With All-Star break over, let’s take a look at playoff races


LOS ANGELES (AP) Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were linemates. Connor McDavid scored on a pass from Ryan Kesler. Wayne Simmonds was the shooting star of the show.

The dreamlike quality of the NHL All-Star Game was particularly pronounced on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Hollywood. After all, just about every All-Star got to meet his hockey heroes when most of the game’s greatest living players performed the ceremonial opening faceoff with them.

“I was pretty star-struck,” Montreal goalie Carey Price said.

But when the league revs up again Tuesday night, another dream comes into focus. Only 40 percent of the regular season remains, and there’s a Stanley Cup to chase.

Few teams are out of the postseason race, and nearly every club is about to begin 10 weeks of high-stakes play. Most teams reported back to work on Monday morning, and the league schedule resumes Tuesday with 28 of the 30 teams in action.

Nobody is an overwhelming title favorite yet. The Canadiens’ seven-point lead in the Atlantic is the biggest edge in a division race, and the competition for the Presidents’ Trophy is still wide-open as well: There are 10 teams within nine points of Washington’s league-leading 72 in the chase for home-ice advantage in the postseason.

“The All-Star (weekend) a great time, but we all know what happens when we have to get back to work,” San Jose captain Joe Pavelski said.

Here’s a quick preview of the four divisional races and what’s coming up in the NHL’s home stretch:


The race out West is particularly enticing: San Jose, Anaheim and upstart Edmonton are separated by one point atop the division.

McDavid and the Oilers have hung in with the division’s three California powers all winter, capped by back-to-back road victories over the Ducks and Sharks to close out the first half.

“We’ve put ourselves in a good position, and we’re happy about that,” McDavid said. “We realize how much work we have left to do, because this is a long season. None of it means very much if you don’t finish out the way you started.”

The Golden State’s trio of contenders isn’t about to give up.

The Ducks have won four straight Pacific titles, and they’re hoping coach Randy Carlyle can inspire postseason success that Bruce Boudreau couldn’t. The Sharks look easily capable of defending their Western Conference title, and the Los Angeles Kings should get star goalie Jonathan Quick back from injury shortly before the postseason.


The Minnesota Wild and the Chicago Blackhawks are in tight competition atop the division. Boudreau got the Wild off to their best start to a season in franchise history, and All-Star goalie Devan Dubnyk is having another standout season. This could be the year Minnesota reaches its first Stanley Cup Final, or at least wins two playoff rounds for the first time since 2003.

Of course, the team that beat them in the second round twice in the past three years is right behind them in the Central standings – and it just happens to be the best playoff team of this era.

Chicago returns with three of the 100 greatest players in NHL history in its lineup. Captain Jonathan Toews admits he isn’t having a great season, but he has plenty of time to ramp up for another playoff run with Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith.


The best divisional race might be among the stars who won the four-division, 3-on-3 tournament at the All-Star Game. A four-team competition has swung back and forth in the Metropolitan, with Columbus streaking in front on its 16-game winning streak, only to be passed by Washington two weeks ago.

The Capitals’ fretful fans might think they’ve peaked too soon yet again, but nobody gets comfortable with Crosby’s Penguins lurking behind them. The defending Stanley Cup champions begin the second half in third place, just seven points back.


The Canadiens have bounced back smartly from last season’s second-half collapse without the injured Price, and Les Habitants’ nearest competitors all have problems: Ottawa’s goal-scoring woes, Boston’s inconsistent play and powerful Tampa Bay’s major injuries have all put a cushion underneath the Canadiens.

But that cushion isn’t as big as it looks. The Senators have three games in hand on Montreal, and the Lightning hope to get Steven Stamkos back for the late playoff push.

And the Toronto Maple Leafs? They’ve got problems, as you’d expect for a team that’s made the postseason once since 2004. They’ve also got All-Star Auston Matthews, fellow high-scoring youngsters Mitchell Marner and William Nylander, and more than enough talent to be dangerous down the stretch.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Greg Beacham on Twitter:

#MelnykOut billboards go up in Ottawa as Senators fans urge change

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The billboards in Brooklyn want the general manager out. The billboards in Ottawa, which went up Monday morning, are calling for the owner to sell.

As the dissatisfaction with the state of the franchise continues to intensify, Ottawa Senators fans have come together to purchase four billboards calling for Eugene Melnyk to get “out.”

The campaign was started by Spencer Callaghan, who raised $5,000 in the first 24 hours after the GoFundMe page was opened.

“What I want to accomplish mainly is for people to just start asking questions, like why is this organization in such turmoil,” Callaghan told CTV News in February. “It’s at the point where if we need a change of ownership to get this organization back on track then that’s what we need to push for.”

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the four billboards will be up for two weeks and a fifth will go up for one week on April 2.

It’s been a strange year in Senators land. They went from being within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final to having their owner threaten to move the team to then having him walk that back a few months later to now looking at the NHL draft lottery and coming to the realization that captain Erik Karlsson may be dealt in the off-season.

So you can see why they might be ready for some change.

Meanwhile, it will be a very interesting off-season for the New York Islanders. They are going to miss the playoffs for a second straight season and have to worry about whether John Tavares will decide to re-sign with the organization. Fans upset with GM Garth Snow’s lack of progress with the franchise put up their own billboards in February calling for his removal. Head coach Doug Weight doesn’t seem to have any answers, so will ownership decide to clean house and start fresh as the franchise begins to split games between Barclays Center and a renovated Nassau Coliseum next season as they wait for their new home to be built near Belmont Park?

If the campaigns in Ottawa and New York succeed by reaching their ultimate goals, how much of an inspiration will they be for other fanbases who are sick and tired of the lack of direction with their teams?


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL on NBCSN: Kings, Wild continue pursuit of important points

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Monday night when the Los Angeles Kings visit the Minnesota Wild. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

If there’s one thing the Kings need right now with 10 games left in the regular season, it’s some consistency. John Stevens’ charges have alternated wins and losses in their eight games in March, leaving them in the second wild card spot in the Western Conference with 84 points.

LA is tied with the Dallas Stars in points, but have the ROW advantage (37-34) while also owning a game in-hand. The Kings are battling on two fronts. Not only are they in the mix for a wild card, but they are on the heels of the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division’s third seed.

So as the Kings begin a four-game road trip Monday night with three games against playoff teams (Minnesota, Winnipeg, Colorado), the road doesn’t get any easier. After a disappointing 3-0 loss at Staples Center on Saturday, they need to rebound quickly.

“You lose a game, you move on and get ready for the next one,” said Stevens via the Orange County Register. “We’ve got an important week coming up this week, so we’re in playoff mode. We’re thinking about Minnesota now, and we’ll get ready for the game after that when that comes.”


The Wild have a little bit of a cushion in the Central Division’s third spot and are looking at four days off following their meeting with the Kings before they host the Nashville Predators on Saturday night. Minnesota grabbed four huge points with back-to-back road wins over the weekend against Vegas and Arizona. In their favor is a very strong record at Xcel Energy Center (24-6-6) and the fact that they’ve taken points from 24 of their last 26 home games.

A victory would give Bruce Boudreau his 500th as an NHL head coach and make him the 26th bench boss to reach that milestone. In his 10 seasons as a bench boss, he’s won eight division titles and one Jack Adams Awards.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL GMs to meet; Lamoriello’s future with Leafs

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at

Joe Thornton’s long-lost brother was apparently at the game Saturday night. [Instagram]

• Goalie interference will be a big topic at this week’s NHL general managers meetings. [The Star]

• Lou Lamoriello’s future with the Toronto Maple Leafs remains up in the air. “Any decisions about the organization won’t be made until after the season is over,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan told Elliotte Friedman. [Sportsnet]

• The NCAA men’s bracket is set with St. Cloud State, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Cornell grabbing top seeds. [College Hockey News]

• For the third time in five years, Clarkson’s women’s team won the NCAA title. The overtime goal, which was scored by Elizabeth Giguere (No relation to J.S.), was a terrific one. [NY Times]

• Daryl Watts, freshman forward at Boston College, took home the 2018 Patty Kazmaier Award as the nation’s top women’s collegiate player. [USCHO]

• With Ilya Kovalchuk interested in an NHL return this summer — and his rights no longer being owned by the New Jersey Devils — the New York Rangers should be all-in on the forward. [NY Post]

• A good look at how these Winnipeg Jets have been built into a contender. [ESPN]

• This season’s Hart Trophy race is quite the crowded field. [Tampa Bay Times]

• The New York Islanders have really wasted what could be John Tavares‘ last season with the franchise. [Sporting News]

• We’re coming up on a full NHL season without any head coaches being fired. [TSN]

• General managers around the NHL muse about the Detroit Red Wings and rebuilds. [Freep]

• Should the Carolina Hurricanes continue the changes and move on from Bill Peters? [Section 328]

William Karlsson doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down as he continues this surprising season. [Toronto Sun]

• How a minority hockey program helped one man become an officer in the Marines. [Color of Hockey]

• Finally, Declan Farmer was the hero for the U.S. Paralympic hockey team, who won their third straight gold with a 2-1 win over Canada. [NBC Olympics]


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: William Karlsson’s wild night; Hart Trophy race intensifies

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Players of the Night: 

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: MacKinnon’s MVP campaign got a serious boost on Sunday, as he picked up two goals and an assist in a win over the Detroit Red Wings. The Avs forward is now riding a 12-game point streak. He better start making room on a shelf for a Hart Trophy.

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights: Karlsson continues to be one of the biggest surprises of the 2017-18 season. His natural hat trick against the Flames puts him at 39 goals on the season. Who would’ve thought that we’d be talking about him as a 40-goal scorer?

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: Even though MacKinnon is rolling right now, Kucherov won’t go away quietly in the race for the MVP crown. The Lightning forward picked up two goals in Sunday’s win over the Oilers. Kucherov has 36 goals and 93 points in 70 games this season.

Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks: DeBrincat scored his third hat trick of the season in a losing effort. The rookie has 25 goals and 45 points in 73 games this season. He has a chance to score 30 this year.

Alex Pietrangelo and Vincent Dunn, St. Louis Blues: The Blues came away with a huge comeback win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Patrik Berglund scored the game-winner in overtime, but Pietrangelo and Dunn each had four points in the victory.

Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets: Laine has been a scoring machine of late. He found the back of the net twice in Sunday’s win over the Dallas Stars. He’s now scored 43 goals in 72 games this season. Laine’s picked up at least one point in 15 consecutive games.

Highlights of the Night: 

A wicked one-timer from Wild Bill:

That’s an incredible backhander from MacKinnon:

Here’s an unorthodox save from Fleury

Factoids of the Night: 

Dunn Deal


Oh and Laine is a teen sensation

DeBrincat’s having an impressive rookie season:


Avalanche 5, Red Wings 1
Golden Knights 4, Flames 0
Lightning 3, Oilers 1
Hurricanes 4, Islanders 3
Flyers 6, Capitals 3
Blues 5, Blackhawks 4 (OT)
Jets 4, Stars 2
Ducks 4, Devils 2

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.