13 points are good for third on the team in both categories. A groin injury to Ray Whitney has kept him out of action of late and that has hurt their offensive production.

If there’s one person you can’t blame for their struggles, however, it’s goalie Kari Lehtonen. The Finnish netminder has been rock solid for the Stars this season and his numbers bear that out (.924 SV%, 2.28 GAA). If coach Lindy Ruff can get the defense figured out, they can climb back into the mix in the Central.

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.