James O'Brien

Arizona Coyotes v Buffalo Sabres

Sabres ‘win’ latest tank war against Coyotes

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The battle to battle ineffectively enough to end the season with the best draft odds will likely remain uncomfortable for fans of the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres, but at least those extra-awkward games between the two teams are over now.

Of course, it’s the clearest loss for those who enjoy the strange dissonance of it all. The Sabres ended up winning this round 4-1, which essentially means good news for the Coyotes.

It was a closer game than that score indicates, mind you, as Buffalo inflated the difference with two empty-net goals.

With this game out of the way, the Buffalo Sabres move to 50 standings points and six games remaining while the Coyotes stay at 54 points with five games left. The Edmonton Oilers are in third place, yet with 59 points and six games on the docket, they seem unlikely to sink any lower.

The Coyotes and Sabres are likely going toe-to-toe for the last spot, which made for a really odd week for observers. Now they can go back to a rather odd form of scoreboard watching, which seems a little more comfortable for most of us.

Immediate gains

This serves as a decent confidence-booster for two embattled goalies in Mike Smith and Anders Lindback, even if the improvements may be merely incremental.

(One would be hard pressed to find a stranger month than what Smith has experienced in March, by the way. He’s put up more-or-less elite individual stats, yet he’s languished with a 3-9-0 record this month. Weird.)

It was a nice game for Andrej Meszaros (two goals) and Rasmus Ristolainen, who hit eight goals in 2014-15 with an empty-netter. Sabres fans might groan at this result, but the players seem happy with a victory, at least:

Strange times.

Tarasenko left limping after Blues loss

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The St. Louis Blues must wait at least another night to clinch a playoff spot, but that was far from the most troubling news from a 4-1 loss against the Vancouver Canucks.

The severity of the injury is currently unclear, but fans are in high alert over the condition of Vladimir Tarasenko, who suffered a lower-body issue on Monday. We may not know more about the situation until Tuesday (or maybe later).

NHL.com’s Lou Korac noticed the Russian star walking with a limp:

Information from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford wasn’t much rosier:

It stands as a cause for concern, although walking with a limp is probably better than not walking at all.

How bad are things for the Kings after Monday?

Los Angeles Kings v Calgary Flames
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The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings basically experienced a worst-case scenario situation on Monday night, aside from the fact that they avoided major injuries.

As detailed here, the Chicago Blackhawks pummeled them in a 4-1 game that more or less fit that score.

Scoreboard watching won’t provide the Kings with any solace tonight, either, as the Calgary Flames squeaked by the Dallas Stars by a score of 5-3 while the Vancouver Canucks strengthened their grip on the Pacific Division’s second spot by beating the St. Louis Blues 4-1. Yup, that’s pretty much the worst set of results the Kings could have asked for.

Here’s how the most relevant races look to the West bubble teams at the moment. Let’s exclude the Canucks and their 93 standings points for the sake of simplicity:

Calgary Flames (third Pacific spot): 91 points with five games left, 38 regulation/OT wins

Minnesota Wild (top wild card): 95 points with six games left, 40 ROW
Winnipeg Jets (second wild card): 90 points with six games left, 32 ROW

Los Angeles Kings: 88 points with six games left, 35 ROW

No doubt about it, tonight’s four-point swing hurts the Kings and greatly improves the Flames’ outlook. Let’s take a look at remaining schedules for the Flames, Jets and Kings to get a better idea of what to expect going forward:

Flames’ remaining schedule

Thursday: at St. Louis
Saturday: at Edmonton
April 7: vs. Arizona
April 9: vs. Los Angeles
April 11: at Winnipeg

Jets’ remaining schedule

Tuesday: vs. Rangers
Saturday: vs. Vancouver
April 6: at Minnesota
April 7: at St. Louis
April 9: at Colorado
April 11: vs. Calgary

Kings’ remaining schedule

Thursday: vs. Edmonton
Saturday: vs. Colorado
April 6: at Vancouver
April 7: at Edmonton
April 9: at Calgary
April 11: vs. San Jose

***

Interesting stuff, huh? As you can see from the italicized games, the Flames face both the Jets and Kings before the season is over, so feel free to say that Calgary “controls its destiny” the most of these three teams. Considering the way it all plays out, Jets vs. Flames and Kings vs. their hated rivals the San Jose Sharks could both be season-ending games with huge stakes.

It’s all a reminder that today’s action delivered a huge blow to Los Angeles’ playoff hopes, yet tomorrow is another day. (And so on.)

In other words, buckle up.

A taste of revenge? Blackhawks deal blow to Kings’ playoff hopes

Los Angeles Kings v Chicago Blackhawks
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It remains to be seen if the Los Angeles Kings can claw their way into the 2015 postseason. It seems like the Chicago Blackhawks are getting their shots in now, just in case that doesn’t happen.

Chicago ran away with Monday’s game, handing Los Angeles a 4-1 beating.

That score is probably a fair depiction of what happened tonight, too, as the Blackhawks carried most of the play. This stats is outdated at this point, yet it also captures how much the Kings struggled to contain Chicago’s attack:

This was the point where the Blackhawks really pulled away, rapidly turning a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 lead:

Ultimately, tonight is an evening of good news for the Blackhawks (including positive vibes for Patrick Kane) and, from the look of things, a pretty lousy night for Los Angeles.

Let’s be honest, too. A bad night for the Kings is probably a good one for the rest of the West’s playoff field … and not just bubble opponents like the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames.

Video: Stars’ Ritchie with high hit on Flames’ Monahan

ritchiemonahan
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The Calgary Flames’ breakout line of Johnny Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan keep scoring and scoring this season. You never know when an ill-fated hit could mess that up, though.

Monday produced a scare in the form of this highly questionable hit by rugged Dallas Stars forward Brett Ritchie, which only produced a two-minute minor:

Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski labels the hit as “predatory.” Is that accurate?

On the bright side, it seems like Monahan is OK.