Are we headed to a Conference finals letdown?

Sharks1.jpgThere’s no doubt that this has been one of the most amazing hockey
playoff seasons we’ve had in a very long time. Forget the multiple Game 7
dramas, or the absolute upsets of the Penguins and the Capitals. You
could even overlook the history that was made last night in Pittsburgh,
and you would still come away thinking this has been one heck of a
postseason.

The television ratings are up.

Dan Boyle’s own
goal.

Roberto Luongo’s delusion.

Joe Thornton’s redemption.

The
Phoenix Coyotes took the Red Wings to the brink out in the desert.

Sami
Salo’s…..well, Salo’s issue.

Ian Laperriere taking a puck to
the face for the good of his team.

The multiple players that have
returned early from injury, making a big impact (both good and bad).

All
of this in just the first two rounds of the playoffs, and we still have
two left to go. There’s really only one way to go from here, and that’s
to some disappointing series in the conference finals. It almost feels
inevitable. We’ve exhausted nearly every storyline imaginable thus far
in the playoffs, from improbable comebacks to Cinderella teams, to the
teams out West that we’ve all seemingly forgotten about.

Now we
have four teams remaining, who have up to this point burned an
incredible amount of energy and fought through so many injuries that a
letdown is coming. Some of these teams will likely have nothing left in
the tank and will get steamrolled by their opponent, lost in the dust on
the way to the Stanley Cup.

Whether it’s Philadelphia, who
seemingly reached into the depths of their hockey souls for one last
gasp against the Bruins, overcoming a 0-3 deficit both in the series and
in the game, or it’s the San Jose, who finally made it to this point
only to find themselves facing an angry, rabid and hungry Blackhawks
team.

Hopefully I’m wrong, and the chances are that I’m off base.
Yet after so much greatness this season, there will come a point where
it all crashes down and we’re left with a 4-1 series win the Conference
finals before an easy sweep in the Stanley Cup finals.

Maybe it
doesn’t matter. Those West Coast teams we’ve all forgotten about?
They’ll destroy whatever team they face in the finals anyhow.

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    Sharks defeat Hurricanes, but Vlasic exits game with lower-body injury

    Marc-Edouard Vlasic
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    Talk about the ideal start.

    Patrick Marleau scored just 12 seconds into the first period and the San Jose Sharks had a 2-1 lead before Saturday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes was even four minutes old.

    The Sharks held on for a 4-3 win over the Hurricanes, Kevin Labanc‘s goal late in the second period standing as the winner, as the two teams traded three goals in the span of just over three minutes.

    It remains awfully crowded in the Pacific Division. The Flames lead with 34 points, while the Sharks, Ducks and Oilers are all one point back.

    The victory came with bad news for the Sharks.

    Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game in the second period and didn’t return. He’s now day-to-day with a lower-body injury, according to coach Pete DeBoer following the win.

    Flames dominate the Jets to take over top spot in the Pacific Division

    CALGARY, AB - DECEMBER 10: Dougie Hamilton #27 of the Calgary Flames celebrates after scoring his team's third goal against the Winnipeg Jets during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on December 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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    Is there a changing of the guard in the Pacific Division?

    It’s the middle of December and the Calgary Flames, now with six straight wins, lead the same division dominated last season by the California powers in Anaheim, San Jose and L.A. The Edmonton Oilers have been inconsistent at times this season but they are right there, too, one point back. Same goes for the Ducks. The Sharks and Kings are definitely in contention.

    There is plenty of hockey remaining in the season. Plenty of chances for change in the NHL’s division standings, including in the Pacific. But there’s no denying the Flames are on an impressive run.

    Late last month, they had a particularly frustrating loss to Philadelphia and coach Glen Gulutzan voiced his displeasure about it. They followed that up the next day with an overtime loss to the Islanders. Prior to that weekend, there had been rumblings about the future of Gulutzan with the club, despite being only a few months into his tenure.

