West update: Stars capture Pacific lead – again

1 Comment

Hockey writers should be awfully careful during the next week and a half – at least when it comes to the Pacific Division.

Normally, it’s easy to question the “heart” and “fortitude” of a given team, but let’s face it – things are changing far too frequently to safely make ridiculous assumptions based merely off of results. Case in point: as quickly as the San Jose Sharks took the division lead, another loss to those bedeviling Anaheim Ducks switched things back up again.

As is becoming customary, let’s go in order of where the teams finished at the end of Wednesday night.

Stars shine atop Pacific again

The Dallas Stars’ previous era contained plenty of skirmishes with an Edmonton Oilers team that often included Ryan Smyth, so it only makes sense that the current model went through the latest group that includes the beloved mulleted winger. They did just that, too, as Michael Ryder (two goals) and Mike Ribeiro (one tally) scored some beauties on their way to a huge 3-1 win.

Well, huge for now …

4. Detroit gives up ground to 5. Nashville, who clinched yet another playoff berth (seven in its last eight seasons) while 6. Chicago sat idle.

7. Kings win the Sutter Bowl against the 11. Calgary Flames 3-0, with Jonathan Quick breaking the franchise record with nine shutouts in one season.

8. Sharks open themselves to more snark

The beauty of this San Jose season is that lazy writers can just swoop in and out depending on their whims. When the Sharks take the Pacific lead, they can conveniently take a trip to the golf course or grocery store (depending on that writer’s place in the tax bracket). On moments like Wednesday night, those same guys can fill in the blanks for the latest discussion about who lacks heart and whatever intangible doesn’t require any research whatsoever.

Jaded media critiques aside, one can see a very obvious trend: the Anaheim Ducks have been a nightmare for the Sharks over the years. They upset a Presidents’ Trophy-winning Sharks game in the first round of the 2009 playoffs and if San Jose misses the postseason this year, its performance against Anaheim might be the most direct example.

Not convinced? The Ducks’ 3-1 victory marks Anaheim’s fifth victory against San Jose – all in regulation. If you don’t think that those 5-10 points aren’t a matter of regret for the Sharks, you’re kidding yourself.

Idle 9. Phoenix Coyotes slip while 10. Colorado Avalanche lose a 1-0 shutout to the Vancouver Canucks.

With these updates in mind, here’s what the West bubble race looks like:

3. Dallas: 89 points, 35 regulation/OT wins with five games left

7. Los Angeles: 88 points, 32 regulation/OT wins with five games left
8. San Jose: 88 points, 31 regulation/OT wins with five games left

9. Phoenix: 87 points. 31 regulation/OT wins with five games left
10. Colorado: 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins with three games left
11. Calgary: 85 points, 32 regulation/OT wins with four games left

All things considered, it looks like a four-Pacific team race for the final three Western playoff spots, with the best of those four gaining the division title (and the third seed overall) while the worst won’t be in the playoffs at all. Now, the Avalanche and Flames could change that situation, but it’s hard not to think that way when you weigh the odds.

Either way, let me make a reasonably safe prediction: things will change a lot over the next week and a half until the game of high-stakes musical chairs ends.

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

2 Comments

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)

Getty
Leave a comment

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. Johnny Gaudreau generated his 200th point (and 201st) in Calgary’s win, while Alex Steen generated four assists. (Vladimir Tarasenko also enjoyed a three-point night.)

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.

Brian Gionta scored in his 1,000th game as Buffalo won, by the way.

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

Getty
3 Comments

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

3 Comments

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?