Ryan Garbutt, Hampus Lindholm

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


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.


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.

Price paid: Devils come back against Condon, Canadiens

Mike Condon, John Moore,
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If nothing else, the New Jersey Devils seem like they won’t be the sort of team a contender can essentially mark off as a “W” on their calendars.

The Montreal Canadiens may not be in a position to take opponents lightly with Carey Price on the shelf, but whatever the case may be, they saw their four-game winning streak end in frustrating fashion on Saturday.

After falling behind 2-0, the Devils scrapped their way back into it, eventually riding a John Moore overtime goal to a 3-2 OT win.

If Montreal needs an obvious bright side to look on considering this hiccup, Alex Galchenyuk‘s hot weekend may be a good thing to look at.

Tonight’s loss may smart a bit anyway, however.

Metro’s best? Capitals keep winning, pass Rangers for division lead

Jonathan Bernier; Matt Niskanen; Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau

If you want to summarize the Capitals – Maple Leafs game in one sentence, you could do worse than:

“Washington is hot as Jonathan Bernier is cold.”

The Caps reeled off a 4-2 win against Toronto on Saturday, giving them five straight wins. They also jumped into first place in the Metropolitan Division today, as they keep climbing while the New York Rangers are experiencing some growing pains.

Again, James Reimer can’t get healthy and back in Toronto’s net too soon:

With this win, Washington is now 17-5-1, leading the Metro by one point with 35 standings points. They also hold a game in hand against the Rangers, and no other Metro team even has 30 right now.

Measuring stick stretch begins

Tonight’s game began a “prove-it” month-and-change for Washington.

This contest began a three-game road trip, and they’ll also play six of seven away from Washington.

It’s pretty rough through the start of 2016, really. The Capitals will only enjoy three home games through Jan. 9.

In other words, the Capitals seem like a convincing East contender, but look out if they remain hot through the next 5-6 weeks.

Video: Evgeni Malkin leaves Oilers spinning


Yes, there’s a lot of drama surrounding the Pittsburgh Penguins, whether it’s founded on serious problems or merely speculation.

It’s easy to get swept up in all of that and ignore the fact that, hey, they still have Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Those two can really heal wounds with their on-ice play, and in Saturday’s case, Malkin is taking over against the Edmonton Oilers.

His spin-o-rama goal above was a real jaw-dropper. He also scored Pittsburgh’s second tally:

These highlights feel like Malkin’s way of saying “It’s going to be just fine.”

Update: It wasn’t enough for a win, however, as the Oilers beat the Penguins 3-2 via a shootout.

Lightning’s first fight this season: Ryan Callahan vs. Kyle Okposo

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Fighting is down more or less across the board in the NHL, but the Tampa Bay Lightning might be the franchise least interested in dropping the gloves.

Ryan Callahan vs. Kyle Okposo already has some name recognition to it, yet it gets some bonus points for being the Bolts’ first fighting major of 2015-16.

It … probably loses those bonus points in being run-of-the-mill.

Hey, be fair; the Lightning are clearly out of practice.