Columbus Blue Jackets v Nashville Predators

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.”

 

Trade: Pens acquire d-man help, get Hainsey from Carolina

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 29: Ron Hainsey #65 of the Carolina Hurricanes yells at the referee after receiving two minor penalties in the third period against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 29, 2016 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Hurricanes 2-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Pittsburgh has added another veteran presence on the blueline in advance of a second consecutive Stanley Cup.

Ron Hainsey, the 35-year-old ‘Canes rearguard, has been acquired in exchange for a second-round pick and AHLer Danny Kristo, per TVA. Hainsey, a pending UFA, is in the last of a three-year, $8.5 million deal with a $2.83M average annual cap hit. Per Sportsnet, Carolina will retain 50 percent of his salary.

The Hainsey acquisition comes with the Pens down several key d-men. Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz are sidelined with a hand injury and concussion, while Trevor Daley suffered a lower-body injury on Tuesday night.

UPDATE:

And that makes the trade all the more important.

Hainsey — who holds the current active record for most regular-season games played (891) without appearing in the playoffs — makes a lot of sense for the Pens.

He played under GM Jim Rutherford in Carolina, has decent offensive capabilities (14 points in 56 games) and can log some significant minutes. Hainsey played over 22 per night this year for the ‘Canes, a carryover from last year when he averaged 22:19.

Schultz and Daley, you’ll recall, were two of Rutherford’s key defensive upgrades last year that helped put Pittsburgh over the top. The season prior, Ian Cole was acquired from St. Louis and turned into an important blueline piece.

So the hope, obviously, is that Hainsey can replicate some of that success.

For the ‘Canes, this deal allows them to further stockpile picks for the ’17 draft. The club now has 10 selections overall, including six in the first three rounds. Kristo, 26, was at one time considered a prospect but now is pretty much a career AHLer. He scored 11 points in 32 games this year for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

 

NHL on NBCSN: Jonathan Toews looks to stay hot against Coyotes

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 07:  Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates with the puck against the Oliver Ekman-Larsson #23 of the Phoenix Coyotes in the second period at Jobing.com Arena on February 7, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Arizona Coyotes at 8:30 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

From an offensive perspective, October through December was a relative quiet time for ‘Hawks captain Jonathan Toews. But when the calendar turned to 2017, something changed in his game.

He’s coming off an incredible five-point effort (three goals and two assists) in a win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night and he’s now up to 24 points in 20 games since Jan. 5.

“I think for me the biggest change in my approach to the game is just my expectations,” Toews said, per the Chicago Tribune. “Just try to go into every game with no expectation, focus on the process, focus on playing well, playing the right way, staying in the moment, especially if things don’t go in or things don’t go your way. You’re just building one game after another to try and follow up good efforts and put weeks together, multiple games back to back.”

Toews has had the opportunity to play with guys like Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, but believe it or not, he’s doing all this damage with Richard Panik and Nick Schmaltz on his wings.

The Blackhawks dropped their first game out of the bye (a 3-1 loss to Edmonton), but they’ve been able to rattle off impressive wins over Buffalo and now Minnesota.

Despite the win over their division rival, Chicago is still five points behind Minnesota for the Central Division crown. If the ‘Hawks are going to make a push up the standings, it’ll have to be sooner than later.

Arizona is in a completely different situation. They’re 15 points out of a Wild Card spot, so expect this team to look significantly different by next week’s trade deadline.

Pending unrestricted free agent Michael Stone was the first player to be moved, but Shane Doan, Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata might all find themselves on new teams by the start of next month.

On the ice, the Coyotes have actually been much better of late. They come into tonight’s game having won five of their last six contests.

Their latest victory came on Monday night, when they took down the Ducks 3-2.

The Coyotes had to overcome adversity in that one, as they lost goalie Mike Smith, who blasted the NHL’s concussion protocol after that game, to injury.

Arizona might not have anything to play for, but that’s what often makes teams more dangerous down the final stretch of the season. We’ll find out if Chicago and their red-hot captain can overcome the team trying to play spoiler.

