James O'Brien

Holding serve: Flyers rally to maintain wild card spot over Red Wings


By grinding out a win, the Detroit Red Wings briefly stepped back into playoff position in the East.

As it turns out, that amounted to keeping someone else’s seat warm, as the Philadelphia Flyers gutted out a tough win of their own to maintain their control over the East’s final wild card spot.

Let’s look at the wild card race now:

Wild card 1: Islanders – 87 points, 35 ROW, 72 games played
Wild card 2: Flyers – 85 points, 34 ROW, 73 GP

Red Wings – 85 points, 35 ROW, 74 GP

(The Devils are at 79 points and the Hurricanes are at 78, in case they have a shot.)

Philly showed some moxie in winning this game despite being behind late, and Steve Mason‘s shaking off talk of getting a little breather.

Looking forward, the Flyers might just root for the Penguins against the Red Wings on Saturday, while both teams must circle and underline this date:

Wed. April 6: Flyers at Red Wings

At the moment, each team is putting itself in a position to keep its “destiny in its own hands.”

Predators are really starting to knock on Blackhawks’ door

Nashville Predators center Paul Gaustad (28) fights with Chicago Blackhawks left wing Andrew Desjardins (11) in the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

The Nashville Predators might not be content with being the team that seems too good to be in a wild card spot.

They’re about as hot as the Chicago Blackhawks are cold right now, and with Thursday’s comeback win against the Vancouver Canucks (3-2 via a shootout), there isn’t much separating these two teams.

OK, to be more precise, the Blackhawks are only ahead of the Predators by two standings points, although Chicago also holds tiebreaker edges.

Chicago: 42-25-7 for 91 points in 74 games played (41 ROW)
Nashville: 38-23-13 for 89 points in 74 GP (34 ROW)

The Blackhawks would scare the West’s second seed more than the Predators based on their robust run of titles, but Nashville’s hot enough that they’re not exactly a pleasant matchup, either:

If Nashville aims to eclipse Chicago, this might be the time to do it. The Blackhawks are about to enter a four-game road trip that could be a challenge for a struggling group.

The two teams don’t have any head-to-head matchups remaining, and Predators fans might say that Chicago should be glad.

Ducks clinch playoff spot in fitting way: By coming back from the dead

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Garret Sparks looks back for the puck as Anaheim Ducks' Jakob Silfverberg (33) falls into him during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Toronto.  (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Of course it couldn’t be pretty.

The Anaheim Ducks tweeted the following when crossing into overtime clinched their playoff spot: “Not a goal, but an expectation.”

Even the Ducks would probably admit that they wouldn’t be so bold with such a proclamation back in, say, November.

In a way, Thursday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs runs parallel to the Ducks’ odd little 2015-16 season. They waddled badly out of the gate in falling behind by a score of 4-1 in the waning moments of the second period, yet Anaheim once again reminded us that they shouldn’t be dismissed, even under trying circumstances.

Remarkably, the Ducks ended up roaring back to a 5-4 lead.

Heck, even most of their offense came from reinforcements, hammering home this theme in another way.

Again, that’s a strangely fitting microcosm of their season, although the ultimate result (a 6-5 overtime loss to the lowly Leafs) means that the Ducks don’t want the analogy to be too accurate.

Deep down, more than a few Ducks fans probably let out a sigh of relief tonight.

Tonight was a bummer for the Bruins


For Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien, Thursday went from humbling to grumbling.

The Florida Panthers beat his Bruins 4-1 tonight, moving to first place in the Atlantic Division, at least for the time being.

It wasn’t just a loss for the Bruins; it was also a fifth defeat in a row. Add in an injury and a frustrating call or two, and Julien’s franchise wins record is probably not on the tip of many tongues.

The injury

John Michael-Liles suffered a lower-body injury and was unable to return. It’s unclear how bad it might be beyond that.

The insult

A goal review almost left Julien’s face blue:

One other result: some unease among the locals.

Hey, if Julien showed anything in setting a new benchmark for Bruins coaches, it’s that he can roll with the punches. That’s good, because the Panthers landed a few on his kisser this time around.

Devils end Penguins’ six-game winning streak with a thud

New Jersey Devils' Kyle Palmieri (21) celebrates his first of two goals in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Thursday, March 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Whether a playoff run is a long-shot or not, the New Jersey Devils could be a tough out going down the stretch.

The Pittsburgh Penguins experienced that firsthand on Thursday, seeing their six-game winning streak snap in an authoritative fashion via New Jersey’s 3-0 decision.

Kyle Palmieri scored both of the Devils’ goals in the first period, giving him an impressive 29 on the season. Adam Henrique added another insurance goal, but Scott Wedgewood only needed that first one, stopping a whopping 39 shots for his first NHL shutout.

Wedgewood is now on a two-game winning streak, and the Devils are pretty hot overall. While their two losses were lopsided (a combined score of 13-4), they’re winning overall, with five victories in seven tries.

Few teams were riding as high as the Penguins were coming into this game, with a big victory over Philly on Saturday and what some might view as a statement win against Washington a day later.

A nice rest wasn’t enough for Pittsburgh tonight, and it’s quite clear that the Devils must be taken seriously.