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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    Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski

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    Last summer, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter stressed that some of the club’s young prospects needed to make an impact at the NHL level.

    And now it’s happening.

    Following the recalls and NHL debuts of Adrian Kempe and Paul LaDue, the Kings have brought up Jonny Brodzinski from AHL Ontario, the club announced on Thursday.

    Brodzinski, 23, made the AHL All-Star team this year and leads the Reign in goals, with 25 through 56 games. The former St. Could State sniper left school early two years ago to join the Kings organization, after L.A. took him in the fifth round of the ’13 draft.

    As mentioned above, this recall is in lockstep with what’s developed throughout the year. Kempe, 20, was the club’s first-round pick (29th overall) in ’14 and has fared well since joining the big club, with six points in 16 games.

    LaDue, 24, was a sixth-round pick in ’12 that — like Kempe and Brodzinski — fared well in the American League before getting recalled in February. LaDue has appeared in 15 games for the Kings, scoring five points while averaging 16:25 TOI per night.

    Los Angeles is still technically in the playoff race, but sits eight points back of Nashville for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference — with just 10 games to play. As such, the focus might now shift to giving some youngsters NHL experience.

    Brodzinski will have to wait for his, however. Per LA Kings Insider, it doesn’t look like he’ll play tonight, when the Kings host the Jets at Staples.

     

     

    Polak gets two games for boarding Bjorkstrand

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    Roman Polak‘s hit on Oliver Bjorkstrand has drawn more than the ire of Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella.

    Today, the NHL announced that Polak, a defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs, has been suspended two games for boarding Bjorkstrand Wednesday in Columbus.

    In making the ruling, the league’s Department of Player Safety determined that Polak sent Bjorkstrand “violently” into the boards from behind, causing an injury. The DoPS also noted that the hit was avoidable, with the onus on Polak to “ensure that he avoids this hit entirely, or at the very least, minimizes the force of the impact.”

    You can watch the full ruling below:

    Wild prospect Kunin leaves Wisconsin, turns pro

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    Minnesota is getting one of its prized youngsters in the mix.

    Luke Kunin, the club’s first-round pick (15th overall) at last year’s draft, is leaving the University of Wisconsin following his sophomore campaign, per the Star-Tribune. Kunin will reportedly join Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Iowa on an amateur tryout.

    Kunin, 19, is coming off a pretty successful campaign. He was the first soph to captain the Badgers in over 40 years, and led the team in goals (22) and points (38). That came after he captained the U.S. to gold at the world juniors, scoring four points in seven games.

    Per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Kunin will play out this year in the minors, and his entry-level deal will kick in next season. That means he won’t be with the Wild at all this year — regular season or playoffs.

    As mentioned, Kunin is just one of the many talented prospects Minnesota has in the fold. Russian Kirill Kaprizov, Sweden’s Joel Eriksson-Ek and Kunin’s U.S. junior teammate, Jordan Greenway, all showed extremely well at the worlds.

    Hurricanes sign Finnish prospect Kuokkanen

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    The Carolina Hurricanes have another talented, young Finn under contract.

    The ‘Canes announced this morning that they’ve signed forward Janne Kuokkanen to a three-year, entry-level contract.

    Kuokkanen was drafted in the second round, 43rd overall, in 2016. The 18-year-old is currently with the OHL’s London Knights. He finished the regular season with 26 goals and 36 assists in 60 games.

    “Janne was outstanding in our rookie tournament in Traverse City in September, and stayed in North America to continue his development in the Ontario Hockey League,” said ‘Canes GM Ron Francis in a release. “He’s a smart, skilled forward and we look forward to the start of his professional career.”

    The ‘Canes already have two Finnish forwards in Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.

    Aho and Kuokkanen were teammates in the Karpat (Liiga) development system in Finland.