Three (News) Stars of the Week: Kessel, Blue Jackets and Luongo

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“Three (News) Stars of the Week” will run every Friday. It’s our way of acknowledging the week’s big NHL stories that gave us lots of page views, thereby increasing PHT’s attractiveness to advertisers.

source: Getty Images

Third star: Phil Kessel is playing well

Toronto’s top sniper leads the NHL with seven goals and 12 points. Not coincidentally, the Maple Leafs are 4-1-1, second in the Northeast division – a good start for a team that hasn’t experienced the playoffs since 2004. Kessel was even a big story in Toronto’s 6-2 loss Thursday night in Boston. The TD Garden faithful chanted “Thank you, Kessel” following a goal by the Bruins’ Tyler Seguin, one of the players the Bruins drafted with the three picks Toronto sent Boston for Kessel. Predictably, this caused everyone to look back on the trade and debate it all over again.

source: AP

Second star: Columbus is bad

The Blue Jackets are the NHL’s biggest early disaster. Still winless after six games following a summer that saw the club jack up the payroll by millions and millions of dollars, the team president has already been forced to give a public vote of confidence to the general manager and the coach, and the general manager has been forced to give a public vote of confidence to the coach. The fans, meanwhile, have confidence in nobody. Now veteran forward Vinny Prospal is angry at how the young Blue Jackets are playing, and things don’t get any easier tonight when Columbus takes on the undefeated Red Wings in Detroit.

source: Getty Images

First star: Roberto Luongo is a polarizing figure among Canucks fans

Tuesday night at Rogers Arena, Vancouver’s all-star goalie surrendered four third-period goals in a 4-0 loss to the Rangers. The game featured a spectacular 40-save shutout by Henrik Lundqvist at the other end of ice, a contrast in goaltending success that didn’t sit well with a handful of Canucks fans who jeered and Bronx cheered Luongo. The fans’ discontent overshadowed the actual game and the next day Luongo was asked by the rabid media how it felt to be booed on home ice. He replied that it didn’t bother him because he was used to it by now. The Canucks, it should be noted, are one of the best teams in the NHL and came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup in June. Starting goalies don’t typically get used to being booed on teams like that. Then again, all-star goalies don’t typically have as many disastrous playoff games as Luongo has had with the Canucks. Then again, hockey is a team game. Then again, when you’re being paid like Luongo’s being paid, you have to bail your team out once in a while. Then again…you get the point.

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 where the Rangers 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 fans, 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 postseasons, even as their Cup win fades to the background ever so slightly. 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 come to Craig Anderson‘s 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 said 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: