It looks like the Western Conference playoff race will be a fight to the end for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings and possibly the Minnesota Wild.
While the Red Wings handled the Nashville Predators 5-2 on Thursday, the Blue Jackets topped the Dallas Stars 3-1 to stay in the running for a playoff spot.
In a humorous twist, fans of the Red Wings and Blue Jackets will go from jeering Thursday’s opponents for becoming one-night fans of those respective squads on Saturday. The Stars host the Red Wings while the Blue Jackets have a home game against the Predators to close out all four teams’ seasons.
Even if the Blue Jackets do win, the Red Wings only need one point to clinch a postseason spot while the Wild only need one win or two overtime/shootout losses (both squads hold insurmountable tiebreaker advantages over Columbus).
Don’t worry about all the drama being sapped away before the Blue Jackets can even finish their last game, though. While Minnesota can wrap things up on Friday, both the Blue Jackets and Red Wings play at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, so Columbus isn’t likely to hear that it’s all for naught early in the game.
In a way, it echoes the NBA’s sublime setup for the end of the Western Conference playoff run, as the Los Angeles Lakers were forced to win their last game after the Utah Jazz forced the issue.
Saturday’s advantage: it’s hockey. Saturday’s shortcoming: very low odds for Kobe Bryant Twitter commentary.
PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.
–The stray cat that ran onto the ice prior to Game 1 between the Sharks and Preds has been named after Joe Pavelski. (Associated Press)
–Speaking of that black cat, here’s a mountain of pucks shaped like the cat. (The Score)
–When Lukas Head was younger, he played with Steven Stamkos and P.K. Subban. Here’s his story. (Toronto Star)
–Watch the highlights from yesterday’s game between the Stars and Blues. (Top)
–A look behind the scenes of the NHL draft lottery. (Canadian Press)
–Two-time Olympic gold medalist Sharon Szabados loves curing and the Oilers and she was forced to make a tough choice on Saturday. (Sportsnet)
—Pascal Dupuis, who was named one of the Masterton Trophy finalists, is adjusting to retirement. (NHL.com)
The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.
San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.
The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.
Here’s the goal:
Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.
Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.
Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.
Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.
The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.
Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.
The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.
It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.
After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.
In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.
You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.
It’s nice to see that Vlasic was in a joking mood after the game:
Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:
You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.
After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.
“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.
“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”
After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.
“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”
And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.
—Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta