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Push for the Playoffs: Can Panthers pull off the impossible?

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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.’

We can agree to file this one under ‘Long Shots,’ but the Florida Panthers have a spark at the moment.

Yes, they are eight points back. Yes, that’s a pile of points to overcome in 11 remaining games. Yes, their odds resemble that of a snowball’s chance in hell (Hockey Reference currently has them at a 2.7 percent chance to play an 83rd game this season). But if the Philadelphia Flyers are still getting some playoff love, putting the Panthers — winners of four straight heading into Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks — in the same conversation is perfectly acceptable.

And they’re playing the Ducks on Sunday, so if they keep it simple, there are another two points to be bagged and a deficit to be decreased. With a game in hand on the Columbus Blue Jackets, a win could quickly shift to six points — a number that at least appears more manageable.

“We’re not dead yet, and we can make things interesting,” Florida coach Bob Boughner told NHL.com after Saturday’s win. “We’ve just got to keep on winning, and tomorrow is another big day for us.”

Sam Montembeault has come out of nowhere and has been a revelation in his short time in the Panthers crease, winning his past four starts and beginning his life in the NHL with a 4-0-1 record. Perhaps we have another Jordan Binnington story right before the season ends?

Aleksander Barkov has been flying, scoring twice and adding nine assists in a five-game point streak. He’s got a career-high 81 points now.

With the Montreal Canadiens fluttering, and the Jekyll and Hyde Blue Jackets unsure what they want, the time is now for a team seemingly out of it to take charge. Florida’s going to need a season-long — and a perhaps franchise-record — win streak to get the job done. And that’s what makes this time of the year so much fun.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Flames vs. Coyotes
Jets vs. Stars
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Devils vs. Avalanche (3 p.m. ET)
Blues vs. Sabres (5 p.m. ET)
Islanders vs. Wild (6 p.m. ET)
Canucks vs. Stars (7 p.m. ET)
Flyers vs. Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET — Watch Live on NBCSN)
Panthers vs. Ducks (9 p.m. ET)
Oilers vs. Golden Knights (10 p.m. ET — Watch Live on NBCSN)

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS

WESTERN CONFERENCE

The Calgary Flames, who are idle, can clinch a playoff berth if:

* The Minnesota Wild lose in any fashion to the New York Islanders

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey-Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — 100 percent
Maple Leafs — 99.8 percent
Capitals — 99.8 percent
Islanders — 99.8 percent
Penguins — 98.2 percent
Hurricanes — 93.6 percent
Blue Jackets — 80.3 percent
Canadiens — 23.7 percent
Panthers — 2.7 percent
Flyers — 2.1 percent
Sabres — Out
Rangers — Out
Devils — Out
Red Wings — Out
Senators — Out

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey-Reference)
Jets — 100 percent
Flames — 100 percent
Sharks — 100 percent
Predators — 99.9 percent
Golden Knights — 99.4 percent
Blues — 97.4 percent
Stars — 89.9 percent
Coyotes — 55.1 percent
Wild — 32.4 percent
Blackhawks — 12.9 percent
Avalanche — 9.1 percent
Oilers — 3.5 percent
Canucks — 0.4 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Out

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Red Wings — 11.5 percent
Devils — 9.5 percent
Ducks — 8.5 percent
Canucks — 7.5 percent
Rangers — 6.5 percent
Sabres — 6 percent
Oilers — 5 percent
Avalanche — 3.5 percent
Blackhawks — 3 percent
Wild — 2.5 percent
Panthers — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Canadiens — 1 percent
(*Senators pick belongs to the Colorado Avalanche)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lighting — 117 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 103 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 99 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 92 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames — 91 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 48 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 42 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 40 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 38 goals
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks — 38 goals
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets — 38 goals


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Playoff Buzzer: Bruins, Sharks in Game 7 heaven after clinching respective Round 1 series

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  • The Toronto Maple Leafs must hate facing the Boston Bruins in Round 1. They’re now 0-for-3 in attempts to beat them in the opening series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after the Bruins beat them 5-1 in Game 7
  • 3-1 down in the series. 3-0 down in the third period of Game 7. And somehow, some way, the San Jose Sharks are off to the second round

Bruins 5, Leafs 1 (BOS wins 4-3)

It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as recent Game 7s between these two clubs, but the Bruins jumped out to a 2-0 lead, survived an onslaught in the second period and then found three more in the third as Mike Babcock failed to adjust in time. The Bruins are now 8-12 under Babcock in the playoffs over the past three seasons and are out of the playoffs after spending big money on John Tavares and bolstering their back end to get Jake Muzzin prior to the trade deadline. All for naught, and a lot of questions that need to be answered in TO.

