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Blue Jackets hand Maple Leafs a frustrating loss

There’s plenty of motivation for the Calgary Flames and Philadelphia Flyers in their game tonight, but if the Flyers wanted extra incentive to win, they can thank the Columbus Blue Jackets.

While the Toronto Maple Leafs got back into the game to save some face, the Blue Jackets ultimately took the game 5-2.

With that, Columbus reasserts the Metropolitan Division’s dominance. They tie the Pittsburgh Penguins with 77 standings points, although Pittsburgh is technically ahead in second place thanks to holding a game in hand. Remarkably, the Penguins and Blue Jackets join the Washington Capitals as three of the top four teams in the NHL.

So … yeah, the Metro’s outstanding, but don’t sleep on the wild card races out East.

In that regard, this one stings for Toronto. Again, Philly can virtually tie the Buds if they beat Calgary tonight. (Update: They didn’t, so here’s an updated look.)

Abbreviated look at race for last wild card spot

Last spot: Maple Leafs – 63 points in 56 games

Flyers – 61 points in 57
Islanders – 60 points in 55
Panthers – 58 in 54 (in action later tonight vs. San Jose)
Devils – 58 in 56
Sabres – 58 in 57

High-sticking is the word of the day, so it’s worth mentioning that the Maple Leafs probably missed out on either a two or four-minute power play:

Regardless, Columbus won, making a couple different playoff positioning battles more congested in the process.

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    Penguins avoid collapse, beat Preds in crazy Stanley Cup Final opener

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    PITTSBURGH — The game of hockey can be crazy at times.

    Then you have nights like Monday, when it gets really crazy.

    In a game that often made no sense at all, the Penguins built up a 3-0 lead, blew that lead, then rallied late to beat Nashville 5-3 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

    So, uh, where to even begin with this?

    Let’s start with the game-winner. Jake Guentzel, who was on the verge of being a healthy scratch for tonight’s affair, scored with less than four minutes remaining to snap an eight-game goalless drought.

    Now, consider the circumstances under which this goal was scored.

    Guentzel was facing tremendous pressure to get his offense going. And the shot he scored on was Pittsburgh’s first in 37 minutes of action. During that time, the Pens recorded the first zero-shot playoff period since NHL began tracking SOG in 1957-58.

    Guentzel’s goal also came after Nashville had staged a furious, wild three-goal rally to even things up.

    Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissions and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Preds, with Sissions and Gaudreau finding the back of the net less than four minutes apart in the final frame. Gaudreau, who up until a few weeks ago was playing in the Calder Cup playoffs, looked as though he was primed to become the next unlikely postseason hero.

    But it wasn’t to be.

    Because there were other equally unlikely developments on the night.

    Heck, we haven’t discussed the first period yet. Evgeni Malkin, Conor Sheary and Nick Bonino scored in a span of 4:11 in the opening frame, a flurry filled with fortuitous bounces and breaks. Malkin’s tally came on a 5-on-3 man advantage, after Calle Jarnkrok and James Neal were whistled for simultaneous penalties. Bonino’s marker was an own goal, knocked in by Preds d-man Mattias Ekholm.

    Oh, and there was that disallowed marker.

    Perhaps you heard? It was an ignominious start for the NHL on its biggest stage. Seven minutes in, the Preds looked to have taken a 1-0 lead when P.K. Subban‘s blast beat Matt Murray. But hold on. Pens head coach Mike Sullivan quickly challenged and, upon review, it was deemed that Filip Forsberg entered the Pittsburgh zone illegally.

    More, from the NHL’s situation room blog:

    After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesmen, NHL Hockey Operations staff determined that Forsberg preceded the puck into the attacking zone, nor did he have possession and control before crossing the blue line.

    This ruling came just hours after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman defended offside challenges in his state-of-the-league address.

    Crazy is right. And fitting, given what transpired tonight.

    Video: Guentzel, Penguins regain lead after 37-minute shot drought

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    Luck keeps going the Pittsburgh Penguins’ way in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

    The Nashville Predators kept firing away at Matt Murray, holding the Penguins without a shot on goal for a whopping 37 minutes and managing to tie the contest 3-3 after falling behind 3-0.

    It was a ridiculous display … and then Pittsburgh got its next shot.

    Jake Guentzel scored on that attempt, roofing it past a struggling Pekka Rinne. It’s the sort of thing you can’t even dream up.

    Pittsburgh also added an empty-net goal, so Nashville needs an epic final 30 seconds if they hope to avoid a crushing Game 1 loss.

    Predators hold Penguins without a shot in second, now down 3-1 in Game 1

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    There’s little sense denying the Pittsburgh Penguins’ luck through 40 minutes against the Nashville Predators in Game 1.

    Through the first period, some favorable calls and a lucky bounce or two helped Pittsburgh generate a stunning 3-0 lead. Pittsburgh ended the opening frame with a burst of activity after a strong start to the Stanley Cup Final by Nashville.

    The Predators regained their composure and confidence in the second, resulting in a dominant display on the ice (if not on the scoreboard).

    The Penguins only managed couldn’t even manage a single, measly shot on goal against Pekka Rinne during the middle frame, but unfortunately for Nashville, some dominant puck possession only resulted in a goal by Ryan Ellis.

    A 3-1 deficit is digestible, if frustrating, for Nashville. We’ll see if they can get back into Game 1 in the third period.

    CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

    Video: Calls go Penguins’ way early in Game 1; own goal plagues Predators

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    However you feel about the context of each call, it’s tough to deny that some big decisions ended up going favorably early for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

    To start, a would-be 1-0 goal by P.K. Subban was waved off thanks to Filip Forsberg being deemed offside. More on that here.

    In a rare span, the Predators were whistled for two penalties during the same sequence in the first period, giving the Penguins a 5-on-3 advantage for a full two minutes. Pittsburgh started off the advantage a little rocky, but then Evgeni Malkin made it 1-0. (Video of that tally in the headline above.)

    The controversy comes as Sidney Crosby seemed to get away with interference/elbow shortly before that goal was scored. That sequence will feed a conspiracy theory or two.

    The Predators have managed to avoid tough stretches for much of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but things seemed to really escalate from there. The Penguins managed three goals in a staggering 4:11 of game time, with Nick Bonino putting a puck off Mattias Ekholm for a painful own goal, making it 3-0 as the first period concluded.

    The Penguins seemed to take control of the game after that disallowed goal, adding to the argument that some combination of the decision and the slowdown helped turn the tide.

    How will the Predators respond to this adversity in Game 1? Find out on NBC and via the stream below.

    CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE