James O'Brien

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

Capitals gain home-ice advantage in playoffs by clinching Presidents’ Trophy

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The NHL playoffs will go through D.C., so to speak.

With a 4-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Washington Capitals clinched the Presidents’ Trophy for the best record in the league during the 2015-16 season. More important than the trophy: Washington receives home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

Of course, naysayers will blurt out “For how long they last.”

Just ask New York Islanders winger Cal Clutterbuck, who told the New York Post that he’d rather not deal with the burden of being a heavy favorite.

“I don’t think it’s a positive thing when you turn on the TV every single time and you have everybody in the world telling you you’re supposed to win the Stanley Cup,” Clutterbuck said. “I’d hate to be the Washington Capitals right now. A lot of pressure.”

This marks the second time the Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy, something that core players Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom likely recall.

Of course, this time around, they have a potentially record-breaking goalie in net in Braden Holtby, who is now at 46 wins (two short of Martin Brodeur’s single-season wins record of 48).

Will this new regime be enough to change things around? That remains to be seen, yet it’s tough to deny how special this season has been for the Capitals.

This regular season, at least.

Red Wings survive Sabres’ surge, keep pace with Flyers

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The Detroit Red Wings looked like they were set to cruise when they scored an empty-netter to inflate their lead against the Buffalo Sabres to 3-0.

Instead, that merely began a span that surely made Red Wings fans very nervous.

Ten seconds after Luke Glendening‘s empty-netter, Zemgus Girgensons scored the 3-1 goal. The drama truly heightened when Sam Reinhart cut the lead down to 3-2 with less than two minutes left in the third.

There were plenty of icings, some timely timeouts and plenty of tired Red Wings fighting through some scary sequences. Ultimately, the Red Wings had enough to grind out that win by a final score of 3-2. A big win against an opponent they simply had to beat.

With that, Detroit finishes the night with 87 standings points, the same as the Philadelphia Flyers (who won in overtime on Monday). Philly holds the tiebreaker with a game in hand, yet the Red Wings can breathe a sigh of relief in not losing ground.

They can’t relax, however, especially since they turn around and face the Canadiens in Montreal on Tuesday.

Still, they have to feel at least a little satisfying in managing to hold on this time around.

WATCH LIVE: Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks

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It’s rarely a bad time when you get to soak in the sun, fun and shared disdain that’s a part of “The Battle of California.”

In Monday’s case, Pacific Division-leader the Los Angeles Kings take on the division’s third-ranked squad in the San Jose Sharks.

If the Sharks want to make an unlikely surge to the title, winning this game in regulation would be the first domino in a series of events that would require some luck. Either way, this game is important for them when it comes to jockeying for at least one round of home-ice advantage.

Both the Kings and Sharks want to get the best of the Anaheim Ducks in different ways, which means they want to grab two standings points in this one.

Check out the latest chapter of this rivalry on NBCSN and stream it via the link below.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Feeling great, indeed: Giroux scores OT winner for Flyers

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Well, good thing Claude Giroux played tonight.

There was plenty of speculation regarding whether the Philadelphia Flyers captain was healthy enough to play on Monday after taking a hit that might have briefly knocked him out on Saturday.

Giroux insisted that he was feeling great heading into Monday’s match against the Winnipeg Jets. Whether he actually does feel healthy, he certainly looked great, scoring the overtime game-winning goal for a big 3-2 OT win for the Flyers.

Naturally, overtime phenom Shayne Gostisbehere was involved, setting up the Giroux goal. Giroux also assisted on Wayne Simmonds‘ 2-0 tally, so there’s no denying No. 28’s impact in this contest.

With this win, the Flyers will finish tonight as the second wild card, even if the Detroit Red Wings hold on for a win against the Buffalo Sabres. (Philly holds a game in hand.)

Report: Jimmy Vesey spurns Predators, opts for free agency

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Nope, it doesn’t sound like Jimmy Vesey will be to the Nashville Predators what Chris Kreider is to the New York Rangers.

That would require Vesey to sign an entry-level contract with the Predators, and that’s not reportedly happening, as TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the Harvard forward will instead opt for free agency.

With that, he’ll be a 22-year-old unrestricted free agent who can sign a deal … starting on August 15?

It appears as though Vesey will follow more of the Justin Schultz model of leaving college and then not signing a deal with the team who drafted him. It’s quite interesting that Vesey decided not to sign with the Predators, which would have given him a chance to at least potentially jump right into playoff races (quite a bit like Kreider’s debut with the Rangers).

He was a third-round pick (66th overall) in 2012, and he scored nicely for Harvard during the last two seasons in particular.

The “Vesey Sweepstakes” might not really begin until August, but the speculation could be heavy for some time.

Update: Here’s the latest on Nashville’s response: