Canadiens clinch playoff spot in the East, Hawks earn a point

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Tuesday night was a rough night for any Montreal Canadiens haters out there. The Habs clinched their spot in this year’s playoffs by beating the defending Stanley Cup champs 2-1 in overtime. As if securing a playoff spot wasn’t bad enough for the anti-Habs contingent, Montreal was sent to the second season with the power of PK Subban’s 3rd game winning goal of the season (and his ensuing celebration).

For over 60 minutes the game was a beautiful goaltending exhibition. Quebec native Corey Crawford returned home for his first game in the Bell Centre and had a great showing. On the other end of the rink, Carey Price had 42 saves to help deliver the victory for the Habs. Cue the “Price for Hart” chants coming from North American francophones.

The game was not without its fair bit of controversy. With the game in overtime, Jonathan Toews took a tripping penalty on the forecheck when he brought down rookie PK Subban about 200 feet from the Chicago goal. Replays show that Toews got his stick into Subban’s skates and the officials got the call right—but the officials were late to make the call. Predictably, the Habs scored on the ensuing power play to punch their ticket to the playoffs. After the game, Joel Quenneville was not happy with the call:

“It was a tough ending for sure. I 100% dispute that call at the end… he wasn’t calling it and Jonny (Toews) didn’t touch his feet so, it was a tough call.”

Penalty or not, it was a tough way for the Hawks to lose a game they needed to win. The single point earned for the overtime loss pushes them to 93 points; but with the Stars winning at home against the Blue Jackets, the Blackhawks cushion shrinks to a mere two points for the final playoff spot in the West. They’ll play a huge game at home against the St. Louis Blues tomorrow night before their regular season ending home-and-home series against the Detroit Red Wings. Unfortunately for the Hawks, the Stars finish the season with a pair of games against the lowly Colorado Avalanche and another against the Minnesota Wild. Advantage: Stars.

Things are looking much better for the Canadiens. Only a week ago, they were slumping and had both the Sabres and Rangers breathing down their necks. Fast-forward to tonight, the Habs became the 9th team to clinch a playoff spot. Earning a playoff spot is impressive regardless of circumstances with the parity in the league these days, but given the Habs’ injuries, it’s even more impressive. Where would they be if they had any one of their trio of injured defensemen? Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, or Jaro Spacek certainly would help in a big way if they had them for most of the season.

Looking forward, there’s a very good chance Montreal will earn a first round match-up against their bitter rivals from Boston if they can hang onto the 6th spot. If that series comes to fruition, the big winners aren’t the Canadiens or Bruins—it’ll be the fans.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”