Tag: playoffs

Carolina Hurricanes v Washington Capitals

Skinner looks to follow-up Calder Trophy season with a playoff berth

Talk about the charmed-life. Jeff Skinner has been living the dream from the moment he was selected 7th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes last June. Some would tell you it started before that when he was piling up the goals in Kitchener for his junior club. After all, it’s hard to argue with 50 goals in only 64 games. But from the moment that he scored the game-winning shootout goal in his second ever NHL game – in Europe no less – it looked like the 2010-11 season was going to be one of those years for Skinner. Nine months later he had an all-star appearance, a 30-goal season, and a Calder Trophy under his belt. Some guys would be satisfied with that kind of season.

So how would a guy like Skinner follow-up his fantastic freshman season without falling into the pitfall of the sophomore slump? How about a chance to experience playoff hockey? Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News Observer caught up with Skinner at the team’s informal workouts at RBC Center:

“As for expectations this season, Skinner isn’t setting any numbers for himself. You won’t hear him talking about trying to score, say, 40 goals. That, he said, might only sidetrack from what he really wants to do: make it to the playoffs and experience that for the first time.

“‘Obviously we missed by one (victory) last year,” [Skinner] said. ‘That’s not a good feeling and I think everyone will use that as motivation. We’ll come back and hopefully be in the mix this year.’”

For the record, an answer that reflects team goals over individual goals is going to go a long way towards endearing himself towards fans (like he needs any help in that department). But still, the Carolina Hurricanes (and Dallas Stars) have had the entire season to think about how things could have been different if they pulled out a win in their final games of the season. Even though the Canes would have faced the daunting task of facing the Capitals in the first-round, youngsters like Skinner, Jaime McBain, and Brandon Sutter could have used the experience as a step in the maturation process. Everyone agrees that NHL players take it to another level when the playoffs start—there’s no substitute for young players than to get a taste of the playoff intensity for themselves.

This season, most experts expect the Hurricanes to finish in the middle of the pack in both the Southeast Division, as well as the Eastern Conference. Teams like the Maple Leafs, Devils, and Jets will all be in the same boat—trying to get back into the playoffs after missing out in April last season. Of that group, only the Hurricanes had a playoff spot within their grasp before watching it slip away against the Lightning in the final game of the season. That’s the bad news.

The good news? Only the Hurricanes have that extreme disappointment that will help fuel the fire this season.

Ducks lock up playoff spot by knocking off rival Kings

Los Angeles Kings v Anaheim Ducks

In what was billed as the biggest game between the Southern California rivals, the Anaheim Ducks rode a two-goal performance from Teemu Selanne to beat the Kings 2-1 and punch their ticket to the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Ducks knew they needed to win one of their final two games in the home-and-home series against the Kings to close out the regular season—and took care of business at home during Fan Appreciation Night. Their 97 points keep them in the 7th spot in the Western Conference, but playoff seedings were the furthest thing from the players’ and fans’ minds on Friday night. All they wanted was a spot in the dance when the night began—and they sent the fans home happy.

The Ducks win means this will be the first postseason since the Ducks came into the league that both Anaheim and Los Angeles will make the playoffs in the same season. Obviously the game was huge for the Ducks, but the game proved to be just as big for hockey as a whole in California. Teemu Selanne summed up what the playoffs will mean for hockey in Southern California:

“I’m proud of both teams. We need this. Obviously for hockey here in Southern California, this is going to be a huge boost for both franchises. So I’m very happy about this situation.”


If anyone on the ice should know what this game meant to the state, it would be Selanne. The man of the hour has played in 91 of the rivalry’s 101 total games over his 18 year career—managing to score 50 of his 635 career goals against the cross-town Kings. After the game, Selanne was serenaded with chants of “one more year” from the 17,587 fans in attendance. He flashed a grin and remained non-committal, but games like this certainly have to make him think about coming back for another season.

Just because the Ducks were able to earn a playoff spot on Friday night doesn’t mean the teams will mail it in on Saturday night. Now that the Ducks are in the playoffs, they can focus on earning the best seeding possible. If they can win on Saturday, they will ensure that they avoid the Presidents Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks in the first round. Likewise, the Kings can still earn home-ice advantage in the first round if they are able to win on Saturday night and both the Coyotes and Predators lose their final games of the season. More likely, if they can win their final game and either Phoenix or Nashville loses, they’ll vault into the #4/#5 match-up and avoid both the Red Wings and Sharks in the first round.

