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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.

It’s Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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In a lot of ways, the 2015-16 season represented more of the same for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The results were nearly identical to 2014-15, right down to finishing in the basement of the East (69 points last season, 68 the one the year before).

Indeed, Brendan Shanahan is probably correct in saying that the Maple Leafs earned the No. 1 pick “the hard way,” or at least “earned” the higher draft lottery odds that helped them land Auston Matthews.

The big question, really, is how long will fans be patient with the Maple Leafs taking baby steps in the right direction?

Off-season

Naturally, the team tried to make more a leap forward in seeking Steven Stamkos and, to a less dramatic extent, Jimmy Vesey.

They fell short in those regards, but that doesn’t mean that management merely idled while hoping for improvements from in-house development.

The Maple Leafs made bold changes in net, ending the Jonathan Bernier era while betting big on Frederik Andersen and also bringing in a promising backup in Jhonas Enroth.

Beyond those big moves in net, the Maple Leafs made some minor adjustments. They handed surprising money and term to Matt Martin while taking short-term fliers on veterans Milan Michalek and Roman Polak.

On paper, this team still looks quite a few steps away from being a playoff contender, but perhaps we’ll start to see things come together?

A lot of that rides on the work of Matthews, Morgan Rielly and other young players (William Nylander, Mitch Marner) who may or may not make a lasting impact on the regular season roster.

Will the rebuilding plan start to pay dividends? PHT explores the iconic franchise on Tuesday.

Keep your head up: Hurricanes reportedly hand Raffi Torres a PTO

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 3:  Raffi Torres #13 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks for a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, May 03, 2013 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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From opting against fighting the NHL’s 41-game suspension to seeing his season derailed by knee issues, there was the feeling that the league had seen the last of controversial forward Raffi Torres.

Perhaps not.

The Carolina Hurricanes reportedly handed the 34-year-old a PTO, according to former Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward.

It’s something the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander also mentioned on Monday.

With Bryan Bickell added to the mix during this off-season, the Hurricanes seem interesting in adding some beef. It’s unclear if Torres is really in the sort of condition to make a mark, but Carolina’s going to at least take a look at him.

Beware, pre-season opponents and training camp teammates.

Capitals bump Todd Reirden up to associate coach

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Assistant coach Todd Reirden of the Washington Capitals talks to the power play unit during a time-out against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals announced that Todd Reirden (pictured) was promoted from assistant to associate coach on Monday.

What does that mean, exactly? Well, most directly, the team shared word that he’ll run Capitals training camp while Barry Trotz works with Team Canada at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Giving Reirden a promotion makes sense, as he’s been linked to some head coaching searches. The Washington Post compiled some of his opportunities:

In the past two years, Reirden has been a serious candidate for two NHL head-coaching gigs. According to the Calgary Sun, Reirden was a finalist to coach the Flames before they settled on Glen Gulutzan, and he was considered for the New Jersey Devils’ vacancy last summer, too. Lane Lambert, another Capitals assistant, was a finalist for the Colorado Avalanche head-coaching job earlier this month, according to the Denver Post.

The Capitals have a pretty well-regarded coaching group, as many credit goaltending coach Mitch Korn with some of Braden Holtby‘s improvement since Trotz took over.

Maybe we’ll see Reirden and Lambert get head coaching gigs at some point, but for now, Trotz’s “coaching tree” stays intact.

Penguins believe Kessel, others can heal up by start of next season

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Going deep enough into the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup often comes with the cost of stacking up injuries, and the Pittsburgh Penguins paid the price.

As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others report, Phil Kessel (wrist) and others aren’t guaranteed to be healthy to start the 2016-17 regular season.

“All the injured guys are tracking in the right direction,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “Until they all get here, we won’t know 100 percent where they’re at, but it sounds like all the guys should be ready for camp.”

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review runs down a significant list of players who likely accrued bumps and bruises that may carry over:

Defenseman Trevor Daley, for instance, suffered a broken ankle on May 20. Kris Letang (foot), Nick Bonino (elbow infection), Bryan Rust (hand), Patric Hornqvist (hand) and Evgeni Malkin (elbow), among others, dealt with physical problems of varying severity at times.

If recent history is any indication, Kessel will probably fight hard not to miss time.

For all the weird criticisms he receives, he’s been remarkably durable, playing in every game during the past six seasons.

That’s impressive stuff, but the Penguins would be wise to keep an eye on the big picture. If it comes down to making Kessel and others swallow a little pride to limit the odds of aggravating injuries, they need to do it.

Even if it means a bumpy start to their title defense.