James O'Brien

Brian Elliott, Robert Bortuzzo, Nino Niederreiter

Blues beat Wild, set up Blackhawks-Predators series

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The St. Louis Blues beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 in a game where a lot of key players had the afternoon off, but that doesn’t mean it meant absolutely nothing. For one thing, this outcome clinches a first-round series between the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks.

(Nashville gets home-ice advantage as the second seed in the Central while a Calgary Flames loss clinches that same edge for the Vancouver Canucks in the Pacific’s No.2 vs. No. 3 series.)

St. Louis also kept its hopes of being the West’s top seed alive. The Blues moved to 109 standings points, two ahead of the Anaheim Ducks, who must win in regulation to take back the No. 1 spot.

Blues boast the better B-team

Despite some incentive for both teams – the Blues seek that top seed, the Wild may have had a chance to move out of the wild card – plenty of players got a breather on Saturday. Really, it makes sense to do so, as this day off could mean a week out of game action. Maybe that opens the door for rust to form, yet considering how bruising 82 games can be, it seems reasonable enough.

The Blues got off to such a slow start that their home fans gave them a Bronx cheer for an early shot on goal, yet they soldiered on and eventually won by a comfortable margin.

Vladimir Tarasenko scored his 37th goal of a brilliant breakout season to remind us that some big stars were still playing:

Brian Elliott won his 26th game of the season. This could be a helpful couple of wins for the 2015 All-Star, even if he backs up Jake Allen in the playoffs.

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So far, we know that the Blackhawks will face the Predators and the Vancouver Canucks will take on the Calgary Flames out West. The Blues and Wild won’t know their first-round opponents until this evening’s busy proceedings come to an end.

For all we know, Saturday could have been a first-round preview … albeit one without some top attractions.

Eichel powers Boston University to Frozen Four final

Jack Eichel
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While much of the hockey world breathlessly observed a thrilling Thursday with huge playoff implications, fans of cellar dwellers likely eyeballed the Frozen Four semifinals. Most specifically, they may have been following top prospect Jack Eichel, and he didn’t disappoint.

The expected second pick of the 2015 NHL Draft scored three points (including two goals) to help Boston University beat North Dakota 5-3 on Thursday, advancing Eichel’s school to its 11th championship final.

Here’s a handful of reactions to Eichel’s performance and his college hockey season, in general:

Eichel & Co. will face rival Providence after they took out Omaha by a score of 4-1. It’s the first national title appearance for Providence since 1985.

The championship will be on the line on Saturday. Perhaps a few Buffalo Sabres fans will be more intrigued by that contest than they will be by their finale?

Eliminated Kings are disappointed and upset … but maybe a little proud?

Colorado Avalanche v Los Angeles Kings
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There’s no sense denying the fact that the Los Angeles Kings are unhappy about being eliminated from the playoffs. Still, just moments after the Calgary Flames crushed their hopes, some reactions give you the sense that the team hasn’t lost sight of some resounding accomplishments.

Head coach Darryl Sutter was mainly talking about the effort on Thursday when he praised his team to LA Kings Insider, yet it felt like he could have been discussing the season at large.

“We played hard. I got no complaints about anything to do with our team,” Sutter said. “Give the Calgary Flames lots of credit. Now, I get to pull for them.”

The Kings carried themselves like a team that has won two recent championships, even giving the Flames some kudos (beyond Sutter, who has some simple reasons to root for a franchise he toiled for years ago):

Even Kings bloggers seem to have some nice perspective on the situation.

Well, sort of.

Again, don’t get things twisted; the team is obviously upset about this letdown.

Still, you get the impression that the Kings still believe that they have the makings of a contender going forward. Assuming, of course, that there aren’t big changes this summer.

“As a defending Cup champion I don’t think there’s any way that you shouldn’t make the playoffs the next year,” Drew Doughty said to the Los Angeles Times’ Helene Elliott. “It’s disappointing especially because of the group we had. Or have.”

A tight salary cap situation would indicate that the Kings probably will stick with this group, minus some key pieces (perhaps including Mr. Game 7, Justin Williams). Even if the message comes with a heavy heart, one cannot help but feel as if the Kings are really saying “We’ll be back.”

Pavelec paves way to Jets’ first playoff berth back in Winnipeg

Winnipeg Jets v St Louis Blues
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For years, the Winnipeg Jets have faced criticisms – often justified ones – for sticking with Ondrej Pavelec. It only seems right, then, that he’s played the best hockey of his divisive career to help the Jets clinch their first postseason berth since moving back to Winnipeg.

The Jets actually lost tonight, yet Pavelec was perfect before the shootout, eventually falling to Reto Berra and the Colorado Avalanche 1-0 (SO). He’s now generated three consecutive shutouts, even if he’ll take the loss:

Remember when he couldn’t even hold onto the Jets’ starting job? Granted, one may argue that Pavelec is a tough handful of playoff games from bringing Michael Hutchinson back into the future, yet management must feel brilliant sticking with the acrobatic goalie through thick and thin.

The Calgary Flames may have secured the Jets’ playoff spot to some extent by beating the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday, but Pavelec and a handful of other stalwarts like Blake Wheeler stand as the true heroes.

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As far as adding some extra context, the history angle shifts depending upon how you view this current edition of the Jets.

If you look at this as the adapted Atlanta Thrashers, then this is the franchise’s first playoff bid since they made their only appearance during the 2006-07 season (only to be humiliated by the New York Rangers).

If you look at this as Winnipeg Jets 2.0, then this is their first playoff berth since 1995-96.

Whatever way you slice it, the Jets muscled their way through some serious turbulence to finally make the playoffs, and opponents would be foolish to expect a smooth ride when facing them.

Dethroned: Flames eliminate Kings, clinch playoffs

Los Angeles Kings v Calgary Flames
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The Los Angeles Kings’ title defense won’t even make it until the last game of the 2014-15 season.

The Calgary Flames gutted out a 3-1 win against the Kings on Thursday, clinching their first postseason berth since the 2008-09 season. This outcome also clinches a playoff berth for the Winnipeg Jets (more on the Jets in a post that’s soon to come).

Jiri Hudler hasn’t received the same sort of hype that’s been heaped upon his young linemates Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, yet he’s in many ways the leader of that trio. He came up huge for Calgary today, scoring two goals and one assist.

(Naturally, the kids weren’t quiet either, as each player on that great line recorded at least one point.)

Jonas Hiller stood tall in his own right, stopping 33 out of 34 shots.

So much for the Flames’ Cinderella run crashing and burning without Mark Giordano, right?

In some ways, this game was a microcosm of the Kings’ failed season, as they generated some impressive puck possession yet hey just couldn’t score enough goals. Los Angeles has been able to grind through underwhelming regular seasons before exploding in the playoffs before, but this time around they won’t get the chance.

They seem to be taking it pretty well, at least from a social media standpoint:

If this wasn’t exciting enough, get this: the Flames’ first-round opponent will be the hated Vancouver Canucks. Buckle up.