James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
AP

Kings in driver’s seat for Pacific title after beating Ducks

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At their best, the Los Angeles Kings play their best hockey with their backs against the wall. Really, you almost wonder if they’re better off when things are tough.

Thursday presented a challenging situation, as they faced the Anaheim Ducks in a game that could largely determine who might win the Pacific Division title.

With a 2-1 win against the Ducks, the ball is now in the Kings’ court. Simply enough, if the Kings beat the Winnipeg Jets, they’ll take the top spot in the Pacific.

Anaheim, meanwhile, closes out 2015-16 with two road games: at Colorado and at Washington.

It’s still plausible that the Ducks might take the division after all, but the Kings get to decide that as much as Anaheim.

(Whoever loses the race for the Pacific faces the San Jose Sharks, who fell 5-4 to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.)

2016 NCAA Ice Hockey Championship match set: Quinnipiac vs. North Dakota

AP
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There were a ton of meaningful hockey games on Thursday, leading to even bigger ones on Saturday … and not just in the NHL.

The NCAA’s Frozen Four is now whittled down to Saturday’s ice hockey national championship game, as Quinnipiac will take on North Dakota.

Quinnipiac did so by beating Boston College 3-2 while North Dakota defeated Denver 4-2.

To whet your appetite, here are some relevant images and GIFs:

It should be a great part of one of the best nights of the hockey year on Saturday.

It’s official: Blackhawks will begin playoffs on the road

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The Chicago Blackhawks don’t know where they’ll begin the 2016 postseason, but they do know that it won’t be in Chicago.

The Dallas Stars and St. Louis both won their games on Thursday, putting them out of reach for the Blackhawks. With that, Chicago is locked into the third spot in the Central Division, so they will begin the first round on the road.

It’s not the first time this team will begin the playoffs in this type of situation, but still …

So, the Blackhawks will face whichever team fails to win the division. At the moment, the Stars are technically in first place thanks to holding the tiebreaker edge, but both Dallas and St. Louis hold 107 standings points.

The Stars close out their season on Saturday against the Nashville Predators while the Blues’ 82nd contest is against the Washington Capitals.

One opponent is far more familiar than the other, yet either way, the Blackhawks face a challenge. Of course, they also know that they’ve jumped over plenty of hurdles before, ones that both the Blues and Stars must clear if they want to take that next step.

With first-ever sweep of Rangers, Isles move to third in Metro (for now)

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Here are the things we know, as of Thursday night:

  • The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins clinched the top two spots in the Metropolitan Division. The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, meanwhile, are one and two in the Atlantic.
  • The Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers are primed for a potentially dramatic three-team race for the two playoff spots that haven’t been decided.
  • For the first time ever, the New York Islanders swept their season series against the New York Rangers.

Now, sweeping the Rangers pushed the Islanders to the third spot in the Metro, but they’re definitely not cemented in that spot.

Instead, the two teams are locked at 99 standings points, only the Isles hold a game in hand over the Rangers. Want to see it visually? Why not:

metroaprl7
via NHL.com

Now, the natural reaction for many is “Would you really want to win this race?” The third seed faces the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins while the top wild card squad takes on the Florida Panthers.

Then again, if it’s more important to finish on a hot streak, the Islanders seem like they’re doing the right thing.

Penguins clinch round of home-ice advantage, keep Holtby at 47 wins

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are finishing the 2015-16 season on an astounding pace, and their reward is at least one round of home-ice advantage.

They clinched as much merely by grabbing a point against the Washington Capitals, yet Sidney Crosby‘s overtime goal grabbed Pittsburgh a 4-3 overtime win.

With that, Braden Holtby stays at 47 wins this season, one short of tying Martin Brodeur’s single-season record.

This could very well ruin Holtby’s chances of eclipsing Brodeur:

Now, the question is, who will the Penguins face in the first round? The New York Islanders completed their first-ever season sweep of the New York Rangers on Thursday, and took the third seed in the Metropolitan Division in the process.

At least for now.