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And then there were two: Rangers’ gas tank hits empty

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If the New York Rangers really were tired, then the New Jersey Devils certainly didn’t help matters. The Blueshirts’ local rivals didn’t humiliate them, but they did enough to prove their superiority and ultimately bump the East’s top seed out of the playoffs with a 4-2 series win thanks to a 3-2 OT win.

What happened?

Blame it on fatigue if you want, but the Devils were just too much for the Rangers. New Jersey had too much talent; Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise proved to be a superior one-two punch compared to Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. The Devils boasted too much depth as Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta scored huge goals. Ultimately, their forecheck was just too fierce and the Blueshirts found themselves chasing the Devils more often than not in the series.

Who takes the blame?

Michael Del Zotto is the easy scapegoat for the Rangers, and no doubt about it, he was on the ice for many of the team’s worst moments. You can say that he still has some room for improvement.

That shouldn’t excuse Richards and Gaborik, though, as they were often MIA in this six-game series. Gaborik, in general, was quite inconsistent in this year’s playoffs. It’ll be interesting to hear if the fragile star has been fighting off injuries because he wasn’t very good – not exactly what you want to see from a winger who registers a $7.5 million annual cap hit.

Overall, there weren’t many Rangers who will look back at this series without at least a slight feeling of regret.

What will they do about it?

If you believe the whispers, the Rangers might still be in the Rick Nash sweepstakes. Depending upon what he’d cost, that move might just be worth it because New York could use a boost. At the same time, Glen Sather’s lust for splashy moves has been a double-edged sword; his expensive imports have only worked out relatively well recently. (See: Holik, Bobby and Gomez, Scott, among many others.)

The Rangers have plenty of youth beyond their big-name guys, though, so it’s reasonable to assume that there could be some improvement from within. Henrik Lundqvist probably has a few more elite years left and surely you’ve heard all the gushing reviews about youngsters such as Chris Kreider.

The future still should be bright in the Big Apple, yet one cannot help but wonder how many times they’ll be able to avoid formidable East teams, like their division mates in Philly and Pittsburgh.

More

And then there were 15: Is Detroit’s dynasty on its last legs?

And then there were 14: Sharks come out flat in playoffs

And then there were 13: Powerhouse Pens fall flat

And then there were 12: Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks bounced in Round 1

And then there were 11: Another first-round exit for Blackhawks

And then there were 10: Bruins run out of Game 7 magic

And then there were nine: Senators out, but future’s bright

And then there were eight: Panthers go out swinging

And then there were seven: Blues swept out of Western Conference semifinal

And then there were six: So much for Nashville’s mid-season reload

And then there were five: New-look Flyers produce familiar results

And then there were four: Capitals fall just short in Game 7

And then there were three: Coyotes’ run falls short

PHT Morning Skate: A spirited fight between Sam Bennett and Ryan Johansen

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–Making trades in the cap era isn’t easy, but almost every team that went on to win the Stanley Cup pulled off a key move or two before the trade deadline. Sportsnet’s Steve Dangle breaks down some of the key trades that helped teams lift the cup. From Carolina’s acquisition of Mark Recchi and Doug Weight in 2006 to Los Angeles getting Jeff Carter in 2012, every one of these moves helped in some way. (Sportsnet)

–As part of their centennial celebration, the Toronto Maple Leafs unveiled the green and white St. Pats jerseys they’ll be wearing against the Chicago Blackhawks on Mar. 18. The Toronto St. Patricks existed between 1919 and 1927. The jerseys are fairly plain, but they represent a special part of the organization’s history. It’ll still be weird to see the Leafs wear green. (sportslogos.net)

Joe Thornton has always been known as an elite playmaker and he’s now just two assists away from becoming the 13th player to hit the 1000-assist mark. The things Thornton has and continues to do with the puck on his stick are impressive. When his career is over, he’ll surely go down as one of the best set-up men in league history. (The Hockey News)

–Last night’s game between the ‘Hawks and Wild turned into the Jonathan Toews show, as Chicago’s captain scored three goals and two assists in his team’s 5-3 victory. You can watch the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Ducks defenseman Shea Theodore has a bright future ahead of him, but he still hasn’t established himself as a regular NHLer. That much is obvious when you consider the number of miles he’s put on his truck by driving between Anaheim and San Diego (AHL affiliate). The season isn’t even over yet and he’s already officially been up and down 13 times in 2016-17. “When he leaves, you wouldn’t know if it’s for five minutes or if he’s gone for a month,” says teammate Jaycob Megna. “I’ll be out getting groceries and I’ll come back and he’ll be gone or packing up again. You never know when you’re going to see him.” (Sports Illustrated)

–The Fourth Period is the latest website to break down the top 25 players that could get moved before the March 1st deadline. Kevin Shattenkirk is at the top of the list, while Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are fourth and fifth respectively. Two Arizona Coyotes cracked the top six. (The Fourth Period)

–Flames forward Sam Bennett and Preds forward Ryan Johansen don’t drop the gloves very often, but they definitely let their fists fly during last night’s game. The whole thing started because Johansen went after Matt Stajan. Bennett didn’t appreciate that. Here’s the video:

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville: