John Tavares

Shining Star: Benn wins Art Ross Trophy in dying seconds

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Much like playoff berths, the Art Ross Trophy came down to the last minute. Actually, it was the last second, as Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn barely won it on a Saturday.

The 25-year-old generated a four-point night to hit 87, edging John Tavares’ 86 and Sidney Crosby’s 84. Benn came into the night tied with Tavares at 83, so it was a brisk final chase.

Benn’s third point on Saturday was a pretty fluky empty-net goal:

Tavares would have taken the scoring title in a tie since he had the goals tie-breaker, so Benn made sure that happened by assisting on a Cody Eakin with just nine seconds remaining against the Nashville Predators:

Benn needed a ridiculous finish to jump up the points leaderboard, and he did it. He scored a ridiculous 10 points in a three-game span, and it’s almost as impressive when you go back further (including 16 points in seven contests). Really, Benn has been on fire since the middle of January.

Barely edging Tavares in such dramatic fashion makes this photo from the 2014 Olympics that much more fun to deploy:

source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Tavares can one-up Benn in future conversations since his New York Islanders made the playoffs this season, but his Stars counterpart takes home the hardware.

(And he probably doesn’t care that 87 points stand as the lowest full-season Art Ross output since Gordie Howe’s 86 in 1962-63, either.)

Update: The NHL released details on the other award winners based on regular season results (rather than any form of voting). Along with confirming Benn as the Art Ross Trophy winner and Alex Ovechkin as the Maurice Richard champ – he smoked everyone else with 53 goals – it turns out that the William Jennings will be split between goalies Carey Price and Corey Crawford.

Some more details in that regard from the NHL:

The Blackhawks and Canadiens finished the regular season tied with a League-low 189 goals allowed, and Crawford and Price saw the most action for their respective teams. This marks the first time that goaltenders on two teams claimed the Jennings Trophy since 2002-03, when New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur and Philadelphia’s Roman Cechmanek and Robert Esche captured Jennings honors after the Devils and Flyers tied for the League’s lowest goals-against total.

Close Art Ross Trophy battle set to conclude

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While most will be focused on the race for playoff positioning and the battle for the final two open Wild Card spots in the Eastern Conference, there is another major story thread that will be resolved by the end of the night.

Sidney Crosby ran away with the Art Ross Trophy last season, but we’re going into the final day of the 2014-15 regular season without a good idea of who will win the award this year. Crosby might claim it for the second straight season and third time in his career, but 24-year-old John Tavares is tied with him in points at 84. On top of that, Jamie Benn is just one point behind them.

While Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are fighting to stay alive and Tavares’ Islanders hope to wrestle the second Metropolitan Division seed away from Washington, Jamie Benn’s Dallas Stars have been eliminated from the playoff race. At this point, the possibility of Benn winning the scoring title is one of the few remaining silver linings for the squad.

Stars coach Lindy Ruff feels the battle for the Art Ross is important for the team under the circumstances.

“It’s exciting. It is a heck of an accomplishment when you see where he’s sitting,” Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. “It’s not easy to get there.”

Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek (81 points) and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (80 points) also have an outside chance of claiming the award.

Barring a truly memorable night from one of the league’s top players, no one will reach the 90-point mark in 2014-15. That’s the first time that’s happened in a non-lockout shortened season since 1967-68 when Stan Mikita had a league-best 87 points. That might be brought up in arguments in the near future to promote the idea that scoring is down or too low, but it’s worth noting that the league’s goals per game ratio has been roughly level for four straight campaigns. In other words, while the top of the leaderboard might not be as impressive this time around, scoring isn’t actually down so much as it has been more spread out.

Trotz hoped for playoff series between Capitals and Islanders

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It was almost two full months ago when Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz brought up the possibility of a playoff series between his team and the New York Islanders.

Here’s what Trotz told the Washington Post after his Capitals came away with a 3-2 shootout win over the Islanders on Feb. 21:

“They’ve got a good team,” Trotz said. “I looked at that game, hopefully a playoff series at some point. Two very good hockey teams that mirror each other in a lot of ways in terms of some style.”

How is that for foreshadowing?

When the first round of the playoffs begins next week, it will be the Capitals and Islanders facing off against each other, however home ice advantage will be determined Saturday.

This series will feature two of the game’s big stars, in Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares.

Tavares, with his winning goal against Pittsburgh on Friday, moved into a tie with Sidney Crosby in points with 84, which leads the league. Ovechkin is up to 52 goals this season, which makes it the sixth time in his career he’s reached that mark in a single season.

Penguins lose to Islanders, fail to clinch playoff spot

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The Pittsburgh Penguins will play for their playoff lives in their regular season finale against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.

A win in any fashion over the New York Islanders on Friday, and the Penguins would’ve clinched a post-season berth. Instead, on home ice, Pittsburgh fell by a final score of 3-1, failing for now to lock up a spot in the Stanley Cup tournament.

According to the NHL, the Islanders will now face the Washington Capitals in the opening round of the playoffs. It will be the seventh post-season meeting between the two clubs.

The Penguins held the edge in shots over the Islanders, but minus a goal from an unlikely source in Rob Scuderi, they were unable to beat Jaroslav Halak.

An early turning point came before the midway point of the first period. Pittsburgh thought it scored to take the lead, only the video review was inconclusive and the call of no-goal on the ice stood. Eight seconds later, the Islanders opened the scoring on a short-handed goal from Casey Cizikas.

Halak made 37 saves for the win. John Tavares, with his 37th goal of the season, scored the winner less than three minutes into the third period.

Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic left the game with an undisclosed injury and did not return.

There are now three teams fighting for the final two playoff spots in the East. All three teams are in action — on the road — Saturday.

The Penguins still hold the final Wild Card spot in the East, with 96 points. They’re on the road to face the Sabres.

Trailing the Penguins by a single point are the Boston Bruins, who conclude their regular season on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Ottawa Senators, at 97 points, hold the first Wild Card spot and will play the Philadelphia Flyers.

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

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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.