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Playoff Buzz: Stanley Cup Playoff field set

Ducks clinch Pacific title for fifth straight season to complete bracket

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial
11:45 p.m.

Playoff matchups set

The final two questions for the Stanley Cup Playoffs were answered late Sunday, almost seven hours after the first of the final 10 games of the season started.

The Anaheim Ducks defeated the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in overtime on Sunday, winning the Pacific Division for the fifth straight season and assuring a Western Conference First Round series against the Calgary Flames.

The Ducks needed one point to secure the division title. Nate Thompson scored a third-period goal to tie it 3-3 before Shea Theodore scored in overtime.

As a result, the Edmonton Oilers finish second in the Pacific and will face the San Jose Sharks in the first round.

The one distressing note for the Ducks was the loss of forward Patrick Eaves, who left the game because of an undisclosed injury after scoring the Ducks' first goal Sunday. He has 11 goals in 20 games with Anaheim since being acquired in a trade with the Dallas Stars before the NHL Trade Deadline.

Here's how the full Western Conference bracket looks:

Chicago Blackhawks (C1) vs. Nashville Predators (WC2)

Anaheim Ducks (P1) vs. Calgary Flames (WC1)

Minnesota Wild (C2) vs. St. Louis Blues (C3)

Edmonton Oilers (P2) vs. San Jose Sharks (P3)

The playoffs begin Wednesday. Here is the full schedule.

 
9:05 p.m.
Maple Leafs lose, will face the Capitals in first round

Well, we have the first of the three answers we needed Sunday with the 3-2 victory by the Columbus Blue Jackets against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Unable to extend the game past regulation, the Maple Leafs did not get the one point it needed to move into third place in the Atlantic Division. Instead, Toronto finishes as the second wild card from the Eastern Conference and the Boston Bruins finish third in the Atlantic.

As a result, the Eastern Conference bracket is set:

Washington Capitals (M1) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (WC2)

Montreal Canadiens (A1) vs. New York Rangers (WC1)

Ottawa Senators (A2) vs. Boston Bruins (A3)

Pittsburgh Penguins (M2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (M3)

Columbus ended a six-game losing streak (0-5-1) with the win against Toronto.

Not only did the loss set up the Maple Leafs against the Capitals, who won the Presidents' Trophy and are among the most experienced teams in the playoffs, but it also came at a potentially heavy cost.

Toronto lost two defensemen during the game. Nikita Zaitsev sustained an upper-body injury in the first period. Roman Polak sustained a lower-body injury in the second period. Polak tried to return, but took only one shift in the third period.

Toronto will open the postseason in Washington on Thursday. 

 

4:15 p.m.
Ducks fine-tuning for the postseason

The Anaheim Ducks will find out their opponent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs later Sunday.

If they get at least one point against the rival Los Angeles Kings (8:30 p.m. ET; SN1, PRIME, FS-W, NHL.TV) at Honda Center, the Ducks will win the Pacific Division title for the fifth consecutive season and play the Calgary Flames in the Western Conference First Round. Anaheim can also clinch if the Edmonton Oilers lose in any way to the Vancouver Canucks.

But if Anaheim loses in regulation and the Oilers win in any fashion, Edmonton will win the division and the Ducks will play the third-place San Jose Sharks.

Coach Randy Carlyle spent Sunday preaching to his players that now is the time to step up their game.

"You feel better about your group, but there is going to be another intensity coming," he said. "Teams automatically become 20 percent better defensively, so it's going to be that much harder to score in the playoffs, to find space in the playoffs and compete to a higher level. All that is coming."

 

4 p.m.
Plenty to play for in Edmonton

The Edmonton Oilers can still win the Pacific Division title if things break right. They need a victory against the Vancouver Canucks (9 p.m. ET; SN, NHL.TV) and a regulation loss by the Anaheim Ducks, who play the Los Angeles Kings at Honda Center. If that happens, the Oilers will play the Calgary Flames in a renewal of the battle of Alberta. If it doesn't the Oilers will play the San Jose Sharks.

