Why winning the Pacific is kind of a big deal

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Many people have analogized the Pacific Division race to musical chairs – and with good reason. It seems like the top seed changes all the time and without much reason yet with a strange amount of rhythm.

(Excuse me for underrating the art of musical chairs, but winning the Pacific does take more skill, though.)

CSNBayArea.com’s Brad Weimer originally looked at the advantages that would come from gaining a third round spot from a San Jose Sharks’ perspective, but it works for all the four teams with a shot at the crown. Here are some of the numbers that show the difference between finishing in third versus the likely alternative – the seventh or eighth seed.

(Warning: there will be some all caps.)

PERCENTAGE OF TEAMS TO MAKE CONFERENCE FINALS (since 1994)

3rd Seed: 26.4%
7-8 Seeds: 8.8%

With LESS chances (there are only two 3 seeds per year vs. four 7-8 seeded teams) the 3 seeds make the conference finals over THREE TIMES as much as teams seeded 7 or 8.

PERCENTAGE OF TEAMS TO MAKE STANLEY CUP FINALS (since 1994)

3rd Seed: 14.7%
7-8 Seeds: 7.3%

Being a 3 seed DOUBLES your chances of making the Stanley Cup Finals over being seeded 7 or 8.

What about the Sharks ultimate goal, hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup as the champions of the NHL?  Well here’s the bottom line folks….

There have been three Stanley Cup Champions from the third seed under this playoff format.  From the last two seeds?  ZERO.  Five teams have made it to the Finals, but all have gone home in defeat (ask Bret Hedican (’94) and Curtis Brown (’99) who both have been on the losing end as an underdog team in the Finals).

Weimer emphasizes the Stanley Cup finals gap, but really, the conference finals gap is bigger, includes a slightly larger sample size and probably emphasizes the difference in advantage more than anything else.

Either way, both conferences have exposed the somewhat-arbitrary nature of handing a top-three seed to a division winner regardless of the putridity of that given division.*

Sports Club Stats illustrates how close the race is both in terms of who is likely to make the playoffs and win the division.

There are plenty of ways to break down the race for that top spot, then, but a woolly sports writer might want to lean on the old “road goes through” line with the Sharks. San Jose’s final five games are all against Pacific contenders. They’ll face the Stars twice, Coyotes once and then finish the season with a home-and-home against the Kings.

It might take until the end of that duo of matches to find out who ends up with the Pacific crown – and perhaps a marked advantage once the playoffs begin.

* – Personally, it seems like it would be fairer to give the worst division winner at least the fourth seed. It’s unfair to ding up a division winner too much if they’re in an especially competitive group – the Vancouver Canucks’ cakewalk in the Northwest provides a useful counterpoint – but the automatic top-three seed seems to encourage convenient mediocrity.

Aleksander Barkov can’t stop scoring ridiculous goals for the Panthers

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How’s your week going? For Aleksander Barkov, it’s been quite good.

The Florida Panthers captain has been on an offensive tear, scoring five goals and registering nine points in three games. In each of those three games he’s scored a highlight-reel goal.

Let’s take a look.

Sunday

The 2018-19 goal of the year competition might have ended Sunday afternoon when Barkov drove to the net and went between-the-legs to beat Carey Price.

He would end the night with his second career hat trick.

“I’ve seen those [goals] in the YouTube and in highlights, and I was just dreaming about maybe one day I can score that kind of goal,” Barkov said afterward. “I think I’ve tried that like 17 times in my career. It worked [for] the first time. I’m happy, but, of course, more importantly we got the two points.”

Tuesday

Continuing to add to his highlight reel, Barkov took a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau and brought it between-his-legs and nonchalantly tucked it under Buffalo Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark’s pad.

“I was kind of trying to look for a pass until the end,” Barkov said. “Then I just tried to jam it in the goalie’s pads, maybe get a rebound. Then, behind the net, I saw the puck was in the net. I would call it a lucky goal.”

