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.

Crosby: Penguins ‘probably deserved better’ vs. Senators in Game 6

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If you didn’t know that the Stanley Cup Playoffs can be awfully cruel, then the last week or so of action should make it pretty clear.

The Nashville Predators lost top center Ryan Johansen to a scary ailment few would have seen coming. The Anaheim Ducks fell in both games to the Johansen-less Predators, even after dominating significant chunks of Game 6. At least one Ducks player wondered if the better team won.

Much like in life, “fair” and “deserve” only matter so much. Sports have a scoreboard to serve as the ultimate deciding factor.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have similar thoughts after falling 2-1 to the Ottawa Senators tonight, extending the Eastern Conference Final to a decisive Game 7. You can nitpick questionable penalties and missed chances, but really, how negative can you be after Craig Anderson puts forth a blazing 45-save performance (with no overtime)?

Mike Sullivan and others echoed such thoughts.

” … Obviously, we’re disappointed in the result, but I don’t think we can get discouraged by that,” Sullivan said. “I think we’ve got to take the positives from it, and we’ve got to build on it, and we’ve got to become a more determined team for Game 7.

That’s not the sort of take that’s going to make the Senators angry in Game 7. The tone of the Senators’ discussions was likely very different after they lost Game 5 by a 7-0 score, yet maybe there was similar self belief.

Anderson puzzles Penguins as Senators force Game 7

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Who could blame fans for chanting “Andy” tonight?

The Ottawa Senators said they would choose to fight in Game 6, and Craig Anderson truly battled in this one, refusing to allow this unlikely run to an end on Tuesday. They wouldn’t roll over, even after a 7-0 humiliation in Game 5.

The underrated goalie continued his memorable (and emotional) 2016-17 season with a brilliant performance, making 45 saves to help Ottawa manage a gutsy 2-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

With that, hockey fans get a true treat: the Eastern Conference will go to a Game 7 on Thursday.

The Senators opted for a “bend but don’t break” strategy for much of the contest, possibly to Guy Boucher’s preference. Even so, the Penguins managed to grind their way to a 1-0 win thanks to another hard-work goal from Evgeni Malkin.

Mistakes would come back to haunt the Penguins, however, as Bobby Ryan broke Ottawa’s lengthy power-play drought to tie things up on a 5-on-3.

With their season in question thanks to a 1-1 tie in the third period, Mike Hoffman sent a booming shot by Matt Murray, and that ended up being all the Senators needed to tie the series 3-3.

Anderson was the standout, but Erik Karlsson was a hero in the way his detractors might not expect.

You can watch Game 7 on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday. The game is also available to stream via the NBC Sports App.

Report: Avalanche get permission to speak with Leafs assistant GM Dubas

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Could one of the most hapless possession teams of this more analytics-leaning era nab arguably the most promising analytics-leaning executive in the NHL?

It’s a reasonable question, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the Colorado Avalanche asked for and received permission to speak to Toronto Maple Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas.

Current GM Joe Sakic recently got a vote of confidence and also cleaned out some of the coaching staff around Jared Bednar, so this is certainly a time of change for the Avalanche.

It will be interesting to see what kind of role Dubas would receive if he did join the fold in Colorado. Would he still be considered an assistant GM, only with more sway with what would likely be a smaller group of decision-makers? Could we see Sakic move up and give Dubas the full GM title (or eventually transition that role to the young upstart)? Might there be some other factor that would qualify as a more “outside the box” idea?

One thing seems clear: the Avalanche might want to be decisive, as demand could be significant for Dubas if he’s even somewhat on the market.

This could be interesting, especially if you’re a nerd for team-building storylines.

Video: Senators score twice to take 2-1 lead in Game 6

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The Ottawa Senators have defied odds during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they’ve done so with what’s often been an ice-cold power play.

They finally struck gold on the man advantage on Tuesday, and at a key moment. The Pittsburgh Penguins were dominating much of the game and pressing for an even bigger edge after Evgeni Malkin made it 1-0.

Maybe the Penguins got overzealous, or maybe officials … finally started making some calls. Either way, the Senators ended up with a 5-on-3 advantage for almost a minute-and-a-half. With that opportunity, Bobby Ryan scored a huge goal for Ottawa on a shot that was both oddly and perfectly placed.

Moments later, Kyle Turris narrowly missed a golden opportunity, so the contest remained tied 1-1.

Despite a late push by the Penguins to finish the second, Game 6 will enter the third period with a 1-1 score.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE COVERAGE FOR GAME 6

Update: Mike Hoffman‘s booming shot gave the Senators a 2-1 lead in the third. We’ll see if Pittsburgh can tie it up.