Loui Eriksson, Steve Ott

Western playoff picture: Predators magic number 1, Stars gain ground on 8th place Blackhawks

Western Conference playoff race

z – 1. Vancouver – 113 pts
y – 2. San Jose – 103 pts
y – 3. Detroit – 102 pts
4. Nashville – 97 pts
5. Phoenix – 96 pts
6. Los Angeles – 96 pts
7. Anaheim – 93 pts
8. Chicago – 93 pts
9. Dallas – 91 pts
10. Calgary – 91 pts

z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot

Dallas 3, Columbus 0

The Stars are at the point in their season where every game is a must-win. On Tuesday night, not only did they do their part by blanking the Blue Jackets 3-0, but they got a little help when the Canadiens beat the Blackhawks in overtime. Of course, the Stars and their fans would have preferred a Habs win in regulation, but Dallas still managed to gain a point in the standings with their win. It was a good team effort as Steve Ott scored the first goal (eventual game winner) and Kari Lehtonen only needed 23 saves for his third shutout of the season. Not only did the win pull them to within two points of the 8th place Blackhawks, but they’re also only two points behind the Anaheim Ducks. At this point, no one in Big D cares which team they catch.

On a more somber note, Jackets’ defenseman Kris Russell broke his ankle in one of the uglier injuries hockey fans will see. Tough to see a good player go down in a game when the season is, for all intents and purposes, over for his team.

St. Louis 3, Colorado 1

The good news for the Blues is that they were finally able to beat the Colorado Avalanche. After they’d lost seven straight games dating back to the 2008-09 season, the Blues finally picked up a win by beating the Avs 3-1 in St. Louis. David Backes scored his 30th goal of the year, Andy McDonald scored his 20th, and Kevin Shattenkirk picked up his 41st and 42nd points of the year. Not bad for a rookie defenseman who was traded halfway through his freshman campaign.
Of course, the bad news is that this game meant absolutely nothing to the Blues. On the other hand, the loss for Colorado just solidified that top 3 pick in next year’s draft. So yet again, the Avs actually won the night against the Blues.

Nashville 6, Atlanta 3

Going into the night, the Predators were able to clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Thrashers and a Stars loss to the Blue Jackets. Nashville took care of their business early by scoring three 1st period goals, but they didn’t get any help from Columbus. Mathematically, the Predators’ magic number is down to 1. Practically, the win helped solidify the Preds playoff spot and launched them all the way to the 4th seed. Interesting how with only three games left in the season, the 4th seed in the Western Conference still isn’t guaranteed a playoff spot.

Montreal 2, Chicago 1 (OT)

From a Blackhawks perspective, it would be nice if they could start scoring some goals. However, they were able to fire 42 shots on Carey Price and if it weren’t for stellar goaltending from the Montreal netminder, they probably would have scored enough to win. Captain Jonathan Toews was upset after the game for a tripping call that went against him in OT:

“I don’t really know what to say right now. We worked our butts off and you don’t want to blame it on one little thing and say it comes down to a call but that’s obviously what happened. You can argue the call, especially when you feel there are a lot of stick penalties that don’t get called against you out there. And then the game’s decided on something like that, it’s pretty damn frustrating.”

The fact remains that the single point pulls them into a 7th place tie with the Anaheim Ducks with three games remaining. They may be frustrated tonight, but the reality stays the same: if they win the rest of their games, they’re in.

Edmonton 2, Vancouver 0

If people thought the Blues/Avs game was meaningless, they had no idea the Canucks and Oilers were renewing pleasantries. The best team in the league that has already wrapped up the President’s Trophy (and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs) battling the last place team in the league that has almost locked up the top spot for the draft lottery isn’t the type of match-up to get hockey fans in a frenzy. The Oilers were able to best the high flying Canucks for the second time in as many games between the teams—which is great inside the Edmonton locker room. Unfortunately, that’s the only place in the world that it matters.

The game was given a little more juice when Raffi Torres decided to push the limits of the NHL’s headshot tolerance on Jordan Eberle. He received a 5-minute elbowing major and a game misconduct for his transgressions. But unless the league goes “Matt Cooke suspension” on Torres, the worst thing that could happen is that he gets a few unpaid days off before the playoffs.

Sabres welcome back oft-injured Kulikov, who has missed 26 games

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Dmitry Kulikov #77 of the Buffalo Sabres in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

Dmitry Kulikov‘s first year in Buffalo has largely been defined by his lingering back injury, but he’ll set about changing that narrative when he returns to the lineup tonight in Nashville.

Today, Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma confirmed Kulikov would play for the first time since Dec. 27, having missed nearly a month with his lingering ailment.

Kulikov also missed 13 games earlier in the year with the same back problem.

Acquired at last year’s draft in a deal that sent Mark Pysyk to Florida — along with picks being exchanged — Kulikov was expected to play a big role in Buffalo this season, and projected to play on the club’s top defensive pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen.

“You watch Florida when they go on the PK; he was the first guy on the ice, when they needed a goal on the playoffs he was on the ice, when they needed to protect a lead late in the game he was on the ice,” Sabres GM Tim Murray said at the time of the trade, per NHL.com. “So we certainly liked what we saw.”

All told, the 26-year-old Russian’s appeared in just 20 games this year, registering a single point. He has averaged over 22 minutes per, though — meaning head coach Dan Bylsma has used Kulikov quite a bit, when available.

Kulikov didn’t take this morning’s skate, so no clear indication on who he’ll pair with this evening.

Coyotes’ Holland fined for punching Palat

holland-punch
Leave a comment

Arizona’s Peter Holland has been fined $3,611.11, the maximum allowable under CBA, for punching Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat during Saturday’s Coyotes-Lightning game in Glendale.

Holland threw the punch halfway through the second period after getting taken out along the boards by Palat. Holland didn’t like the hit, so he got up, dropped his gloves, and leveled the unsuspecting Palat with a bare fist to the face.

Holland received four minutes for roughing, but the Lightning failed to capitalize with the man advantage.

The Coyotes would go on to win, 5-3.

Ladd back for Isles, who are playing well lately

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 26:  Andrew Ladd #16 of the New York Islanders skates against the Montreal Canadiens at the Barclays Center on October 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Canadiens defeated the Islanders 3-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

The streaking New York Islanders will get a key piece back on Tuesday, as Andrew Ladd returns from a four-game absence to face the visiting Blue Jackets.

Ladd has been out of the lineup since Jan. 16 with an upper-body injury.

“I just wanted to be a part of the way we’ve been playing the last little bit, last five games and have put ourselves back in the position where we can get into the playoff race,” Ladd said, per the Isles’ website. “You try to inject some energy, some emotion into getting back in the lineup and just want to be a part of winning some hockey games. I’m excited to get back in there.”

As mentioned, the Isles are on a bit of a roll. They’re 4-1-1 in their last six and have points in four straight games, all of which came under interim bench boss Doug Weight. Weight, of course, took over from Jack Capuano after the longtime head coach was fired from his post last week.

Ladd’s largely been a disappointment this season after signing a monster seven-year, $38.5 million deal in free agency. He has just eight goals and 12 points through 41 games, but did have a decent stretch of production prior to getting hurt.

The biggest reason for New York’s improved play lately has been Thomas Greiss. Now firmly locked into the starting gig — after Jaroslav Halak cleared waivers and sent to the minors — Greiss has gone 2-0-1 in his last three starts with a 0.98 GAA, and .971 save percentage.

Unsurprisingly, Greiss will get the nod against Columbus this evening.

If the Isles can get another result tonight, they could draw closer to the idle Flyers in the wild card chase. New York currently sits just five back of Philly for the final spot, but needs to leapfrog five teams — Boston, Florida, Carolina, New Jersey and Detroit — to get there.

 

 

Elliott has cooled off, and so have the Flames

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12:  Goalie Brian Elliott #1 of the Calgary Flames covers up the puck while playing against the Edmonton Oilers on October 12, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

It looked for a while like Brian Elliott had regained his form. From Dec. 14 to Jan. 5, he went 5-0-0 with a .922 save percentage.

Alas, things have gone sideways again. From Jan. 6 onward, Elliott has gone 0-3-1 with an .872 save percentage. Last night, he allowed four goals on 28 shots as his Calgary Flames fell, 4-0, in Toronto.

“I think the difference tonight was they capitalized on some chances that they had and we had some really good looks that we didn’t capitalize,” said Flames captain Mark Giordano, per the Calgary Herald. “That’s the end of the story — it’s a 4-0 game. You have to score at least a few goals to win games in this league.”

Indeed, it’s hard to blame the goalie when he doesn’t get a single goal of support. The Leafs’ first goal, the winning goal, certainly wasn’t Elliott’s fault.

But the second goal could’ve been stopped…

…and the third was the back-breaker, coming with his team on the power play.

The Flames didn’t put up much of a fight after that. The loss was their third in a row, and tonight they have to play in Montreal.

Expect Chad Johnson to get the nod against the Canadiens. He hasn’t been too good lately either. In fact, he only lasted 5:58 of his last start, before he was pulled after allowing three goals on four shots in an eventual 7-3 loss to Edmonton.

Read more: ‘It’s embarrassing,’ says Gulutzan after lopsided loss to Oilers

The Flames are still in a playoff spot, thanks in large part to the struggles of the Kings and Jets. But for a team that thought its goaltending problems had been solved by the addition of Elliott, it has to be frustrating that the position remains a weak spot.

Both Elliott and Johnson are pending unrestricted free agents.

Related: An interesting goalie market awaits in the summer