No matter what happens in the final game of the season, Friday’s game took the rivalry to a new level. Next stop for both teams: the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Eastern playoff race: Caps clinch #1 seed, Sabres are in

Chris Kunitz, Al Montoya

Eastern Conference playoff race

z-1. Washington – 107 pts
x-2. Philadelphia – 104 pts
x-3. Boston – 101 pts
x-4. Pittsburgh – 104 pts
x-5. Tampa Bay – 101 pts
x-6. Montreal – 94 pts
x-7. Buffalo – 94 pts
8. Carolina – 91 pts
9. NY Rangers – 91 pts

x – clinched playoff spot

Pittsburgh 4, NY Islanders 3 (SO)

The last time the Penguins ventured to Long Island, they were crushed 9-3 and the two teams racked up 346 total penalty minutes. Twelve minutes into the game, Francois St. Laurent and Eric Furlatt had already dealt out four fighting majors and three misconducts. Maybe the officials did a good job of getting the game under control, maybe it’s because Colin Campbell was in attendance, or maybe it was just because the Penguins had too much to play for—but that was where the really rough stuff ended. In front of a ton of Pittsburgh fans in Nassau Coliseum, the Penguins jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the 1st period and held a 3-2 lead in the waning moments of the 3rd period. But a funny thing happened on the way to Pittsburgh’s victory—Travis Hamonic scored with 35 seconds to force the game to overtime. The Islanders had plenty of chances to win it in OT, but failed to score the game winner. The game went to a shootout and finally fell as Chris Kunitz scored the only goal for the Pens’ victory.

The win guarantees the Penguins will finish no worse than 4th in the Eastern Conference and will start the playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center with home-ice advantage. They also were able to pull into a tie with the Philadelphia Flyers with 104 for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. Even though the Flyers own the tiebreaker, the divisional crown will come down to the last game of the season.

Tampa Bay 4, Florida 2

From the outside looking in, this game didn’t offer very much intrigue. The Lightning were locked into the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, they had won 5 of their last 6 games, and were playing against a rival who had lost 9 straight. After the game, the Lightning were still locked in the 5th seed, they’ve now won 6 of 7 and the Panthers are winless in their last 10. The win put the Lightning over the century mark (101 to be exact) for the season and pleased their first-year coach Guy Boucher:

“When you pass 100 points in this league, you are automatically part of the elite. It’s hard to get 100 points … and so it’s quite an achievement for a team that started with so many new faces and had injuries all year long and battled through so much adversity lately.”

Buffalo 4, Philadelphia 3 (OT)

For all of the playoff implications on Friday night, the Sabres/Flyers game was the only game in the Eastern Conference where both teams had something on the line. Behind a perfect 3rd period return by Ryan Miller and thrilling overtime winner by Thomas Vanek, the Buffalo Sabres were able to lock up their ticket for the playoffs. For the Flyers, the news wasn’t as good. The overtime loss delivered the Eastern Conference’s top spot to the Washington Capitals. The loss also dropped Philadelphia into a first place tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Atlantic Division. Even though they’ve lost five straight, they only need to beat the lowly Islanders at home on Saturday night to win their first Atlantic Division title since 2004 (and the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference). However, if they fall to the Isles and the Penguins are able to win their final game, the Flyers will drop all the way down to the #4 seed and secure a date with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Carolina 6, Atlanta 1

After the New York Rangers lost on Thursday night, they gave the Carolina Hurricanes control over their own destiny. Judging by their performance against the Thrashers, they have every intention of grabbing onto their playoff opportunity and running with it. Rookie Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu each had a goal and two assists while goaltender Cam Ward came within 39 seconds of his second shutout in a row. Then again, one goal against isn’t a big deal when the team in front of him puts up a 6 spot.

The Hurricanes now have 91 points after their win in Atlanta and move into a tie with the Rangers. The problem for the Rangers is that the Canes also own the tiebreaker. Long story short: if the Canes win their final game at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning, they’re in the playoffs. If the Rangers lose in regulation, the Canes are in. The beauty of controlling one’s own destiny.

Ryan Miller returns, Sabres clinch playoff spot

Ryan Miller
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It was a huge night in Buffalo as superstar netminder Ryan Miller returned to the crease to help the Sabres earn an exciting 4-3 overtime win and a coveted playoff berth. Fans walking into the HSBC Arena may have hoped for the playoffs—but seeing Miller come onto the ice to start the 3rd period surprised just about everyone. There’s no word whether Jhonas Enroth was pulled because he suffered an injury in the 2nd period or if it was because he gave up two goals in 39 seconds during the middle frame. Whatever the reason, Miller returned to the ice, the Sabres are in the playoffs, the Flyers have lost five straight, and all is right in Buffalo.

