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NHL Power Rankings: Mid-season Stanley Cup contenders and pretenders

Now that we are officially into the second half of the 2017-18 NHL season we are going to start rolling out our PHT Power Rankings on a weekly basis instead of the bi-weekly basis we had been doing in the first half.

After looking at the top trade deadline candidates that could be available a week ago, this week we are going to take a look at the top Stanley Cup contenders … as well as the teams that are pretenders. Plus, the teams that need to just start looking ahead to next season.

There are a lot of the usual suspects and expected teams at the top of the list. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Nashville Predators are all there, and thanks to their recent surge over the past month or two, as are the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Also there: The Vegas Golden Knights, a team that just keeps getting better.

So let us get to it and take a look at where we have everybody sitting right now.

Contenders

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They have the most talented roster in the league and seem to be in a position to make a significant move at the trade deadline. They are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.

2. Vegas Golden Knights — They are getting stronger and better as the season progresses. They are becoming a dominant possession team, they are outshooting everybody they play every night, they have great offense, and a Stanley Cup winning goalie. This team is for real. They are a threat.

3. Boston Bruins — They have the best line in hockey and Tuukka Rask seems to be back to being an elite goaltender. They have been borderline unbeatable with him in the lineup.

4. Nashville Predators — They are finally fully healthy and finally the team that David Poile constructed. Where is the weakness? There does not seem to be one.

5. Washington Capitals — They are back on top of the Metropolitan Division even though some of their top players have been a little quiet offensively in recent weeks. When those guys get going again, watch out. The roster on paper may not be as impressive as the past two years, and they may not win the Presidents’ Trophy, but they are still good. Really good.

6. Winnipeg Jets — They have a couple of significant injuries right now with Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba on the shelf, but what a powerful offense. With the Jets a lot of it comes down to whether or not they can keep getting the same level of goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins — They are back. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel are taking over games, they are starting to figure out the lineup, and they are probably one move away from really putting a scary team on the ice.

8. St. Louis Blues — Like the Jets I feel like a lot of this story is going to be decided by goaltending. Jake Allen has been okay, Carter Hutton has been great but he’s hardly played. Good defensive team, couple of high-end offensive players and some solid depth especially now that Jaden Schwartz is back.

9.  Toronto Maple Leafs — They can score with anybody in the NHL but they still need to make a tweak or two to their defense.

Could Go Either Way

10. New Jersey Devils — I feel like this might be a little high, but it also feels right. This is a pretty good team, but maybe not quite a true contender yet.

11. Los Angeles Kings — The Kings are still the Kings. Dominant possession team, tough to score against, kind of a mediocre offense. I don’t think they are truly a “contender” at this point, but they are also still a team that could be dangerous. Or they could miss the playoffs entirely. It is a bizarre team.

12. Columbus Blue Jackets — They have really slid recently, but they still have a lot of talent. They really need Sergei Bobrovsky to solve his postseason demons though.

13. San Jose Sharks — I might have them a little bit higher if they still had Joe Thornton, but that is a huge blow at the moment and one that is going to be difficult to overcome. He is still the engine that drives them.

Pretenders

14. Dallas Stars — They’ve spent a ton of money on a team that is just … kind of good?

15. Philadelphia Flyers — Are the Flyers good? It really just depends on the day. Sometimes they look great. Sometimes they look awful. They have a pretty dominant top part of the lineup. The bottom of the lineup leaves a lot to be desired.

16. Minnesota Wild — A healthy Nino Neiderreiter and Zach Parise in the lineup together might make a difference, but it still feels like a pretty mediocre team overall.

17. Calgary Flames — They have been one of the bigger disappointments in the league this season. If you had told me at the start of the year Mike Smith would have a .922 save percentage I would have figured this would be one of the top teams in the Western Conference. Mike Smith has that, but they are not even a lock to make the playoffs.

18. Anaheim Ducks — Injuries just keep devastating this team this season. Every time it feels like they are getting healthy, somebody else goes out of the lineup. John Gibson is currently banged up now.

19. New York Islanders —  That offense can be great, but it is almost impossible to see them winning much in the playoffs — assuming they even get there — with that goaltending situation. Is there anybody available at the trade deadline that could make that much of a difference?

20. New York Rangers — They are still very much in the playoff race but it seems pretty clear they are ready to start selling off pieces before the trade deadline.

