Back to Class: Tournament time is the best time

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We’re taking you “Back To Class” for our roundup of the weekend’s action in college hockey. Look for more college hockey on NBCSN this Friday night as No.1 Boston College hosts UMass at 7:30 p.m. ET in the Hockey East Tournament. 

NCAA basketball might have the market cornered on March Madness, but in college hockey March is as good as it gets. All the conferences are now either well into their conference tournaments or will kick them off this weekend. We’ve already seen wild action and upsets in the ECAC and CCHA while Atlantic Hockey provided us with a host of thrillers. With Hockey East and the WCHA getting started on Friday night, we’ll be full bore into the insanity of the postseason.

It’s at this time of the year where the polls don’t matter anymore and teams start watching match-ups and games across the country to see how they’ll tweak the NCAA tournament-deciding Pairwise rankings. Unlike the basketball tournament or the BCS, Pairwise is a mathematically sound and unbiased beast that nails down the tournament field each year. Of course, if you’re not a fan of how the numbers work for your team you can just win the conference tournament and not have to worry at all.

With only 16 spots in the NCAA tournament and 11 at-large bids to be handed out, let the fun begin.

Elsewhere in college hockey:

The ECAC Tournament is always good for a couple upsets in the opening round. Rensselaer and Dartmouth did the trick this time around upsetting Clarkson and St. Lawrence respectively. (Parting Schotts, Dartmouth)

This weekend’s ECAC pairings: Union College vs. Rensselaer; Cornell vs. Dartmouth; Harvard vs. Yale; Colgate vs. Quinnipiac

Northern Michigan is going to start hating Bowling Green as the Falcons upset them in the first round for the second straight season. The loss may have put a bullet in Northern’s NCAA tournament hopes. (Bowling Green)

This weekend’s CCHA pairings: Ferris State vs. Bowling Green; Michigan vs. Notre Dame (!!!);  Western Michigan vs. Lake Superior State; Miami vs. Michigan State

All seeds held in the first round of the Atlantic Hockey tournament although Robert Morris had their hands full with American International College blowing a 3-0 lead in Game 3 before winning 4-3 in overtime. (Robert Morris)

This weekend’s Atlantic Hockey pairings: Air Force vs. Connecticut; Niagara vs. Robert Morris; R.I.T. vs. Bentley; Mercyhurst vs. Holy Cross

Here’s how the Hockey East tournament sets up this weekend: Boston College vs. UMass; UMass-Lowell vs. Providence; Boston University vs. New Hampshire (!!!); Maine vs. Merrimack

The WCHA tournament pairings set up some dizzying match-ups: Minnesota vs. Alaska-Anchorage; Minnesota-Duluth vs. MSU-Mankato; Denver vs. Wisconsin (!!!); North Dakota vs. Bemidji State; Colorado College vs. Michigan Tech; St. Cloud State vs. Nebraska Omaha

Finally, let’s end with a tear-jerker of a story about how a young leukemia patient found the strength to battle on thanks to the Brown University hockey team. (USCHO)

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2.

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

Lightning storm back against Blackhawks, finish one point out of playoffs

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Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?

The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.

While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.

Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.

With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.

Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?