Why the Islanders should call Evgeni Nabokov’s bluff and make him their No. 1 goalie

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Let’s face it, Evgeni Nabokov and the New York Islanders might be saying all the right things, but it’s pretty tough to imagine the Russian netminder playing in Long Island after he spurned them last season. The situation carries the scent of a blind date gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Yet as awkward as the idea might be, the best way for the Islanders to get their money’s worth – not to mention to justify all the frustration – might just be to call Nabokov’s bluff. I’m not just talking about training camp, either; they should give Nabokov every chance to earn the starting job. If the Islanders really want to justify the murmurs that they could be a dark horse candidate for a playoff run next season, it’s hard to imagine them getting there with Al Montoya and Rick DiPietro as their starting duo.

Nabokov and the Isles might be better off together

Even beyond the immediate returns of adding an experienced, big-name goalie, the Islanders need to accept the fact that they probably won’t receive much value in return for Nabokov if they opt for a trade. (Please scratch this statement from the Internet record if the Islanders find someone as smitten with Nabokov as the Colorado Avalanche were with Semyon Varlamov, though.)

It’s not like there are a ton of better options for Nabokov, either. Would he really be better off fighting fellow aging Russian netminder Nikolai Khabibulin for playing time in Edmonton or trying to replace Ilya Bryzgalov in Phoenix? Barring injuries, Long Island might just be the best place for Nabokov to show off his wares, even if it would just be a glorified audition.

It would also be one of the most interesting stories of the 2011-12 season …

From a purely selfish standpoint, I must point out how inherently fascinating it would be if Nabokov became the Islanders’ No. 1 goalie. Many smart hockey people have wondered if Nabokov’s impressive career numbers came largely because of strong support from some exceptional San Jose Sharks teams, so carrying the Isles to the playoffs would make a heck of an impact on his legacy. It would be an unlikely and delightful underdog story if it actually worked out.

The best part could be that the scenario would be entertaining if the experiment ended up being a failure, too. Sure, that entertainment would be more of the “rubbernecking during a bad traffic accident” variety, but it would be hard to look away from that scene.

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Again, it’s most likely that Nabokov’s time with the Islanders will be short. Maybe he’ll make it through training camp or even a few regular season games, but it’s tough to imagine him playing a whole season with the team. That being said, it would be awfully interesting if he did … and the Islanders might actually benefit the most from that option.

Rangers punch playoff ticket to wrap up night of clinched spots

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The New York Rangers weren’t ecstatic that Chris Tierney‘s 4-4 goal sent their game to overtime against the San Jose Sharks, but either way, getting beyond regulation punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday night.

For the seventh season in a row, the Rangers are in the NHL’s postseason. They fell to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, so they haven’t locked down the first wild-card spot in the East … yet. It seems like a matter of time, however.

The Rangers have now made the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 tries, a far cry from the barren stretch when they failed to make the playoffs from 1997-98 through 2003-04 (with the lockout season punctuating the end of that incompetent era).

New York has pivoted from the John Tortorella days to the Vigneault era, and this season has been especially interesting as they reacted to a 2016 first-round loss to the Penguins by instituting a more attacking style. The Metropolitan Division’s greatness has overshadowed, to some extent, how dramatic the improvement has been.

This result seems like a tidy way to discuss Tuesday’s other events.

The drama ends up being low for the Rangers going forward, and while there might be a shortage of life-or-death playoff struggles, the battles for seeding look to be fierce.

Oilers end NHL’s longest playoff drought; Sharks, Ducks also clinch

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There’s something beautiful about the symmetry on Tuesday … unless you’re a Detroit Red Wings fan, maybe.

On the same night that the longest active NHL playoff streak ended at 25 for Detroit, the longest playoff drought concluded when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a postseason spot by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2005-06, when Chris Pronger lifted them to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

In doing so, other dominoes fell. Both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also punched their tickets to the postseason.

The Sharks, of course, hope to exceed last season’s surprising run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks continue their run of strong regular seasons, even as memories of their Cup win start to fade into the distance. All three teams are currently vying for the Pacific Division title.

The Western Conference’s eight teams are dangerously close to being locked into place, as the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues are all close to looking down their spots as well.

Want the East perspective? Check out this summary of Tuesday’s events from the perspective of the other conference.

Craig Anderson took his blunder hard – probably too hard – in Sens loss

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Members of the Ottawa Senators were quick to defend Craig Anderson following his blunder (see above) in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s not just about his personal struggles, either. When Anderson’s managed to play, he’s been flat-out phenomenal, generating a .927 save percentage that ranks near a Vezina-type level (if he managed to play more than 35 games).

Goaltending has been a huge reason why Ottawa has at least a shot of winning the Atlantic or at least grabbing a round of home-ice advantage, so unlike certain instances where teams shield a goalie’s failures, the defenses are absolutely justified.

Anderson, on the other hand, was very hard on himself.

You have to admire Anderson for taking the blame, even if in very much “hockey player” fashion, he’s not exactly demanding the same sort of credit for his great work this season.

It’s official: Red Wings’ playoff streak ends at 25 seasons

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When we look back at the 2016-17 season for the Detroit Red Wings, it will be remembered for some sad endings.

It began without Pavel Datsyuk. We knew that their last game at Joe Louis Arena this season would be their last ever. And now we know that Joe Louis Arena won’t be home to another playoff run.

After 25 straight seasons of making the playoffs – quite often managing deep runs – the Red Wings were officially eliminated on Tuesday night. In getting this far, they enjoyed one of the greatest runs of longevity in NHL history:

Tonight revolves largely around East teams winning and teams clinching bids – the Edmonton Oilers could very well end the league’s longest playoff drought this evening – but this story is more solemn.

EA Sports tweeted out a great infographic:

“Right now it’s hard to talk about it, because you’re a big reason why it’s not continuing,” Henrik Zetterberg said in an NHL.com report absolutely worth your time.

Mike “Doc” Emrick narrated a great look back at Joe Louis Arena here: