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Penguins eye threepeat after reaching playoffs

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In closing out 2017, the Pittsburgh Penguins faced some real doubts about making the playoffs. They had lost three of their last four games, dropping to a mediocre 19-18-3 record.

Many headed into 2018 thinking “if any team can overcome this, it’s the Penguins,” and that turned out to be right. In defeating the Montreal Canadiens 5-2 on Saturday, they improved to 45-28-6, clinching a playoff berth.

This locks up their 12th consecutive trip to the postseason, and Pittsburgh’s dreams of a third consecutive Stanley Cup victory remain alive.

(That #3elieve bit looks better in the image than it does in hashtag form, agreed?)

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

Pittsburgh’s clinching win against the Canadiens embodied some of the better elements of the 2017-18 season.

The Penguins made their own luck at times, such as Carl Hagelin‘s brutal goal against Antti Niemi:

Ouch, Niemi. Ouch.

They also received some top-notch saves from Matt Murray, which admittedly harkens back more to previous runs than this season, as Murray’s dealt with injuries and other struggles. The standout sequence came as Murray made some big saves on shorthanded chances, including one against Habs speedster Paul Byron:

Also fitting: Patric Hornqvist scoring a goal from a dirty area right near the net, and the usual suspects generating points. Phil Kessel beefed up his career-high to 87 points thanks to a goal and an assist, Evgeni Malkin collected two helpers, and Sidney Crosby nabbed an assist.

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The Penguins stand in a solid position to grab at least a round of home-ice advantage with 96 points and three games left. They’re unlikely to catch the Capitals for the Metro title (Washington’s at 99 points with a game in hand on Pittsburgh), but the Pens hold a two-point edge on Columbus for second in the division.

Considering their 16-20-4 road record, the Penguins likely covet at least some home-ice more than others.

Still, when you look around the league at all of the injuries and then consider all the mileage accrued by Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Kris Letang, and others, you wonder if Mike Sullivan might opt to give some of those workhorses a little time off down the stretch.

It’s a point worth considering, and it’s also remarkable that the Penguins enjoy the luxury to make such a choice with a week remaining considering how dire things seemed at times during the first half of this season.

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.

The Buzzer: Hall leads Devils; Jets’ Connor plays OT hero again

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Players of the Night

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks: Yeah, they lost, but it would have been a much worse outcome for the Anaheim Ducks if not for their goaltender. During a 3-2 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Gibson was outstanding in stopping 39 shots while his teammates threw only 18 Connor Hellebuyck‘s way.

Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils: The Devils earned a very important two points during a wild 4-3 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. After blowing a 3-1 second period lead, it was Hall (three points) who helped New Jersey claim the extra point with the winning goal 27 seconds into the extra period. He now has a career high 81 points.

Antti Niemi, Montreal Canadiens: Niemi earned his first shutout of the season with 35-save effort as the Habs blanked the Buffalo Sabres 3-0. Artturi Lehkonen opened the scoring and Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher added very late insurance markers as Montreal snapped a four-game losing streak.

Highlight of the Night

Devils forward Blake Coleman gave us this one-handed beauty against the Penguins:

MISC

Patrik Berglund scored twice as the St. Louis Blues stayed in the playoff hunt with a 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks. The Blues have won six of seven and four in a row to put themselves a point behind the Colorado Avalanche for the West’s second wild card. In his return to the lineup, Vladimir Tarasenko gave Anders Nilsson the old change-up for this goal:

• The Jets gave us a pair of pretty goals Friday night during their 3-2 win over the Ducks. First, check out Blake Wheeler’s hands as he set up Mark Scheifele’s 22nd of the season:

Wheeler was also part of this pretty passing play that ended with a Nikolaj Ehlers goal:

In the end, it was Kyle Connor notching the overtime winner for the second straight game:

David Pastrnak and the Boston Bruins dealt the Dallas Stars a big blow to their playoff hopes with a 3-2 win. “Pasta” scored the go-ahead goal with 11.1 seconds left in the third period, erasing a 2-0 lead the Stars had entering the final 20 minutes. The Stars are four points out of a wild card spot with seven games left in the regular season.

• No word if she was successful.

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Devils 4, Penguins 3 (OT)
Canadiens 3, Sabres 0
Blues 4, Canucks 1
Jets 3, Ducks 2 (OT)
Bruins 3, Stars 2

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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.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Montreal Canadiens

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE – 7:30 p.m. ET

PROJECTED LINES

Pittsburgh Penguins
Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Conor Sheary
Carl Hagelin – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist
Bryan Rust – Derick Brassard – Phil Kessel
Tom Kuhnhackl – Riley Sheahan – Carter Rowney

Brian DumoulinKris Letang
Jamie OleksiakJustin Schultz
Olli Maatta – Chad Ruhwedel

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[PHT’s preview]

Montreal Canadiens
Paul ByronJonathan DrouinBrendan Gallagher
Alex GalchenyukJacob De La RoseArtturi Lehkonen
Charles HudonLogan Shaw – Nikita Scherbak
Nicolas DeslauriersByron Froese/Michael McCarron – Daniel Carr

Mike ReillyJeff Petry
Karl AlznerNoah Juulsen
Jordie Benn – Brett Lernout

Starting goalie: Antti Niemi

————

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.

Slumping Islanders hit new low after home loss to Canadiens

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The New York Islanders had been playing some bad hockey of late, but they had a good opportunity to get back on track this week, as they had a home-and-home date with the Montreal Canadiens. Not only did the Isles fail to sweep a team that has been out of the playoff picture for months, they managed to drop both games.

The Habs went up 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 in the first two periods, but the Islanders managed to tie the game each time. In the third frame, Montreal went up 5-3 thanks to goals by Paul Byron and Noah Juulsen (his first NHL goal). The Canadiens added an empty-netter to bury the Islanders by a score of 6-3. Alex Galchenyuk, who played in his 400th NHL game, finished the night with three goals and an assist.

The Isles now find themselves four points behind Columbus for the final Wild Card spot in the East. They’ve also been passed by Carolina and Florida this week. Since beating the Hurricanes on Feb. 16, New York has dropped five games in a row.

Sure, they were without Jordan Eberle (undisclosed) and Casey Cizikas (attending the birth of his first child) tonight, but that’s no excuse to lose a home game to a horrible road team. To top it all off, the Canadiens lost defenseman Victor Mete to injury in the first period and captain Max Pacioretty (lower body) in the third period, and the Islanders still couldn’t get the better of them.

Check out this note that beat reporter Arthur Staple tweeted out before tonight’s game:

General manager Garth Snow added Chris Wagner and Brandon Davidson before the trade deadline, but those moves clearly didn’t give the players in the locker room added hope.

The Islanders will now hit the road for four games in Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. Even though three of those four teams aren’t in the playoffs, they still won’t be easy outs.

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

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal Canadiens

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Monday night, as the Montreal Canadiens host the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

PROJECTED LINES

Philadelphia Flyers
Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Jordan WealNolan PatrickJakub Voracek
Oskar LindblomScott LaughtonMichael Raffl
Jori LehteraValtteri FilppulaDale Weise

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Petr Mrazek

WATCH LIVE – 7:30 p.m. ET

Montreal Canadiens
Max PaciorettyJonathan Drouin – Artturi Lehkonen
Alex GalchenyukPhillip DanaultCharles Hudon
Paul ByronJacob De La RoseBrendan Gallagher
Nicolas DeslauriersLogan ShawDaniel Carr

Victor MeteJeff Petry
Karl AlznerNoah Juulsen
TBD – Jordie Benn

Staring goalie: Charlie Lindgren