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WATCH LIVE: Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 1

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The Ottawa Senators have surprised many by making it this far in the playoffs. On Saturday, they’ll face the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.

This series features plenty of star power, including two of the best players in the game in Sidney Crosby and Erik Karlsson, who finished the second round versus the New York Rangers with five points in the final two games. NBC has you covered for Saturday’s series opener.

Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Time: 7 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream online here)

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Dzingel, Wingels return for Senators; Neil and Stalberg out for Game 1

Penguins have to do what nobody else could this postseason: Stop Erik Karlsson

It looks like Carl Hagelin could miss another game for Penguins

Oilers disappointed after series loss to Ducks, but future looks bright in Edmonton

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After all the miserable, bordering on embarrassing, regular seasons they went through over a 10-year stretch, the Edmonton Oilers served notice this season they have the potential to be a force in the Western Conference.

With Connor McDavid leading the way, the Oilers went from a team that could perhaps make the jump into the playoffs this season to a team one win away from the Western Conference Final.

This 2016-17 season came to an end for the Oilers with a 2-1 loss in Game 7 versus the Anaheim Ducks, concluding a series that included a number of massive lead changes and wild swings in momentum.

“We weren’t afraid of the (playoff) stage. We were willing to come out on it and perform. That’s a good sign for us,” said coach Todd McLellan. “The overall feeling right now is disappointment … but we basically got a college degree in a month.”

Of course, now the expectations will rise for next season. After winning the draft lottery again and having the magnificent fortune of selecting McDavid first overall, the Oilers emerged as the second best team in the Pacific Division during the regular season with 103 points, making the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

McDavid, at just 20 years of age, is a finalist for the Hart Trophy. Leon Draisaitl, taken third overall in 2014, put together a 77-point season in just his second full campaign in the NHL and was ridiculously productive in this series versus Anaheim with the exception of Game 7.

Yes, it helps he played alongside McDavid. This year, they played together for 670 minutes at five-on-five. But Draisaitl had 51 points a year ago, when he didn’t even play five minutes of even strength with McDavid, and is another top young talent in Edmonton. Cam Talbot provided a substantial upgrade in goaltending, both in the regular season and playoffs.

The list of improved performances this season doesn’t end there.

“You could see how much we grew as a group, but individually we’ve grown just as much,” said Talbot.

It’s been a long time since anyone could say that about the Edmonton Oilers.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Finals matchups

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Who could’ve predicted this?

The matchups for the Eastern and Western Conference Finals have been set and the schedule released. It’s hard to imagine, when the playoffs began, too many people calling for the Nashville Predators to meet the Anaheim Ducks, and the Ottawa Senators to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the final four. But … here we are.

Let’s have a look at the matchups:

Eastern Conference Final

Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Senators were the Comeback Kids at times in the second round versus the New York Rangers, getting the best of Henrik Lundqvist in a six-game series. Ottawa does boast a talented lineup, of course led by stud defenseman — and one of the top players in the game — in Erik Karlsson.

In the final two games of the second round versus New York, Karlsson played out of this world with five points. However, there has to be concern for him as well, given he played injured in the first round and was reportedly seen limping after Game 6 vs. the Rangers.

The Penguins, defending Stanley Cup champions, are coming off an emotional series win versus the Capitals, and they achieved that without Kris Letang — another stud defenseman. The play of Marc-Andre Fleury in these playoffs, and Game 7 versus Washington in particular, has been a big reason for Pittsburgh’s success through two rounds.

And don’t forget that whole incident between Sidney Crosby and Marc Methot from the regular season.

Western Conference Final

Nashville Predators vs. Anaheim Ducks

This is a rematch from the opening round of last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. The Predators won that series in seven games before losing in the second round. This year, however, the Predators have rolled through the first two rounds, sweeping Chicago and dispatching St. Louis in six games, making the third round for the first time in franchise history.

Pekka Rinne has an astounding .951 save percentage in net for the Predators. Another big factor in their success has been the play — and production — from their blue line, led by Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and P.K. Subban.

The Ducks had lost five consecutive Game 7s prior to their victory over the Oilers on Wednesday, advancing to the Western Conference Final. After getting pulled in Game 6, John Gibson had arguably his best performance of these playoffs in the deciding contest against Edmonton. Perhaps that is a good sign for the Ducks, especially given how well Rinne has played.

Ryan Getzlaf, having celebrated his 32nd birthday on Wednesday, is enjoying another strong post-season. He had eight points over a three-game stretch against Edmonton and ended the series with 10 points.

‘I don’t think the urgency was there,’ says Ovechkin after another Capitals playoff defeat

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Through 40 minutes of Game 7, the Washington Capitals controlled a strong portion of the play.

They had an edge in shots on goal. They had an edge in shot attempts. They just didn’t have the edge in goals, which matter most in a single game, winner-take-all situation, after being unable to beat Marc-Andre Fleury, who had struggled in the previous two games, or more specifically, the previous four periods.

In the end, the disappointment and anger of another playoff failure emerged again as the Capitals couldn’t complete what would’ve been an incredible comeback from down three games to one against the rival Pittsburgh Penguins.

The second round remains a hurdle the Capitals have not been able to conquer. Not since 1998, anyway. Five of their last six playoff appearances (six appearances in the last seven years) have ended in the second round.

Read more:

Penguins played best game when they needed it most

Trotz wasn’t emotionally prepared to judge Ovechkin, Capitals after Game 7 loss

Down by one goal entering the third period, a situation in which a comeback is more than possible, the Capitals had just six shots on goal against Fleury. They eventually fell down by a pair of goals and then couldn’t manufacture much in the way of a dangerous scoring opportunity after that, leaving the ice once again after another early playoff exit.

The Penguins played a great third period. The Capitals, with their season and legacy on the line, could not match that. Which is troubling.

“I don’t think the urgency was there,” said Alex Ovechkin. “We just didn’t execute our chances.”

Capitals goalie Braden Holtby agreed with a suggestion that there was more anger from the Capitals following this latest playoff elimination — in a year when they were again Presidents’ Trophy winners with such a deep and talented roster favored to win it all — than the sadness from a year ago.

“Last year, we were in a close game, played well in Game 6 and … overtime,”said Holtby.

“I think tonight — I don’t think we gave ourselves a chance and we’re going to have to live with that and take full responsibility for that. It’s not what we worked for.”

The Capitals had given themselves a chance at a Game 7 after roaring back in Games 5 and 6 of this series. But they put themselves in a precarious position with two losses — including an ugly 6-2 defeat in Game 2 — at the beginning of the series and that was costly.

“We didn’t lose the series tonight. We lost it the first three games, four games,” said Nicklas Backstrom.

Another playoff disappointment ushers in an offseason of uncertainty for the Capitals. Their general manager, Brian MacLellan, said in February of 2016 that his club was in a two-year window to win it all.

“We’re going to have some decisions to make as far as veteran players, and our young guys are going to be due for some pay raises,” he said at the time.

According to CapFriendly, the Capitals have 12 players on expiring contracts at the end of this season. That includes five notable pending unrestricted free agents — T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk.

“When you lose the right to keep playing, when you’re in the playoffs and you feel that you can be a team that can … do some damage, it always is a bitter pill to swallow,” said coach Barry Trotz.

Sullivan: Sidney Crosby wasn’t evaluated for a concussion after head-first crash

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Sidney Crosby wasn’t evaluated for a concussion during Monday’s Game 6 between the Penguins and Capitals, despite a dangerous head-first crash into the end boards in the first period.

That is according to multiple reports quoting coach Mike Sullivan, after the Penguins were crushed 5-2 by the Capitals, which forces a seventh and deciding game in this second round series.

The Penguins captain and the face of the entire NHL has a history of concussions, including his most recent one suffered exactly one week ago when he was cross checked in the head during Game 3.

On Monday, Crosby took a stick to the face in the first few minutes of the opening period. He went to the bench and received repairs but stayed in the game. Later in the period, Crosby went crashing into the boards after he came into contact with the left pad of Braden Holtby while chasing a puck near the Washington net.

And yet, he remained on the ice to finish his shift and, despite slowly getting back to his skates, he stayed in the game — a development that raised plenty of criticism on social media for the league’s concussion protocol.

Although, there seems to be somewhat conflicting messages between Sullivan and Crosby.