Western playoff picture: Predators, Coyotes, and Ducks all clinch playoff spots

Western Conference playoff race

z – 1. Vancouver – 115 pts
y – 2. San Jose – 103 pts
y- 3. Detroit – 102 pts
x-4. Nashville – 99 pts
x-5. Phoenix – 99 pts
x-6. Los Angeles – 98 pts
x-7. Anaheim – 97 pts
8. Chicago – 97 pts
9. Dallas – 95 pts

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

Chicago 4, Detroit 2

The optimists among the hockey brethren will say the Blackhawks came to play and took it to the Detroit Red Wings. Skeptics among hockey fans will say the Red Wings absolutely mailed it in and never really gave themselves a chance to win. So which is it? As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. There’s no questioning that the Blackhawks came out and played one of their most effective periods in the 1st to get off on the right foot. Yet on the other hand, there’s no questioning the fact that the Wings players just didn’t have the edge needed to compete with a desperate team. It’s not that the game was meaningless for the Wings—the loss has them sitting in 3rd place with 102 points (one point behind the Sharks for 2nd).

For Chicago, the win was just the first step of handling their business to make the playoffs. Entering into the home-and-home series with Detroit, the Hawks could say they controlled their own destiny. If they earned 3 out of a possible 4 points in the two games, it wouldn’t matter what the 9th place Dallas Stars did in their games. In the first act of the final stretch in the regular season, the Hawks knocked out an impressive effort. If they can earn at least an overtime loss (or a win) against the Wings on Sunday afternoon, they’ll be in the playoffs for the third year in a row.

Nashville 4, Columbus 1

Every team has a certain team that seems to have their number. Sometimes there’s a certain city where a team fails to perform. For the Columbus Blue Jackets, that team is undoubtedly the Predators and the city is Nashville, TN. After losing 4-1 to help the Predators secure a playoff spot for the sixth time in seven years, the Blue Jackets are now winless in their last 17 games in Nashville. In Friday’s game, Columbus managed 45 shots on goal against Pekka Rinne—only to see him turn away 44. Combine Rinne’s spectacular effort with a two-goal performance from Patric Hornqvist (7 points in his last 3 games), and it’s no wonder the Predators are looking at potential playoff opponents. For the Blue Jackets, they will have a top 10 pick in the entry draft for the tenth time in eleven drafts. That’s probably not the kind of organizational consistency they’re looking for.

Minnesota 3, Edmonton 1

The Minnesota Wild and their new #1 line (Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Andrew Brunette and Mikko Koivu) performed well as the Minnesota Wild clinched at least a #12 seed in the Western Conference standings. If they can get help from the Predators, Minnesota may even be able to jump over the Blues and into the #11 seed.

Meanwhile, Edmonton continued to weigh the pros and cons between Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, and Gabriel Landeskog. Clearly the debate between those prospects would be more competitive than their team on the ice.

Dallas 3, Colorado 2

There were a bunch of scenarios the Stars were hoping for on Friday night, but each and every one of the scenarios revolved around Dallas winning their remaining games. After winning the rest of their games, there were a bunch of situations where the Stars would be able to sneak into the playoffs as another team faltered down the stretch. One Friday night, they were able to take care of the most important part of the plan as they went into Colorado and escaped with a 3-2 win. Since the Avalanche have struggled so much this season, it may be hard to believe that the Stars had been outscored 13-1 at Pepsi Center in their last three visits. But tonight was a different kind of night and Dallas was able to control the game from the opening face-off.

Near the end of the game, Mike Ribeiro went down and blocked a shot—but initial reports say he’ll back and ready to take the ice against the Minnesota Wild in the last game of the season. As is been stated ad nauseam, if they can win and the Hawks lose in regulation, the Stars will make the playoffs. They may need help, but they’re still alive going into Game 82. That in itself is a surprise to a lot of people who expected the Stars to struggle this season.

Phoenix 4, San Jose 3

With the Red Wings losing earlier in the evening, the Sharks had a chance to lock-up the 2nd seed in the West with a win over the Coyotes. So much for that. In what was a theme around the NHL team, the team with a chance to clinch showed far more desperation and earned the right to play in the NHL’s second season. The Coyotes jumped out to a 4-1 lead only to hold on for dear life as the Sharks came storming back. The win gives Phoenix 99 points for the season and temporarily puts them in the 5th seed in the conference. If they win their last game against San Jose, they’ll have a chance to finish the season in the 4th spot for the second consecutive season. For all of the turmoil surround the team over the last two seasons, there aren’t many teams that can lay claim to home-ice advantage in two consecutive seasons.

Anaheim 2, Los Angeles 1

The Ducks had one thing on their mind going into the game: “win and we’re in.” Thanks to Teemu Selanne and his two goals, the Ducks were able to beat the Kings to secure their spot in the playoffs. Dan Ellis filled-in for the injured Ray Emery and Jonas Hiller with a 23-save performance to help Anaheim get to the promised land. After the game, Selanne said they would come with the same kind of effort to improve their seeding on Saturday—but that’s easier said than done.

