Cory Stillman, Vincent Lecavalier, Brett Clark, Martin St. Louis

Tampa Bay clobbers Carolina 6-2; Rangers top Hurricanes for East’s eighth seed

Earlier this week, it looked like the Carolina Hurricanes would need some help to get into the Eastern Conference playoffs. Instead, the Canes gained a win-and-you’re-in opportunity tonight and absolutely blew it. They will finish two points short of a playoff spot, as the New York Rangers finish ahead in the East thanks to today’s surprising results.

Hours after the Rangers rode a three-goal second period to earn a resounding win against their hated rivals from New Jersey, the Hurricanes allowed three first period goals by their own division foes from Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay 6, Carolina 2

There are plenty of excuses the Hurricanes can give for soiling themselves in this game. One pundit speculated that they might have been “too tight” in such a huge match. If you ask me, there might have been some fatigue involved too. The Hurricanes absolutely throttled the Atlanta Thrashers last night, but one must wonder if they kicked Atlanta around so vigorously that they didn’t have much juice left against the Bolts. Heck, maybe the Lightning wanted to win one for their former head coach John Tortorella.

You can call that previous paragraph a small list of reasons or a steady stream of excuses, but the bottom line is that Carolina got exactly what they wanted but couldn’t cash in on the opportunity. When you consider the upward trend showed by teams like the Thrashers, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs for next season, the Canes might be kicking themselves for even longer than expected.

Dominic Moore, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos scored in the first period to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead they wouldn’t yield. Brett “The Hitman” Clark padded that lead to 4-0. Cory Stillman found the net on a power-play opportunity late in the second and Chad LaRose scored 8:33 into the third to make it more interesting at 4-2, but empty-net goals by Simon Gagne and Martin St. Louis shut the door on any hopes of a comeback.

Mike Smith was outstanding in the game, making 42 out of 44 saves and nearly scoring a goal of his own on Carolina’s empty net. He only allowed one goal in the third period, even though the desperate Hurricanes put 17 shots on goal.

To continue the theme of missed opportunities, Carolina’s power play had plenty of chances to inject life into their comeback, but they only scored once despite seven man advantages. Stillman’s goal was that one ray of light, but the team needed a 5-on-3 to make that happen.

Carolina showed some serious spirit in staying in the playoff picture, but ultimately, the Rangers wanted it more and won the big game. It’s going to be a long, long summer for the Hurricanes because of one floptastic night.

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.”