Daniel Carcillo, Ryan Miller

Five Thoughts: Caps toughness, Ryan Miller’s sass talk, Coyotes future all in focus

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A night filled with five games provided us with a lot of talking points this morning. A huge collapse in New York, a stirring shutout from Ryan Miller, a pair of double-overtime thrillers and the playoffs first team eliminated all happened last night. What are we busy thinking about today? Here’s five thoughts to chew on.

1. I realize that a lot of you will want to focus in on a handful of things from the Rangers-Capitals game. You’ll want to talk about the crowd giving it to Bruce Boudreau, you’ll want to talk about the Rangers choking on a 3-0 lead in the third period, you’ll want to pick on Marian Gaborik for having too much of a presence in the game for New York. The part that’s flying under the radar is the guts of this Capitals team.

With how the crowd was and the inspired play of the Rangers through most of that game, it’s a game most teams would fold up under the pressure of. The Caps found another gear in the third period though and fought back to tie it up and force overtime where they went on to win. Caps teams of the past don’t win that game, this year’s version is a lot different and much more hard-headed.

2. Teams in the Eastern Conference may want to start officially worrying about the Pittsburgh Penguins. We’ve talked about their toughness a lot but their offense without the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is an issue. After James Neal scored the game-winner in double overtime last night to put the Pens up 3-1 in their series with Tampa Bay, getting that weight off his shoulders could help their offense turn the corner.

Neal’s struggles to score a goal at all over the last month (Neal hadn’t scored since March 8) had him stressing and perhaps squeezing the stick a bit too tight. Sometimes all it takes is one and Neal’s streakiness is something that could give the Pens the lift they’re looking for.

3. Ryan Miller pitched his second shutout of the playoffs and while he hasn’t been consistently awesome all year for the Sabres, his quotes after the game make him a bit of a quirky folk hero of sorts. After some reporters were challenging his play of late Miller responded saying, “I don’t need to listen to all the B.S. that’s out there from people who don’t know how to play goalie. I really don’t give an expletive.”

No, we didn’t edit his quote, he did actually say “expletive” in making sure that his soundbyte would be able to be heard by anyone without any pesky bleeps. Best part is, when Miller is playing like he did in helping the Sabres tie the series up he doesn’t need to do anything other than point at the scoreboard to show he means business. Of course, if he’s going to keep sounding off like that, we’ll give him a soapbox to stand on whenever he wants.

4. You can’t help but think the Predators feel like they really let a golden opportunity slip away by splitting their two home games with the Ducks. The Ducks went into those games without an offensive weapon like Bobby Ryan to help them out and still the Ducks piled up nine goals on Pekka Rinne in two games and now head back to Anaheim tied 2-2 in the series. With Ryan returning from his stomping suspension and Rinne playing not up to par, the confidence should be beaming from Anaheim, especially with how big Corey Perry stepped up in Game 4 with a goal and two assists in their 6-3 Game 4 win. Seeing Teemu Selanne continue to pile up goals is encouraging as well for what’s a pretty young Ducks team. The Predators have more than a few things to get figured out before Game 5 on Friday night.

5. Detroit’s domination of the Coyotes in spite of injuries (they were without Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen in Game 4) is worthy of further analysis for sure, but the shadow casting a pall over the conclusion of the series in the wake of Detroit’s 6-3 win and sweep is obvious. With the Coyotes future in Arizona in serious doubt and the NHL continuing to say that things are progressing even in the light of even further negative reports is concerning.

At the very least, prospective buyer Matthew Hulsizer was in attendance for Game 4 with a Coyotes hat and jersey on to support the team as the suits in Glendale will now work diligently to get things figured out. You can’t help but feel bad for everyone involved with the team from the players on down to the fans not knowing if this was indeed the last time they’d see them. If the team does head to Winnipeg this summer, the fans in Arizona have every right to be angry at everyone involved for screwing this deal up. Let’s hope they don’t have to move forward as bitter, angry fans with no one left to root for anymore.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.