21. Colorado Avalanche — Losing Nathan MacKinnon for a few weeks could be a season-altering (perhaps season crushing?) blow to a team that has been one of the more pleasant surprises in the NHL this season.

22. Carolina Hurricanes — Goaltending and a lack of finishing ability on offense failed them again.

See you Next Season

23. Chicago Blackhawks –– Yeah, I am giving up on them this season. Corey Crawford might come back at some point and that could help if he is healthy and able to keep playing like he was earlier this season, but as of Monday they are still six points out of a playoff spot with four teams ahead of them. That is a tough gap to make up this late in the season.

24. Florida Panthers — There is still a young core here you can win with. But do they have the right people in place to build around it?

25. Detroit Red Wings — Given the roster and the salary cap situation it is going to be a while before this team is a factor again.

26. Vancouver Canucks — Why are you trying to re-sign Erik Gudbranson? Is that really what you need to continue this rebuild?

27. Montreal Canadiens — Will they tear it down at the trade deadline or maintain the status quo of mediocrity?

28. Edmonton Oilers — How does a team with Connor McDavid on his entry level contract end up this bad? This team is simply one of the greatest coaching and front office failures in recent NHL history.

29. Ottawa Senators — There is just nothing to be excited about here. The team stinks, the best player will probably be gone within the next two years and the owner is a jerk that seems to hate his own fans.

30. Buffalo Sabres — Jack Eichel has been great and everything the Sabres could have hoped. The rest of the rebuild has been a spectacular failure.

31.  Arizona Coyotes — They are one of the youngest teams in the league that is still lacking talent in a lot of key areas. It is just an impossible situation for this season.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bruins will way to Game 7 win against Maple Leafs

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Once again, the Boston Bruins finished a Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, riding an overpowering third period. In the case of Wednesday’s game, the end result was a 7-4 win for the Bruins.

The 2018 edition featured some similarities to the Bruins’ 5-4 win back in 2013.

  • A Maple Leafs team headed for the summer shaking their heads and with some serious soul-searching to do.
  • The heartache that comes with the Leafs giving up leads. Toronto was up 1-0, 2-1, and 4-3. This wasn’t a collapse of the “It was 4-1” variety, but the Maple Leafs squandered multiple leads nonetheless.

  • The Bruins simply ran away with things in the third period. Boston went from being down 4-3 to winning 7-4. That domination included the Bruins keeping the Maple Leafs from registering a shot on goal through the first eight minutes of the final frame.

In the case of this latest Game 7, there were times when it seemed like the last shot on goal might be the winner.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Really, it was a nightmare game for both goalies. Frederik Andersen‘s Game 7 heartache is no longer limited to his time with the Anaheim Ducks, as he gave up six goals, including a few that are likely to haunt him during the off-season. The Lightning must be licking their chops at the prospect of exploiting what might be a fragile goalie in Tuukka Rask; the Bruins ended up on top in this one, yet Rask gave up four goals on 24 shots.

(Maybe a solid finish will help bolster his self-esteem? Rask stopped all eight Maple Leafs SOG in the third period after giving up those four goals on the first 18 shots he faced.)

If you want to summarize Game 7 in one video clip, Jake DeBrusk‘s second goal of the night (and eventual game-winner) could suffice. The Bruins simply demanded this win, showing off their skill and will while flabbergasting the overmatched Maple Leafs and a struggling Andersen:

Several players came up big on each side. DeBrusk scored those two goals and was quite the presence overall. Charlie McAvoy logged 26:43 of ice time with a +1 rating, while a blocked shot apparently didn’t really throw off Zdeno Chara, who managed a +2 rating and 28:38 TOI. Despite some warranted criticisms, David Krejci did manage to generate three assists, adding to a substantial playoff resume for his career. Patrick Marleau provided more than just a “veteran presence” for the Maple Leafs, scoring two goals during a zany first period.

Still, when it comes to the Maple Leafs, many will linger on those who fell short.

Andersen’s struggles were considerable, rounding out a remarkably hot-and-cold series overall. Auston Matthews failed to score a point despite firing four SOG, finishing the series with just a single goal and single assist. Jake Gardiner had an awful Game 7, suffering a -5 rating and absorbing some of the blame for multiple bad moments.

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that Gardiner said “most” of the loss was on him and that the defenseman had tears in his eyes while asking questions.

“I didn’t show up,” Gardiner said.

The Bruins eliminated the Maple Leafs in an exhilarating fashion, carrying over an impressive regular season of puck-hogging play. They have plenty of room for improvement, something Jack Adams finalist Bruce Cassidy will surely emphasize as they turn their sights to a rested, versatile opponent in the Lightning.

If it’s anything like Bruins – Leafs, it should be thrilling … and maybe a goalie’s nightmare.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second round schedule, TV info

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The second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs is now set, thanks to the Boston Bruins winning Game 7 over the Toronto Maple Leafs, 7-4. The Bruins will move on to face the Tampa Bay Lightning, while the Pittsburgh Penguins will meet the Washington Capitals to complete the Eastern Conference bracket. Out West, the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets will battle out of the Central Division and the Vegas Golden Knights take on the San Jose Sharks.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Here’s the full second round schedule, which kicks off with two games on Thursday night:

* if necessary
TBD – To Be Determined

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

Kapanen overwhelms Marchand, scores ridiculous goal

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To the chagrin of the coaches and goalies, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs are keeping things hectic during the second period of Game 7.

Kasperi Kapanen seems like he’s perpetually battling for a permanent/more prominent spot with the Maple Leafs, but it’s not for a lack of trying or moxie. He’s been hitting posts on some near-misses lately, but saved some magic for tonight.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THIS DECISIVE GAME LIVE.

You can see that in a 4-3 goal that currently stands as the Maple Leafs’ lead. Kapanen overpowers Brad Marchand and then outwaits Tuukka Rask for an absolutely tremendous shorthanded goal.

(Check out that goal in the video above this post’s headline.)

Impressive, especially considering who that came against. At one point, the Maple Leafs had converted on both of their shots on goal early in the second period to go from being down 3-2 to up 4-3. As mentioned after that wild first period, you have to wonder about both goalies’ confidence, but that’s especially true of Rask right now.

To be fair, Kapanen’s showed a real knack for scoring big goals so far during his brief NHL career. As you may remember, he scored the game-winner in double overtime of Game 2 against the Washington Capitals during that tight series to start the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He also helped them punch their ticket to the postseason in 2016-17 with his first NHL goal.

Then again, maybe this sort of goal is in the blood? Kasperi Kapanen’s shorthanded goal feels reminiscent of a great goal by his father Sami Kapanen:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins – Leafs Game 7 off to wild start, Reilly hit by puck

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You can forgive fans of the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs for hyperventilating right now, unless they’re merely staring blankly at their screens.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THIS DECISIVE GAME LIVE.

Game 7 accelerated to 100 mph seemingly in mere seconds on Wednesday:

  • After a Sean Kuraly penalty, Patrick Marleau deflected a puck past Tuukka Rask to give Toronto a stunning 1-0 lead off of a power-play goal just 2:05 into the contest.
  • A delay of game infraction gave the Bruins a chance to tie things up on the power play, and they did just that as David Krejci and David Pastrnak set up Jake DeBrusk. That happened 4:47 into the game.
  • Less than two minutes later, Patrick Marleau scored again, giving Toronto a 2-1 edge that wouldn’t last.
  • The two teams combined for four goals through less than half of the first period, as Danton Heinen showed why he should be playing with the 2-2 goal with 11:50 remaining in the opening frame.
  • The Bruins took their first lead (3-2) of Game 7 with less than a minute left in the first period thanks to a goal by Patrice Bergeron.

Those were just the goals, too, as there were some close calls, making you wonder about the confidence of Rask and Frederik Andersen:

The two teams are also accruing some bumps and bruises, which must be to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s liking.

In the most dramatic instance, Brad Marchand ducked a high Zdeno Chara shot, leaving an unsuspecting Morgan Rielly to take a puck to the face. It’s a scary moment, although the good news is that Rielly was able to return for the beginning of the second period.

Yikes.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Chara also seemed stung by a blocked shot during the first period, as he took a puck to his ankle/foot area. He didn’t appear to miss any time, and it would be tough to imagine him not fighting through it during a Game 7, yet you wonder if the hulking defenseman’s mobility might be hindered after that.

The Bruins and Leafs already put on a show through 20 minutes. We’ll see who’s left standing to face the Bolts, whether this game ends in regulation or hits sudden death in a Game 7.

*Gulp*

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.