James O'Brien

Colorado Avalanche v Los Angeles Kings

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

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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.

Blues lock up Central Division after beating Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks v St Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues clinched the Central Division on Thursday, and they did it in a fitting way: winning by a narrow margin.

St. Louis locked up what might be the NHL’s best division after beating the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 while the Nashville Predators dropped a 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild. The one bit of good news for Nashville is that they’ll hold home-ice advantage in a Central No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup, as the Blackhawks can finish no better than third in the division.

(The Minnesota Wild have a chance to catch them if they win their last game and Chicago drops its finale.)

Even with the division title in hand, the Blues have something to play for against the Wild on Saturday. Depending upon how things go for the West-leading Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis could conceivably grab the top seed in the conference on the last day of the season.

Edging the ‘Hawks

The Blackhawks and Blues smothered each other in a tight-checking contest. The first goal wasn’t scored until less than three minutes were remaining in the second period. A late Paul Stastny goal made it 2-0 and eventually stood as the game-winner after Andrew Shaw brought the contest to within one.

Jake Allen continues to make his argument to be the unquestioned No. 1 option for the Blues. If nothing else, he saw the kind of tough, low-margin-of-error contest a goalie will often experience in the postseason tonight.

Welcome the Islanders, Red Wings, Jets and Flames to the 2015 playoffs

Brian Strait, Tyler Kennedy, Luke Glendening, Drew Miller
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The Detroit Red Wings didn’t win on Thursday, and the New York Islanders didn’t even play, but both teams are now officially headed for the 2015 playoffs.

The Red Wings clinched thanks to their point in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens plus the Boston Bruins’ regulation defeat at the hands of the Florida Panthers. The Islanders merely needed a Bruins or Ottawa Senators loss of any kind, so maybe Detroit and the Isles owe the Panthers a tip of the cap.

Detroit maintains the longest-running playoff run in major sports:

The Islanders missed the playoffs last season, yet they’re hoping to put a long run of success together themselves thanks to a young core headlined by John Tavares.

With these spots clinched, the Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins battle for the final two playoff berths in the East.

How far do you expect the Red Wings and Islanders to go, by the way?

Update: The Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets were the other two teams who clinched postseason spots on Thursday.