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NHL on NBCSN Doubleheader: Senators vs. Bruins; Blackhawks vs. Ducks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2016-17 NHL season continues on Thursday, as the Boston Bruins host the Ottawa Senators at 7:00 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here

The Bruins clinched a playoff spot earlier this week and the Ottawa Senators will likely do the same tonight. These two teams are actually tied for second in the Atlantic Division with 94 points, but Ottawa has a game in hand.

Tonight’s game is huge because although the Sens have played one less game, they trail the Bruins in regulation/overtime wins (Boston has five more).

So this game will go a long way in determining who will have home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. But the team that loses tonight’s tilt could also find themselves in the second Wild Card spot before the end of the night if the Maple Leafs win their game.

Since losing four games in a row in late March, the Bruins have rattled off six straight wins over Islanders, Predators, Stars, Panthers, Blackhawks and Lightning.

Later today, we’ll find out if Boston will have Brad Marchand in their lineup. The Bruins forward will have a hearing with the Department of Player Safety for his spear on Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin.

Ottawa could be without defenseman Erik Karlsson, as he continues to battle a foot injury. Karlsson left Ottawa’s last game against Detroit, but he eventually came back to the bench. He didn’t hit the ice in the last 14 minutes of the game.

In the late game, it’ll be the battle of first-place teams with the Anaheim Ducks hosting the Chicago Blackhawks at 10:00 p.m. ET. To stream that game live, click here

For most of the season, the Ducks found themselves in second or third in the Pacific Division, but thanks to their improved play and San Jose’s recent struggles, they’ve managed to climb to the top of the hill.

There’s a few reasons why they’ve been able to get hot. First, backup goalie Jonathan Bernier was terrific while filling in for the injured John Gibson. Second, the Ducks’ top players are producing like top players again.

Ryan Getzlaf has piled up 30 points in his last 24 games and he’s likely going to hit the 70-point mark again this season, while Corey Perry, who’s been a huge disappointment, has started putting the puck in the net with a little more regularity.

The Blackhawks have been in a similar situation to the Ducks this year. They spent most of the first half of the season in second place behind Minnesota, but thanks to the Wild’s huge collapse, the ‘Hawks have managed to move into first in the Central.

Chicago is coming off back-to-back losses to Boston and Colorado, but they’ve also started resting players (Duncan Keith didn’t play against the Avs).

The ‘Hawks don’t have much to play for at this point. The Ducks can’t pass them for the Western Conference crown, so they’ll have home-ice advantage throughout the first three rounds of the playoffs (if they make it that far).

Video: Whoa, this is one sweet Mike Hoffman backhand goal

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Monday’s game won’t help the Ottawa Senators defy critics about last season running on luck, at least in that it doesn’t count in the standings.

Senators sniper Mike Hoffman didn’t seem to care.

Hoffman owned last night’s pre-season NHL highlight reel (sorry Nico Hischier), scoring two very different goals.

The best one can be viewed in the video above this post’s headline, as he burst through the Maple Leafs defense for a ridiculous backhander on the rush. Wow.

His first of the night was memorable for a different reason, as Hoffman shook off a near-miss (eventually) to score this goal.

Weird/cool/good, indeed.

Prediction: Hoffman will score a lot of goals that will “count” in 2017-18, too.

Wild extend captain Mikko Koivu’s contract for two years, $11M

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Minnesota Wild fans fearing that the 2017-18 season could be Mikko Koivu‘s last can breathe a sigh of relief, and that suspense didn’t even carry into opening night.

Instead, the Wild signed Koivu to a two-year contract extension worth $11 million.

That $5.5M cap hit kicks in during the 2018-19 campaign and ends after 2019-20. It represents a minor cut in pay for Koivu, as he’s entering the final year of a deal with a $6.75M cap hit.

Koivu, 34, enjoyed a strong first season under Bruce Boudreau, becoming a Selke finalist for the first time in his underrated career. He’s been Minnesota’s captain since 2008-09.

Koivu’s deal would qualify as a 35+ contract, according to Cap Friendly.

The Finnish forward likely valued stability, maybe taking a little less in AAV for the sake of peace of mind.

This continues a busy week-or-so for the Wild, who also broke their impasse with RFA Marcus Foligno by handing him a four-year, $11.5M deal.

Opinion: this Koivu deal is a much, much easier decision to justify, even taking into account his advanced age.

Predators captain announcement looming; they have some great options

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Multiple reporters* indicate that the Nashville Predators will name their captain (and alternates) on Wednesday.

Mike Fisher briefly held the title, and before him, Shea Weber wore the “C.” Both were safe, obvious choices; this time around, there are some intriguing options. The Tennessean’s Adam Vignan reports that the Predators themselves realize that there are quite a few logical captains in their midst (which probably isn’t a bad problem to have).

“It’s totally different this time around,” Pekka Rinne said. “I think Mike last year, I think everybody saw that coming. Everybody agreed. Everybody was really comfortable with it. I think now we have, in my opinion, at least four great options to choose from.”

Note: the Predators would be wise not to pull a Canucks with Roberto Luongo as captain experiment, even if Rinne’s easily one of the team’s leaders.

Some of the most obvious options include young-yet-veteran defenseman Roman Josi, big-dollar-center Ryan Johansen, and star blueliner P.K. Subban.

(Honestly, though, it’s difficult to imagine Subban wearing the “C” after all the weird, Listerine-scented stuff with the media happened during the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.)

As strong as those options are, it sure feels like Josi is the favorite, especially since he’s been around longer than Subban, Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson.

Vegas oddmakers agree:

And so do reporters covering the team on a day-to-day basis:

One moment of devil’s advocacy, though: Subban, Johansen, Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, and Mattias Ekholm all have more term on their contracts than Josi, who is a bargain at $4M for three more seasons.

OK, that’s kind of a weak argument, but hey … sometimes it’s a pain to have to deal with captain questions so often, and you never know if the team might determine that Josi is expendable, considering their deep war chest on the blueline.

Nah, Josi’s probably the easy and correct choice. Right?

* – Including Cory Curtis of WKRN-TV and Justin Bradford of 102.5 The Game.

Duchene dusts off ‘one day at a time’ for Avalanche trade questions

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The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers posted an exclusive video interview with Matt Duchene, who was verbose …

… Compared to the terse statement he provided, without questions, last week regarding what must seem to him like ubiquitous Colorado Avalanche trade rumors.

Check out Duchene’s comments in the video below, which seem to mix saying a lot of the right things – and finding a new way to use the “one day at a time” cliche – with a little bit of edge that makes you wonder how well he’ll contain his frustration in other situations.

How often will he be available for such questioning on the road, particularly in big media markets and/or around reporters covering teams who’ve long been connected to Duchene?

Either way, Chambers’ video is another reminder that, for all the times people roll their eyes at canned responses during press conferences and locker-room interviews, reporters can get less-guarded moments where you can parse out greater truths.

(And, hey, it’s nice to give Duchene a chance to make faces that seem a little less … depressed?)

Chambers transcribes an especially intriguing part at the end of the interview (click here for more transcriptions from Chambers at the Denver Post, if video isn’t an option or your preference).

What if he’s not traded? “I’m not looking that far (ahead),” he said. “I’m taking one day at a time.”

Hmm, interesting, right?

/Refreshes the #FreeDuchene hashtag.