Penguins complicate Pacific race by beating Coyotes

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Zbynek Michalek hasn’t always been the asset that the Pittsburgh Penguins were hoping for when they signed him in 2010 – at least for his price – but he has a way of bringing it against his former team.

Michalek scored a rare goal to help Pittsburgh beat the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1, giving the Pens their sixth win in a row while bumping the idle Dallas Stars up to first place in the Pacific Division.

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Pittsburgh powers on

It’s easy to zero in on Michalek for his unusual contribution, but as usual, it was about the Penguins’ big guns. Evgeni Malkin crawled ahead of Steven Stamkos in the Art Ross race by nabbing point No. 81 on an assist on Chris Kunitz’ eventual game-winner, but Marc-Andre Fleury was the real star.

Fleury stopped 36 out of 37 shots to push his season record to 35-14-3, with six wins and a non-decision in his last seven appearances. As obvious a choice as Malkin will be for the Hart Trophy voting if he stays on his lofty pace, it’s not crazy to say that MAF has been almost as valuable to the Penguins’ success.

Pacific roam

The Coyotes’ loss makes for a really intriguing race for the Pacific Division crown. Let’s take a simple look at the situation at hand.

First in Pacific, third in West: Dallas – 35-26-5 for 75 points; 16 games remaining; 35 wins (30 regulation/OT)
Second in Pacific, seventh in West: Phoenix – 33-24-9 for 75 points; 16 GR; 33 wins (28 reg/OT)
Third in Pacific, eighth in West: San Jose – 33-24-7 for 73 points; 18 GR; 33 wins (27 reg/OT)
Fourth in Pacific, ninth in West: Los Angeles – 30-23-12 for 72 points; 17 GR; 30 wins (26 reg/OT)
Fifth in Pacific, 12th in West: Anaheim – 28-28-10 for 66 points; 16 GR; 28 wins (25 reg/OT)

Obviously there is very little separating the Stars and Coyotes, but they cannot take their two other major divisional rivals lightly, either. The Sharks are a more serious immediate threat from tie-breaker perspectives (two games in hand, comparable wins) but the Kings are trending up more than the Sharks. (San Jose is on an unsettling 2-7-1 streak.)

Ultimately, it’ll come down to closing ability and schedule. There are plenty of interesting stretches for all the teams in the last month of the season, but I cannot help but look at a season-ending home-and-home between the Kings and Sharks as an especially invigorating stretch of (potential) do-or-die hockey.

Who do you think takes the puzzling Pacific?

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: