James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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WATCH LIVE: Big implications in Ottawa Senators at Boston Bruins

If the Boston Bruins or Ottawa Senators find themselves grumbling about a lack of home-ice advantage (possibly in a series), Thursday’s losing team could very well point to this setback.

Sure, the stakes might be a touch higher for Ottawa since they still need to clinch a playoff spot, but really, the Atlantic Division could see a lot of shuffling below the top depending upon how this week plays out.

With that in mind, this could be quite the interesting game to watch. You can check it out on NBCSN, online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Speaking of the Senators, they’re getting Cody Ceci back tonight.

It’s official: New York Rangers will face Montreal Canadiens in first round

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While the Washington Capitals guaranteed their spot as the top seed in the Metro/East/NHL, we also now know with certainty that the New York Rangers will take on the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.

The Canadiens clinched the Atlantic Division while the Rangers are the first wild card.

The Rangers won the most recent series between the two teams, defeating Montreal 4-2 (with some controversy) in 2013-14. We’ll get to see Henrik Lundqvist vs. Carey Price, not to mention a revamped Rangers offense squaring off against a Habs team adjusting to life with new head coach Claude Julien.

Capitals grab the Presidents’ Trophy once again

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For the second season in a row, the Washington Capitals are the winners of the Presidents’ Trophy.

They clinched as much after cruising to a 2-0 win against the New York Rangers, with a typical goal from Alex Ovechkin‘s “office” standing as the clincher. Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s sweet insurance tally really locked it down, and stood as a neat reminder of Washington’s multitude of offensive options.

As of this writing, the Capitals would host the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. While most of the league’s playoff spots are being cemented, that final berth is still up for grabs. (Caps fans might spend their free time debating which team would make for the easiest opponent.)

Actually … Capitals fans might spend most of their time arguing with people who will make inevitable jokes about success in the regular season vs. disappointments in the playoffs. As you might guess, those insults started flying almost immediately.

Still, this is quite the accomplishment for Washington.

Neither the Rangers nor the Capitals played with full lineups, and aside from butt-check or two, it seemed like a fairly pedestrian affair.

Alexei Emelin injured in meaningless loss for Canadiens

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While some East teams who’ve already clinched playoff spots still need to secure seeding, the Montreal Canadiens already won the Atlantic Division. They also can’t finish higher than the Metro’s top squad. So these next games are all about staying sharp and not getting hurt.

Now, you can’t rest everyone, but the Canadiens’ most noteworthy loss on Wednesday wasn’t falling 2-1 to the Buffalo Sabres. Instead, it was seeing defenseman Alexei Emelin leave the game with a lower-body injury.

Emelin has his critics, but he’s nonetheless been getting top-four usage under Claude Julien, much like he did with Michel Therrien. So this could mean the loss of a guy who’s important (even if some might argue that he’s sometimes in too prominent of a spot).

The Canadiens also started Carey Price, saw Max Pacioretty log almost 20 minutes and trotted aging veteran Andrei Markov for 23:08.

Are they taking too many risks for a game that cannot move them up or down in the brackets (and against an opponent that’s just closing out its season)? That’s debatable, but the bottom line is that Montreal must keep an eye on Emelin after tonight’s setback.

Penguins optimistic about Malkin returning for playoffs

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are reeling following the news that Kris Letang is done for 2016-17, but the outlook is much rosier for Evgeni Malkin. At least at the moment.

Head coach Mike Sullivan said that he’s optimistic that the star center will be back for the Penguins in the playoffs, according to reporters including NHL.com’s Wes Crosby.

If you take a look at Rotoworld’s injuries page, you get a view of a Penguins team that’s banged-up even beyond Malkin and Letang. Bryan Rust, Trevor Daley, Chris Kunitz, Carl Hagelin and Matt Cullin are other players who are at least dealing with bumps and bruises. Whether they maintain home-ice advantage for at least a round of the playoffs or not, you have to wonder how close this team will really be to 100 percent.

Rust’s issue doesn’t sound too significant, although day-to-day is one of hockey’s most frustrating mystery updates:

And, yes, the Penguins are especially addled by injuries.