James O'Brien

Los Angeles Kings v Calgary Flames

Dethroned: Flames eliminate Kings, clinch playoffs

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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.

Big, bad blunder: Bruins fall against Panthers

Florida Panthers v Boston Bruins
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The good news for the Boston Bruins is that their awful Thursday doesn’t knock them out of the playoffs altogether. The bad news is … just about everything else that happened tonight.

As you may already know, the Ottawa Senators held up their end of the bargain with a 3-0 win against the New York Rangers. That allowed Ottawa to bump Boston out of the East’s wild card ranks, but the Bruins could have made that a temporary thing. The B’s failed in that quest, however, falling to the 10th-ranked Florida Panthers 4-2.

(One can imagine that Roberto Luongo was quite happy to spite his pals from Boston, eh?)

The Panthers also did the New York Islanders a favor, as this Boston win punches their ticket to the playoffs.

The final stretch

Let’s look at what the wild card looks while ignoring the Detroit Red Wings’ tight contest against the Montreal Canadiens for now:

Wild card spot 1: Ottawa, 97 points, one game left, 36 regulation/OT wins
Wild card spot 2: Pittsburgh, 96 points, two games left, 38 ROW

Bubble: Boston, 95 points, one game left, 37 ROW

As you can probably see, the Bruins need some help after this more-or-less worst-case scenario night. The Penguins face the now-clinched Islanders on Friday and then the lowly Buffalo Sabres on Saturday while the Senators close out their season against the Philadelphia Flyers. Boston faces a Tampa Bay Lightning team that may still be gunning for the Atlantic Division crown, so they can’t expect a casual opponent.

Ultimately, if Ottawa gets a mere point against Philly, it’s over for Boston. The Penguins only need two points in whatever fashion they may get them in their last two games.

It all looks very bleak for the Bruins, who saw former teammate Jaromir Jagr score his 1,800th career point in painful fashion tonight.

(That’s cold.)

(Seriously, ouch.)

The most positive thing is that many people were once counting out the Senators like they’re counting out the Bruins right now.

Taking care of business: Senators blank Rangers

Chris Kreider, Andrew Hammond
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The Ottawa Senators still need some help to make the playoffs, but they’re doing whatever they can to make life difficult for the teams ahead of them in the East race.

After a sluggish start in a 0-0 first period against the New York Rangers, the Senators took over in the middle frame, eventually earning an enormous 3-0 win.

Kyle Turris continues to be a huge difference-maker for the Senators, as he (as well as Clarke MacArthur) factored into the first two tallies with a goal and an assist. Of course, Andrew Hammond stood out the most as usual, stopping 26 shots for his third shutout and 19th win of the season. “The Hamburglar” is now a ridiculous 19-1-2 as he continues his storybook season.

At the moment, the Senators find themselves with 97 points and one game left, placing themselves in the first wild card spot over Boston and Pittsburgh … at least for the moment.

Ottawa has some tiebreaker disadvantages, so they’ll be doing some serious scoreboard watching for the rest of tonight and also tomorrow. At least they don’t have to think up fantastical situations for good things to happen after this win, however.

With the Presidents’ Trophy locked up for New York, the Rangers rested a lot of people, and dodged a bullet when Henrik Lundqvist was shaken up in the first period. (He seems OK, though.)

Considering how bleak things were for the Senators when they fired Paul MacLean, it’s remarkable how far they’ve come. We’ll find out if it will be enough very soon.