    But since then, the Flames have yet to lose. They continued their winning streak with a convincing 6-2 victory over the visiting Jets on Saturday.

    Dougie Hamilton — remember all that trade speculation surrounding the Flames defenseman and Brian Burke’s classic response? — had two goals for Calgary. Chad Johnson was solid in net again. It was a pretty dominant performance all around.

    Frustrating night for the Jets and it showed when Dustin Byfuglien dropped the gloves with Garnet Hathaway late in the third period.

    There are more difficult tests ahead for Calgary.

    The Flames face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday and then the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.

    In previous seasons, a Friday night game between the Flames and Blue Jackets in the middle of December might not garner much interest. But they are both among the hottest teams in the league right now and it’s likely not many would’ve predicted that a short time ago.

    Video: Perlini’s first NHL goal helps lift Coyotes over Predators

    GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10:  Brendan Perlini #29 of the Arizona Coyotes reacts alongside Calle Jarnkrok #19 of the Nashville Predators after Perlini scored his first career goal during the second period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    The Arizona Coyotes have moved out of last place in the NHL’s overall standings, courtesy a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

    Minus forward Max Domi, placed on IR and expected to be out on a week-to-week basis, the Coyotes got a 44-save performance from goalie Mike Smith and recently recalled forward Brendan Perlini pitched in with his first career NHL goal.

    That goal gave Arizona a 3-1 lead. Thanks to the play of Smith, the Coyotes wouldn’t relinquish the lead, snapping a six-game losing skid.

    It wasn’t all good news for the Coyotes.

    Defenseman Connor Murphy played only 4:12. He left the game with an upper-body injury and didn’t return. Per reports, Murphy is considered day-to-day at this point.

    The Blue Jackets just keep on winning

    COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Zach Werenski #8 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is congratulated by Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets after scoring his first career NHL goal during the third period of the game against the San Jose Sharks on October 15, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. San Jose defeated Columbus 3-2. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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    COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Jack Johnson, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones each had a goal and an assist as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the New York Islanders 6-2 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

    Josh Anderson, Brandon Saad and Lukas Sedlak also scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky had 25 saves.

    Josh Bailey and John Tavares scored for New York, which had earned a point in a season-high five straight games (4-0-1). Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves until he was pulled after the Blue Jackets scored four consecutive goals in the third period.

    Anderson put Columbus ahead 3-2 at 2:19 when he picked off a defensive pass and banged it in from the slot seconds after coming onto the ice for his shift.

    Saad, Sedlak and Jones scored in a 5-minute span to make it 6-2 with 5:37 to go.

    New York’s third-string goalie Jean-Francois Berube then replaced Halak and stopped the one shot he faced in his season debut.

    The Islanders came out quick and it took Columbus a while to get going. New York took a 1-0 lead 5:59 in when a defensive pass by the Blue Jackets’ Sam Gagner at the boards was deflected by Bailey, and the popup was bobbled by Bobrovsky into the net. Bailey was given credit for an unassisted goal.

    The Blue Jackets tied it up on a power play with 6:01 left in the first when Johnson wound up from just inside the neutral zone and fired a bullet past Halak. It was Johnson’s first goal of the season.

    Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky and New York’s Travis Harmonic went to the penalty box for 5 minutes each when both threw down the gloves and threw punches near the end of the first quarter.

    Columbus took a 2-1 lead when a speeding Atkinson took a pass from Johnson in the neutral zone and beat Halak on the breakaway 10:16 into the second. New York tied with 7:28 left in the period when Tavares lifted the puck over Bobrovsky’s pad from in front of the net.

    The Blue Jackets took off in the third period.

    After Anderson gave Columbus the lead for good, Saad made it 4-2 on a wrister from the high slot at 9:23.

    Sedlak, who scored his first NHL goal on Friday night, scored another when he tapped in a loose puck with 7:21 to go. Jones capped it with just over 5 1/2 minutes remaining.