We’re at that point in a season where every night off can be nerve-wracking for teams in playoff races.
The Calgary Flames watched on tonight as the Los Angeles Kings and Winnipeg Jets won significant contests, leaving the Flames outside of the West’s wild card spots as of this evening.
Let’s cut the West up to show the wild card/buffer races in a very simplified way (apologies to the likes of Dallas and San Jose, just keeping things simple here):
Pacific second spot: Vancouver – 90 points in 74 games played (update: the Colorado Avalanche beat them 4-1)
Pacific third spot: Los Angeles – 88 points in 74 games played after beating the New York Islanders 3-2
First wild card: Minnesota – 91 points in 74 games played
Second wild card: Winnipeg – 90 points in 75 games played after beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-2
Just outside the playoffs: Calgary – 87 points in 74 games played
As you can see above, the Kings’ win is the most directly relevant to Calgary, as that knocked them out of the Pacific’s third spot (and thus the playoff picture altogether).
Plenty of jostling can take place in the Pacific. In fact, the situation is fluid enough that Vancouver, Los Angeles and Calgary also must be mindful of the two Central Division teams currently holding the two wild card spots.
Simply put, today hasn’t gone well for the Flames, especially if Vancouver manages to come back against Colorado.
That said, one can simply turn to what might as well be the motto of the playoff run: there’s always tomorrow. In this specific case, Friday’s game is a big one as the Flames visit the Wild in Minnesota.
For much of Thursday’s game, it looked like the Boston Bruins would do just enough to beat the Anaheim Ducks. Instead, they suffered a bitter 3-2 OT loss, now their sixth straight defeat.
Simply put, the Ducks’ big guns ultimately made the difference. Corey Perry scored the game-tying goal with about 40 seconds remaining in the third period while Ryan Getzlaf nabbed the OT clincher.
(The Ducks noted that Getzlaf’s seven OT-winners stand as a club record.)
Bruins head coach Claude Julien has his beefs about Perry’s 2-2 tally, yet one wonders if the Bruins simply didn’t give themselves enough of a margin for error. The (rather stunning) numbers reveal that the Ducks finish out games with astounding proficiency:
David Krejci looked understandably tentative in his return to action, but he also made some nice plays, including picking up an assist. It wasn’t enough, yet he could be a key component down the stretch.
Some close calls may turn the knife a little deeper for the Bruins during this six-game skid. Counting tonight’s OT defeat, three of these setbacks could have been wins (two were in shootouts).
Could those three points end up being the difference? We’ll see. The only good news for Boston is that tonight was probably even rougher for the Ottawa Senators.
Boston fell just short tonight, and if the Bruins aren’t careful, that may just be the story of their 2014-15 season.
The New York Rangers were the last team to be “eliminated” from the 2014 playoffs. They’re now the first team to officially make the 2015 postseason.
With their 5-1 win against the Ottawa Senators and the Anaheim Ducks’ comeback OT victory against the Boston Bruins in the books, the Rangers clinched their playoff spot on Thursday night.
Update: The Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning failed to clinch spots tonight, so only the Rangers did it.
Thursday presented one of those classic “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29” situations: who do you really deem the “winners” of an Arizona Coyotes – Buffalo Sabres game?
OK, in a literal sense, the Coyotes beat the Sabres 4-3 in OT.
Considering the tanking scenario, Buffalo really “wins” by generating one fewer standings point. Really, though, the Edmonton Oilers might be the “winners” in that the Sabres forced this contest to go to overtime with a late Brian Gionta goal.
Either way, it was an odd scene in which beat reporters were passing along notes about fans cheering for both Sabres and Coyotes goals in Buffalo.
Observe the ovation for Sam Gagner’s winning goal:
Here is how the race to the bottom looks now:
30. Buffalo – 48 points, eight games left
29. Arizona – 54 points, seven games left
28. Edmonton – 55 points, eight games left
Realistically, it’s probably just a battle for second-to-last, as it’s hard to imagine Buffalo winning enough to sabotage getting the best odds in the draft lottery. The good news for the Oilers is that Arizona and Buffalo face off again in Arizona on Monday.
Like a midnight showing of “The Room,” one gets the feeling that hockey fans will enjoy watching that next contest in a very sardonic sort of way …
Expect a new set of hamburger jokes tonight (some of the cringe-inducing variety*), as Ottawa Senators phenom Andrew Hammond’s storybook season hit a bump in the road named the New York Rangers.
At the moment, the Rangers are up 5-1, and that was enough for “The Hamburglar” to get pulled from the Senators’ net. (At least he’s not alone tonight.)
Hammond allowed five goals on 22 shots before getting taken out late in the second period. Perhaps seeing Tanner Glass score against Hammond was the last straw?
Chris Driedger took over for Hammond. The 20-year-old is seeing his first night of NHL action in relief.
Unfortunately, his last name is nowhere near as friendly to nicknaming. Maybe a Darren Dreger reference or two?
Update: The Rangers ended up winning 5-1, while this disturbing image hangs over Ottawa’s season:
* – Raises hand.