Stephane Robidas, Mike Fisher

West playoff picture complete: Sharks, Kings and Coyotes are in


With the Pacific Division title still up for grabs, it’s unfair to say that the Nashville Predators’ 2-0 win against the Dallas Stars killed the drama of matches like the Los Angeles Kings-San Jose Sharks home-and-home series. Still, the Predators’ pursuit of home ice advantage* sure made things a lot less interesting.

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Update: the Columbus Blue Jackets continue to revel in their role as spoilers; they eliminated the Colorado Avalanche with a 5-2 win.

What it clinched:

Playoff spots for the Phoenix Coyotes, Kings and Sharks.

Who’s eliminated:

The Stars would max out at 91 points, so the Predators hammered the final nail in their season. The Avalanche can only get 90, so they’re done too – and against a team that’s far less dangerous (although almost as dangerous lately).

Why there’s still some drama:

Again, the good news is that Pacific – and thus, the third seed – is still up for grabs. (Also, the seventh seed serves as a solid consolation prize.)

Sure, it’s not as thrilling as just about everyone fighting tooth-and-nail for a playoff spot, but notching the No. 3 spot can be a huge advantage – especially if the Vancouver Canucks and/or St. Louis Blues stumble in early playoff rounds. Still, it’s stunning to realize that the Stars could have been right there too if they took care of their late-season business.

* Nashville’s win and Detroit’s 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils means that the Predators only need a point to clinch the fourth seed and the huge (especially in negative way for the Red Wings) home ice advantage in their likely upcoming series. Of course, there’s also a chance the Chicago Blackhawks could slide into the fifth seed; check out this breakdown from On the Forecheck for all the headache-inducing details.

Fabbri primed to make Blues in significant role

Jason Demers, Robby Fabbri
AP Photo
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With the start of the regular season just around the corner, it looks like Robby Fabbri will not only make his NHL debut on Thursday, but also get meaningful minutes.

During Sunday’s practice the 19-year-old forward played alongside Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz. Nothing is set in stone, but that combination did gel.

“I think we want to look at what the combinations look like now rather than do it at the start of the season,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’re looking at a hard match line and we’re also looking at taking advantage of speed and skill off the rush.

“I really liked what I saw today. I really liked Lehtera’s line, they looked very dynamic off the rush.”

The top line of Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, and Vladimir Tarasenko seems like a good bet to play together for the time being. Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz will stick together on the second line while Dmitrij Jaskin and David Backes can expect to be regular partners on the third unit. The X-factors will be Fabbri and Troy Brouwer as Hitchcock has left the door open to alternating between the two of them on the second and third line depending on the opponent.

Fabbri was taken with the 21st overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and is looking to make the leap after a brief stint in the AHL last season. At the OHL level, he’s been a dominate force with the Guelph Storm, scoring 25 goals and 51 points in 30 games in 2014-15.

Panarin impresses ‘Hawks with his preseason debut

Artemi Panarin
AP Photo

Will Artem Panarin‘s overwhelming success in the KHL translate to North America? The 23-year-old forward has a lot to prove, but his first big test was a success.

Playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, Panarin made his preseason debut in Chicago’s finale on Saturday. He registered two assists while giving his teammates reason to be optimistic about him.

“For not being on the ice he looks really relaxed. He’s great with the puck, has nice moves and I think we’ll see a lot of this,” Marian Hossa told CSN Chicago. “He has unbelievable skill. People here in Chicago are going to have a good time watching this guy dangling.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Panarin as well and liked that line as a whole.

The fact that the trio seemed to hit it off quickly has to come as a relief after an upper-body injury prevented Panarin from getting the most out of this year’s training camp. At the end of the day though, the fact that he was able to at least get in one preseason contest is a big silver lining. How smoothly his adjustment goes from here is still a big X-factor, but at least now he’s going into the regular season with a better idea of what to expect.

Panarin is attempting to establish himself in the NHL after leading the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg to a championship last year. He was the team’s scoring leader, topping ex-NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.