Dan Hamhuis, Troy Brouwer, Roberto Luongo

Canucks first to clinch playoff berth, beat Avs 4-2

The majority of Western Conference teams may be fighting for one of the eight playoff spots, but the Vancouver Canucks are not one of them. By beating the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 at Rogers Place on Wednesday night, the Canucks became the first team to clinch a spot in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.

On Wednesday, the Canucks fell behind early to the freefalling Avs 2-0. Four unanswered goals and the Canucks were celebrating before Colorado even knew what hit them. Henrik Sedin confirmed what most hockey fans thought when the Canucks started slowly against the lowly Avs:

“I guess we want to test ourselves to see if we can come back. It’s tough to get up for games when you are where we are. It crept in again tonight. . It’s not good, but we stuck with it and weren’t panicking.”

The NHL has been championing parity this season, but it didn’t slow the Canucks from wrapping up their playoff spot a month before the end of the season. Their 47-16-9 record has earned them an NHL best 103 points through 72 games. Their +68 goal differential (one of the best measures of a team’s performance) is far and away the best in the league; the next best is the Boston Bruins at +42. Their 25-7-5 record is the best home mark in the league; and their 22-9-4 record on the road is near the top of the league as well.

They’re tied for the highest scoring team in the league scoring 3.24 goals per game. Their 2.28 goals against per game is also tops in the league. Their power play is the best in the league and the weak spot in their game, the penalty kill, is the 2nd best in the league. Thankfully for Canucks fans, they have a month to figure out how to improve the PK unit.

As if all that wasn’t enough, they’re on top of their game as they’ve won 7 straight including an undefeated 6-game road trip. The scary part for opponents is they are doing it without a full roster. Both Alexander Edler and Kevin Bieksa were filling huge roles for the Canucks from the backend, yet both are out of the lineup with injuries. Nevertheless, Vancouver just keeps on winning no matter who they put in the lineup. Just imagine how dangerous they’ll be when they finally have all of their pieces in place.

The 103 points put the Canucks in very good position to win this year’s President’s Trophy. Whether that’s a good thing or bad thing probably depends on how superstitious a fan is—but it would mean the road to the Cup would have to go through Vancouver. The team with the best home record is in line to have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

Stars end Capitals’ winning streak, pass Blackhawks for West lead

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For two periods, the Dallas Stars seemed to say, “Are you sure the Washington Capitals are the best team in the NHL?”

They chased Braden Holtby and built a 4-0 lead through those first 40 minutes, and that was enough … but barely. The Stars beat the Capitals 4-3 on Saturday, which accomplished the following:

  • Dallas ended Washington’s winning streak at five games. The Stars have now won three straight.
  • This win slides the Stars ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the highly competitive Central Division. While both teams sit at 77 standings points, Dallas holds three games in hand.
  • By passing Chicago, the Stars now lead the Western Conference as a whole.

Impressive stuff. Some might even call it a statement game, although others may hold that nail-biting ending against them (possibly arguing that the Stars’ flaws may come back to haunt them in the playoffs).

Dallas’ biggest concern likely has little to do with doubters. Instead, they must monitor the statuses of forwards Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin.

Long story short, the Stars are red-hot, yet bigger challenges likely lie ahead.

Blackhawks fall to Ducks in OT, lose Hossa to injury

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The Chicago Blackhawks are on edge on Saturday, and it’s not because of what’s currently a close game against the Anaheim Ducks.

(Not that they’re indifferent toward a match against their opponents from last year’s conference final match, mind you.)

Instead, the Blackhawks are quite concerned about the health of Marian Hossa, who needed help off of the ice following an awkward, scary-looking crash into the boards. (Hampus Lindholm delivered the hip check that sent Hossa sprawling, in case you’re wondering.)

You can see that moment in the video above, while My Regular Face’s GIF also captures that troubling moment:

It’s too early to tell if Hossa will bounce back or miss some time from this. Stay tuned for potential updates.

Update: Joel Quenneville seems optimistic about Hossa, broadly speaking:

Ryan Getzlaf scored the overtime game-winner as the Ducks won 3-2 (OT).

Understatement: Saturday was a rough night for Panthers

Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson (33) checks Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau (11) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
AP
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If it weren’t for Mike Yeo and the Minnesota Wild, you could argue that the Florida Panthers suffered from the worst night so far.

You can see that Saturday was unpleasant merely from looking at the scoreboard: the Nashville Predators pummeled the Panthers by an unkind score of 5-0.

The pain goes beyond that … literally so.

For one thing, Quinton Howden suffered an upper-body injury and did not return. That’s no good, but if you want to feel sick to your stomach, footage of Brandon Pirri‘s likely lower-body injury (ankle maybe?) may do the trick.

(Seriously, you may be happier if you don’t look.)

The Panthers didn’t make an announcement about Pirri one way or another, so we’ll see if he somehow avoided anything significant.

Either way, it was a night this team would like to forget.

Fractured jaw from fight sidelines Chris Stewart for 4-8 weeks

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It’s unlikely that Chris Stewart will generate another 30-goal season in the NHL, but he still might be missed by the Anaheim Ducks.

The team announced that the ornery forward is expected to miss four-to-eight weeks with a fractured jaw. If that’s the recovery window, Stewart may go into the playoffs a little rusty (if he can get in any regular season games at all).

The Ducks didn’t elaborate, but the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline believes that the injury happened during a fight with Dalton Prout of the Columbus Blue Jackets. You can see that brawl in the video above.

One bright side for Anaheim: if they believe that they need to replace what Stewart brings to the table (rugged play with a dash of offense), then at least this injury happened before the the Feb. 29 trade deadline.