Scott Nichol speaks about the Maxim Lapierre hit

Reaction to Maxim Lapierre’s hit on Scott
Nichol
has been near unanimous: it was horribly dirty play and he
deserved the suspension he received, and perhaps should have been
suspending for longer. On the play, Lapierre checked
Nichol from behind
after he had released a shot on net, sending
Nichol into the boards head first and starting an angry scrum between
both the Sharks and Canadiens. Nichol
is out ten days with a shoulder injury himself.

Personally, the play was beyond scary and really hit me hard. As soon
as I saw replay of the hit, I was instantly reminded of when Mike
Modano
was sent headfirst into the boards by Ruslan Sulei, a play
that looked like it nearly killed him.

Lapierre was handed down a four-game suspension by the NHL yesterday.
Today, David Pollack talked to Nichol about the hit and the scrum that
happened afterward. His
reaction may shock you.

“It’s one of those things,” Nichols said when we talked this morning.
“We’re the third or fourth line and we play against other third and
fourth line guys. I’m not defending him or anything, but you play right
on the edge and sometimes for myself, you’re going hard to the net and
things like that happen.”

Later he added:  “I’m no saint by any means — I’ve  been suspended,
too, before — and in the heat of the battle, you don’t  mean to do it.
You’re trying to finish your check or your trying to stick up for a
teammate. There’s so many different variables.”

It’s a lengthy interview, and Nichol goes on to talk about his
reaction immediately after the hit and how he and the rest of the Sharks
originally Andrei Markov was the perpetrator of the hit. He also has
the cringe-inducing description of his injury:

“I
thought my shoulder was on the other side. It just went numb and I
didn’t know what went wrong. When I first hit, I thought I broke my
collar bone. Everything in that area went numb, but once I came in and
it settled down a little bit, it was pretty sore.

You
have to respect Nichol for being not only being open to talking about
the injury and the hit, but with being completely honest with his
feelings. Lapierre is being vilified by the media for the hit, yet
Nichol says it’s just an unfortunate play that was the result of an
incredibly fast sport that is played on ice with concrete-hard walls
lining the playing arena.

There’s an argument that the players
nowadays aren’t any more dirty or vicious than they’ve been in the past,
but that their athleticism, speed and size is making the game much more
dangerous overall. The forces involved when two players collide in
today’s NHL are massive, and when you add in the desire to play your
heart out each night you get some plays that are the result of just
plain, hard play and bad luck.

Was this that sort of play? Well,
Lapierre did hit Nichol from behind when it was definitely not needed.
Was it a vicious play, or just careless? Was the fact that the referee
who was just feet away from the play failed to call a penalty the real
injustice here? What are your thoughts?

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    Senators, Panthers fail to gain in Eastern playoff races

    OTTAWA, CANADA - FEBRUARY 7: Jay Harrison #44 of the Carolina Hurricanes celebrates his game winning overtime goal with team mate Jeff Skinner #53, during an NHL game at Scotiabank Place on February 7, 2013 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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    PHT already touched on the Florida Panthers falling to the Calgary Flames on Friday, but in tandem with the Ottawa Senators losing to the Carolina Hurricanes, it makes for a night of teams failing to gain valuable points out East.

    With the Montreal Canadiens failing lately, the Senators had a chance to take first place in the Atlantic by tying the Habs in points while holding games in hand. Instead, they’ll need to wait.

    For the sake of simplicity, here are the Atlantic rankings, with emphasis on the top five.

    1. Canadiens – 72 points in 61 games played
    2. Senators – 70 in 59
    3. Maple Leafs – 68 in 60

    Bruins – 68 in 61
    Panthers – 66 in 60
    Sabres and Lightning have 62 in 60, Red Wings have 58 in 60

    You can see the Panthers hanging around the perimeter of the top three; a point or two would have made them a bigger threat to Toronto and Boston. Alas, even with a heavier slate of home games lately, Florida has lost two straight at home.

    Here’s an updated look at the wild card races after the Panthers failed to make up some ground:

    1. Blue Jackets – 79 in 58, more concerned with Metro races
    2. Islanders – 68 in 60

    Bruins – 68 in 61
    Panthers – 66 in 60
    Flyers – 63 in 60

    Tiebreaker situations would have meant that the Panthers would have ended tonight technically outside of the playoffs anyway, but a win or even a “charity point” congests an already snug situation. Instead, they stayed put and wasted a game.

    Ottawa’s still in a solid situation to overtake Montreal or at least maintain a round of home-ice advantage as the second seed in the Atlantic. So while both teams are kicking themselves for their losses, the Panthers have more to be upset about.

    Ultimately, some of the biggest winners in the East were teams that didn’t play or that have a lot less to play for.