Thursday

In a back-and-forth game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Barkov evened the score after a wild deflection from a Evgenii Dadonov shot-pass that was going very, very wide.

At only 23 years old, we have plenty of years left to enjoy the wonder that Barkov brings to the ice every night.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Hurricanes’ Justin Williams scores with face, then scores with stick

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Go to the net and good things will happen. Coaches tell players that all the time with the hope that good positioning will result in a goal. Justin Williams learned that the hard way Thursday night, joining a club that Connor Garland of the Arizona Coyotes entered earlier this season.

As the Carolina Hurricanes continue chasing one of the Eastern Conference’s wild card spots, they visited the Florida Panthers and opened the scoring in unusual fashion.

Just a few minutes into the first period, Brett Pesce sent a shot toward the Panthers’ net and it ended up deflecting off Williams’ face and past James Reimer into the Florida net. Williams, as you see, crumpled to the ice in a scary scene.

Williams would leave the game with blood dripping from his face and return only a few minutes. Later in the game the Hurricanes captain, with a nostril full of gauze, would use his stick to score and snap a 3-3 tie:

That second goal would stand as the winner and give the Hurricanes a 4-3 victory and help them move past the Columbus Blue Jackets for the Eastern Conference’s final wild card.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Kucherov needs only 62 games to reach 100 points

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Nikita Kucherov‘s magnificent season continued on Thursday night when he became the first player in the NHL to hit the 100 point mark this season.

He reached it by scoring his 30th goal of the season to tie their game against the Buffalo Sabres, 1-1, midway through the second period.

This is a big deal for a couple of reasons.

For one, it is the second year in a row Kucherov has hit the century mark and makes him one of just six active players in the NHL to have multiple 100 point seasons, joining a list that includes only Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Joe Thornton, and Connor McDavid.

What makes this one so special for Kucherov is that he only needed 62 games to reach it, an unprecedented accomplishment in this era of the NHL. You have to go all the way back to the 1995-96 season to find the last time a player hit the 100-point mark this quickly when it was done by Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Before them you have to go back to 1994 when Wayne Gretzky did it for the Los Angeles Kings.

Obviously some pretty good company to be with.

Given the way Kucherov is not only running away with the scoring title, but is also having arguably the best offensive season the league has seen in 25 years, and is doing it for what is by far the best team in the NHL he would seem to be the runaway favorite to win the MVP award this season.

It would be awfully difficult to build an argument against him at this point.

Related: Lightning’s Kucherov is having season for the ages

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Predators host Kings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Nashville Predators could end up being one of the biggest buyers during the impending trade deadline, but as far as Thursday’s concerned, they hope to beat the Los Angeles Kings.

If Nashville wins this game, they’d climb over the Winnipeg Jets for first place in the Central Division, at least for a little while.

[More on the Predators having the Central in their sights]

The Kings are on a five-game losing streak, so it will be a challenge to keep their heads high entering a four-game road trip. For all we know, we might see certain Kings players suit up for L.A. for the last time (or last times) before possibly being moved. That thought likely also cross the minds of various low and mid-level Predators, in the event that Nashville has to give up parts in a splashy move.

Fans can also witness the slightly under-the-radar dominance of the Predators’ top line, although it’s possible that Viktor Arvidsson might not be able to suit up alongside Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen on Thursday.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Los Angeles Kings at Nashville Predators
Where: T-Mobile Arena
When: Thursday, Feb. 21, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Kings-Predators stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS
Alex IafalloAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Brendan LeipsicJeff CarterTyler Toffoli
Trevor LewisAdrian KempeIlya Kovalchuk
Kyle CliffordMichael AmadioAustin Wagner

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Oscar FantenbergPaul LaDue
Dion PhaneufMatt Roy

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

PREDATORS
Filip Forsberg — Ryan Johansen — Kevin Fiala
Colton SissonsKyle TurrisCalle Jarnkrok
Brian BoyleNick BoninoRyan Hartman
Cody McLeodFrederick GaudreauRocco Grimaldi

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban
Dan HamhuisYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen with Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.