With less than a month remaining in the 2013-14 regular season, winning against fellow playoff bubble teams matters … but winning in regulation is a much sweeter victory.
The Winnipeg Jets probably did so most emphatically, as they didn’t slow down after chasing Tim Thomas on Sunday, ultimately pounding the West’s current final wild card team by an eye-popping score of 7-2.
This win emboldens Winnipeg’s chances (even if only slightly) while making Dallas’ grip a little looser on that final playoff spot. Let’s take a quick look through both conferences to see where things are at heading into Monday.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Vancouver Canucks avoided a loss against Roberto Luongo and the Florida Panthers, taking an important 4-3 shootout win. Eddie Lack exhales.
Winnipeg’s win is good news for the idle Phoenix Coyotes, who are tied with the Stars points-wise, although Dallas has a game in hand. The Stars and Coyotes may very well have a playoff spot on the line when they meet in Glendale on April 13.
In the upper ranks of the Central Division, the Colorado Avalanche stayed a point ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks after the Avs beat the Ottawa Senators 3-1 while Chicago bested Detroit 4-1.
Meanwhile, the idle Anaheim Ducks still hold a game in hand over the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks won 1-0 against the New York Rangers to give them six wins in a row and 97 standings points (the same as the Ducks, who have played 68 games to San Jose’s 69).
Here’s an even quicker summary of the East action:
In the bubble, Detroit lost some ground to the Washington Capitals. Both the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes fell short against the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers respectively, leaving their outlooks that much dimmer.
In the Atlantic Division, the Montreal Canadiens won their game to leave them second in the division while the Toronto Maple Leafs squandered an opportunity to increase their breathing room at third. The idle Tampa Bay Lightning (first wild card spot) are only one point behind Toronto with two games in hand.
The Metropolitan Division saw a little upheaval. The Philadelphia Flyers’ win against the Pittsburgh Penguins hurts other teams in the division, as the New York Rangers were pushed down to the East’s final wild card spot (thanks also to their 1-0 loss against the Sharks). The idle Columbus Blue Jackets’ playoff hopes look a little safer after losses for Washington and New York.
Need the numbers and standings? Understandable enough:
It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.
Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:
Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49
Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.
Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.
Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.
Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.
Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.
Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win
Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.
The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”
Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.
Lundqvist: "We didn’t give up as much, and it shows how committed we need to be in our own end.”
Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.
Mike Babcock: The back end was in lots of trouble tonight.
The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.
So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus
Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.
Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.
The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.
Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.
Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.
This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.
More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.
Greiss blanks Stars as Isles win in first game of post-Capuano era
The New York Islanders began the Doug Weight era in the same way Jack Capuano’s ended: with a shutout.
Yeah, it’s easy to forget that the Islanders actually won their last game under Capuano, consider all that’s happened since.
They blanked the Boston Bruins 4-0 on Monday and generated a 3-0 shutout against the Dallas Stars on Thursday. It’s quite a feather in the cap of goalie Thomas Greiss, who owns these back-to-back shutouts.
(It’s worth mentioning that, for all the Bruins’ and Stars’ flaws, they can be very explosive on offense …)
That Monday shutout wasn’t enough for Capuano to save his job, and the Isles still have a long way to go after this encouraging outcome. The East’s second wild card spot still seems like a long shot for Weight & Co.
Even so, the Islanders will take it. They play their next five games at home and seven of eight in Brooklyn, so if there’s ever a time for movement, it would logically come now.