The 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs start Wednesday.

Center Connor McDavid said the Oilers are giving little thought to which team they will play in the postseason. It's their first trip to the playoffs since 2006.

"Everyone in the playoffs is so good, it doesn't really matter who you're playing; it's going to be a tough matchup either way," McDavid said in the game preview filed by NHL.com columnist Derek van Diest.

McDavid, the NHL scoring leader, has a nine-point lead on Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and needs two points to reach 100 points. He'll become the first second-year player since Crosby in 2006-07 to win the Art Ross Trophy.

He would also be the first Oiler to reach 100 points since Doug Weight had 104 in 1995-96.

"We'll see, it's not weighing on my mind," McDavid said. "It's about the team, we found a way to win and clinch home ice and it's more important the team get 100 points than an individual. It's good that we did that."

 

1:45 p.m.
Columbus trying to find focus

The Columbus Blue Jackets have nothing to play for when they face the Toronto Maple Leafs (6 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, FS-O, NHL.TV). They are locked into third place in the Metropolitan Division and will open on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round Series.

But the Blue Jackets would like to go into the postseason on a bit of a high note. They're mired in a six-game losing streak (0-5-1), the longest of the season and the longest in their nearly two seasons under coach John Tortorella.

Columbus has scored 11 goals in the six games.

By the way, the longest end-of-season streak without a win by a team that made the playoffs is eight games, according the Elias Sports Bureau. The 1988 Chicago Blackhawks and the 1992 Montreal Canadiens share the record.

Forward Cam Atkinson feels he and his teammates might have let up a bit after they clinched a playoff berth.

"We have to get back to the way we're capable of playing, and that's rolling all four lines and playing with a little bit of arrogance," said Atkinson, who was benched for part of a 4-2 loss at the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. "I think we kind of got away from that a little bit. It is what it is right now. It's almost human nature. I think we've talked about it many times. I think once we clinched it seems like a lot of guys, obviously myself, kind of took the foot off the gas pedal, which is the worst thing you can do."

 

12:50 p.m.
Good news for Maple Leafs

Goaltender Frederik Andersen is expected to practice on Monday and be in goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs when they open the playoffs later this week.

Toronto's opponent will be determined Sunday. The Maple Leafs need at least one point from their game against the Columbus Blue Jackets (6 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, FS-O, NHL.TV) to pass the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division and a first-round date with the Ottawa Senators. If the Maple Leafs lose in regulation, they will face the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in the first round.

The schedule for the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be announced after the conclusion of the 10 games on Sunday.

Andersen was injured early in the second period Saturday when he collided with Pittsburgh Penguins forward Tom Sestito and Sestito's hip struck Andersen's head. Andersen had to leave the game and was replaced by Curtis McElhinney. The Maple Leafs rallied to win 5-3 and claim the final berth on offer. McElhinney will start against Columbus.

Coach Mike Babcock said Sunday he has full confidence that Andersen will be good to go on Wednesday or Thursday for Game 1 of Toronto's Eastern Conference First Round Series.

"Well, for sure," Babcock said. "I expect him to be ready for practice [Monday]."

 

10:40 a.m.
Viewing guide for Sunday

Ten teams finished their seasons on Saturday. The other 20 reach the finish line Sunday, with 10 games on tap.

Three of those games have huge playoff implications. Here is a look at these key games and what they mean:

Columbus Blue Jackets at Toronto Maple Leafs (6 p.m. ET; SN1, TVA Sports, FS-O, NHL.TV) -- Toronto needs one point to earn a first-round matchup against the Ottawa Senators, the second-place team in the Atlantic Division. A loss in regulation means a first-round date with the Washington Capitals, the top seed in the tournament. In that scenario, the Boston Bruins would play Ottawa. Columbus, the third-place team in the Metropolitan Division, has lost six straight games and is looking to get right before its first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Los Angeles Kings at Anaheim Ducks (8:30 p.m. ET; SN1, PRIME, FS-W, NHL.TV) -- The Ducks (103 points) need one point to assure themselves a fifth consecutive Pacific Division title. Anaheim, which is 8-0-1 in its past nine games at Honda Center, has a two-point lead on the Edmonton Oilers; however, in the event the teams end tied with 103 points and the Oilers' win comes in a shootout, Edmonton holds the tiebreaker having won the season series six points to four.