PHT Morning Skate: Flames play hoops with the Harlem Globetrotters

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–The Calgary Flames are currently in Florida for upcoming games against the Lightning and Panthers. During their off-day on Wednesday, some of their players got to play basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters. It’s safe to say that Calgary’s players should stick to hockey. (BarDown)

Jarome Iginla is running out of time to win the Stanley Cup. The 39-year-old definitely won’t be winning it all if he stays with Colorado this year, so his current teammates are rooting for him to be traded before the March 1st trade deadline. “Iggy wants one last shot at the playoffs. Everybody in this dressing room, around the league, feels the same way,” Gabriel Landeskog said. “We’d love to see somebody like that win.” (ESPN)

–The Washington Capitals dropped their first two games after their five-day break, but they were able to get back in the win column by beating the Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night. You can watch the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Ever wonder what NHL coaches do during intermissions? Barry Trotz explains that he addresses his team and tells them what they need to clean up before he heads into the video room. Trotz says he gets information on his team’s zone exits, zone entries and special teams. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

–You’ve got to see SKA Saint Petersburg’s promotional video for the upcoming KHL playoffs. It includes some nice goals, a few big hits, a long-haired fan playing the electric guitar, a motorcycle and even a horse. You really need to see it to believe it. (Sportsnet)

–Eight NHLers have had the privilege of playing for 10 teams or more throughout their career. Lee Stempniak is one of those guys. Instead of letting it get to him, the ‘Canes forward embraces the fact that he’s moved so much. “It’s something I take a lot of pride in. Some guys go somewhere, they go somewhere else, and if it doesn’t work out they flush out of the league. I feel like I’m pretty adaptable and I take pride of that.” Michel Petit, J.J. Daigneault, Jim Dowd, Mathieu Schneider, Olli Jokinen, Mike Sillinger and Dominic Moore are the other seven. (Sports Illustrated)

–Coyotes GM John Chayka already made one trade this week, as he sent pending UFA Michael Stone to the Calgary Flames for a pair of draft picks. Expect to see the young general manager to make more moves before the trade deadline. The Coyotes have a few other potential free agents to deal, but don’t be surprised if they also trade guys with term. “I don’t deal with ‘untouchables’. Practically speaking, there are players who are difficult to move because then you have to find someone to replace them for a role. I’d move anyone for the right deal.” (The Hockey News)

Ducks give Bruins first loss under Cassidy, putting … Islanders in wild card

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 22:  Korbinian Holzer #5 of the Anaheim Ducks pushes David Backes #42 of the Boston Bruins during the second period of a game at Honda Center on February 22, 2017 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Wednesday was a night of futility in the Eastern Conference wild card races, so it make sense that a team that didn’t even play ended up grabbing the second spot.

To recap:

  • The Florida Panthers began the night in the second wild card spot. However, they were knocked down the totem pole when they lost in regulation to the Edmonton Oilers.
  • The Boston Bruins inherited the second wild card spot from Florida, but the Anaheim Ducks just gave them their first loss under Bruce Cassidy. With that defeat coming in regulation, it meant that the Bruins’ stay in the East’s top eight lasted mere hours.
  • So, congrats to the New York Islanders, who enjoyed the rare tiebreaker treat of climbing into playoff position even though they didn’t even play on Wednesday.

(The Philadelphia Flyers were out of reach here, but they didn’t do themselves any favors in losing to the Washington Capitals.)

Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were kept off the board as Jonathan Bernier won one for the Ducks, who stay right behind the Edmonton Oilers in a battle for second in the Pacific.

Despite Pastrnak’s -3 rating in this one, Marchand probably had the toughest night thanks to Bernier and Josh Manson:

This one hurts, but it’s also a reminder that there will probably be plenty of twists and turns in the races for the lower spots in the East and Atlantic Division. With that in mind, the Bruins have to shake it off and get ready to face the Kings in Los Angeles on Thursday.