Things didn’t start out so great for the Sabres. They fell behind the Flyers 3-2 going into the final frame—but the 3rd period provided some of the most exciting 22 minutes fans in Buffalo have seen all year. They scored the game-tying goal halfway through the 3rd period, and then watched Thomas Vanek split the Philadelphia defense for the game-winning breakaway goal. Anytime the night ends with the announcement, “Playoff tickets go on sale Monday,” it was a successful evening.

The return for Ryan Miller marked his first ice-time since a right collarbone injury forced him to miss four games. Even though Jhonas Enroth had an impressive stint in his place, there’s no doubt the Sabres are excited to have Miller back in his familiar place. This season, Miller has a .915 save percentage and 2.60 goals against en route to his 33-22-8 record. The worst part for the Sabres is that Miller was playing his best hockey of the year in the weeks preceding his injury.

Tonight was a reminder of exactly where Miller stands as the playoffs approach. He made 8 saves in the 3rd period and never faced a shot in overtime as he earned the 21 minute victory. However, he was beaten by the first shot he faced that went off the side of the net and showed a little bit of rust that would be expected after missing a handful of games. If nothing else, that should explain just how good Miller can be for the Sabres. He looked rusty and didn’t play to the best of his ability, yet still was able to shut the Flyers down and help his team to victory.

Assuming Enroth was pulled due to a bruised ego, Lindy Ruff and the Sabres will have a decision to make going into their final game of the regular season Saturday night in Columbus. Now that they have secured a playoff spot, they can give him 4-5 days rest before the beginning of the playoffs. Alternatively, they can give him 60 minutes of pressure-free NHL action to get his timing back before the games really start to matter.

Either way, it’s a good decision for team to have to make.

Canadiens clinch playoff spot in the East, Hawks earn a point

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Tuesday night was a rough night for any Montreal Canadiens haters out there. The Habs clinched their spot in this year’s playoffs by beating the defending Stanley Cup champs 2-1 in overtime. As if securing a playoff spot wasn’t bad enough for the anti-Habs contingent, Montreal was sent to the second season with the power of PK Subban’s 3rd game winning goal of the season (and his ensuing celebration).

For over 60 minutes the game was a beautiful goaltending exhibition. Quebec native Corey Crawford returned home for his first game in the Bell Centre and had a great showing. On the other end of the rink, Carey Price had 42 saves to help deliver the victory for the Habs. Cue the “Price for Hart” chants coming from North American francophones.

The game was not without its fair bit of controversy. With the game in overtime, Jonathan Toews took a tripping penalty on the forecheck when he brought down rookie PK Subban about 200 feet from the Chicago goal. Replays show that Toews got his stick into Subban’s skates and the officials got the call right—but the officials were late to make the call. Predictably, the Habs scored on the ensuing power play to punch their ticket to the playoffs. After the game, Joel Quenneville was not happy with the call:

“It was a tough ending for sure. I 100% dispute that call at the end… he wasn’t calling it and Jonny (Toews) didn’t touch his feet so, it was a tough call.”

Penalty or not, it was a tough way for the Hawks to lose a game they needed to win. The single point earned for the overtime loss pushes them to 93 points; but with the Stars winning at home against the Blue Jackets, the Blackhawks cushion shrinks to a mere two points for the final playoff spot in the West. They’ll play a huge game at home against the St. Louis Blues tomorrow night before their regular season ending home-and-home series against the Detroit Red Wings. Unfortunately for the Hawks, the Stars finish the season with a pair of games against the lowly Colorado Avalanche and another against the Minnesota Wild. Advantage: Stars.

Things are looking much better for the Canadiens. Only a week ago, they were slumping and had both the Sabres and Rangers breathing down their necks. Fast-forward to tonight, the Habs became the 9th team to clinch a playoff spot. Earning a playoff spot is impressive regardless of circumstances with the parity in the league these days, but given the Habs’ injuries, it’s even more impressive. Where would they be if they had any one of their trio of injured defensemen? Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, or Jaro Spacek certainly would help in a big way if they had them for most of the season.

Looking forward, there’s a very good chance Montreal will earn a first round match-up against their bitter rivals from Boston if they can hang onto the 6th spot. If that series comes to fruition, the big winners aren’t the Canadiens or Bruins—it’ll be the fans.