The Pittsburgh Penguins-Philadelphia Flyers game today doesn’t have a whole lot on the line – at least from a playoff standpoint. There’s plenty of hate and a little bit of history to go around, though.
From the “hate” files, Joe Vitale’s status as a villain in Philly grows. Watch him “answer the bell” for his hits on Danny Briere and Nicklas Grosmann in this fight against Harry Zolnierczyk:
(Something tells me he might have to answer the bell again, but we shall see.)
As far as history goes, a Penguins player did something big, yet it wasn’t one you might expect. Pascal Dupuis collected a point in his NHL season-high 17th consecutive game. Liam McHugh points out that Dupuis became the third Pittsburgh player (Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux) to score 17 in a row in the last 20 years.
Oh, and just moments ago, Evgeni Malkin scored his 50th goal of the season (a first for the Russian star).
Actually, Whitney’s at 1,001 points now – and 75 on the season. That’s just eight points shy of his career-high of 83, set with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006-07.
Tonight wasn’t just big for Whitney, though. The Coyotes’ victory leaves them at 91 standings points, essentially tied with the Los Angeles Kings for the Pacific Division lead.
Mike Smith is also doing quite well for himself, as he’s put together back-to-back shutouts, stopping all 82 shots in the last two games. That marks his seventh goose egg of 2011-12, another sign that his season a huge success.
The Coyotes aren’t assured a playoff spot just yet, but they certainly placed themselves in a better situation while they eagerly await what happens in the Dallas Stars-San Jose Sharks game tonight. Yet whether they succeed or fail in making the postseason, it’s been a great year for Smith – and a great career for “The Wizard.”
Video: Stamkos breaks Lightning season record with 53 goals
With 172 goals in his first 318 career regular season games, 22-year-old star Steven Stamkos seems primed to finish his career among the NHL’s greatest goal scorers. He already grabbed a piece of Tampa Bay Lightning franchise history in the process.
After fanning on a shot, Stamkos made no mistake about his second attempt, beating a hopeless Ilya Bryzgalov with just .6 seconds left in the second period of tonight’s 5-3 win to earn his league-leading 53rd goal of 2011-12. Stamkos isn’t just beefing up his Maurice Richard Trophy lead, though, as that tally gave him the Lightning’s single season goal-scoring record.
It seems fitting that Stamkos broke Vincent Lecavalier’s record (52 goals set in 2006-07) because in many ways, the 22-year-old has been the kind of player worthy of the hype that Lecavalier carried into the NHL.
That’s not to take away from Lecavalier’s own work, but Stamkos is shaping up to be the best center the club’s ever employed. (Beating out Martin St. Louis as the best overall forward would be an even bigger challenge, however, as the small winger has put up fantastic seasons even when Vinny and the rest of the team has been disappointing.)
Stamkos’ 53rd tally came on the power play, yet he’s made it clear that he can score more than just the faceoff circle one-timer that admittedly remains a fearsome play. Only 11 of his tallies have come on the man advantage this season, which provides evidence that Stamkos’ offensive game has plenty of dimensions.
That’s great news for a Bolts franchise that needs it and a scary thought for all the teams who must fathom the thought of dealing with 10 or more years of dangerous Stamkos snipes.
Tonight’s games have heavy playoff implications, but there’s also a historic aspect to some of the proceedings – especially if you’re a fan of European players. Here are the milestones that were set, in order of highest to lowest “quantities.”
Hossa hits 900
The Chicago Blackhawks point out that Marian Hossa is now one of nine active players to hit the 900-point mark, which he reached on a power-play goal. The 33-year-old winger is in the middle of his 970th regular season game, so one could argue that he could very well put together a Hall of Fame career.
Kovalchuk scores No. 400
Putting together a HoF career Part II of III: Ilya Kovalchuk’s redemptive season keeps humming along. He scored the 400th goal of his career and he’ll turn 29 on April 15. Tom Gulitti points out that Kovalchuk is just the third NHL active player to reach the 400-goal mark before game No. 900. Kovalchuk pulled it off in game No. 771 while Teemu Selanne (700) and Jaromir Jagr (742) beat him by a few but also didn’t play their entire careers in a lower-scoring era.
Considering Kovalchuk’s sturdiness – he’s barely missed any games since becoming a full-time player – and young age, the sexy question is: how many more goals does he have in him? If you ask me, 600+ isn’t a crazy mark to shoot for, but what do you think?
Geno goal 200
Speaking of Russians primed to be bronzed, Evgeni Malkin shared some of Sidney Crosby’s spotlight as he scored the 200th goal of his impressive NHL career. He also had his 201st goal (not to mention three more assists) in a positively bonkers Pittsburgh Penguins-Winnipeg Jets game that currently has Pittsburgh up 8-4.
In case you want to prognosticate about Geno’s goal-scoring future, he scored those 201 in 417 games (with a few minutes left, mind you) and is just 25 years old. He’s been more of a passer at times but seems to be a dual threat more than ever before – he now has 43 games this season and might just be the only guy who can hit the 50-goal mark along with Steven Stamkos.
Either way, it’s been an outstanding night of milestones for guys who still have bright futures to look forward to.
Going into Monday, Bruce Boudreau told NHL.com that he’s crunched the numbers and steadfastly believes that the Anaheim Ducks are “still eligible” for the playoffs.
Still, if Anaheim lost to the Edmonton Oilers, it would probably have been a near-knockout blow for the team’s slim playoff hopes. While the game wasn’t always pretty, the Ducks did what they had to do to win a 4-2 contest against the lowly Oilers (whose pain ran deepest when former Ducks defenseman Ryan Whitney essentially assisted on a Corey Perry empty-netter).
Boudreau insists that the Ducks – now firmly in 12th place with 68 points – don’t need 98 points to make the playoffs. Sports Club Stats seems to back him up as the site gives Anaheim a 73.5 percent chance if they go 11-2-2, which would leave them with “just” 92 points.
So, yeah, technically the Ducks aren’t out of the mix, but with a 1.1 percent chance of making it, the team might look back at tonight with a different perspective in about a month.
Milestones for Ducks
Teemu Selanne collected an assist to reach the 1,398-point mark, tying Finnish icon Jari Kurri for 19th all-time among NHL scorers. Selanne admitted that locking up “his hero” was “more special” than his other recent milestones. (In less-sexy news, he tied Joe Thornton for 42nd all-time with 740 assists.)
Perry scored his 200th goal and moved on to 201 with that empty-netter, so it was an evening that should be memorable for the past and the future of the franchise more than the present.