I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
While the Washington Capitals guaranteed their spot as the top seed in the Metro/East/NHL, we also now know with certainty that the New York Rangers will take on the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.
The Canadiens clinched the Atlantic Division while the Rangers are the first wild card.
The Rangers won the most recent series between the two teams, defeating Montreal 4-2 (with some controversy) in 2013-14. We’ll get to see Henrik Lundqvist vs. Carey Price, not to mention a revamped Rangers offense squaring off against a Habs team adjusting to life with new head coach Claude Julien.
For the second season in a row, the Washington Capitals are the winners of the Presidents’ Trophy.
They clinched as much after cruising to a 2-0 win against the New York Rangers, with a typical goal from Alex Ovechkin‘s “office” standing as the clincher. Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s sweet insurance tally really locked it down, and stood as a neat reminder of Washington’s multitude of offensive options.
As of this writing, the Capitals would host the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. While most of the league’s playoff spots are being cemented, that final berth is still up for grabs. (Caps fans might spend their free time debating which team would make for the easiest opponent.)
Actually … Capitals fans might spend most of their time arguing with people who will make inevitable jokes about success in the regular season vs. disappointments in the playoffs. As you might guess, those insults started flying almost immediately.
Still, this is quite the accomplishment for Washington.
Neither the Rangers nor the Capitals played with full lineups, and aside from butt-check or two, it seemed like a fairly pedestrian affair.
While some East teams who’ve already clinched playoff spots still need to secure seeding, the Montreal Canadiens already won the Atlantic Division. They also can’t finish higher than the Metro’s top squad. So these next games are all about staying sharp and not getting hurt.
Now, you can’t rest everyone, but the Canadiens’ most noteworthy loss on Wednesday wasn’t falling 2-1 to the Buffalo Sabres. Instead, it was seeing defenseman Alexei Emelin leave the game with a lower-body injury.
Emelin has his critics, but he’s nonetheless been getting top-four usage under Claude Julien, much like he did with Michel Therrien. So this could mean the loss of a guy who’s important (even if some might argue that he’s sometimes in too prominent of a spot).
The Canadiens also started Carey Price, saw Max Pacioretty log almost 20 minutes and trotted aging veteran Andrei Markov for 23:08.
Are they taking too many risks for a game that cannot move them up or down in the brackets (and against an opponent that’s just closing out its season)? That’s debatable, but the bottom line is that Montreal must keep an eye on Emelin after tonight’s setback.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are reeling following the news that Kris Letang is done for 2016-17, but the outlook is much rosier for Evgeni Malkin. At least at the moment.
Head coach Mike Sullivan said that he’s optimistic that the star center will be back for the Penguins in the playoffs, according to reporters including NHL.com’s Wes Crosby.
If you take a look at Rotoworld’s injuries page, you get a view of a Penguins team that’s banged-up even beyond Malkin and Letang. Bryan Rust, Trevor Daley, Chris Kunitz, Carl Hagelin and Matt Cullin are other players who are at least dealing with bumps and bruises. Whether they maintain home-ice advantage for at least a round of the playoffs or not, you have to wonder how close this team will really be to 100 percent.
Rust’s issue doesn’t sound too significant, although day-to-day is one of hockey’s most frustrating mystery updates:
And, yes, the Penguins are especially addled by injuries.
Troubling news from the Buffalo News and WGR 550’s Paul Hamilton: Kyle Okposo‘s illness is serious enough that he has reportedly been hospitalized and is in an intensive care unit.
Earlier today, word surfaced that the Buffalo Sabres ruled the 28-year-old out for the remainder of the season, but the team hadn’t provided many details about his illness.
The Buffalo News’ report backs up Hamilton’s report, adding that Dan Bylsma said that he’s “very concerned” about Okposo’s health. There isn’t much information about what illness Okposo may be dealing with, although this report is especially worrisome:
Okposo last played on March 27.
Update: The Sabres confirmed that Okposo has been hospitalized, but didn’t provide additional details.
“Kyle continues to be under the care of our doctors as he deals with symptoms from an illness. Out of respect to Kyle and his family, we will have no further comment at this time.”