San Jose Sharks on Saturday

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San Jose Sharks on Saturday

Seeding means nothing in the giant game of rock Drew Doughty Jersey , paper, scissors that is the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Top-seeded Tampa Bay lost all three meetings this season against eighth-seeded New Jersey, Toronto beat Boston three out of four times and records don’t matter when Pittsburgh and Philadelphia meet in another battle of Pennsylvania. The Penguins are the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions while the Lightning and Bruins are among the best teams in the NHL – and yet there isn’t one obvious team to beat.

”In the East, anybody can beat anybody,” said Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who won it all with the Penguins in 2016. ”When we’re playing our best game, I think we can beat anybody, and I think that the opposite is true. We have to be dialed in no matter who we’re playing, and we’ve done a really good job of that against the best teams in the league this year.”

The Devils certainly match up better against the Lightning than they would have against the Bruins, who are in for a tough series against the Maple Leafs. Washington has had a lot of success in recent years against Columbus but has a big question of who to start in goal and the Capitals have not played the Blue Jackets and their additions at the trade deadline.

Before stubbing their toe in game 82 and failing to win the Atlantic, the Bruins looked like they had the potential to be a buzz saw with Tuukka Rask in goal and enough depth to withstand injuries all season. They still might be.

”You don’t want to downplay how good every other team is, but you want to be the team to beat,” Boston defenseman Torey Krug said. ”We try to play like the team that we are and play to our strengths and make sure that other teams are changing the way that they play to play against us.”

That’s half the fun of the playoffs, where matchups matter more than anything than points earned during the regular season.

”There’s no sitting here saying, `Who’s the best matchup?”’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. ”You need health. You need luck. You need so many things to go your way to win in the playoffs.”

Goaltending doesn’t hurt, either. If Tampa Bay gets the kind of Vezina Trophy-caliber play out of Andrei Vasilevskiy that he delivered for much of the season, it could go on a deep run Alex Burmistrov Jersey , though the same could be said for Pittsburgh with Matt Murray, Washington with Braden Holtby or Philipp Grubauer, Columbus with Sergei Bobrovsky or Toronto with Frederik Andersen.


The East’s top team for much of the year, Tampa Bay hopes Steven Stamkos is healthy after dealing with a nagging lower-body injury late in the season. Stamkos, 100-point scorer Nikita Kucherov and top defenseman Victor Hedman make the Lightning a scary opponent. The Devils aren’t scared. They have Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall, star rookie Nico Hischier and enough veteran playoff experience to not look out of place.

”We’ve been in a playoff spot all year long and we’ve earned the right to be here, so that’s what we understand as a group,” said Devils center Brian Boyle, who went to the 2014 final with the Rangers and then the next year with the Lightning. ”We believe in what we have. The way we play, our foundations, systems, are what got us here.”


Plenty has changed since Boston beat Toronto in seven games in 2013.The Maple Leafs added Mike Babcock as coach, Andersen in goal and have young stars Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.

”It’s a very exciting team, a very dynamic team,” Maple Leafs deadline addition Tomas Plekanec said. ”A lot of young talent on this team.”

The Bruins can go punch-for-punch with the Maple Leafs and just about anyone in the league. Led by the top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak Ondrej Palat Jersey , they have handled injuries to Bergeron, Rick Nash, captain Zdeno Chara and others and just keep clicking.

”We feel we’ve got a pretty strong lineup and that’s been a constant all along even though we’ve missed guys,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”That’s just what it’s been this year. It’s just how we’re going to be. It’s become a bit of our fight song, so to speak, that, hey, we can do it and different guys in and out, guys are prepared to step in and play with whoever they’re asked to play with.”


Despite losing several key players last offseason, the Capitals won the Metropolitan Division for the third consecutive year. Their reward: a matchup against Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin and the John Tortorella-coached Blue Jackets.

”We’ve always thought that they’ve been a pretty good team for the last few years, not just the last couple where they’ve had more success,” Holtby said. ”I think we’ve always had a good challenge against them. We play better against solid teams, teams that are coached well and it’s always fun to play against them. I think it’ll be a good series.”

At the very least, it probably won’t be a short series.


These two teams don’t like each other, which should make for some fireworks in the first round. Since they last met in 2012, Sidney Crosby , Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins have won the Cup twice, but something about Philadelphia-Pittsburgh makes for good games.

”They’re really fun games to play,” Flyers MVP candidate Claude Giroux said. ”They’re not easy games to play, but it’s ea Kings coach John Stevens told Dustin Brown last summer he could still be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL after failing to hit that threshold for five consecutive seasons.

In retrospect, Stevens might have undersold what Brown is still capable of achieving.

Brown scored his fourth goal of the game 23 seconds into overtime and the Kings moved into third place in the Pacific Division with a 5-4 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.

Brown scored on a one-timer from the left circle to put the Kings one point ahead of Anaheim in the division, with Anze Kopitar setting up his 28th goal of the season. Brown set a career high with his 61st point.

”I thought his game was trending in the right direction last year,” Stevens said. ”I said if you’re not at least a 20-goal scorer again, then I don’t know what I’m doing. And he kind of laughed, but you could see he believed it, too. And he is.”

Brown is the 14th player in Kings history to score four goals in a game and the second to do so this season. Kopitar did it on March 22 against Colorado.

Tobias Rieder also scored, and Daniel Brickley had an assist for his first point in his NHL debut. Jonathan Quick made 23 saves for the Kings’ fourth win in five games.

Drew Doughty had an assist to become the fourth Kings defenseman with 50 in a season. Doughty also set a career high with his 60th point.

Matt Dumba scored for the second straight game, and Nate Prosser had a short-handed goal for the Wild, who will play Winnipeg in the first round of the playoffs.

Ryan Murphy and Eric Staal each had a goal, and Alex Stalock made 23 saves. Mikko Koivu had three assists and Mikael Granlund had two assists.

Brown got his first hat trick since Feb. 25, 2012, by scoring with 49.3 seconds left in the second.

Prosser tied it at 4-4 at 9:24 of the third period after Staal scored his 41st at 5:42 during a delayed penalty to cut the deficit to 4-3.

”There’s a lot of good you can take from this game,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. ”You battled back against the team that’s the best third-period team in the League. They stayed with the program and consequently got rewarded for it a little bit.”

Brown got the Kings on the board 55 seconds into the game Duncan Keith Jersey , but Murphy tied the game at 1 when his shot into traffic redirected off Christian Folin and past Quick at 3:12, and Dumba put the Wild ahead at 5:02.

But Brown kept creating scoring chances. He made it 2-all when he scored during a 5-on-3 power play at 7:42, waiting at the front of the net to score off Jeff Carter’s centering pass.

”You just plug away really,” Brown said of his turnaround. ”I got an opportunity this year to play big minutes and be a huge part of the team. That’s probably the more important thing is that I was able to help the team make the playoffs.”

However, Brown was more concerned with how the Kings let the Wild back into the game and what it might portend headed into the playoffs.

”I don’t know what it is in our DNA, but we seem to make it hard on ourselves a lot,” Brown said. ”The thing is we do that and then we come back and win, so the stats probably lie a little bit when you see the record holding a lead after two periods. We try to get heroics every night, which is probably something we need to avoid next week.”

NOTES: Kings F Torrey Mitchell and D Paul LaDue did not play because of flu-like symptoms. The Kings recalled F Jonny Brodzinski and D Oscar Fantenberg from their AHL affiliate on Thursday, but both were scratched against the Wild. … The Wild signed D Louis Belpedio to a two-year, entry-level contract on Thursday. Belpedio, a third-round draft pick of the Wild in 2014 who played college hockey at Miami of Ohio, could make his NHL debut on Saturday.


Wild: Visit the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.

Kings: Host the Dallas Stars on Saturday night.

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