Western playoff picture: Blackhawks pick up huge comeback win, Flames keep pace

Western Conference playoff race

z – 1. Vancouver – 113 pts
x – 2. San Jose – 99 pts
3. Detroit – 98 pts
4. Phoenix – 96 pts
5. Los Angeles – 94 pts
6. Nashville – 94 pts
7. Anaheim – 93 pts
8. Chicago – 92 pts
9. Calgary – 89 pts
10. Dallas – 87 pts

z – clinched conference title
x – clinched playoff spot

Chicago 4, Columbus 3 (SO)

The Blackhawks started the game looking like a desperate team that knew they needed a win to solidify their playoff chances. They scored a pair of goals in the first six minutes of the first period—but then they seemingly shut it down and allowed the Blue Jackets to climb back into the game. Columbus increased their energy level (and watched the Blackhawks lower theirs) as they took the game for the next 40 minutes of action. But after surrendering the go-ahead goal halfway through the 3rd period, the Blackhawks caught a huge break when Bryan Bickell scored on an extremely stoppable shot from the outside. From there, the Hawks played a strong overtime period and eventually won the game in a shootout.

The win was huge as it kept the Flames three points behind the Blackhawks for the 8th and final playoff spot. Dallas fans had to hate the outcome, as well, as the idle Stars fell 5 points behind the Hawks with only 6 games to play.

Calgary 3, St. Louis 2

Leaders have a way of showing up with their best performances when their teams need them the most. Not surprisingly, in a game the Flames desperately needed to keep their dwindling playoff chances alive, Jarome Iginla played on of his best of the season. He dominated on both sides of the rink en route to 2 goal, 1 assist night in a winning effort. It’s a good thing the Flames won as well—Chicago’s come-from-behind win means the Flames needed this win to stay only three points behind the Hawks with three games left in the regular season. Alex Tanguay summed up the Flames battle down the stretch:

“We’re still crossing our fingers. Maybe we do get lucky and something good happens to us. Who knows? As far as we’re concerned we’ve worked so hard . . . we’re going to try to push it to the very end.

“If worse comes to worst, we can say that we’ve accomplished great things since Christmas. We’re certainly frustrated not to have started the year like we’ve played the last half of the season. It is what it is, our situation. We’re hoping that we can just squeeze in.”

The win also marked Daymond Langkow’s return to the ice after missing more than a year.

Colorado 4, Phoenix 3 (SO)

The Coyotes fell behind in the game 2-0 before storming back to score three straight goals. Captain Shane Doan scored the go-ahead goal with 7:37 left in the game. At the time, it just looked like another example of the Avalanche snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. But Friday night would be different.

Ryan O’Reilly scored on the Avs only third period shot with just under 5 minutes left to pull even. After a scoreless overtime, O’Reilly proceeded to put his finishing touches on the game as he was the only man to score in the shootout. The win was Peter Budaj’s 100th of his career and was only the third win in their last 17 games (all coming via shootout).

With the shootout loss, the Coyotes still picked up a single point in the standings to pad their 4th place position. Phoenix now has a two-point lead on both the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators with only three games left on their schedule. Surely they would have hoped to earn two points against the lowly Avalanche, but after falling behind by a pair of goals, one point in the standings is better than none.

Video: Don Cherry sings ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ at Cubs game

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So, CBC personality Don Cherry was the Chicago Cubs’ recent guest for their traditional rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch.

He’s not the first hockey-person to do so, as Jonathan Toews was involved in a memorable butchering of that song, among others.

Cherry put his own spin on it, giving fans a chance to review both his singing, lyrics, and his suit (the latter of which was relatively understated):

Russian Machine Never Breaks and Sportsnet note that Cherry tweaked the lyrics just a bit, but he earned some points with fans in Chicago by getting a cheap Blackhawks pop.

Hey, if nothing else, it provided an opportunity to dust off that awesome, ancient photo via Getty.

The case for Hurricanes signing Jaromir Jagr

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

It’s tough to pick the perfect NHL home for Jaromir Jagr because there are just so many variables.

There are, for instance, unspoken demands. Jagr has easily earned the right to ask for a significant salary and role thanks to his Hall of Fame career. It’s his right to hold out for what he wants.

Of course, it makes him a tougher puzzle piece to wedge into a team’s bigger picture. The 45-year-old could finally totally fall off the map in 2017-18. Naturally, even if he merely continues to slip, there’s the argument that Jagr is taking minutes away from players with a brighter future.

SBNation blog Canes Country, for instance, ultimately argued against the Carolina Hurricanes bringing the legend in:

Justin Williams was brought in this offseason to help bring veteran leadership to the Hurricanes, and it seems general manager Ron Francis – Jagr’s former teammate in Pittsburgh – is done making moves. Their leadership quota filled, there’s really no place for Jagr to fit in the Canes’ lineup.

Perhaps not, but let’s trot out a few reasons why the Hurricanes should really think it over.

Star power

In Mid-July, 24/7 Wall St. reported that the Hurricanes saw the second-largest percentage drop in professional sports over the last decade. An eight-year postseason drought tends to hurt a team at the box office, after all.

Now, winning would be the best way for the Hurricanes to fill the seats. There’s no denying that.

