I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
Let’s consider this a “lightning round” for some of the milestones, records and bonuses different players hit on Saturday night. Feel free to add other examples in the comments.
Braden Holtby wins 48th: It took some time, but Braden Holtby hit the 48-win mark on Saturday, tying Martin Brodeur’s single-season record.
The burning question for Barry Trotz: do you give Holtby a chance to pass Brodeur or do you avoid playing Holtby in back-to-back games to end the season?
Some might argue that Holtby’s name should be mentioned first because of this little tidbit:
Alex Ovechkin scores 50th goal: More on that here.
A bonus bit on the Capitals, for one:
Vlad ain’t bad: Vladimir Tarasenko ranks high on the list of “Guys who score a lot of goals unless you compare them to Ovechkin.” He hit the 40-goal mark himself tonight.
Plenty hit 30: Alex Galcehnyuk and Max Pacioretty helped each other hit the 30-goal plateau on Saturday. Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri both managed 30 goals for the Devils. (Some guys, including Jason Chimera, also hit 20 goals.)
Bonuses and trophies: Artemi Panarin is virtually assured of hitting some big bonuses by possibly winning the Calder Trophy and finishing in the top 10 in scoring after his three-point game gave him 77 points in 2015-16. Patrick Kane‘s name is probably already being placed on the Art Ross Trophy after he collected three points of his own, giving him a whopping 106.
300 goals: Scott Hartnell managed that achievement.
Passing the Golden Jet: With the 611th goal of his career, Jarome Iginla now stands at 16th all-time.
For years, the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues have produced brilliant regular seasons … with very different playoff results.
While the Blackhawks only authored one recent defeat for the Blues (beating them in six games back in 2013-14), the narratives have been consistent. Chicago goes deep, winning three Stanley Cups in the Patrick Kane – Jonathan Toews era. Meanwhile, St. Louis falls with frustration, whether Ken Hitchcock’s troops fall in round one or two.
So, yes, the Blues nearly won the Central Division and they’ll have home-ice advantage in this series … but they’re probably still the underdogs to many, if not most.
Plenty is on the line for both teams – who knows how much longer Chicago’s window will remain open – but there’s no doubt that the Blues are under big-time pressure.
Even after navigating a minefield of injuries this season, few will give this group the benefit of the doubt if they fall in the first round once again.
If their 2014 series was any indication, it should be a lot of fun, at least for those watching.
(The Blues saw their division title hopes die by getting clobbered by the Washington Capitals, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway since the Dallas Stars edged the Nashville Predators.)
Other series set
Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings
Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild
The Dallas Stars ended their season edging one Central Division team (the Nashville Predators) to win the Central Division over the St. Louis Blues.
For their troubles, they’ll face another Central Division team in the Minnesota Wild after grabbing the division crown, and with that, the top seed in the Western Conference.
That means that the Stars will hold home-ice advantage for every round unless they face off against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals. (They’d probably be OK with that deal, too, being that they’d be in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final in that scenario.)
By grabbing the Central Division crown, the Stars avoid facing the Chicago Blackhawks, who will instead take on the St. Louis Blues.
The obvious historical tie-in between the Stars and Wild comes from the dissolution of the Minnesota North Stars (who, of course, became the Dallas Stars). For plenty of fans, especially in Minnesota, that will be something in the back of their minds.
On the other hand, it’s a match between a dominant-if-unproven Stars team against a Wild club that clawed into the playoffs … and then sputtered toward the end.
Well, of course he did.
Alex Ovechkin came into Saturday with 47 goals on the season, eyeing a rare full campaign in which he (and thus the rest of the NHL) might not hit that 50-goal mark. The St. Louis Blues certainly had every reason to stop him, too, being that they’re in a dogfight with the Dallas Stars for the Central Division crown.
The Washington Capitals, meanwhile, had little to play for beyond milestones (speaking of which, Braden Holtby‘s likely to tie Martin Brodeur for the single-season wins record at 48).
So, those thoughts might swim in your head and make you believe that Ovechkin might not make it.
And then you remember just how automatic No. 8 really is.
He reached 50 on Saturday thanks to a hat trick, and he didn’t need an empty net to do it. Check out his third goal of the evening in GIF form, with video of the trio to be added soon enough:
To little surprise, he’s made some history:
The “Shanaplan” continues to come together for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After getting pummeled in their season finale to the New Jersey Devils, the Maple Leafs “locked down” the final standings spot in the NHL for 2015-16.
This gives them the best odds at getting the top pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, whether that means that the Leafs would grab Auston Matthews or a different high-end prospect.
The Globe & Mail’s James Mirtle spells out what it all means in more detail:
Expect more on draft lottery odds later on, but the bottom line is that the Maple Leafs continue their rebuild in an impressive way (albeit with the cognitive dissonance that comes with absorbing some humbling defeats).
Even Mike Babcock acknowledged the writing on the wall.