You had to know it wasn’t going to turn out easy. Nothing about the race for the final three spots in the Eastern Conference has been easy nor logical, so of course there was no way the Flyers would beat the Rangers tonight to finalize the East field. Of course the Rangers would win, and do so in regulation, to make things even tighter and even more butt-clenchingly silly for the Flyers, Bruins, and Canadiens.
With all that said, here’s how the Eastern Conference playoff race looks now:
||New York Rangers
That sets the table for tomorrow night with two huge games that will put the onus on both the Bruins and Canadiens to do something different. They’ll actually have to win a game if they want to get in the playoffs. The team with the most seeming leeway is the Bruins as they’ve got two games left. A win over Carolina tomorrow would lock up a playoff spot for the Bruins as they’d have 89 points and the only other team that can hit that mark is Montreal. A Boston loss in regulation or overtime puts the Bruins in the unenviable position of having to get a point against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals on Sunday afternoon on NBC.
The Habs are in the unenviable spot of teetering on the edge. Should the Maple Leafs beat the Habs in regulation, they’ll be sweating out the Rangers-Flyers brawl-for-it-all on Sunday afternoon as a Rangers win in overtime or shootout would then eliminate Montreal from the playoffs. If Montreal was able to just make it to overtime against Toronto, that would ensure a spot in the playoffs for the Habs. All of these “loser” possibilities have to be counted upon because asking anyone to, you know, actually win their way into the playoffs seems to be like asking for the moon as a gift.
The Rangers-Flyers game on Sunday afternoon sets up to be a winner-take-all game with a playoff spot on the line. Both teams can still make the playoffs if the Bruins earn zero points this weekend and their game on Sunday goes to overtime.
Confused yet? Good. The key here for everyone involved is to just win, or in the case of the Canadiens, just get a single stinking point. The Bruins could make the playoffs just by going to overtime twice. Yes, I know, this is a daunting task to ask of all these teams. This is why we can’t have nice things out East.
The Detroit Red Wings have no intention of tearing their roster down and undertaking a painful rebuild, a la the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Why not, you ask?
Because even though the Wings are going to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, and even though their leading scorer (Henrik Zetterberg) is 36 years old, they don’t want to lose the culture that made them so successful over the past quarter century.
“There are organizations where they have lost culture,” said head coach Jeff Blashill, per the Detroit Free Press. “They have missed the playoffs, and they miss it 10 straight years. We don’t want to be in this position again. This isn’t OK. That is the approach we are taking every day.”
We have heard other teams say similar things. For example, the Vancouver Canucks. (Which won’t make Wings fans feel great to hear.)
While there’s nothing wrong with trying to maintain a winning culture, the biggest challenge the Wings have is a lack of talent — particularly on the back end.
That’s up to GM Ken Holland to solve, and solve relatively quickly, given his lack of appetite for a lengthy rebuild.
“We’re going to continue to try and be competitive, we’re going to continue to try and make the playoffs and our ultimate goal is to eventually be a Cup contender,” Holland said a few months ago.
“To me, rebuild means eight to 10 years, and there are teams that have made the playoffs one year in 10 while rebuilding.”
Related: It’s going to be a very different draft for the Red Wings
For the second time since taking over as head coach, Mike Yeo has lost the services Paul Stastny.
This time, though, Yeo was caught off guard.
“It may sound misleading, but it was a completely separate injury that kept him out of (Tuesday’s) game and one that we believed would have him possibly in the lineup for us tonight,” Yeo told the Post-Dispatch of Stastny’s lower-body ailment, which will keep him out week-to-week. “We were surprised to hear that this came about yesterday.
“Believe me, I was probably more surprised than all the fans out there. So it’s a difficult one, but one that we’ll have to overcome.”
Stastny was limited to less than four minutes of ice time during Tuesday’s 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche. Initially, Yeo indicated that the issue wasn’t serious — and it very well may not haven been — but that’s irrelevant now, as an entirely new issue could potentially sideline Stastny for the remainder of the regular season.
The Blues are in good shape for a playoff spot, up eight points on L.A., but are jockeying with Nashville for third spot in the Central Division (both head into tonight’s action with 83 points). St. Louis also has 10 games left.
There’s no denying Stastny’s absence will be felt. Back when he missed four games in early February, Yeo noted how integral he was to the club.
“He’s usually the first guy over the boards for a power-play faceoff or the first guy over the boards for a penalty-kill faceoff, and those are key,” Yeo said, per the Blues website. “He’s a very important player for us. You don’t take out a top-line center from too many lineups where they don’t feel that.”
Limited to just 66 games this season, Stastny has still managed to score 18 goals — third-most on the team — and 40 points. He also averages a healthy 19:08 TOI per night.
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.
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: