Ryan Garbutt, Hampus Lindholm

Ducks lock up West’s top spot, will open playoffs vs. Stars

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While the only thing unsettled in the East is home-ice advantage between Montreal and Tampa Bay, the Western Conference will still see its fair share of intrigue on Sunday. At least in the Central Division.

The Anaheim Ducks cemented their first-round opponent tonight, on the other hand. By beating the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in a shootout, they clinched the top seed in the Western Conference; only the Boston Bruins would begin a series with home-ice advantage against Anaheim and that would be in a hypothetical 2014 Stanley Cup Final series.

Let’s look at the two Western series we’re certain of as of Saturday night (with the team featuring home-ice advantage listed first).

Anaheim vs. Dallas

The Ducks did impressive work in locking up the top seed, but more than a few people still wonder about the team’s legitimacy. The Stars could provide an interesting test, as Dallas seems to weigh in higher according to various “fancy stats” metrics while the Ducks come out looking lucky.

That’s not nearly as fun as trotting out the boxing-style storylines, though. Feel free to add exclamation points to various feuds: Tyler Seguin vs. Ryan Getzlaf; Corey Perry vs. Jamie Benn; uncertain-yet-talented goalies vs. a guy with zero career playoff wins playing in front of a two-time Vezina winner.

Yes, there is a lot of drama going on and there could very well be some excellent, high-flying hockey to go with it.

San Jose vs. Los Angeles

On paper, the Ducks and Stars seem primed to display styles that are dynamic and wide-open. The Sharks and Kings may play it much tighter to the vest, although the two cross-state rivals often bring the fireworks out of each other. On one hand, you have a franchise that’s been strong for what seems like a decade and holds home-ice advantage; on the other, you have the Kings: a team with a shorter span of recent success but a Stanley Cup victory as a trump card.

Ultimately, we get two fascinating playoff series, with the Central Division-dwelling Stars playing against the division they were a part of just last season.

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The Central Division teams have plenty of motivation to scrap for the crown. With all due respect to the improving Minnesota Wild, the loser of the jousting between the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues must face the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

(Colorado has more regulation/OT wins, so St. Louis must win while the Blackhawks must lose in some fashion to wrestle the Central Division title away.)

Long story short, even with all 16 playoff spots determined, Sunday still has ample room for intrigue and excitement.

Capitals accuse Letang of leaving his feet, hitting Johansson in head

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Get this: the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins seem divided on the legality of Kris Letang‘s hit on Marcus Johansson.

(Take a moment to gather your thoughts amid this shocking revelation.)

You can watch the hit over and over in the video above. This post features some takes on that check, which the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly reviewing.

Generally speaking, the three things people discuss regarding the check is how late it might be, if Letang used his feet and if Johansson’s head was the principal point of contact.

Letang told his side of the story:

The Capitals disagree:

While Barry Trotz pleads the Fifth after his previous comments about Brooks Orpik‘s suspension:

No doubt about it, Letang’s status is the top story to follow in this series between Games 3 and 4. We’ll find out soon enough how it all shakes out.

Penguins ride Murray’s masterpiece to 2-1 series lead vs. Capitals

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If Marc-Andre Fleury suiting up bothers Matt Murray, then the rookie goalie channeled those feelings into a masterful performance on Monday.

The Washington Capitals absolutely dominated Game 3, but Murray was even better, stopping 47 shots as the Penguins stole one 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.

(Capitals fans might see some parallels to Washington’s Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers; they fell 2-0 despite a 44-11 shots on goal edge thanks to Michal Neuvirth‘s heroics.)

Murray stopped chance after chance before Alex Ovechkin finally broke through for his first goal of this series. Justin Williams then brought the Penguins’ lead down to 3-2 to make for a hold-your-breath final minute.

A driven Ovechkin and strong overall play from the Capitals (despite this defeat) aren’t the only reasons why Game 4 might present some twists.

First things first: Kris Letang might get suspended for Game 4 (if not for more than one game) thanks to this controversial check on Marcus Johansson.

Beyond that, there could be some bumps and bruises from this contest.

Bryan Rust left during the first period and didn’t return to the game after blocking a shot. Brian Dumoulin seemed shaken up after an Alex Ovechkin hit in the third period. The Capitals might have a player or two to look at, as well.

In other words, the Penguins could really lack for quality defensemen with Letang possibly suspended and possible injury absences for Dumoulin and Olli Maatta.

This series is living up to the hype … and really building up the hate.

Yes, NHL is reportedly looking at Letang’s hit on Johansson

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It remains to be seen if Kris Letang will get suspended for his hit on Marcus Johansson … and if he does, for how long.

(You can read initial reactions and some analysis about the specifics of the check vs. the one that got Brooks Orpik suspended here.)

There are a few things we do know already.

For one thing, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly looking into it.

Another factor that could help Letang avoid a suspension or limit the duration of supplemental discipline: Marcus Johansson returned during the second period.

In fact, Johansson delivered some hits on Letang.

There have been some nasty moments in Game 3, and more might be coming. The Penguins lead 2-0 with a few minutes remaining in the middle frame.

Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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Update: Reports indicate that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is indeed looking into the hit.

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As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

Things could get ugly in Game 3:

One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

Also, lateness of the check:

The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

Update: The Penguins won the game 3-2.

Read reactions to the check here.