NHL Playoff Update: The mighty fall

sabres.jpgLast night was … interesting, to say the least. Plenty of teams previously on Vulture Circle Watch are now showing some surprising signs of life while once-hot teams are crashing down to Earth.

Both the Sharks and the Coyotes dropped games to Western foes while the Blackhawks defeated the hapless Wild convincingly with a 4-0 win. In the East, the Penguins couldn’t improve their slim Atlantic division lead while the Sabres jumped to second place in the conference.

After the jump, I’ll share updated standings for playoff relevant teams, including a few sneaky teams who might be in for a miracle run to the playoffs.


First, the Western Conference (click to enlarge, teams who clinched a playoff berth are highlighted.)

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Flames 2, Coyotes 1

All of a sudden, things are looking quite a bit more optimistic for the fledgling Flames. While the Colorado Avalanche are in sinking ship mode, the Flames are only two points back (although the Avs have a game in hand). You think Friday’s game in Colorado might mean a little bit?

Ducks 5, Avalanche 2

I doubt that the Ducks should cancel their country club memberships just yet, but they are on a three game winning streak right now and aren’t mathematically eliminated yet. The team sure seems to excel at being fashionably late.

Stars 5, Sharks 1

Something tells me that the Sharks are glad that the Stars are more or less hopeless when it comes to a playoff run. Their longtime divisional foes are a constant headache for San Jose.

Blackhawks 4, Wild 0

Beating up on the lowly Wild doesn’t wash all the stink off Chicago, but it never hurts to win big every now and then.

Now, the Eastern Conference picture.

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Sabres 6, Panthers 2

Buffalo is quietly rounding into a serious contender in the East.

Lightning 2, Penguins 0

This is one of those games the Penguins will rue if they fail to win the Atlantic division.

Hurricanes 2, Canadiens 1

It would almost certainly require Carolina to win all five of their remaining games (not to mention for other teams to fail quite a bit) for this to be anything more than a nice run that hurts their draft status. Still, the Canes are the ultimate spoiler right now. For Montreal, it could be time to worry.

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    Coyotes fire assistant coach Newell Brown

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    The Arizona Coyotes have parted ways with some personnel.

    Assistant coach Newell Brown has been fired, along with Doug Soetaert, who was the general manager of their AHL affiliate in Tuscon.

    Pro scouts David MacLean and Jim Roque won’t be back either. Their contracts will not be renewed.

    “I’d like to thank Newell, Doug, David and Jim for their contributions to the club,” said GM John Chayka. “They are all good people but we believe these changes are necessary in order to improve our organization. We wish them the best in the future.”

    A longtime NHL assistant coach, Brown is perhaps the most prominent of the four men. He joined the Coyotes in the summer of 2013 and received high praise for his work with their power play.

    But Arizona’s power play slipped to 26th this past season, converting at a rate of just 16.2 percent.

    As for Soetaert, he was only named GM of the Roadrunners last summer. The former NHL goalie had previously been a scout.

    Plenty of seats available for tonight’s game in Ottawa

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    The Ottawa Senators say they’re still expecting a full house, but Ticketmaster’s website shows plenty of available seats for tonight’s second-round opener with the New York Rangers.

    From the Ottawa Citizen:

    Many of the available tickets for Thursday’s game were in the corners of the upper bowl, seats that carry a $96 price tag.

    The Senators sold out all three games in the opening round of the playoffs against Boston. Game 1 drew a crowd of 18,702, while 18,629 showed up for Game 2 and 19,209 were in the seats for Game 5.

    Attendance has been an issue in Ottawa — or, more specifically, suburban Kanata — all season, to the point owner Eugene Melnyk expressed great frustration with the lack of sellouts at Canadian Tire Centre.

    Poor attendance also led to friction behind the scenes. At least, it sure sounded that way in the lawsuit that was filed against the team by its former chief marketing officer.

    Poor attendance is why the Sens are trying to get a new downtown arena built. They believe that a more central location is the key to bigger crowds.

    But regardless of the arena’s location, it won’t be a good look if there are empty seats tonight. This is the playoffs, and the Senators are one of eight remaining teams in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. The building should be full.

    Related: Melnyk thinks Sens can make deep playoff run

    McPhee won’t bring Stanley, Vegas’ lucky golden rooster, to draft lottery

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    There’s no way any lede I write will do this Review-Journal anecdote justice, so yeah, just read it:

    [Vegas GM George] McPhee still has his superstitions like any former athlete. But don’t expect him to be rubbing a rabbit’s foot or holding a bunch of 4-leaf clovers in his pocket.

    And he decided to leave Stanley the Rooster home rather than try and explain to Canadian Customs officials why the gift given to the team by the Mandarin Oriental back in February during Chinese New Year should be allowed into the country as a good luck prop.

    The draft lottery goes Saturday in Toronto, at 7:30 p.m. ET. Vegas won’t drop any lower than sixth and has a 10.3 percent shot at the No. 1 overall pick, behind Colorado (18 percent) and Vancouver (12.1 percent). Arizona also has a 10.3 percent chance at getting top spot.

    Hagelin making ‘significant steps’ in returning to Pens lineup

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    It’s been nearly six weeks since Carl Hagelin last suited up for the Penguins.

    His return sounds like it’s on the horizon.

    Hagelin, out since Mar. 10 with a lower-body injury, was deemed “close” to coming back by Pens head coach Mike Sullivan, just ahead of tonight’s Game 1 against Washington.

    “[Hagelin] is a day-to-day decision at this point,” Sullivan said. “He took limited contact this morning. The next step, obviously, will be the full contact approach.

    “He is certainly making significant steps in the right direction here.”

    The speedy Swede missed the final 16 games of the regular season with his ailment, and all five games in Pittsburgh’s opening-round win against the Blue Jackets. The end result was just six goals and 22 points in 61 games played, down from the impressive stretch he had last season after being acquired from Anaheim.

    Pittsburgh is hopeful the 28-year-old can rejoin the team, and provide similar production as last year’s playoff run. Hagelin had six goals and 16 points in 24 games en route to hoisting the Stanley Cup.

    Hagelin isn’t the only veteran forward that could make his return this season. Earlier this week, the Pens announced winger Chris Kunitz had been cleared for contact, and is available for the Washington series.