Who's more valuable, Sidney Crosby or Jaroslav Halak?

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HalakCrosby.jpgI know the majority of you read this headline and either scratched
your head in confusion or slammed your keyboard in anger. “How could
this even be a debate,” you ask. “They don’t even play the same position
and aren’t even on the same team.”

Stay with me on this one.

Headed
into tonight’s Game 1 between the Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh
Penguins, I started to think of the keys to victory for each team. Based
on first round performance, my thoughts would turn to Sidney Crosby for
the Penguins and Jaroslav Halak for the Canadiens. There’s no doubt
that each player was instrumental in their semifinals success, but which
player is more important to their team at this very moment in this
series.

It’s a tough debate, especially considering that they play
different positions, figuring which team can least afford their player to
stumble.

Despite the incredible numbers put up in Vancouver and
Detroit, there’s no doubt in my mind that Crosby was the best player in
the first round. When the Penguins looked as if they would continue
their inconsistent ways against the Senators, Crosby took over each game
and became the leader of his team en route to a convincing series win.

Can
the Penguins afford Crosby to stop producing, if for some reason he
slows down against the Habs? The Canadiens showed they know how to shut
down the best players in the NHL if given the chance. With Crosby, the
Penguins also have a number of players capable of stepping up in Evgeni
Malkin and Alexei Ponikarovsky (among others), but we’ve seen this
season that the Penguins go as Crosby goes.

Obviously, if
Halak starts to stumble the Canadiens will falter. The Habs relied on
his out of this world goaltending to surprise the Capitals in the first
round, but they also proved they have the team defense, shot blocking
skills and opportunistic offense to be able to take down the best teams
in the NHL. So if Halak is unable to continue his incredible run of
stellar play in the past three games, do the Habs even have a chance at
winning? The last three games of the series were won based on incredible
goaltending, and some great defense.

For me, you’d have to think
that the Habs would suffer most if Halak started to fall apart, rather
than the Penguins if Crosby fell to earth. I know it’s tough to compare
the two, but the Canadiens feed off the play of Halak in goal, and now
all eyes are on him to perform. The Penguins know what it takes to win,
they’ve been there; if Crosby were to stumble you have to think there
are players on that team that know when and how to step it up.

Halak
or Crosby, who’s most valuable? You have to go with Halak in this one.

Rangers punch playoff ticket to wrap up night of clinched spots

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The New York Rangers weren’t ecstatic that Chris Tierney‘s 4-4 goal sent their game to overtime against the San Jose Sharks, but either way, getting beyond regulation punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday night.

For the seventh season in a row, the Rangers are in the NHL’s postseason. They fell to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, so they haven’t locked down the first wild-card spot in the East … yet. It seems like a matter of time, however.

The Rangers have now made the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 tries, a far cry from the barren stretch where the Rangers failed to make the playoffs from 1997-98 through 2003-04 (with the lockout season punctuating the end of that incompetent era).

New York has pivoted from the John Tortorella days to the Vigneault era, and this season has been especially interesting as they reacted to a 2016 first-round loss to the Penguins by instituting a more attacking style. The Metropolitan Division’s greatness has overshadowed, to some extent, how dramatic the improvement has been.

This result seems like a tidy way to discuss Tuesday’s other events.

The drama ends up being low for the Rangers going forward, and while there might be a shortage of life-or-death playoff struggles, the battles for seeding look to be fierce.

Oilers end NHL’s longest playoff drought; Sharks, Ducks also clinch

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There’s something beautiful about the symmetry on Tuesday … unless you’re a Detroit Red Wings fans, maybe.

On the same night that the longest active NHL playoff streak ended at 25 for Detroit, the longest playoff drought concluded when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a postseason spot by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2005-06, when Chris Pronger lifted them to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

In doing so, other dominoes fell. Both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also punched their tickets to the postseason.

The Sharks, of course, hope to exceed last season’s surprising run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks continue their run of strong postseasons, even as their Cup win fades to the background ever so slightly. All three teams are currently vying for the Pacific Division title.

The Western Conference’s eight teams are dangerously close to being locked into place, as the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues are all close to looking down their spots as well.

Want the East perspective? Check out this summary of Tuesday’s events from the perspective of the other conference.

Craig Anderson took his blunder hard – probably too hard – in Sens loss

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Members of the Ottawa Senators were quick to come to Craig Anderson‘s blunder (see above) in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s not just about his personal struggles, either. When Anderson’s managed to play, he’s been flat-out phenomenal, generating a .927 save percentage that ranks near a Vezina-type level (if he managed to play more than 35 games).

Goaltending has been a huge reason why Ottawa has at least a shot of winning the Atlantic or at least grabbing a round of home-ice advantage, so unlike certain instances where teams shield a goalie’s failures, the defenses are absolutely justified.

Anderson, on the other hand, was very hard on himself.

You have to admire Anderson for taking the blame, even if in very much “hockey player” fashion, he’s not exactly demanding the same sort of credit for his great work this season.

It’s official: Red Wings’ playoff streak ends at 25 seasons

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When we look back at the 2016-17 season for the Detroit Red Wings, it will be remembered for some said endings.

It began without Pavel Datsyuk. We knew that their last game at Joe Louis Arena this season would be their last ever. And now we know that Joe Louis Arena won’t be home to another playoff run.

After 25 straight seasons of making the playoffs – quite often managing deep runs – the Red Wings were officially eliminated on Tuesday night. In getting this far, they enjoyed one of the greatest runs of longevity in NHL history:

Tonight revolves largely around East teams winning and teams clinching bids – the Edmonton Oilers could very well end the league’s longest playoff drought this evening – but this story is more solemn.

EA Sports tweeted out a great infographic:

“Right now it’s hard to talk about it, because you’re a big reason why it’s not continuing,” Henrik Zetterberg said in an NHL.com report absolutely worth your time.

Mike “Doc” Emrick narrated a great look back at Joe Louis Arena here: