There aren’t many sports that allow you to “back into” a third seed, but the Florida Panthers might just do that with the Southeast Division this season. They keep inching toward that mark and/or their first playoff berth in more than a decade, but they’re earning virtually zero style points (not to mention tempting the jinxing gods.)
At first, it seemed like they were ready to cruise to an exciting destination as they opened up a 3-0 lead against a Winnipeg Jets team that had every excuse to fold – especially on the road.
Blame it on “playing not to lose,” just not being good enough or any number of other factors, but the bottom line is that the Jets took over the scoring after Tomas Fleischmann made it 3-0 just 25 seconds in the second period. Winnipeg collected two goals to end the middle frame and then scored two goals within four minutes of the third period to make it 4-3. On the bright side, the Panthers squeezed another charity point out of the game as Tomas Kopecky scored the game-tying goal but Andrew Ladd’s OT winner has to be tough to swallow.
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Well, unless you’re the team that ends up with the East’s sixth seed, that is. In that case, you’re probably licking your chops.
This sets up a great opportunity for the Washington Capitals to unseat the Panthers for the Southeast title. Florida only needs a point to clinch a playoff spot and the division but the Caps could make that less of a certainty by beating them at the Verizon Center on Thursday.
After that, the Panthers visit the Carolina Hurricanes while the Washington Capitals face a Rangers team with little to play for in Madison Square Garden – both on Saturday.
It would be surprising if Florida fails to win the division and even more shocking if they fall out of the East’s top eight if things really fall apart, but they opened themselves up to that possibility by letting a seemingly certain victory slip away.
Late in the third period of Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, things were looking good for Columbus.
Brandon Saad, who the team acquired from Chicago this off-season, scored his first goal of the season to give his team a 2-1 lead with under four minutes remaining in the contest.
Unfortunately for the Jackets, that’s as good as it would get.
The Rangers responded with three unanswered goals from Oscar Lindberg, Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello to spoil Columbus’ home opener.
“When something like that happens at the end, I think we’re gonna be a better team because of it,” defenseman Ryan Murray told reporters after the game. “It’s a harsh lesson, but it’s a good one.
Luckily for Columbus, they won’t have to wait very long to try and get their revenge.
The Blue Jackets and Rangers will finish off their home-and-home series at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, which might not be such a bad thing for Columbus.
“It’s good that we get another chance tomorrow,” Saad said after Friday’s game. “We were high on emotions (after the go-ahead goal) and they scored and it took the wind out of our sails, but we have to keep playing. We have to learn to keep doing our thing, regardless of the score.”
The Los Angeles Kings may owe Mike Richards money until 2031 (seriously), but in settling his grievance, the team and player more or less get to turn the page.
Not before Kings GM Dean Lombardi shares his sometimes startling perspective, though.
Lombardi has a tendency to be candid, especially in the press release-heavy world of sports management. Even by his standards, his account of Richards’ “destructive sprial” is a staggering read from the Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Dillman.
“Without a doubt, the realization of what happened to Mike Richards is the most traumatic episode of my career,” Lombardi said in a written summation he provided to the Los Angeles Times. “At times, I think that I will never recover from it. It is difficult to trust anyone right now – and you begin to question whether you can trust your own judgment. The only thing I can think of that would be worse would be suspecting your wife of cheating on you for five years and then finding out in fact it was true.”
Lombardi provides plenty of eyebrow-raising statements to Dillman, including:
- He believed he “found his own Derek Jeter” in Richards, a player who “at one time symbolized everything that was special about the sport.”
- Lombardi remarked that “his production dropped 50 percent and the certain ‘it’ factor he had was vaporizing in front of me daily.”
- The Kings GM believes that he was “played” by Richards.
Again, it’s a powerful read that you should soak in yourself, even if you’re unhappy with the way the Kings handled the situation.
Maybe the most pressing of many lingering questions is: will we get to hear Richards’ side of the story?