James O'Brien

Melting: Avs’ playoff hopes plummet after loss to Blues, Wild win


The Colorado Avalanche ended the St. Louis Blues’ shutout streak on Tuesday, but … that’s about the only thing that’s really going for them.

Overall, tonight dealt some brutal blows – maybe fatal ones – to the Avalanche’s playoff hopes.

For one thing, the most direct and obvious: the Blues beat the Avalanche 3-1, giving St. Louis five straight wins and victories in 11 of 13 games.

That would be bad enough by itself, as Colorado saw much of the goodwill from Monday’s win against Nashville wash away. Unfortunately for Patrick Roy & Co., it gets worse, as the Wild’s impressive victory over the Blackhawks means that Minnesota holds a five-point lead for the West’s final wild card spot with just five games remaining.

(The Avalanche don’t even hold games in hand.)

Technically, the Avalanche aren’t dead in the water, yet look at this brutal schedule:

Friday: vs. Washington
Sunday: vs. St. Louis
April 5: at Nashville
April 7: at Dallas
April 9: vs. Anaheim

Yikes. It’s not outrageous to wonder if Colorado will even get five points from that stretch, and the Wild can still pile up points to expand the gap.

Meanwhile …

The Blues have to be riding high, as they’re continuing to play stingy hockey and also seem to be getting healthier as the playoffs approach.

OK, maybe that second part is an exaggeration, as they must monitor the health of rising rookie Robby Fabbri:


They also only kept pace with the Dallas Stars, who are still in first place in the Central Division after beating the Predators on Tuesday.

So, it’s not all good for the Blues or all bad for the Avalanche … yet it’s pretty close to being that way.

Crisis coming? Concerns rise for Blackhawks after huge win for Wild


The bigger deal here is that the Minnesota Wild won on Tuesday.

They’re fighting for their playoff lives, and if the St. Louis Blues hold on against the Colorado Avalanche, their odds of making the postseason go up exponentially.

The Wild also generated a remarkable achievement; by beating the Blackhawks 4-1, they swept their five-game season series against Chicago. This gives you an idea of just how rare this accomplishment is:

Pretty impressive, right?

Yet … the loudest noises weren’t coming from celebrating Wild fans. Instead, you could almost hear the hand-wringing from Chicago circles after another tough loss and the murky near-future for Duncan Keith.

People are worried about a wide variety of issues, from the team’s overall viability to more concrete concerns such as the Blackhawks slipping into the wild card (and having to face the Los Angeles Kings in what could be a scary first-round series).

Here’s a sampling of some of the nail-biting reactions:

Not to mention a no-comment:

Then again, the Blackhawks seemed down before and fought back just about every time. We’ll find out soon enough if they shake this off or if we see some rare stumbles from this juggernaut franchise.

And, hey, even a big Keith suspension could have silver linings:


Flyers ‘win’ big with tough losses for Red Wings, Bruins

A shot by New Jersey Devils center Reid Boucher enters the net of Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask for a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in Newark, N.J. The Devils won 2-1. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

When it comes to the East playoff races, the biggest winners were generally the teams that didn’t even play. Otherwise, Tuesday stands as an evening of spoilers.

(Heck, the Pittsburgh Penguins almost fell to this pattern as well, but they managed to gut out a shootout win against the Buffalo Sabres.)

Wildly frustrating

The Philadelphia Flyers have to be smiling tonight.

For one thing, the Boston Bruins dropped their sixth of seven games as the New Jersey Devils defeated them 2-1 in regulation. The Bruins had to be gritting their teeth during an unlikely standout game by Keith Kinkaid, as Boston lost despite a 40-15 shot advantage.

The Montreal Canadiens did the Flyers a solid, too, narrowly edging the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 (also in regulation).

Detroit nearly rallied after Petr Mrazek was given an early hook when Montreal went up 2-0, but it wasn’t to be.

At least it appears as though Dylan Larkin avoided injury:

The New York Islanders won to strengthen their hold over the top wild card spot, so here’s a glance at how the races for the East’s final wild card spot and the Atlantic’s third seed look right now.

Third in Atlantic: Bruins – 88 points, 36 ROW, five games remaining

Second Wild Card: Flyers – 87 points, 35 ROW, 7 GR

Behind in Wild Card and Atlantic: Red Wings – 87 points, 36 ROW, 5 GR

As you can see, things are suddenly looking extremely promising for the Flyers while the Red Wings and Bruins remain very close.

Another idle team smiles

Nazem Kadri‘s hot streak scorched the Florida Panthers on Tuesday as the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Cats 5-2.

With that, the Tampa Bay Lightning benefit, as they’re technically the top team in the Atlantic as of tonight.

1. Atlantic: Tampa Bay – 93 points, 41 ROW, 6 GR
2. Atlantic: Florida – 93 points, 35 ROW, 6 GR

The Lightning have to hope that they break the spoiler cycle, as their next opponent is the Montreal Canadiens.

Long story short … it was a good night to watch the games, and not just for fans.

Sloppy but effective: Penguins rally for shootout win vs. Sabres

Pittsburgh Penguins' Tom Kuhnhackl (34) celebrates his goal with Trevor Daley, center, and Matt Cullen (7) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, March 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Is it a matter of selective memories, or have three-goal leads been especially perilous lately?

Whatever the case may be, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the latest team to rally from a considerable deficit. The Buffalo Sabres stormed off to a 3-0 lead, yet the Penguins battled back for an eventual 5-4 shootout win.

The Sabres have been pretty spry at times, but even so, the Penguins took advantage of some mistakes by the young, struggling team.

Like this gaffe, for example:

Then again, sometimes it’s all about brilliant players like Sidney Crosby making the difference.

Just like that, the Penguins are a mere standings point behind the New York Rangers for the second seed in the Metropolitan Division.

Tuesday presents the latest bit of evidence that this Pittsburgh team, for all its flaws, is a tough squad to fight off.

Grigorenko ends Blues’ sensational shutout streak at 258 minutes

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It had to end some time.

The St. Louis Blues reeled off four straight shutouts, with three going to Brian Elliott and one via Jake Allen. Their franchise-record run ended tonight, however, as Mikhail Grigorenko scored on a nice series of passes by Tyson Barrie and Mikkel Boedker.

The NHL tweeted that the Blues’ franchise-record streak lasted 258:29. It’s also the first time they’ve allowed an even-strength goal in what feels like ages.

Don’t be too sad …

… Because the Blues aim to begin a new one.

(Hey, technically Jake Allen still has one going, right?)