Going into the game, the Kings controlled their own destiny for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. If they were able to win both of their final two games against the Ducks, they’d earn the 4th seed no matter what any of the other teams did. Well, after the loss to the Ducks and the Preds and Coyotes winning, the Kings dropped down to the 6th spot with a single game left in the regular season. It’s a fact that wasn’t lost on Kings’ defenseman Matt Greene:

“I think we need some help now. I think this is the first time where it hasn’t been in our own hands, and that’s not what we wanted to do, but we’ll come back tomorrow. We’ve got to win tomorrow. Everybody wants to go into the playoffs with a win under our belts, playing hard and doing the right things. Hopefully that comes tomorrow. Maybe we get some help and maybe we don’t, but our focus now is on tomorrow, and not what’s going on around the league.”

 

Holtby ‘wasn’t as sharp as he can be,’ says Trotz

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Presidents’ Trophy winners once again in the regular season, the Capitals once again face an uphill climb if they are to advance beyond the rival Penguins and the second round of the playoffs.

What began with a strong first period for the Capitals in Game 2, albeit without a reward on the score board, faded into a frustrating 6-2 rout, as the Penguins took a commanding 2-0 series lead as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 3 on Monday.

Braden Holtby was pulled after the second period. He gave up three goals on 14 shots, while his opponent at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant with 34 saves.

“He’ll tell you that he can be better. He’s a straight up guy and he will be. I was just trying to change the mojo,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz of his decision to sit Holtby.

“I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. So when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit there. That’s all. Braden’s our backbone. He has been all year. We’ve got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby.”

Now in a deep but not insurmountable hole against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Capitals reportedly held a players’ only meeting following this latest defeat.

After failing to open the scoring in an otherwise dominant first period, Washington surrendered three goals in the second, as the Penguins broke it wide open with their transition game, led by two great plays from Sidney Crosby.

“We can’t get frustrated. I think that would be our biggest mistake is to get frustrated right now,” said T.J. Oshie, before expanding on the meeting between the players.

“It was things that people need to say and things that some people need to hear. We were very together with what we said. I don’t need to go into details. Sometimes in our game … you need to hear from your teammates more than your coach. And tonight was one of those nights.

“It was the players in here and what was said is what needed to be said.”

We’ll find out Monday if what was said actually has any impact on the ice.

Penguins rout Capitals to take commanding series lead

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The Washington Capitals are in trouble. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Again.

Despite a dominant first period, at least in terms of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury and puck possession, the Capitals saw this game go sideways in a hurry during the second period, on the way to a 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2.

Washington is now in quite a hole, trailing its nemesis 2-0 in this second-round series.

Last year, Matt Murray stymied the Capitals. Though it’s only been two games this year, Fleury has stepped up in the absence of the injured Murray and given the Penguins solid goaltending and frustrated a dangerous Capitals lineup.

After withstanding the storm of pressure from the Capitals in the first period, the Penguins broke this game open with a trio of second-period goals. It started with a shorthanded goal from Matt Cullen, and later continued with a beautiful goal from Phil Kessel and then Jake Guentzel‘s sixth goal of these playoffs.

That led Barry Trotz to take Braden Holtby out of the game, after he gave up three goals on 14 shots, putting in Phillip Grubauer to begin the third period. The Penguins continued the onslaught.

For the Penguins, there are some injury concerns to keep an eye on.

Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot around his foot or ankle. He didn’t return. Ron Hainsey had to go to the locker room late in the third period after taking an Alex Ovechkin shot up around the head.

Game 3 goes Monday in Pittsburgh.

‘I wasn’t good enough,’ says Lundqvist after double OT loss to Senators

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The task wasn’t impossible, but certainly daunting.

The Ottawa Senators needed five goals on Henrik Lundqvist just to send Game 2 into overtime.

The Rangers goalie had been spectacular for most of this post-season entering Saturday’s contest, but the Senators, led by a sensational four-goal performance from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, found a way to break through for a 6-5 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead against New York.

They did so on just 34 shots through almost 83 minutes against Lundqvist.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Lundqvist, per the New York Daily News. “Coming up with the extra save there in the end, that’s my job. Even though it’s tough plays on deflections, I’ve got to find a way.”

On three occasions, the Rangers held a two-goal lead. That includes with under five minutes remaining in regulation. They even had a pair of shorthanded goals. But they couldn’t hang on, as Pageau scored twice in the final 3:19 of regulation to record his hat trick.

That set the stage for the eventual winner, as he beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder with a shot from his off-wing on a two-on-one rush.

With the Senators in control, the series returns to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” said Lundqvist. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly they’ve gotten the bounces here in the first two games.”

Capitals’ Holtby begins third period on the bench, Grubauer takes over in net

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Braden Holtby began the third period of Saturday’s Game 2 on the bench, giving way to Philipp Grubauer.

The Washington Capitals fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 after two periods, with Holtby allowing three goals on just 14 shots. It will be interesting to hear the reason for this decision from coach Barry Trotz following the game.

The Capitals had dominated on the shot clock, but gave up a pair of quick goals to fall further behind Pittsburgh in this game, while trailing in the series 1-0.

Phil Kessel — on a great play from Sidney Crosby — and Jake Guentzel scored 3:10 apart to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead.