Colorado Avalanche v Edmonton Oilers

West update: Avs creep on Blues, Stars add to wild card lead

7 Comments

For some time, it seemed like the Eastern Conference’s playoff races and seeding battles would be the most interesting as the 2013-14 regular season came to a close. As it turns out, this final week might be far juicier out West.

Let’s take a tour through an increasingly interesting situation in the competitive conference.

  • To begin, we’ll go with teams fighting for their playoff lives (rather than musical chairs for division/conference supremacy).
  • The Dallas Stars managed to take a shootout win against the Nashville Predators, eliminating the Preds from the postseason race in the process. The Stars slightly strengthened their hold on the West’s final wild card spot …
  •  … Because the Phoenix Coyotes could only manage a point against the Columbus Blue Jackets, ultimately surrendering in overtime on Tuesday. Phoenix isn’t totally collapsing as much as the Coyotes seem to be running out of gas; they’ve lost five games in a row but earned three points during that span.
  • Interestingly, the two teams will face the squads they rooted for tonight. Dallas takes on Columbus (and will trail the Blue Jackets 1-0 off the bat) in a game that was postponed to Wednesday. Meanwhile, Phoenix faces the Predators in Nashville on Thursday.
  • The Minnesota Wild went from clinching a spot in general to securing the top wild card spot by winning against the Boston Bruins in a shootout. Ilya Bryzgalov is on fire right now.
  • It’s not just the final West spots that are up for grabs in interesting ways thanks to the St. Louis Blues’ first three-game losing streak of the season.
  • The Colorado Avalanche’s win against the Edmonton Oilers leaves them only two points behind St. Louis for the Central Division crown (Blues 111, Colorado 109) and possibly the Western Conference’s top seed (idle Anaheim is at 110 points). All three teams have three games remaining this season, with Sunday’s season finale between the Ducks and the Avalanche suddenly holding even more interesting implications (at least potentially).
  • The idle San Jose Sharks aren’t out of the Pacific race, either. Ponder this: the runner-up in the Central race would face Chicago in the first round while the Pacific’s second-place team nets Los Angeles in an opening series. Yup, that’s plenty of motivation to finish strong.
  • (Especially if the top wild card team Minnesota stays as hot as they’ve been.)

That’s a lot of information to disseminate, so if you just want to do the math for yourself, here’s a look at the updated standings:

source:

f

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

1 Comment

Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

7 Comments

The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

18 Comments

The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

***

Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

11 Comments

With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.