The NHL's answer to March Madness?

Bob McKenzie’s story on this week’s GM meetings really stirred my imagination (and probably did the same for other hockey fans). So, today, I’ll break down some of the more interesting ideas that were discussed. Are they realistic? What would be an even better alternative? Are they just dumb?

Next, let’s take a look at something that would have a more profound effect on “real hockey.” What if the league decided to echo college basketball’s qualifying tournaments by making the 8th-15th ranked teams earn the last playoff spot? Here’s what McKenzie had to say about the idea.

One of the more interesting ideas brought up this week at the general manager’s meetings is the “play in” to the playoffs or the mini-tournament for the final playoff seed involving teams that finish outside of the top seven in each conference. That idea is not going to get a lot of traction despite the fact that it has been talked about before. It’s an entertaining idea, but that is simply not enough to get it pushed through.

It’s certainly a fascinating concept, but the first problem that comes to mind is that it would largely devalue the regular season. Allowing 16 out of 30 teams to make the playoffs already seems to encourage mediocrity, but if a team could coast all year and then got hot for a month they could go from last place to a playoff spot. That just doesn’t sit well with me, Jack.

Another problem comes down to simple scheduling. What will the 1-7 teams do during this mini-tournament? You could run into problems of serious rust, not unlike a college football team that loses its rhythm in the near-month gap between their Conference title games and a bowl game.

Still, it would certainly be exciting to have another meaningful hockey tournament and would also give every single fan base a reason to believe in their team. Perhaps a compromise could make this more realistic … what if the teams ranked 8-11 were allowed to duke it out? Adding a two game cushion to the schedule would give the top teams time to rest without having too long a lay-off.

Either way, this probably won’t ever happen but there’s no doubt that pro hockey’s answer to March Madness would be captivating.

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    Pavelski’s late goal helps Sharks grab 2-0 series lead over Preds

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    The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

    San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.

    The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.

    Here’s the goal:

    Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.

    Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.

    Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.

    Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.

    The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.

    Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.

    The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.

    Video: Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved by his visor after taking Shea Weber shot to the face

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    It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.

    After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.

    In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.

    You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.

    It’s nice to see that Vlasic was in a joking mood after the game:

    Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:

    It sounds like Olli Maatta won’t be ready for Game 3

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    You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.

    After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.

    “Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.

    “I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”

    After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.

    “We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”

    And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.

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    Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

    Brooks Orpik suspended three games for hit on Olli Maatta

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    Brooks Orpik has been suspended for three games for his hit on Olli Maatta (top). The Caps defenseman will be forced to miss Games 3, 4 and 5 of the best-of-seven series against the Penguins.

    Orpik delivered a late, high hit to Maatta in Game 2. The Penguins defenseman was wobbly getting off the ice and he was unable to return to the game.

    Here’s how the Department of Players Safety saw the play:

    “Orpik steps up to pressure Bonino, who quickly moves the puck to Maatta. Orpik peels off Bonino to pressure Maatta, who releases a shot from the top of the circle. The two continue on their path toward the goal line, as the puck is kicked into the slot. A full second after Maatta releases the puck, Orpik delivers a high, forceful hit making significant head contact. This is interference.”

    To watch the NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s full explanation, click the video below.

    This is the third time Orpik’s been suspended in his NHL career.