Dion Phaneuf returns to Calgary for first time since trade

Dion Phaneuf was once the great hope of the Calgary Flames. A devastating hitter with a big shot, Phaneuf was seen as the second coming of Al MacInnis. While the slap shot wasn’t as big as MacInnis’, Phaneuf made up for that with his intimidating physical presences on the ice. Paired up with Jarome Iginla, Flames fans figured they had the modern day equivalent to the MacInnis and Theo Fleury. Somewhere along the way, Phaneuf lost his way and he wasn’t quite the same player he started out as in his first couple seasons.

Whether the expectations for him were set too high because of his monstrous debut is up for debate, but eventually time waiting for Phaneuf to snap out of his funk ran out and he was packaged up in a mega-deal to Toronto. Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom, and Keith Aulie packed their bags to head to Toronto in exchange for Matthew Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White, and Jamal Mayers. The latter two players are now in other locations and for Calgary, some, like Sun Media’s Steve MacFarlane, have called the trade a definitive win for the Maple Leafs.

Tonight, Dion Phaneuf make his first appearance in Calgary since the January trade. Fortunes have changed a lot for both teams. Phaneuf is now the captain of the Maple Leafs, Ian White is now in Carolina and Jamal Mayers is in San Jose. Matthew Stajan has been a healthy scratch a few times this season.

The Leafs and Flames both are mired in inconsistency and both fan bases are frustrated. Leafs head coach Ron Wilson found an interesting way to help Phaneuf prepare for his Calgary homecoming, one expected to see Phaneuf met with boos: Wilson opted to boo Phaneuf in practice.

Phaneuf told reporters last week he did not expect “any negativity” during the trip to Calgary, which will be his first game there since the blockbuster deal.

“Oh he’ll hear [boos],” Wilson said. “I think he’ll be cheered … but it’s like Toronto, if 500 people boo, you guys write that 18,000 booed. Most of the people don’t want to boo, and there’s always a small amount of people who do. And a little bit of booing sounds like everyone is booing.

“Hopefully it doesn’t happen. He gave a lot of great years to Calgary and I think the fans appreciate what he’s done.”

Phaneuf, who spent 4½ seasons with the Flames, is not worried about how the fans in Calgary may treat him.

“I don’t know [what] the reaction is going to be. I never asked to be moved out of there, it’s part of the business and I have no hard feelings. I enjoyed my time there in the city.”

Phaneuf is right, he never asked to be moved out of Calgary, but in the eyes of some fans it just doesn’t matter and unless you brought the team a Stanley Cup, that’s just not good enough for them. Phaneuf didn’t spend a lot of time in Calgary, but his impact was huge while he was there and a lot was expected of him. Fans will do what they want, but booing him comes off looking rather petty. Phaneuf was a solid contributor while he was in Calgary but ultimately not a winner. If not winning it all is the issue, then booing might be the right thing. As it is, both of these teams hear enough booing on the road and at home as well, perhaps the message is just lost in voicing your disapproval.

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: