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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    Ducks give Bruins first loss under Cassidy, putting … Islanders in wild card

    ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 22:  Korbinian Holzer #5 of the Anaheim Ducks pushes David Backes #42 of the Boston Bruins during the second period of a game at Honda Center on February 22, 2017 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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    Wednesday was a night of futility in the Eastern Conference wild card races, so it make sense that a team that didn’t even play ended up grabbing the second spot.

    To recap:

    • The Florida Panthers began the night in the second wild card spot. However, they were knocked down the totem pole when they lost in regulation to the Edmonton Oilers.
    • The Boston Bruins inherited the second wild card spot from Florida, but the Anaheim Ducks just gave them their first loss under Bruce Cassidy. With that defeat coming in regulation, it meant that the Bruins’ stay in the East’s top eight lasted mere hours.
    • So, congrats to the New York Islanders, who enjoyed the rare tiebreaker treat of climbing into playoff position even though they didn’t even play on Wednesday.

    (The Philadelphia Flyers were out of reach here, but they didn’t do themselves any favors in losing to the Washington Capitals.)

    Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were kept off the board as Jonathan Bernier won one for the Ducks, who stay right behind the Edmonton Oilers in a battle for second in the Pacific.

    Despite Pastrnak’s -3 rating in this one, Marchand probably had the toughest night thanks to Bernier and Josh Manson:

    This one hurts, but it’s also a reminder that there will probably be plenty of twists and turns in the races for the lower spots in the East and Atlantic Division. With that in mind, the Bruins have to shake it off and get ready to face the Kings in Los Angeles on Thursday.

    Kuznetsov, bad breaks baffle Flyers in loss to Capitals

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    Here’s what went right for the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday: the Florida Panthers lost. Yep, that’s about it.

    Otherwise, it was a pretty lousy time, as the Washington Capitals beat them at home 4-1 tonight.

    Washington’s big names came to play here, highlighted by Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring two goals. T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom enjoyed one-goal, one-assist nights while Justin Williams and Alex Ovechkin both grabbed two assists.

    The Capitals won their first game after a bye week (following two losses), improving their Metropolitan Division lead to five points and Presidents’ Trophy edge over Minnesota to three.

    The Flyers fail to make up some ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race, staying at 63 standings points in 60 games played. The Panthers are tied with the Islanders and Bruins at 66 points, though Boston can change the picture ever so slightly against Anaheim (still in action) tonight.

    The bottom line, again, is that the Flyers failed in a chance to get a little closer to that logjam for the last East spot.

    Of course, plenty of Flyers fans will grumble about missed opportunities and iffy calls. Mike Milbury broke down the early setbacks that made life that much tougher for Philly:

    Philly couldn’t overcome the Capitals and that bad luck, making their playoff hopes a little dimmer as the trade deadline approaches.

    Oilers win on rare Russell goal, Panthers fall out of second wild card spot

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    The Edmonton Oilers’ 4-3 win against the Florida Panthers might end up being costly if Andrej Sekera misses significant time.

    But, hey, at least it was a win.

    The two rising squads engaged in a back-and-forth game, with the Oilers winning in regulation. Maybe fittingly with Edmonton leaking defensemen lately: Kris Russell was the guy to score the game-winner, set up by Connor McDavid‘s blazing speed and a nice pass by Leon Draisaitl.

    It was Russell’s first goal in more than a year.

    The Oilers will remain in the second spot in the Pacific at the end of the night whether the Anaheim Ducks beat the Boston Bruins or not. Interestingly, this puts them in a reasonable position to catch the Sharks for first place in the division, too.

    1. Sharks – 77 points in 60 games
    2. Oilers – 74 points in 61 games
    3. Ducks – 72 points in 61 games (in progress vs. Boston)

    The Oilers likely had some fans out East tonight, as this loss pushes Florida down the wild card rankings. They’re actually out of the second spot thanks to tiebreakers.

    Second wild card spot: Bruins – 66 points in 59 games, 30 wins and 28 ROW (in progress)

    Islanders – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 27 ROW
    Panthers – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 25 ROW

    The Isles would move into the second spot if Boston loses in regulation, underscoring just how congested this situation is. But either way, the Panthers won’t be in the East’s top eight at the end of the night.

    With Gibson out, Ducks recall interesting goalie: Enroth

    TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 11: Jhonas Enroth #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    One player’s injury is another player’s opportunity.

    Considering how much the Anaheim Ducks lean on John Gibson, it’s troubling that he’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

    Even so, it’s interesting to note that such a situation prompted the team to recall Jhonas Enroth, who will back up Jonathan Bernier during Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins.

    With the way Bernier’s been playing at times, it’s not impossible that Enroth could play as soon as tonight. But if he doesn’t you have to wonder if the Ducks might feel compelled to throw a start his way in the next week.

    The trade deadline is coming, and while the goalie market is really cold, some of that slow movement likely comes from how cap-unfriendly netminders like Ben Bishop might be.

    But what about Enroth? His cap hit is $750K this season, and while he thoroughly unimpressed Mike Babcock with rapid speed in Toronto, he was fantastic as a backup in Los Angeles last season and has been outstanding lately for the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.

    All things considered, it’s almost a little surprising the Ducks aren’t throwing him right into the deep end tonight. If you’re a team with poor backup goaltending like the Edmonton Oilers or any number of other teams,* why wouldn’t you give the Ducks a call?

    Maybe they need to see him in action in the NHL before doing so, making this an intriguing scenario to follow.

    And, hey, maybe the Ducks themselves might decide that he’s a better option behind Gibson than Bernier. Stranger things have happened.

    * – The Leafs might qualify, honestly … but again, Babs doesn’t seem to be an Enroth fan.