Northwest Division Watch (February 4th)

With the All-Star break over, it’s time for the NHL playoff races to intensify. Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division’s outlook. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Northwest Division outlook (February 4-10)

1. Vancouver Canucks (33-10-9 for 75 pts; 52 Games Played)

Current streak: Four wins in a row.

Week ahead: Three home games: vs. Chicago (Friday), vs. Ottawa (Monday), vs. Anaheim (Wednesday).

Thoughts: The Canucks need not worry about their division foes; their main competition is with the Philadelphia Flyers for the Presidents Trophy right now.

2. Minnesota Wild (27-19-5 for 59 pts; 51 GP)

Current streak: Three wins in a row.

Week ahead: @ Phoenix (Sat), home vs. Colorado (Wed)

Thoughts: As of this writing, the Wild are the seventh ranked team in the conference. They’ve gotten there in a fairly efficient 51 games, so even if their light week makes them drop back into the pack, they are in fairly solid shape. The next seven days may lack for quantity, but they need to wrestle as many points from those two playoff contenders as possible.

3. Calgary Flames (26-21-6 for 58 pts; 53 GP)

Current streak: Six wins in a row.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Los Angeles (Sat), vs. Chicago (Mon), vs. Ottawa (Wed).

Thoughts: Counting next Friday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, the Flames will play their next four contests in Calgary. They’ve jumped back into playoff contention, but need every point they can get.

4. Colorado Avalanche (25-20-6 for 56 pts; 51 GP)

Current streak: Three game losing streak.

Week ahead: Home vs. Anaheim (Sat), @ Phoenix (Mon), @ Minnesota (Wed).

Thoughts: The heat is on Colorado right now. The Flames passed them by in the division but played two more games and only hold a two point lead. Meanwhile Craig Anderson & Co. get three cracks on the bottom three teams in the West’s top eight. I’d say they can sleep well at night going a Meatloafian two out of three in those contests.

5. Edmonton Oilers (15-27-8 for 38 pts; 50 GP)

Current streak: Two straight losses.

Week ahead: Three road games – vs. St. Louis (Fri), vs. Columbus (Sat), Nashville (Mon) and one home game vs. Chicago (Wed).

Thoughts: Anyone want Sheldon Souray? No? Oh … OK, then.

Clarke MacArthur, Craig Anderson made Sens win that much more emotional

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It could have been over for Clarke MacArthur plenty of times during his turbulent NHL career. Scratch that, his turbulent hockey career.

His team walked away from his salary arbitration award. MacArthur’s seen plenty of people give up on him. And then, when he finally found a home with the Ottawa Senators, concussion issues threatened to end his playing days.

Yet, there he was on Sunday … drawing a penalty in overtime and then scoring on the ensuing power play to help the Senators advance beyond the Boston Bruins.

He didn’t deny that he imagined very different possibilities during his darker moments.

And, as uplifting as his story was – seriously, just watch this interview and try not to root for the guy – it wasn’t the only emotionally charged moment from Game 6.

Nicholle Anderson was on hand to cheer on Craig Anderson in this one, and the two were able to embrace after the contest:

As violent and intense as the playoffs can often be, MacArthur and Anderson reminded us of the gentler human side of it all.

Erik Karlsson played through hairline fractures in foot to help Sens advance

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Remember when many were keeping an eye on Erik Karlsson after he was seemingly cramping up after logging more than 40 minutes in an OT contest against the Boston Bruins?

It’s possible he was also dealing with that sort of ailment, but he earned some “hockey tough” kudos on Sunday after word surfaced that the Ottawa Senators defenseman was dealing with hairline fractures in his left heel through the series.

Sportsnet’s Jason York refers to the issue as “two small fractures” while ESPN’s Joe McDonald went into specifics, noting that Karlsson explains that the injury happened on March 28 (and was why he missed some games late in the season).

There’s some optimism as the Senators ready for the New York Rangers, at least according to Karlsson.

Hmm.

Either way, that’s impressive stuff from the Senators defenseman, and the sort of information that usually only surfaces after a team has been eliminated. We’ll see if he’s hindered by such issues as the playoffs go along.

Gaudreau, Granlund and Tarasenko: 2017 Lady Byng finalists

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The NHL officially announced the nominees for the 2017 Lady Byng on Sunday, and they’re a star-studded bunch: Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Granlund and Vladimir Tarasenko.

The PHWA determines “the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

(Did Tarasenko help eliminate Granlund’s team in a gentlemanly fashion?)

For more on the three finalists, click here.

MacArthur, Senators end Bruins’ season in OT after controversial calls

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It’s a feel-good story, especially if you can look beyond questions of officiating.

Clarke MacArthur could have very well never played another NHL game considering his lengthy battles with concussion symptoms. Instead, he drew a penalty on the Boston Bruins in overtime of Game 6 and then managed to score the series-clinching goal.

Now, this isn’t to say that MacArthur didn’t rightfully draw a penalty; it most clearly was. And, in the bigger picture, it’s one of those stories that almost makes you wonder if real-life sports actually do follow Hollywood scripts.

People just wonder about some other decisions during that overtime, in particular, making it frustrating for some Bruins fans to see the season end in such a way.

Whether they like it or not, that is the case, though.

The Senators took Game 6 by a score of 3-2 (OT), winning their series 4-2. They can breathe a sigh of relief in avoiding a Game 7, an especially valuable bonus since Erik Karlsson had been pushed hard lately, logging more than 40 minutes in a recent game.

Ottawa avoids a do-or-die contest. Instead, they’ll face the New York Rangers in the next round while the Bruins enter the summer following an up-and-down campaign.