    (Perhaps the Hurricanes feel a little more optimistic, by the way, as 58 points in 57 games played means they could at least theoretically fight their way back into the discussion.)

    Road warriors: Flames move to first West wild card spot with win vs. Panthers

    SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Troy Brouwer #36 of the Calgary Flames celebrates his second period goal against the Florida Panthers with Lance Bouma #17 and Matt Stajan #18 at the BB&T Center on February 24, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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    The road has been doing both the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers quite a bit of good lately.

    Calgary moved to the first wild card spot on Friday after beating the Panthers in Florida by a score of 4-2. So far, they’ve grabbed at least a point in every game during a road trip that ends in Carolina on Sunday:

    Feb. 18: 2-1 OT loss at Vancouver
    Feb. 21: 6-5 OT win at Nashville
    Feb. 23: 3-2 win at Tampa Bay
    Tonight: 4-2 win at Florida

    You can’t totally blame the Panthers if they almost miss their road trip.

    They rattled off five straight wins through what seemed like a brutal road haul on paper, but now they’ve lost back-to-back home games in regulation. With five of six and six of seven slated in Sunrise, the Panthers need to make the most of these opportunities. So far … not so good.

    Here’s how the West wild card situations look now:

    1. Flames – 68 points in 62 GP
    2. Predators – 67 points in 60 GP

    Kings – 62 in 60 GP
    Jets – 62 in 63 GP

    (The Blues could easily slip below the Predators into the wild card spot, as they also have 67 points in 60 games but hold wins and ROW tiebreaker advantages.)

    So, Calgary might not manage to maintain its hold over the first wild card spot, but this streak makes a playoff berth look far more likely.

    Capitals could make home-ice advantage a serious edge in playoffs

    WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: Brett Connolly #10 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his goal with teammates against the Boston Bruins during the third period at Verizon Center on February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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    Look, there’s no escaping the naysayers who will dismiss just about any Washington Capitals accomplishments with snark about past playoff letdowns.

    All the Capitals can do is march forward and lock down as many edges as they can.

    With 89 standings points after a tight 2-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday, the Capitals look increasingly likely to have home-ice advantage either through the East (seven-point edge on the Penguins or the entire playoffs (five-point edge on idle Wild, who only hold a game in hand on the Caps).

    Now, it’s fair to argue that home-ice (or home-court) advantage matters less in hockey than some other sports. Sure, you can line-match more often with the last change, among other advantages. Still, the biggest edges might be mental.

    That said … those small edges might be enough for a team as loaded – and with as much urgency – as this rendition of the Capitals.

    Heeding the call at the Verizon Center

    They’ve now won 13 games in a row at the Verizon Center, improving their overall home record to 25-5-1.

    The Capitals are still a strong team on the road (16-7-6), yet that home record is lofty. It also could come in awfully handy, particularly if they face off against the Penguins again. Pittsburgh’s 24-4-3 home mark contrasts sharply with a more modest 13-10-5 road record.

    Perhaps this talk is all small potatoes. Still, when you consider how close things have been – in this age of parity, and in the extremely competitive Metropolitian Division specifically – it could be quite the edge.

    In short, the Capitals are a pretty scary group possibly with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. At least as of right now.

    As far as the Oilers go, they’re locked in a tight race for second in the Pacific, as the Ducks currently hold the ROW tiebreaker. Grabbing at least a standings point in this one would have helped … but that’s a tall order against the Caps in their own backyard.

    It wasn’t all good news for Washington, tonight:

    Loss vs. Pens at Stadium Series could push Flyers to sell at trade deadline

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Chris Pryor, Director of Scouting (R), and Ron Hextall General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers (L) sit at their team table on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Is a cross-state, historic NHL rivalry not enough to drum up interest in Saturday’s 2017 Stadium Series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins? Maybe a trade deadline hook will do it for you.

    As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi reports, Flyers GM Ron Hextall already rules his team out as buyers. That leaves two options, really: standing pat or going into “sell mode.”

    Hextall provides an interesting nugget in that regard: it might just come down to what happens against the Penguins tomorrow, via NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman:

    It seems odd to imagine that the difference between generating zero versus two standings points might dictate a team’s direction, but it also shows the power of parity in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

    Granted, it’s not like Hextall locks himself into one direction based on the result. Still, it sounds like that game could have some power in swaying his decision.

    The Flyers have some interesting trade chips if they do decide to make a move. Michal Neuvirth fears being moved, while Steve Mason at least needs a new contract, leaving their goaltending future up to question.

    There are some other interesting UFAs, particularly in defensemen Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto.

    Some Flyers fans believe that they should indeed be sellers, though it’s tough to imagine many of them rooting for the Penguins to win just to make it happen.