Vancouver Canucks at Edmonton Oilers (9 p.m. ET; SN, NHL.TV) -- The Oilers need a victory of any kind and a regulation loss by the Ducks to finish first in the Pacific. The Pacific champion plays the Calgary Flames. The second-place finisher plays the San Jose Sharks.

Playoff Buzz is working overtime on Super Sunday. It will be updated throughout the evening games and until the Stanley Cup schedule is announced. The playoffs start Wednesday.

 

9:45 a.m.
A look back before a look ahead

Good morning! Welcome to the final day of the regular season and the drama that remains.

Before we look forward to the remaining 10 games of the season and what they mean, let's take a minute to look back at a wild Saturday of hockey; 14 games across 13 hours, many rife with playoff implications.

Here's what was decided on Saturday.

The Toronto Maple Leafs claimed the final berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a dramatic 5-3 come-from-behind victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins at a delirious Air Canada Centre.

The victory, secured in part by the first goal of Kasperi Kapanen's NHL career, eliminated the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning from contention. It also relieved the growing tension of the Toronto fan base, which saw the second playoff appearance in the past 13 years slipping away.

But it also came at a cost, as No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen sustained an upper-body injury after a collision with Pittsburgh forward Tom Sestito. His status for the playoffs, which start Wednesday, is unknown.

Backup Curtis McElhinney delivered a clutch performance in relief. NHL.com staff writer Amalie Benjamin looks at his unexpected turn as a savior.

Video: PIT@TOR: McElhinney robs Crosby to preserve late lead

Toronto, which finishes its season against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday (6 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, FS-O, NHL.TV), needs one point to finish in third place in the Atlantic Division and face the Ottawa Senators, who clinched second place on Sunday with a 3-1 victory against the New York Rangers. A regulation loss means the Boston Bruins finish third and the Maple Leafs earn the second wild card from the East and a first-round date with the Washington Capitals.

The St. Louis Blues defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 5-4 in a shootout, locking up third place in the Central Division and a first-round matchup with the second-place Minnesota Wild.

The Calgary Flames are the first wild card in the West after their 3-1 loss at the San Jose Sharks. Their first-round opponent, the first-place team in the Pacific Division, won't be determined until late Sunday. Either the Edmonton Oilers or the Anaheim Ducks can finish first. San Jose is third in the Pacific and will face the team that doesn't win the division title.

The Nashville Predators lost 2-1 at the Winnipeg Jets to finish in the second wild card. Their reward, a first-round matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks, the top seed in the West. Chicago has faced Nashville in the playoffs twice, winning each time as a springboard to a Stanley Cup championship, 2010 and 2015.

So, in synopsis, that means four of the eight matchups are set for the postseason.

Columbus Blue Jackets (M3) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (M2)

Montreal Canadiens (A1) vs. New York Rangers (WC1)

Chicago Blackhawks (C1) vs. Nashville Predators (WC2)

Minnesota Wild (C2) vs. St. Louis Blues (C3)

The final four matchups will decided Sunday. We'll look at those matchups in just a bit.

Enjoy your Sunday morning. The 10-game schedule starts at 5 p.m. ET with three games, including the last game to be played at Joe Louis Arena when the Detroit Red Wings host the New Jersey Devils (SN1, FS-D, MSG-+2).

In fact, if you are looking for an entertaining and interesting read for a lazy Sunday morning, we can't recommend enough the Sunday Long Read that NHL.com columnist Nick Cotsonika did on the history of the Joe. Good stuff!

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