Sharks 5, Golden Knights 4 [OT] (SJS wins 4-3)

How do you explain this one? Down 3-0 in the third period, the San Jose Sharks are sent a gift from the heavens in the form of a controversial five-minute major assessed to Cody Eakin. Then this happened:

PHT’s James O’Brien has the rest in the link above.

Three stars

1. Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks

Four points in a span of four minutes and change, including the go-ahead goal to cap off one of the greatest comebacks in hockey history (and sports, too).

Labanc assisted on the three goals that led to a tied game, all on the power play after Eakin’s major. Quite the turnaround for Labanc, who had one goal coming into Game 7.

Oh, and he set one record and matched another:

2. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

Couture sparked the comeback, scoring seven seconds into Eakin’s major.

“The message was that’s one, let’s go,” Couture said after the game.

After Tomas Hertl scored his sixth of the series to pull San Jose to 3-2, Couture joined him with his sixth to tie the game.

3. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

Rask had the kitchen thrown at him in the second period but stopped 12 of 13 in the frame to preserve a 2-1 lead. That effort (along with his 12 first-period saves) seemed to propel the Bruins in the third. Boston found three more goals, including two into an empty net and shut down the Leafs who were out of options and out of ideas to solve Rask.

Unlikely star of the night

Barclay Goodrow, San Jose Sharks

Goodrow barely played in regulation, going minus-3 and then he was stapled to the bench in the overtime period.

“Legs were fresh,” Goodrow joked following the game.

Fresh enough that he made sure the Sharks moved onto Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Two playoff goals for Goodrow. Two game-winners.

Highlights of the night

Goodrow’s series clincher in OT:

Sometimes big goals come from lower down the lineup. This one was massive:

Factoids of the night

Bizarre video of the night

Wednesday’s game

Game 7: Hurricanes at Capitals (Series tied 3-3), 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sharks eliminate Golden Knights in unforgettable Game 7

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If someone ever snickered at you for claiming that anything can happen in the hockey playoffs, merely direct them to Game 7 of the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks.

At the tailend of a thrilling overtime period (did these two teams really just play a double-OT Game 6?), Barclay Goodrow became the unlikely series-clincher in one of the least likely Game 7 comebacks you’ll ever see. The Sharks advance to Round 2 and a matchup against the Colorado Avalanche after beating the Golden Knights 5-4 in OT. San Jose wins the series 4-3.

But they had to do that after falling behind 3-1 in the series, and carving their way out of a 3-0 deficit in Game 7. It’s the sort of game hockey lovers will pour over for ages, and fans of both teams are unlikely to forget.

All things considered, that unlikely Goodrow goal seems fitting.

How we got to overtime, against all odds

On the strength of great goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, a Cody Eakin goal that required a review for a high-stick, and a groaner of a 3-0 goal for Max Pacioretty, it sure looked like the Golden Knights were going to skate away with Game 7. Then Eakin became a much bigger story than the fellow who scored what seemed, at the time, like a big goal.

In a scary moment, Eakin hit Joe Pavelski, who hit the ice in an extremely scary way. Fair or not, the officials ejected Eakin from Game 7, whistling him for a game-changing major penalty.

The Sharks went on to score an absurd four goals on the power play, flipping a 3-0 deficit to a 4-3 Sharks lead. With less than seven minutes remaining in the third period, the Golden Knights had to come to grips with the first lead change of this series.

The Golden Knights failed to score on a power-play opportunity of their own, but Jonathan Marchessault delivered after Vegas showed serious resiliency in trying to come back, and a stunning Game 7 went to overtime.

