When the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild square off tonight in St. Paul (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) it’s a match-up that sees one team getting hot and rising in the West while the other is trying not to fall out of relevancy in the playoff hunt.
The Ducks come into tonight’s game winners of nine of their last 13 games going 9-2-2 in that stretch. With a hot streak like that and teams ahead of them stumbling, it’s got people in Southern California talking about the playoffs. After the miserable start to their season that saw them change coaches getting rid of Randy Carlyle in favor of Bruce Boudreau, it’s nothing short of a miracle that the Ducks can even talk about the playoffs.
Making all that talk possible is the stronger play of Jonas Hiller in goal and the steady incredible production from future Hall Of Fame winger Teemu Selanne. Hiller was lights out in January going 7-2-1 and giving up just 16 goals in 13 games. February is off to a bit of a rocky start, but the Ducks are still pulling down points and sit 10 points back of eighth place Phoenix.
Selanne meanwhile leads the team in points with 51. He along with the team’s leading goal scorer Corey Perry (26 goals) are holding things down offensively while Bobby Ryan is also scoring in bunches with 21 goals himself.
Those kinds of offensive numbers would be a welcome revelation for the low-scoring Wild. Minnesota is second to last in goals this season and while Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu are trying to do their part to keep the team afloat, Heatley’s 18 goals is best on the team.
With just five players in double figures in goals, the Wild have needed their goaltending to be perfect to win games. For the first few months of the season it was close to perfect. Since mid-December however, things have fallen off hard and Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, and Matt Hackett haven’t been able to hold it down.
With the Wild now five points back of Phoenix for eighth in the West and falling, the Wild just want to slam on the brakes of their free fall.
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.
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.
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.
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: