East update: Caps stay alive as Detroit, Columbus also win

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The Washington Capitals need to win out and enjoy a staggering array of breaks to make the playoffs, but they at least did their part on Tuesday, handling the St. Louis Blues to a tune of a 4-1 win.

It was the kind of victory that left many Capitals fans and writers wondering, “Where has this team been all this time?”

… And left St. Louis fans booing a team that is now on its first three-game losing streak of the season:

Oh yeah, if that’s not enough for Blues fans, it appears that David Backes might have a foot injury. Updates were scarce on Tuesday, so that might be something we learn more about it later on.

Circling back to the Capitals’ desperate playoff run, the good news is that they won; the bad news is that the teams ahead of them also almost uniformly improved their leads (most notably the wild card teams). The Detroit Red Wings handled the Buffalo Sabres while the Columbus Blue Jackets managed a spirited overtime win against the even-more-desperate Phoenix Coyotes. Washington basically needs to win out and have at least one of these teams more or less collapse to make it to the playoffs.

See for yourself:

source:

There are now only four teams who can mathematically end up with the two final East spots: Detroit, Columbus, Washington and the New Jersey Devils (who are hanging on by even less of a thread).

The Capitals can top out at 91 standings points, 39 wins and 29 regulation/overtime wins. Want an idea of how likely that may be? Here are the four teams’ closing schedules:

Detroit: Wednesday – at Pittsburgh, Friday – vs. Carolina and Sunday – at St. Louis
Columbus: Wednesday – at Dallas, Friday – at Tampa Bay, Saturday – at Florida
Washington: Thursday – at Carolina, Friday – vs. Chicago, Sunday – vs. Tampa Bay
New Jersey: Thursday – at Ottawa, Friday – vs. NY Islanders, Sunday – vs. Boston

Could Washington finish ahead of at least two of those teams when it’s all over? It’s not impossible, it’s just improbable. They at least kept that door open on Tuesday night, though.

Related: Flyers clinch spot; Maple Leafs, Senators and Hurricanes bow out

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.