Colorado’s Matt Duchene, Tomas Fleischmann join Eric Staal as last week’s three stars

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Late last night, I discussed the fact that the Colorado Avalanche might just be the most underrated team in the NHL. Well, the league’s brass recognizes how hot the team is in at least one way: it named two of their players among last week’s three stars.

The NHL named two Avalanche forwards (Matt Duchene and Tomas Fleischmann) along with Carolina Hurricanes forward Eric Staal as the league’s three stars for the week of December 13-19th. Here are some summaries of each player’s week, with comments of our own combined with tidbits from the NHL’s press release.

First star: Duchene

The league chose Colorado’s leading scorer as its top star of the week and it’s tough to argue with that point. The second year player already scored 34 points in 33 games, which ties him for 11th place in the league. Tyler Myers might have won the Calder Trophy for the 2009-10 season, but Duchene might be the biggest success story from that rookie group in year two.

Duchene notched a League-leading seven points (four goals, three assists) last week, highlighted by a pair of dramatic game-winning goals, as the Avalanche (19-10-4) extended their winning streak to six games and reclaimed first place in the Northwest Division.

Second star: Fleischmann

It’s way, way too early to say that Colorado “won” the Fleischmann-for-Scott Hannan trade. Especially when you consider the fact that the Washington Capitals essentially only really care about the rugged defenseman’s impact during the playoffs.

Still, it certainly seems like Fleischmann is experiencing a Peter Mueller-like liberation with the Avs.

Just check out this split. In 23 games with Washington, Fleischmann scored four goals and six assists for 10 points and a +3 rating and a little more than 14 minutes of ice time per game. He’s already scored more points in Colorado, as he has five goals and six assists for 11 points and a +2 rating in only nine games. Perhaps it’s simply a case of opportunity, though, as his time on ice average with the Avs is more than 18 minutes per game.

Fleischmann joined new linemate Duchene atop the League scoring list, notching four goals and three assists in four Avalanche victories.

Third star: E. Staal

I hate to say it, but it’s hard to imagine the eldest Staal reaching the 100-point mark again. He burst onto the NHL scene in the first post-lockout season, scoring 19 goals on the power play alone and notching exactly 100 points during the 2005-06 season.

All those power play opportunities probably inflated his numbers a bit, as his second best total is 82 points (07-08). While another century mark is out of reach, a few extra weeks like this could give Staal a chance to approach 90 points. He has 33 in 31 games so far, his best start since the 05-06 season.

Staal tallied five points (four goals, one assist) in three games, helping the Hurricanes (15-12-4) post three consecutive victories and close within four points of the eighth playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

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Staal’s career hat trick total is tied with that of New York Rangers’ Marian Gaborik and Ottawa’s Alex Kovalev for second place among active NHL players, trailing only Teemu Selanne of Anaheim (21).

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 when they 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 fan, 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 regular seasons, even as memories of their Cup win start to fade into the distance. 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 defend Craig Anderson following his 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 sad 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: