Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun knows a thing or two about being behind in the race for the playoffs.
During his time in Florida, the Panthers came close to making the postseason in 2009, finishing tied with Montreal in points but didn’t have enough wins to take eighth. Falling behind and trying to catch up hurt the Panthers and he doesn’t want to see the same thing happen with the Caps this season.
Vokoun tells Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com one of the most logical things you’ll read as the race to the playoffs kicks into high gear.
“We have to look at the standings and realize we can’t fall farther and farther back because it’s impossible to catch teams.”
As of today, the Caps are in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind both Toronto and Winnipeg. The Caps are also just two points back of Florida in the Southeast Division. Everyone in the Southeast has had their issues in taking hold of their destiny and getting far enough ahead of the pack to virtually secure a playoff spot.
Making up a point or two wouldn’t seem like a tough thing to do, but with wins being hard enough to get from the entire division, they might not have to worry about falling that far back either.
The Ducks have been on fire of late. They’re 9-1-1 in their last 11 games and are now just ten points back of eighth place Minnesota in the Western Conference playoff race. With a turnaround like that it’s easy to see why Ducks fans would get excited.
Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register would like to put things in perspective though. Miller says the Ducks chances of making the playoffs are about as good as Ron Paul’s of being elected President.
So, as they open a four-game homestand Wednesday night against Dallas, let’s examine what remains exactly, attempting to forecast just how long of a shot these final nine weeks of regular season represent.
Spoiler alert: Ron Paul is facing kinder odds.
The Ducks have 33 games remaining, 15 at home and 18 on the road, 16 against teams that right now would be out of the playoffs and 17 against postseason qualifiers.
The hole the Ducks got into to start the year is what’s got them so far back now and while they’ve got things rolling with Bruce Boudreau at the helm, as the Devils showed last season, getting to the postseason is a lot harder when you have to climb out of a canyon.
Now we’re left wondering: If the Ducks are the Ron Paul of the Western Conference playoffs, who is Mitt Romney? Detroit or Vancouver? What about Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum? Let’s just quit while we’re ahead, this might get ugly.
Chicago’s race for the playoffs is getting a bit more awkward lately. After losing in overtime to Montreal, sure they got a point in the standings for their effort, but Dallas earned two points behind them after shutting out Columbus. The Blackhawks (93 points) have just a two point lead on Dallas (91 points) and both teams have three games left to play. Calgary is right there as well tied with Dallas, but with just two games left things are a bit tougher for them as they have more shootout wins than both teams.
Chicago will now have to weather the storm tonight against St. Louis and possibly in their final two games against Detroit without forward Troy Brouwer. Brouwer left last night’s game against Montreal with an apparent right shoulder injury. While Brouwer doesn’t come with the abilities that guys like Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, or Patrick Kane do, adding another injury on top of losses to Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland doesn’t do them any favors.
Guys like Jake Dowell and Bryan Bickell will need to step up and play a bigger game the rest of the way without Brouwer in the lineup. They’ve been the steady third line guys all season, but they’ll need them to play a little bigger now. Same goes for veteran Fernando Pisani as well. Pisani’s been through it before in 2006 with the Edmonton Oilers helping lead that team to the Stanley Cup final against Carolina. That kind of experience is invaluable at this time of year.
While you’d think the Blackhawks wouldn’t have too much of a hard time disposing of the Blues tonight and might be looking ahead to a pivotal two-game showdown with Detroit, never discount old Norris Division rivalries to flare up once again. The Blues season is finished but giving them a goal for a night to try and hurt a rival like Chicago’s playoff hopes and the scope of the game changes dramatically.
With both teams coming off of games last night, neither team comes in with a rest advantage. The Blues are buoyed by a win over Colorado and the confidence is high. If you’re the Chicago Blackhawks, you treat tonight’s game like a do-or-die.
Eastern Conference playoff race
x-1. Philadelphia – 102 pts
x-2. Washington – 101 pts
x-3. Boston – 97 pts
x-4. Pittsburgh – 98 pts
5. Tampa Bay – 95 pts
6. Montreal – 89 pts
7. Buffalo – 87 pts
8. NY Rangers – 87 pts
9. Carolina – 84 pts
10. Toronto – 82 pts
11. Atlanta – 78 pts
12. New Jersey – 77 pts
x – clinched playoff spot
New Jersey 4, Philadelphia 2
All it took was the first Patrik Elias hat trick in five years for the New Jersey Devils to hang onto their ever-so-slim playoff hopes. With five games remaining, the Devils have realistically been eliminated from the playoffs, but mathematically still have a shred of hope. By beating the Flyers, they only have to win their last five games while either the Sabres or Rangers lose the rest of their games in regulation. Then again, had they lost on Friday night to the rival Flyers, all hope would have been squashed.
Despite the loss, the news is slightly better for the Flyers. Philadelphia was a point ahead of the 2nd place Washington Capitals with a game in hand before the night started. Now the Flyers are a point ahead of the Caps with no game in hand. The loss was the second in as many nights for the top-seeded Flyers and their third loss four games. As Kimmo Timonen expressed, this is not the way the team wants to be playing as they head to the playoffs.
“We keep talking about being the top team in the league but we haven’t played that way. For sure we want to be the top team in the East, but right now we have to worry about ourselves and get our game in order. These four games are huge for us. Going into the playoffs, we have to get our game back on track.”
The Flyers next game is a big Atlantic Division battle against the Rangers on Sunday afternoon. The Game of the Week will have implications for both the Flyers who were fighting for home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, and the Rangers who are just trying to get into the playoffs. Who knows, this time it might be closer than the 7-0 embarrassment the Flyers endured last time the two teams played.
There’s a saying in life, “rather be lucky than good.” Whoever first said that probably felt the same way most Blackhawks fans feel tonight. After a game where they were badly outplayed by the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Blackhawks got a late goal in the 3rd period to tie the game and were able to finish off the win in a shootout. A loss would have seen their lead shrink to a single point in the standings as the Flames beat the Blues. Instead, the win leaves the defending Stanley Cup champs with a three-point cushion in the Western Conference with only three games for the Flames to catch them. The win also helped increase their lead over the idle Dallas Stars to five points with only six games left on the Stars schedule.
The night certainly didn’t look like it would be problematic as Chicago got off to a great start. The Hawks scored a pair of goals by Patrick Kane and Brent Seabrook within the first 6 minutes of the first period and just had the look of a game that could get out of hand in a hurry. Instead of finishing off the struggling Blue Jackets, the Hawks let them hang around and only lead 2-1 after the first period.
The second period was worse. Six different Blackhawks took penalties in the middle frame. SIX. They looked out of sorts while Columbus looked like the desperate team that needed the points for a playoff spot. Derick Brassard ended up scoring on a 5-on-3 power play to finally tie the game up. When the Jackets eventually took the lead in the 3rd period, it looked like it was only a matter of time before the Hawks were in the locker room explaining how things went tragically wrong.
But just when things looked like they were going to end badly, the Hockey Gods threw the Blackhawks a bone. Bryan Bickell took an outlet pass from Duncan Keith, skated up the left wing and beat Mathieu Garon with a shot that can only be classified as a “bad” goal. If you listened closely in Nationwide Arena, you could almost hear the groans coming from Calgary and Dallas. The break was all Chicago needed to send the game to extra time (and earning a point). Once in OT, they found their game—if it wasn’t for Mathieu Garon trying to redeem himself, they would have ended the game before the shootout. Regardless, Corey Crawford stopped every shot he saw in the shootout, Viktor Stalberg snuck a backhander behind the Columbus netminder, and the Blackhawks escaped with the two points they came for.
At this point in the season, nothing matters except for the result. Did the Blackhawks deserve to win the game? Probably not. Did they completely shut it down after exploding for two goals to start the game? Absolutely. But none of that matters. Two points are two points.