Steve Downie

Five Thoughts: Steve Downie’s amazing case for Conn Smythe consideration

With the second round really under way and rolling along now, heroes are starting to emerge around the playoffs. While one guy in San Jose doesn’t totally surprise us, there’s a name in Tampa Bay that has us floored as to how well he’ stepped up for the Lightning. It’s a bit too early to start projecting doom for some teams in the second round, but we do have a few thoughts.

1. It’s just one game, but the Tampa Bay Lightning’s plan of frustrating the hell out of their opponents is working like a charm right now. It may have been a 4-2 win but once the Lightning tool the lead at 3-2 thanks to Steve Stamkos’ goal the remainder of the game became an exercise in frustration for the Caps. Tampa Bay isn’t well know for their defensive abilities for one reason or another but they’re able to get in the face of their opponents and make life difficult. They held the Penguins to 1-35 on the power play in the first round and they kept the Capitals frustrated going 0-5 on the man advantage.

While the Lightning don’t want to keep going down by a man so often or so needlessly, perhaps it’s time we start tossing some praise the way of their penalty kill for how their opponents are struggling.

2. It’s just one game for the Caps but last night’s Game 1 is the sort of game they can get caught up in now and again. It was up and down on the scoreboard, but every goal is a fight to get and mistakes make the situation what it is. Last night’s loss to Tampa Bay is just how every game of this series could end up looking like. Taking care of the puck and staying out of the penalty box becomes that much more important. The Capitals don’t have reason to be worried just yet as dropping the first game, while not optimal, isn’t a back breaker. They did learn right away, however, just what it’s like to deal with the tough Lightning.

3. Steve Downie the Conn Smythe candidate? Could be. Through eight games in the playoffs Downie has two goals and seven assists good for nine points. Nine points ties him with Claude Giroux for second in the playoffs for points just one behind Mike Cammalleri who won’t be getting any more points the rest of the way. Normally when people think of Downie they think of the agitator with a hot streak a mile wide that would happily fight your grandmother if he perceived injustice at her hands on the ice. Downie putting most of the cheap stuff away and being a productive player has been huge for Tampa Bay.

4. If Game 1 between Detroit and San Jose is any indication, we’re in for a doozy of a series. Tight checking, tight scoring, and a matter of small breaks here and there making all the difference. Benn Ferriero getting the overtime winner after his shot glanced off of Brad Stuart’s stick is just an example of the little things that can happen to help change a series. Detroit played well for a good part of the game, but allowing San Jose to get more than 40 shots on goal against them is the Wings’ way of playing with fire. Jimmy Howard played great last night, but they need to give him more support in both goals scored and giving him a break from seeing all that rubber.

5. Forgive us if our man-crush on Joe Pavelski continues to grow. Another goal last night in tying the game up in the third and he continues to score big goals for the Sharks. A lot of folks got on Pavelski’s case for not having a big regular season but if he keeps this up no one will be thinking about that ever again. With four goals in the playoffs so far he’s not setting the world on fire there so much either, but having them all come at the right time will help him continue to build quite the legacy. Considering that some of the Sharks’ other big stars aren’t really rolling offensively, it just makes Pavelski look all the more important.

Senators, Panthers fail to gain in Eastern playoff races

OTTAWA, CANADA - FEBRUARY 7: Jay Harrison #44 of the Carolina Hurricanes celebrates his game winning overtime goal with team mate Jeff Skinner #53, during an NHL game at Scotiabank Place on February 7, 2013 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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PHT already touched on the Florida Panthers falling to the Calgary Flames on Friday, but in tandem with the Ottawa Senators losing to the Carolina Hurricanes, it makes for a night of teams failing to gain valuable points out East.

With the Montreal Canadiens failing lately, the Senators had a chance to take first place in the Atlantic by tying the Habs in points while holding games in hand. Instead, they’ll need to wait.

For the sake of simplicity, here are the Atlantic rankings, with emphasis on the top five.

1. Canadiens – 72 points in 61 games played
2. Senators – 70 in 59
3. Maple Leafs – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Sabres and Lightning have 62 in 60, Red Wings have 58 in 60

You can see the Panthers hanging around the perimeter of the top three; a point or two would have made them a bigger threat to Toronto and Boston. Alas, even with a heavier slate of home games lately, Florida has lost two straight at home.

Here’s an updated look at the wild card races after the Panthers failed to make up some ground:

1. Blue Jackets – 79 in 58, more concerned with Metro races
2. Islanders – 68 in 60

Bruins – 68 in 61
Panthers – 66 in 60
Flyers – 63 in 60

Tiebreaker situations would have meant that the Panthers would have ended tonight technically outside of the playoffs anyway, but a win or even a “charity point” congests an already snug situation. Instead, they stayed put and wasted a game.

Ottawa’s still in a solid situation to overtake Montreal or at least maintain a round of home-ice advantage as the second seed in the Atlantic. So while both teams are kicking themselves for their losses, the Panthers have more to be upset about.

Ultimately, some of the biggest winners in the East were teams that didn’t play or that have a lot less to play for.

(Perhaps the Hurricanes feel a little more optimistic, by the way, as 58 points in 57 games played means they could at least theoretically fight their way back into the discussion.)

Road warriors: Flames move to first West wild card spot with win vs. Panthers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Troy Brouwer #36 of the Calgary Flames celebrates his second period goal against the Florida Panthers with Lance Bouma #17 and Matt Stajan #18 at the BB&T Center on February 24, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The road has been doing both the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers quite a bit of good lately.

Calgary moved to the first wild card spot on Friday after beating the Panthers in Florida by a score of 4-2. So far, they’ve grabbed at least a point in every game during a road trip that ends in Carolina on Sunday:

Feb. 18: 2-1 OT loss at Vancouver
Feb. 21: 6-5 OT win at Nashville
Feb. 23: 3-2 win at Tampa Bay
Tonight: 4-2 win at Florida

You can’t totally blame the Panthers if they almost miss their road trip.

They rattled off five straight wins through what seemed like a brutal road haul on paper, but now they’ve lost back-to-back home games in regulation. With five of six and six of seven slated in Sunrise, the Panthers need to make the most of these opportunities. So far … not so good.

Here’s how the West wild card situations look now:

1. Flames – 68 points in 62 GP
2. Predators – 67 points in 60 GP

Kings – 62 in 60 GP
Jets – 62 in 63 GP

(The Blues could easily slip below the Predators into the wild card spot, as they also have 67 points in 60 games but hold wins and ROW tiebreaker advantages.)

So, Calgary might not manage to maintain its hold over the first wild card spot, but this streak makes a playoff berth look far more likely.

Capitals could make home-ice advantage a serious edge in playoffs

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 01: Brett Connolly #10 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his goal with teammates against the Boston Bruins during the third period at Verizon Center on February 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Look, there’s no escaping the naysayers who will dismiss just about any Washington Capitals accomplishments with snark about past playoff letdowns.

All the Capitals can do is march forward and lock down as many edges as they can.

With 89 standings points after a tight 2-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday, the Capitals look increasingly likely to have home-ice advantage either through the East (seven-point edge on the Penguins or the entire playoffs (five-point edge on idle Wild, who only hold a game in hand on the Caps).

Now, it’s fair to argue that home-ice (or home-court) advantage matters less in hockey than some other sports. Sure, you can line-match more often with the last change, among other advantages. Still, the biggest edges might be mental.

That said … those small edges might be enough for a team as loaded – and with as much urgency – as this rendition of the Capitals.

Heeding the call at the Verizon Center

They’ve now won 13 games in a row at the Verizon Center, improving their overall home record to 25-5-1.

The Capitals are still a strong team on the road (16-7-6), yet that home record is lofty. It also could come in awfully handy, particularly if they face off against the Penguins again. Pittsburgh’s 24-4-3 home mark contrasts sharply with a more modest 13-10-5 road record.

Perhaps this talk is all small potatoes. Still, when you consider how close things have been – in this age of parity, and in the extremely competitive Metropolitian Division specifically – it could be quite the edge.

In short, the Capitals are a pretty scary group possibly with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. At least as of right now.

As far as the Oilers go, they’re locked in a tight race for second in the Pacific, as the Ducks currently hold the ROW tiebreaker. Grabbing at least a standings point in this one would have helped … but that’s a tall order against the Caps in their own backyard.

It wasn’t all good news for Washington, tonight:

Loss vs. Pens at Stadium Series could push Flyers to sell at trade deadline

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28:  Chris Pryor, Director of Scouting (R), and Ron Hextall General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers (L) sit at their team table on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Is a cross-state, historic NHL rivalry not enough to drum up interest in Saturday’s 2017 Stadium Series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins? Maybe a trade deadline hook will do it for you.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi reports, Flyers GM Ron Hextall already rules his team out as buyers. That leaves two options, really: standing pat or going into “sell mode.”

Hextall provides an interesting nugget in that regard: it might just come down to what happens against the Penguins tomorrow, via NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman:

It seems odd to imagine that the difference between generating zero versus two standings points might dictate a team’s direction, but it also shows the power of parity in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Granted, it’s not like Hextall locks himself into one direction based on the result. Still, it sounds like that game could have some power in swaying his decision.

The Flyers have some interesting trade chips if they do decide to make a move. Michal Neuvirth fears being moved, while Steve Mason at least needs a new contract, leaving their goaltending future up to question.

There are some other interesting UFAs, particularly in defensemen Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto.

Some Flyers fans believe that they should indeed be sellers, though it’s tough to imagine many of them rooting for the Penguins to win just to make it happen.