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PHT Morning Skate: First round ends tonight with three Games 7

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You don’t need to be told anything to need motivation to watch hockey tonight. Three series will come to an end in three separate Games 7 and each of them has their own tale of success and woe in store for the participants.

Having three games to run with was made possible when the Philadelphia Flyers beat the New York Rangers in Game 6 last night. Thanks to their proximity to each other and the fact that the first round has to be done today, they’re lucky enough to play on back-to-back nights.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,250 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday’s NHL games. It’s $10 to join and first prize is $250. Starts Wednesday at 7pm ETHere’s the FanDuel link.

Game 7: New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers [Series tied 3-3] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Rangers had a chance of ending things last night, but Wayne Simmonds and Steve Mason thought otherwise. Simmonds’ hat trick and Mason’s out-of-this-world play kept the Rangers (mostly) off the board as the Flyers rolled 5-2. While you might want to think momentum is on the Flyers’ side, the Rangers having home-ice advantage is a difference-maker.

The Rangers are 5-0 in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden and you could probably ask the Washington Capitals how fun it is to deal with them in those situations. New York has been a different team on home ice in this series, but they’re not infallible. Perhaps the smoothest move Alain Vigneault made was pulling Henrik Lundqvist after two periods in Game 6 to let him prepare for tonight.

Simmonds was a man on a mission last night. Do the Rangers have someone to play that kind of role in Game 7? Do the Flyers?

Game 7: Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild [Series tied 3-3] (9:30 p.m. ET — CNBC)

The Wild were a team that would not be denied in Game 6. Zach Parise’s four-point night was the kind of game Minnesota fans envisioned when he signed with the team as a free agent two summers ago. The other guy they landed that year, Ryan Suter, has quietly had a strong series as well as the Avalanche haven’t had the same scoring fortune when he’s out there as opposed to when he’s not.

Look for Patrick Roy to try and take advantage of the 30 or so minutes when Suter isn’t on the ice to try and get Nathan MacKinnon or Paul Stastny out there. The “X” factor for Colorado has to be Matt Duchene. His return in Game 6 was a welcome one for the Avs, and if he can get his legs back on home ice, look out.

It’s incredible to think the Wild are this close to moving onto the Central Division Final while using their third or fourth string goalie in Darcy Kuemper. The fact that he’s going head-to-head with Vezina Trophy finalist Semyon Varlamov and could beat him makes Kuemper’s story a fascinating one.

Game 7: San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings [Series tied 3-3] (10:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Kings are just the ninth team in NHL history to force a Game 7 after being down 3-0 in a series. That alone has made their run against the Sharks one for the history books, but they can go down as legends, so to speak, if they can win one more game.

Not since the 2010 Flyers has a team come all the way back from a 3-0 hole to win and that team went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. The Kings are a good enough team to have the same sort of run, but the Sharks would like to not have this sort of miraculous tale told at their expense.

The biggest question for San Jose is who they will start in goal. Antti Niemi is their No. 1 guy, but Todd McLellan went with Alex Stalock in Game 6 after pulling Niemi in Games 4 and 5. The Sharks are painted into a corner now where if Stalock starts and wins, they’ll have more controversy following them to the next round. If they leave Niemi on the bench and lose, the questions about giving up on the top guy will linger all summer and into next season.

It’s not an envious position for McLellan to be in. One way or another a great team is going home tonight and that’s perhaps the biggest disappointment out of this series.

Senators, Panthers fail to gain in Eastern playoff races

OTTAWA, CANADA - FEBRUARY 7: Jay Harrison #44 of the Carolina Hurricanes celebrates his game winning overtime goal with team mate Jeff Skinner #53, during an NHL game at Scotiabank Place on February 7, 2013 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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PHT already touched on the Florida Panthers falling to the Calgary Flames on Friday, but in tandem with the Ottawa Senators losing to the Carolina Hurricanes, it makes for a night of teams failing to gain valuable points out East.

With the Montreal Canadiens failing lately, the Senators had a chance to take first place in the Atlantic by tying the Habs in points while holding games in hand. Instead, they’ll need to wait.

For the sake of simplicity, here are the Atlantic rankings, with emphasis on the top five.

1. Canadiens – 72 points in 61 games played
2. Senators – 70 in 59
3. Maple Leafs – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Sabres and Lightning have 62 in 60, Red Wings have 58 in 60

You can see the Panthers hanging around the perimeter of the top three; a point or two would have made them a bigger threat to Toronto and Boston. Alas, even with a heavier slate of home games lately, Florida has lost two straight at home.

Here’s an updated look at the wild card races after the Panthers failed to make up some ground:

1. Blue Jackets – 79 in 58, more concerned with Metro races
2. Islanders – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Flyers – 63 in 60

Tiebreaker situations would have meant that the Panthers would have ended tonight technically outside of the playoffs anyway, but a win or even a “charity point” congests an already snug situation. Instead, they stayed put and wasted a game.

Ottawa’s still in a solid situation to overtake Montreal or at least maintain a round of home-ice advantage as the second seed in the Atlantic. So while both teams are kicking themselves for their losses, the Panthers have more to be upset about.

Ultimately, some of the biggest winners in the East were teams that didn’t play or that have a lot less to play for.

(Perhaps the Hurricanes feel a little more optimistic, by the way, as 58 points in 57 games played means they could at least theoretically fight their way back into the discussion.)

Road warriors: Flames move to first West wild card spot with win vs. Panthers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Troy Brouwer #36 of the Calgary Flames celebrates his second period goal against the Florida Panthers with Lance Bouma #17 and Matt Stajan #18 at the BB&T Center on February 24, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The road has been doing both the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers quite a bit of good lately.

Calgary moved to the first wild card spot on Friday after beating the Panthers in Florida by a score of 4-2. So far, they’ve grabbed at least a point in every game during a road trip that ends in Carolina on Sunday:

Feb. 18: 2-1 OT loss at Vancouver
Feb. 21: 6-5 OT win at Nashville
Feb. 23: 3-2 win at Tampa Bay
Tonight: 4-2 win at Florida

You can’t totally blame the Panthers if they almost miss their road trip.

They rattled off five straight wins through what seemed like a brutal road haul on paper, but now they’ve lost back-to-back home games in regulation. With five of six and six of seven slated in Sunrise, the Panthers need to make the most of these opportunities. So far … not so good.

Here’s how the West wild card situations look now:

1. Flames – 68 points in 62 GP
2. Predators – 67 points in 60 GP

Kings – 62 in 60 GP
Jets – 62 in 63 GP

(The Blues could easily slip below the Predators into the wild card spot, as they also have 67 points in 60 games but hold wins and ROW tiebreaker advantages.)

So, Calgary might not manage to maintain its hold over the first wild card spot, but this streak makes a playoff berth look far more likely.

Capitals could make home-ice advantage a serious edge in playoffs

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: Brett Connolly #10 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his goal with teammates against the Boston Bruins during the third period at Verizon Center on February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Look, there’s no escaping the naysayers who will dismiss just about any Washington Capitals accomplishments with snark about past playoff letdowns.

All the Capitals can do is march forward and lock down as many edges as they can.

With 89 standings points after a tight 2-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday, the Capitals look increasingly likely to have home-ice advantage either through the East (seven-point edge on the Penguins or the entire playoffs (five-point edge on idle Wild, who only hold a game in hand on the Caps).

Now, it’s fair to argue that home-ice (or home-court) advantage matters less in hockey than some other sports. Sure, you can line-match more often with the last change, among other advantages. Still, the biggest edges might be mental.

That said … those small edges might be enough for a team as loaded – and with as much urgency – as this rendition of the Capitals.

Heeding the call at the Verizon Center

They’ve now won 13 games in a row at the Verizon Center, improving their overall home record to 25-5-1.

The Capitals are still a strong team on the road (16-7-6), yet that home record is lofty. It also could come in awfully handy, particularly if they face off against the Penguins again. Pittsburgh’s 24-4-3 home mark contrasts sharply with a more modest 13-10-5 road record.

Perhaps this talk is all small potatoes. Still, when you consider how close things have been – in this age of parity, and in the extremely competitive Metropolitian Division specifically – it could be quite the edge.

In short, the Capitals are a pretty scary group possibly with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. At least as of right now.

As far as the Oilers go, they’re locked in a tight race for second in the Pacific, as the Ducks currently hold the ROW tiebreaker. Grabbing at least a standings point in this one would have helped … but that’s a tall order against the Caps in their own backyard.

It wasn’t all good news for Washington, tonight:

Loss vs. Pens at Stadium Series could push Flyers to sell at trade deadline

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Chris Pryor, Director of Scouting (R), and Ron Hextall General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers (L) sit at their team table on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Is a cross-state, historic NHL rivalry not enough to drum up interest in Saturday’s 2017 Stadium Series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins? Maybe a trade deadline hook will do it for you.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi reports, Flyers GM Ron Hextall already rules his team out as buyers. That leaves two options, really: standing pat or going into “sell mode.”

Hextall provides an interesting nugget in that regard: it might just come down to what happens against the Penguins tomorrow, via NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman:

It seems odd to imagine that the difference between generating zero versus two standings points might dictate a team’s direction, but it also shows the power of parity in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Granted, it’s not like Hextall locks himself into one direction based on the result. Still, it sounds like that game could have some power in swaying his decision.

The Flyers have some interesting trade chips if they do decide to make a move. Michal Neuvirth fears being moved, while Steve Mason at least needs a new contract, leaving their goaltending future up to question.

There are some other interesting UFAs, particularly in defensemen Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto.

Some Flyers fans believe that they should indeed be sellers, though it’s tough to imagine many of them rooting for the Penguins to win just to make it happen.