And the rest is … well, NHL history, and the Sharks will turn to a Round 2 series against the Avalanche. Credit the Golden Knights for forcing this contest to OT, but they couldn’t win it, and now their fans get a taste of something other hockey fans – particularly those of the Sharks – know all too well: the feeling of shock, and also, feeling like they were on the wrong end of the refs’ whistles.

What a game, what a comeback, and what a series.

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.

Pavelski hurt, Eakin ejected, Sharks steal lead on huge Game 7 power play

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At one point, the crowd in San Jose was “you can hear a pin drop” quiet in Game 7, as the Golden Knights built what looked like a suffocating 3-0 lead. Fittingly in a back-and-forth series and a generally wild Round 1, the hockey world should have expected the unexpected.

Update: Then more unexpected happened in Game 7, as the Golden Knights kept pushing after the Sharks built that unlikely 4-3 lead, with Vegas scoring a 4-4 goal to send it to OT. You can watch that game on NBCSN, and also stream it here:

[WATCH LIVE]

In a startling series of events:

  • Joe Pavelski was hurt, possibly badly, on an awkward-looking hit, which drew a five-minute major penalty on Cody Eakin. Video will be added soon, but here it is in GIF form:
  • That was a frightening sight, and the officials responded by ejecting Eakin and charging him with a major penalty. This came after the Sharks began Game 7 going 0-for-4 on the power play.
  • The Sharks took advantage of that five-minute major, and the fact that it doesn’t end when you score a power-play goal. San Jose scored a ridiculous four goals on that major penalty to take a stunning lead.

Here are the goals in video form:

Was this the right call, or did Eakin draw a major penalty because of the optics of Pavelski’s scary injury? That’s a debate that could linger, but the bottom line is that the Sharks are now, somehow, up 4-3 with little time remaining in the third period.

PHT will monitor updates on Pavelski’s condition.

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.

In a series full of questions, Maple Leafs’ Babcock short on answers

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Mike Babcock has done a lot of good things as head coach in the National Hockey League and elsewhere. But coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs won’t be something that he has a long chat with his grandkids about one day.

A second Game 7 loss in as many years against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night only added to Babcock’s (perhaps notorious) inability to push Toronto into the deep waters of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He’s now 8-12 as a bench boss in the postseason in Toronto and it might have been his worst in terms of decision-making.

How does Auston Matthews play just 15:18 of five-on-five time (18:48 total) in a game where the Bruins led 2-0 after the first period?

How does William Nylander, who finished with 12:55 in the game, not get linked back up with Matthews earlier than midway or so through the third? Why was he hobbled by his linemates?

Why did John Tavares not play in the mid-20s? The guy had 47 goals and was signed for a massive contract for his potential in these situations, right?

Why weren’t lines consolidated sooner so that the young, skilled superstars on the team could go out there and give it their best go?

Why was Patrick Marleau afforded 1:40 of power-play time when his record with the man-advantage was this poor? Why was he playing meaningful minutes in the third when the bench could have been shortened (and should have been) much sooner?

What would Sheldon Keefe do?

How long with this be allowed to go on?

No doubt, that last question is going to be hotly debated over coming days and weeks. Babcock is a great coach with aging ideas that aren’t working when they need to with a youthful lineup.

Never mind their now-52-year Stanley Cup drought — it’s been 15 years since they won a series.

Maybe Babcock has taken the team as far as they can go.

Nazem Kadri has lost his head twice now in the past two playoffs, throwing a massive wrench into the mix. Kadri, when calm, is effective and he showed that prior to losing his cool in Game 2. But getting suspended for the remainder of the series was as about selfish as it gets.

Babcock told the media in Boston after the name that not having Kadri impacted Nylander’s minutes.

That’s a bit of a stretch, however. And it reeks of unimaginative thinking, something that might cost Babcock his job.

Because when you’re staring elimination in the face, playing your eldest players over your younger, more skilled crop just doesn’t produce the same yield it once did.

Matthews et al needed to be playing. The talent suggests it. The investment made in these players suggests it.

Why doesn’t the head coach?


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck