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Riding the Zamboni – Saturday, January 1st

It’s now happened enough times to become a trend: with the beginning of each calendar year, we are treated to hockey that will be tough to surpass. Obviously, there’s been a formidable Winter Classic each of those years, but when you add the World Junior Championships, you really cannot go wrong for two amazing weeks.

Of course, some of the bigger fireworks-inducing moments overshadow the “normal” games, so we wanted make sure last night’s other six NHL contests don’t fall by the wayside altogether. Let’s summarize how 12 other teams begin 2011 on the ice.

Buffalo 7, Boston 6 (SO)

When you see a game set to feature the Sabres and Bruins, the expectation is for a low scoring affair. That wasn’t to be on a Saturday evening that might leave all the netminders involved with NYE-sque hangovers.  Seven of the game’s 12 “real” goals were scored in a manic first period in which the Bruins earned a 4-3 lead. Both Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas allowed three goals for the Bruins while Ryan Miller was in net for all of Buffalo’s allowed scores.

Drew Stafford scored a hat trick which included the game-tying goal plus a shootout goal, Jason Pominville had two goals and two assists and plenty of other players padded their stats on a shocking scoring Saturday.

Carolina 6, New Jersey 3

It’s painful to admit this – although some might say it’s a long time coming – but things have devolved so much for Martin Brodeur that you have to wonder about his future. The future Hall of Famer allowed three goals on seven shots before being pulled in favor of Johan Hedberg after only eight minutes of action. Tuomo Ruutu (one goal, three assists), Jeff Skinner (two goals) and Sergei Samsonov (two goals) were the greatest beneficiaries of this miserable evening by the Devils.

Toronto 5, Ottawa 1

Speaking of miserable moments, things are growing awfully dire for the Senators right now. They’re now on a three-game losing streak, must find a way without Jason Spezza and perhaps worst yet, lost to their hated neighbors from Toronto. Tyler Bozak (two goals) and the rest of the Leafs charged off to a 5-0 lead before Sergei Gonchar scored a meaningless power-play goal in the third period.

Tampa Bay 2, NY Rangers 1 (OT)

Dwayne Rolowhat,son? Cedrick Desjardins probably won’t get a serious look with the Lightning until next season (or later), but he’s made the most of his brief glance with two wins in his first two games. He made 34 saves and almost shut out the Rangers before allowing a Marian Gaborik in the waning seconds of the third period, but Nate Thompson quickly ended the game in overtime to keep the Bolts ahead of the Capitals in the Southeast Division.

The Lightning are now 8-1-1 in their last 10 games.

San Jose 1, Los Angeles 0

Antti Niemi avenged a 4-0 loss on Monday, December 27th by pitching a 29-save shutout against the Sharks’ hated in-state rivals. It’s too early to say that Niemi (and San Jose overall) have “figured things out” but they’re aware enough of the situation in front of them to slide into fourth in the West.

Calgary 2, Edmonton 1

While they’re still a few more wins away from really being in the Western Conference playoff picture, the Flames are heating up in the Jay Feaster Era. Calgary’s on a four-game winning streak overall, which is pretty good considering they hadn’t won more than two games in a row all season before now. They beat the Oilers by pounding Nikolai Khabibulin with 30 shots and giving Miikka Kiprusoff a pretty easy night (16 out of 17 saves).

Senators, Panthers fail to gain in Eastern playoff races

OTTAWA, CANADA - FEBRUARY 7: Jay Harrison #44 of the Carolina Hurricanes celebrates his game winning overtime goal with team mate Jeff Skinner #53, during an NHL game at Scotiabank Place on February 7, 2013 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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PHT already touched on the Florida Panthers falling to the Calgary Flames on Friday, but in tandem with the Ottawa Senators losing to the Carolina Hurricanes, it makes for a night of teams failing to gain valuable points out East.

With the Montreal Canadiens failing lately, the Senators had a chance to take first place in the Atlantic by tying the Habs in points while holding games in hand. Instead, they’ll need to wait.

For the sake of simplicity, here are the Atlantic rankings, with emphasis on the top five.

1. Canadiens – 72 points in 61 games played
2. Senators – 70 in 59
3. Maple Leafs – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Sabres and Lightning have 62 in 60, Red Wings have 58 in 60

You can see the Panthers hanging around the perimeter of the top three; a point or two would have made them a bigger threat to Toronto and Boston. Alas, even with a heavier slate of home games lately, Florida has lost two straight at home.

Here’s an updated look at the wild card races after the Panthers failed to make up some ground:

1. Blue Jackets – 79 in 58, more concerned with Metro races
2. Islanders – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Flyers – 63 in 60

Tiebreaker situations would have meant that the Panthers would have ended tonight technically outside of the playoffs anyway, but a win or even a “charity point” congests an already snug situation. Instead, they stayed put and wasted a game.

Ottawa’s still in a solid situation to overtake Montreal or at least maintain a round of home-ice advantage as the second seed in the Atlantic. So while both teams are kicking themselves for their losses, the Panthers have more to be upset about.

Ultimately, some of the biggest winners in the East were teams that didn’t play or that have a lot less to play for.

(Perhaps the Hurricanes feel a little more optimistic, by the way, as 58 points in 57 games played means they could at least theoretically fight their way back into the discussion.)

Road warriors: Flames move to first West wild card spot with win vs. Panthers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Troy Brouwer #36 of the Calgary Flames celebrates his second period goal against the Florida Panthers with Lance Bouma #17 and Matt Stajan #18 at the BB&T Center on February 24, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The road has been doing both the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers quite a bit of good lately.

Calgary moved to the first wild card spot on Friday after beating the Panthers in Florida by a score of 4-2. So far, they’ve grabbed at least a point in every game during a road trip that ends in Carolina on Sunday:

Feb. 18: 2-1 OT loss at Vancouver
Feb. 21: 6-5 OT win at Nashville
Feb. 23: 3-2 win at Tampa Bay
Tonight: 4-2 win at Florida

You can’t totally blame the Panthers if they almost miss their road trip.

They rattled off five straight wins through what seemed like a brutal road haul on paper, but now they’ve lost back-to-back home games in regulation. With five of six and six of seven slated in Sunrise, the Panthers need to make the most of these opportunities. So far … not so good.

Here’s how the West wild card situations look now:

1. Flames – 68 points in 62 GP
2. Predators – 67 points in 60 GP

Kings – 62 in 60 GP
Jets – 62 in 63 GP

(The Blues could easily slip below the Predators into the wild card spot, as they also have 67 points in 60 games but hold wins and ROW tiebreaker advantages.)

So, Calgary might not manage to maintain its hold over the first wild card spot, but this streak makes a playoff berth look far more likely.

Capitals could make home-ice advantage a serious edge in playoffs

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: Brett Connolly #10 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his goal with teammates against the Boston Bruins during the third period at Verizon Center on February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Look, there’s no escaping the naysayers who will dismiss just about any Washington Capitals accomplishments with snark about past playoff letdowns.

All the Capitals can do is march forward and lock down as many edges as they can.

With 89 standings points after a tight 2-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday, the Capitals look increasingly likely to have home-ice advantage either through the East (seven-point edge on the Penguins or the entire playoffs (five-point edge on idle Wild, who only hold a game in hand on the Caps).

Now, it’s fair to argue that home-ice (or home-court) advantage matters less in hockey than some other sports. Sure, you can line-match more often with the last change, among other advantages. Still, the biggest edges might be mental.

That said … those small edges might be enough for a team as loaded – and with as much urgency – as this rendition of the Capitals.

Heeding the call at the Verizon Center

They’ve now won 13 games in a row at the Verizon Center, improving their overall home record to 25-5-1.

The Capitals are still a strong team on the road (16-7-6), yet that home record is lofty. It also could come in awfully handy, particularly if they face off against the Penguins again. Pittsburgh’s 24-4-3 home mark contrasts sharply with a more modest 13-10-5 road record.

Perhaps this talk is all small potatoes. Still, when you consider how close things have been – in this age of parity, and in the extremely competitive Metropolitian Division specifically – it could be quite the edge.

In short, the Capitals are a pretty scary group possibly with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. At least as of right now.

As far as the Oilers go, they’re locked in a tight race for second in the Pacific, as the Ducks currently hold the ROW tiebreaker. Grabbing at least a standings point in this one would have helped … but that’s a tall order against the Caps in their own backyard.

It wasn’t all good news for Washington, tonight:

Loss vs. Pens at Stadium Series could push Flyers to sell at trade deadline

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Chris Pryor, Director of Scouting (R), and Ron Hextall General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers (L) sit at their team table on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Is a cross-state, historic NHL rivalry not enough to drum up interest in Saturday’s 2017 Stadium Series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins? Maybe a trade deadline hook will do it for you.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi reports, Flyers GM Ron Hextall already rules his team out as buyers. That leaves two options, really: standing pat or going into “sell mode.”

Hextall provides an interesting nugget in that regard: it might just come down to what happens against the Penguins tomorrow, via NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman:

It seems odd to imagine that the difference between generating zero versus two standings points might dictate a team’s direction, but it also shows the power of parity in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Granted, it’s not like Hextall locks himself into one direction based on the result. Still, it sounds like that game could have some power in swaying his decision.

The Flyers have some interesting trade chips if they do decide to make a move. Michal Neuvirth fears being moved, while Steve Mason at least needs a new contract, leaving their goaltending future up to question.

There are some other interesting UFAs, particularly in defensemen Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto.

Some Flyers fans believe that they should indeed be sellers, though it’s tough to imagine many of them rooting for the Penguins to win just to make it happen.