James O'Brien

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

Playoff matchup set: Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers


If Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are going to exorcise their playoff demons, why not get the ball rolling where it all started?

A very different Philadelphia Flyers team edged Ovechkin and the Capitals in a seven-game series back in 2008. Now we’ll get another matchup between two teams in very different situations.

On the Caps’ side, they’ve left some a little concerned about a slow finish … but then again, they had so much clinched, it’s kind of tough to beat them up too for meandering. Ultimately, Washington stands as the favorite with the Presidents’ Trophy, and thus home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, in hand.

The Flyers, meanwhile, have been fighting tooth-and-nail for quite some time to earn an improbable playoff spot.

They just clinched their playoff spot, and now they loom as a fascinating, scrappy opponent for Washington.

It should be a lot of fun: Alex Ovechkin vs. Claude Giroux, Braden Holtby vs. Steve Mason and much more. It’s OK to get excited.

Also set: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings

Flyers clinch playoff berth, Bruins miss postseason again


All things considered, the table was set for the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. Maybe they didn’t churn out a meal that was a work of art, but it got the job done.

By holding on for a 3-1 lead against their bitter rivals in the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers clinched a playoff berth that seemed unthinkable months ago.

In many ways, it was fitting: things weren’t always pretty, but the Flyers kept fighting.

It’s also fitting how Philly made the playoffs, as they head in strong while the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings lost huge contests on Saturday. Ultimately, the Flyers and Red Wings won that three-team race for two spots.

Wayne Simmonds has been a huge part of this run, and he scored the two most important goals for the Flyers.

The Bruins, meanwhile, find themselves out of the playoff mix for two straight seasons.

No early hook: Joe Sakic says Patrick Roy will be back as Avs coach


Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic told reporters (including the Denver Post’s Terry Frei) that Patrick Roy will be back as head coach next season.

Of course, this assumes that Joe Sakic gets to make that call.

For what it’s worth, it sounds like Sakic will retain such power, at least based on an account from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

The Avalanche stormed out of the gate during Roy’s debut season as a head coach, defying #fancystats to land a surprise playoff berth.

They were unable to close out the Minnesota Wild in a memorable Game 7, and things have really gone downhill from there. In fact, we’ve reached that awkward point where Roy is starting to put an uncomfortable amount of onus (some might say “blame”) on star players, especially Matt Duchene.

The Avs have missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and their possession stats remain abysmal.

Is that the fault of Sakic, Roy or a combination of the two? That’s a debate for another day, especially if both Hall-of-Fame players remain employed as polarizing executives.

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


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


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.