Blackhawks kick Predators out of playoffs

nieminash.jpgIf anyone deserved to score a goal for the Chicago Blackhawks, it was John Madden. His empty netter was his first goal (and point) of a series despite the fact that he played some great hockey.

Chicago Blackhawks 5, Nashville Predators 3

Blackhawks win series 4-2

Both the Eastern and Western Conferences will wait for a Game 7 each (Red Wings-Coyotes Tuesday, Canadiens-Capitals Wednesday). Aside from that, it will be the Penguins, Bruins and Flyers in the East and the Sharks, Blackhawks and Canucks in the West.

This sets up what could very well be an epic series between the Blackhawks and Canucks, two teams who developed some serious hatred for each other during the last two seasons. While Chicago handed Vancouver a resounding defeat last year, it seems like things have changed for both teams. The Canucks were the West’s leading goal scoring team and Roberto Luongo must be feeling very confident after a fantastic performance against the Kings last night. The Blackhawks had an up-and-down series, but Antti Niemi was often excellent in net. Still, the Canucks’ offensive firepower is an atom bomb to the Predators’ fire cracker arsenal, so we’ll see if Finnish netminder Niemi is for real soon enough.

Nashville cannot help but ask what could have been. Night after night, their anemic powerplay let the team down. It’s harder to put lipstick on this pig because the Predators aren’t a team that can make big free agent splashes (if they were more capable, I’d strongly recommend adding Gonchar to bolster their tepid man advantage). As hard as it is to be positive about a franchise that has never made it past the first round, you still have to give it to Barry Trotz and company for even making it this far year after year. The question is: will the team fork over some money to try to do some damage?

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    Goalie nods: After blowout loss, ‘Hawks start Darling against desperate Bolts

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    It wasn’t a good performance from Corey Crawford in Saturday’s 7-0 loss in Florida — the Chicago starter was hooked after allowing four goals on 25 shots.

    Of course, it wasn’t a good night for the guy that replaced Crawford, either.

    Scott Darling was torched for three goals on six shots against the Panthers, but now gets the first crack at redemption — Darling will start tonight when Chicago gets back into action in Tampa Bay.

    The Lightning are hopeful they’ll have as much success against Darling — and maybe even Crawford — as the Panthers did on the weekend. Tampa Bay is desperate for points, and heads into tonight’s action sitting three points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins are idle tonight, but the Isles — who have 82 points, to Tampa Bay’s 81 — are in action, hosting Nashville.

    So it’s a big night for Tampa, to say the least. Appropriately, Andrei Vasilevskiy will get the start, after stopping 29 of 30 shots in a big OT win over Detroit on Friday.

    Elsewhere…

    Eddie Lack is 5-1-1 in March with a .931 save percentage, so he gets the call as the ‘Canes host the Red Wings. Petr Mrazek goes for Detroit.

    Roberto Luongo is still out, meaning James Reimer gets yet another start for the Panthers (he scored the shutout against Chicago over the weekend). Robin Lehner is in goal for Buffalo.

    — We mentioned the Isles-Preds game above, and it’ll be Thomas Greiss in goal for the host team. It’s his second straight start, having played in Saturday’s loss to Boston, and it comes ahead of the recently recalled Jaroslav Halak. No word yet on a Preds starter.

    Jake Allen‘s ridiculous month (7-1-1, .951 save percentage) continues with a start against the Coyotes. Mike Smith will be in goal for the visitors, looking to snap a five-game personal losing streak.

    — The Flames will stick with Brian Elliott when they host the Avs tonight. No word yet on a Colorado starter.

    Sharks’ Haley suspended one game for Jarnkrok sucker punch

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    The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has come down on San Jose tough guy Micheal Haley.

    On Monday, Haley was suspended one game for his sucker punch of Preds forward Calle Jarnkrok, near the end of Nashville’s 7-2 over the Sharks on Saturday.

    “Haley forcefully punches a player who is off balance, not engaged in the confrontation and not even looking when the punch is thrown,” the DoPS explained, via video. “This is a forceful punch on an opponent who is not able to defend himself at the time.”

    The DoPS did acknowledge Jarnkrok’s hit on Haley that preceded the punch — Jarnkrok was given a boarding minor on the play — and also noted that Haley explained he was seeking retribution for said hit.

    In addition, the DoPS acknowledged this was Haley’s first offense.

    As a result of the suspension, Haley will now miss San Jose’s next game — tomorrow at home against the Rangers — and will be eligible to return on Thursday, when the Sharks take on the Oilers in Edmonton.

    Haley will also forfeit $3,472.22 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

     

    Cassidy says Bruins ‘overused’ Rask early on

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    Some interesting comments today from Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, after goalie Tuukka Rask returned to practice.

    Cassidy’s remarks came in the wake of Saturday’s big win in Brooklyn — a game that Rask missed with a lower-body injury.

    “He had a good practice today,” Cassidy said of Rask, per CSN New England“He’s a guy that’s played a lot of hockey this year … and he’s not a 240-pound goaltender that can handle all of the games, all of the workload every year. We know that. I’m not going to put limitations on him, but we probably overused him at the start of the year. At this time of year, it gets tougher and tougher with any player that’s been overplayed.”

    It remains to be seen which netminder will get the nod tomorrow against Nashville at TD Garden. Anton Khudobin stopped 18 of 19 shots in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the Islanders. After a 1-5-1 start to the season, the 30-year-old backup has won his last five starts.

    But Cassidy insisted today that Rask is the Bruins’ “No. 1 goalie.”

    “He’s our No. 1 and his health is very important,” said Cassidy. “When he’s physically ready to go and he tells me that, then we’ll make that decision.”

    Couture seeing dentist today, Sharks hoping for the best

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    Logan Couture took a puck to the face Saturday in Nashville, forcing him to leave an eventual 7-2 loss to the Predators — and leave it without all his teeth.

    Today, the San Jose forward is seeing the dentist. The hope, according to head coach Pete DeBoer, is that Couture’s injury isn’t as serious as initially feared.

    “You see him the next day, the swelling wasn’t as bad as we thought,” DeBoer said Monday, per CSN Bay Area. “He’s seeing the dentist today, and going to have some dental work done. But, I think the initial prognosis is that we feel pretty fortunate that with the amount of damage compared to what it could have been.”

    The slumping Sharks, losers of six straight, have seven games left in the regular season. They host the Rangers tomorrow.