San Jose Sharks v Vancouver Canucks - Game Five

PHT makes the case for the Calder Trophy finalists

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Every season, fans look at the young players on their roster and hope one of them will take the world by storm. Take a look at the upcoming draft and you’ll see the hope bouncing around as every fan is hoping to pick the “next one” that can help them as soon as next season. Usually after the first few games, hopes of greatness are dashed and people just hope the players will stick with the big club for the rest of the season. But for some players, they are able to thrive from the first time they step on NHL ice.

There were three rookies who stood above the rest this season. Here are the reasons why each of them has a case to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year.

James O’Brien’s case for Logan Couture:

The first goal for any rookie is to merely earn quality minutes on a team, but to become a big-time contributor is an even more impressive feat. Going even further, all three candidates were strong enough that they didn’t need the “Good … for a rookie” qualification.

The thing that separates Logan Couture from the other two candidates is that he didn’t just earn big minutes. He earned substantial playing time on an elite team: the Pacific Division champion San Jose Sharks. The other two rookies were outstanding on teams that couldn’t make the playoffs, making one wonder if they would have gotten those opportunities on a superior team.

Couture finished second among rookies in scoring with 56 points, but it’s his all-around play that makes him stand out among three very worthy candidates. He earned about a minute per game of PK time, won a nice chunk of his faceoffs (an impressive 53.4 percent) and earned a +18 rating. Couture enjoyed the most complete season of any rookie from 2010-11.

Matt Reitz’s case for Jeff Skinner:

Skinner jumped out a huge lead for the Calder Trophy as he had a first-half that earn him a spot in the all-star game. Logan Couture and Michael Grabner caught attention throughout the season, but Skinner had the best season from beginning to end. He led all rookies with 63 points, was second with 32 assists, and third with 31 goals. All three were among their teams leaders in points per 60 minutes—but it was Skinner who led the pack. The NHL took note as he was the only rookie named to the all-star team in Raleigh this season.

Throughout the season, opposing coaches increasingly focused their efforts on shutting Skinner down. Yet despite those efforts, he thrived down the stretch in the middle of a playoff race. It’s one thing to score goals in meaningless games, but it’s quite another to score when the team is battling for one of the final playoff spots. The Hurricanes increasingly looked to Skinner to lead their second line to give the team something resembling secondary scoring. When the pressure was at its highest point, Skinner produced.

Joe Yerdon’s case for Michael Grabner:

Michael Grabner’s season with the Islanders was a true revelation and a sign of hope for the future for the Islanders. He was first amongst rookies in goals with 34. He was third in points and tied for second on the Islanders with 53. Being an offensive superstar for an Islanders team that showed hope for the future.

What made Grabner’s season all the more incredible is how he did his goal scoring damage. Grabner averaged just 15:05 of ice time and scored just two goals on the power play. Meanwhile, he scored six shorthanded goals a total good for second best in the NHL. His fellow rookie of the year finalists did their damage on the man advantage. Scoring 26 goals at even strength and six more while down a man makes Grabner a sneaky dangerous player and one who helped make his mark when the team needed him the most.

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.