Still, for all the hype about this roster full of young stars, that buzz might not go far enough to really draw mainstream attention. Signing Jaromir Jagr would be a way to draw eyes to the Hurricanes, and with a ton of cap space, Carolina is nicely equipped to meet his demands.

Grumpy old men?

Canes Country makes a strong point about how Jagr might not fit in with, say, Jordan Staal or Victor Rask.

Of course, part of that reasoning is based on a perfect world scenario where no one gets injured, but even assuming that’s the case … perhaps head coach Bill Peters could find some creative solutions?

For one thing, the question of foot speed could, conceivably, be mitigated by putting the few elder statesmen together. Perhaps Jagr would line up with Lee Stempniak and/or Justin Williams, thus sequestering some of the older legs and giving Peters a chance to massage situations to their advantage?

He might still provide a boost

It’s understandable to point to, say, dipping numbers for Jagr without Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau and say that he can’t do it on his own.

On the other hand, Jagr sure seems like he would fit in on a team that’s quietly building a reputation as a possession powerhouse. Even in 2016-17, Jagr’s incredible hockey IQ and puck protecting prowess allowed him to put up the sort of possession numbers that players half his age would envy.

Just consider how he compares to the HERO chart standard for a first-line winger:

If fancy stats bore you, consider this:

Maybe Jagr wouldn’t be such a bad stylistic fit, after all?

***

Hurricanes GM Ron Francis said that he’s comfortable with the team as is, yet he’d also be willing to make an upgrade. The implication seemed to be via the trade route, but the Hurricanes really might want to give some extra thought to bringing in Jagr.

It might just help them break that playoff slump.

Gulutzan thinks Flames can be ‘a 100-point club’

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Calgary Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan covered a wide array of topics in a great Q & A with the Calgary Sun’s Wes Gilbertson, with his discussion of how well 2017-18 could go possibly being the most interesting note:

“The challenge, for sure, is managing expectations. We weren’t a 5-10-1 team to start last year, and we weren’t a 16-5 team to end,” Gulutzan said. “We finished with 94 points. I think, realistically, we can do better than that. But to make a jump from 77 to 94 to 118 isn’t realistic. So we have to manage that expectation. Our goal is we think we could be a 100-point club. That’s kind of what I think a lot about in the summer — trying to manage that expectation but also have something in mind that we think we could be.”

Interesting.

Adding Travis Hamonic to a defensive mix that was already quite impressive should raise Calgary’s ceiling to begin with. It doesn’t hurt that many of their best players are in the meat of their primes, from Johnny Gaudreau to Dougie Hamilton to Sean Monahan and more.

Gulutzan praised the size, character, and “play” of new goalies Mike Smith and Eddie Lack, yet that might once again be the reason to wonder if the Flames can make that next step from a team fighting for a playoff spot to a team legitimately contending.

(The jury’s still out on Gulutzan, too, though he makes a reasonable point that 2017-18 could be more stable as his second season after the “mega changes” of his debut season.)

There are some other interesting bits in this interview, which is worth your time, including:

  • Micheal Ferland is slated to start the season as Calgary’s first-line winger alongside Gaudreau and Monahan.
  • Hamonic will likely pair up with T.J. Brodie to begin; Gulutzan says that while Hamonic isn’t a “void” on offense, he expects Hamonic to open things up for Brodie.
  • Gulutzan expects a “big leap” from Sam Bennett.

Check out the full back-and-forth at the Calgary Sun.

If you need even more Flames action, there’s also this:

Francis hopes Hurricanes live up to hype

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

The Carolina Hurricanes haven’t been able to make the jump that some have been anticipating for a while, but that hasn’t shaken GM Ron Francis’ confidence in head coach Bill Peters. At least not yet.

Francis had high praise for Peters and other facets of this Hurricanes team in a detailed interview with Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer.

And, oh yeah, Francis also doesn’t have an issue with the Hurricanes being a dark horse candidate in many eyes.

“It all starts with us and we have a lot of belief in our players and we think we’re capable of having a good year and doing some good things,” Francis said. “I have no problem with people talking about that and putting those kind of expectations on us. Hopefully, they’re right.”

Even so, Francis had some interesting things to say about the makeup of the team, including the fact that while he’s comfortable with where Carolina stands, he’s also open to making a move if an opportunity comes up.

Don’t expect him to bash what they have, though.

Take the team’s set of centers, for instance.

“If you look around the league and you say ‘This guy is a legitimate No. 1, top-line center,’ there’s probably 16 of those guys in the entire league,” Francis said. “They are not easy to find, and a lot of time you have to draft those guys and develop them. We’re hoping we have that kind of guy in our system already, but I certainly feel the guys we have in the middle are elite center men.”

Francis reasonably views Jordan Staal as a sturdy “horse” for the team, and doesn’t seem too concerned by Victor Rask‘s uneven 2016-17 season. Even in also flattering depth options, those two will indeed play a role in Carolina taking the next step, as long as some big changes – Scott Darling getting a significant contract, Justin Williams coming back – end up working out.

That said, file this under “Easier said than done,” as the Hurricanes must navigate the brutal Metropolitan Division to get a “foot in the playoffs.” For all we know, that might not work out even if this group makes some big strides in 2017-18.

Either way, it’s enjoyable to get Francis’ perspective on the team, being that he was one of the most cerebral players of his era. Read the full article here.