Back to Class: Bad time to be a bubble team

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We’re taking you “Back To Class” for our roundup of the weekend’s action in college hockey. The NCAA tournament field of 16 will be settled this Sunday. 

Part of the fun of conference tournament time is seeing which bubble teams can master their destiny and which others see their chances dissolve away. The last two weekends saw things go very poorly for the likes of Alaska, Western Michigan, Rensselaer, and Robert Morris. Meanwhile, schools like Providence, Union, and Wisconsin saw things get much better.

Alaska was knocked out of the first round of the CCHA tournament by last-place Michigan St. while Western Michigan bowed out to Michigan last weekend. Rensselaer was upset in three games by seeming perpetual playoff nemesis Brown. In Atlantic Hockey,  Robert Morris was bumped off by Connecticut.

Out of these teams, the one still sitting well in the Pairwise is Western Michigan. Their run through the CCHA regular season and strong out of conference schedule hasn’t totally ruined their hope of making the NCAAs. The Broncos are 14th in PWR while Union is up to 15th after deposing Dartmouth and Wisconsin is in a logjam at 16th with Boston University, Providence, Rensselaer, and Alaska. Ties are broken by the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and that would put Wisconsin at 16th with the final spot in the tournament.

Jayson Moy of USCHO.com does a great job breaking down the “bracketology” of how things stand right now. That said, if you’re rooting for a bubble team this weekend you’re rooting for all favorites to win every game, even the consolation games. Above all, however, you’re rooting for Niagara to win Atlantic Hockey.

If the Purple Eagles take home their tourney and that means the top 16 in Pairwise all make the big dance. Should any other team bump them off, however, we could be looking at two Atlantic Hockey teams making NCAAs and therefore bumping out whoever is sitting in 16th. For those schools all vying to get in, that’s bad and for WMU, Rensselaer, and Alaska who aren’t playing another game to help themselves out, it’d be a virtual death blow.

If you’re looking for ways to find out if your school can still make the tournament, both College Hockey News and USCHO.com have ways for you to be the committee and find the right combination of wins and losses to finagle your team into the field of 16.

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Here are your conference match-ups going into the final weekend before the NCAAs. All games from here on out are single-elimination.

WCHA: St. Cloud State faces the winner of Colorado College vs. North Dakota while Minnesota gets the winner of Minnesota St. vs. Wisconsin. The Final Six Five starts tomorrow in St. Paul, MN.

CCHA: Top-seeded Miami faces tournament Cinderella and seventh-seeded Michigan while Ohio St. and Notre Dame square off in a game that would be great for football purposes. The semis start on Saturday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

Hockey East: It’s a loaded foursome in Boston as the top four teams in the conference all advanced. Top-seeded UMass-Lowell draws Providence while the No. 2 team, Boston College, draws their archrivals from Boston University. There’s nothing BC would want more than to put a bullet in BU’s season. Can they do it without Jerry York behind the bench?

ECAC: The top four seeds almost all made it to Atlantic City but second seeded Rensselaer was upset by Brown. The Bears’ reward? They get top seeded Quinnipiac. Union and Yale meet in the other semifinal match-up.

Atlantic Hockey: Niagara cruised to the semifinals and they’ll get the seventh seeded Canisius Golden Griffins in the semifinals. Mercyhurst and their Hartford Whalers-lookalike uniforms will face Connecticut in the other semifinal.

(Photo: The Scouting Report)

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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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)

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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

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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

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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?