Tag: race for the playoffs

Paul Maurice

Hurricanes look to complete some unfinished business

After going 8-1-1 down the stretch, the Carolina Hurricanes held their playoff destiny in their own hands. All that stood between them and a playoff berth were the Tampa Bay Lightning going into their season finale; the Lightning were already locked into their playoff spot and the Hurricanes were fighting for the playoff lives. So when the Lightning dropped the hammer on the Canes (6-2), it made for a long summer for the players in Raleigh. As the players start filtering back to Carolina, it’s apparent that the way last season ended left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth.

Chad LaRose spoke with Chip Alexander from the News Observer about the way the season ended and the painful offseason:

“Let’s say I’ve got some unfinished business. It’s like it’s been forever. It’s been way too long.

“What you shoot for is short summers. When it gets long like this you’re itching and chomping at the bit to get back and get going.”

All-star netminder Cam Ward echoed his teammates’ sentiments to Carolina beat-writer:

“We’ve got high expectations here. By no means do we want to be seated at home watching the playoffs again.”

Chad LaRose is leading the informal offseason workouts for the Hurricanes this season—a role that is new for him and the organization. For years, these workouts were led by veteran (and renowned fitness freak) Rod Brind’Amour. But with Brind’Amour retiring, LaRose has stepped up and taken an offseason leadership role with the team. Other Hurricanes players in town for training include promising youngsters Justin Faulk, Zac Dalpe, and Jamie McBain. Faulk and Dalpe are looking to make the team out of training camp while the promising McBain is looking to solidify his spot as a major producer from the blueline.

For a team that was only 60 minutes away from a playoff berth, it should be fascinating to see how much motivation to start the season. Coming so close, then failing, then having the entire offseason to reflect is like the antithesis to the Stanley Cup hangover. Last season, they were unable to dig themselves out of their deep hole in the standings even though they were one of the hottest teams throughout the end of March and into April. But if they can get off to a hot start next season, they won’t have to worry about a late season run to squeeze into the playoffs.

The Hurricanes will have a few newcomers to successfully mix into the fold if they want to flourish next season. Tomas Kaberle arrives from Boston to fill the spot on the blueline that was formerly held by Joe Corvo. Alexei Ponikarovsky will look to regain the scoring touch that’s made him a four-time 20 goal scorer and Anthony Stewart will try to prove that last season was only the beginning of him realizing his vast potential.

If the newcomers can produce like GM Jim Rutherford hopes and the returning players play with a chip on their shoulder, they will be back to the promised land of the playoffs faster than you can say “Skinner for Prom King.”

Western Conference playoff field all set – Familiar faces get reacquainted

Patrick Kane, Roberto Luongo

After the Wild disposed of the Dallas Stars and put the Chicago Blackhawks into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed, it set the table for the Western Conference playoffs to have a familiar feel to it all. While there’s some new flavor in some of the pairings, there’s a couple match-ups that will look really familiar to fans from last year.

1. Vancouver Canucks vs. 8. Chicago Blackhawks

For the third straight season these two teams will meet in the playoffs. This time it’s in the first round and this time it comes with Vancouver in a much more dominant position. They’re the Presidents’ Trophy winners, they’ve been killing it all season long and now they have destiny set things up nicely for them so they can exorcise the demons of playoffs past right off the bat. Should Vancouver get over this psychological mountain in the form of a Blackhawks team living like they’ve been granted a new life, they’ll be very dangerous to deal with throughout the playoffs.

Chicago will instead hope to get in the Canucks heads like they have in the past and pull off a tremendous upset in their effort to retain the Stanley Cup. For Vancouver, this series has a Ric Flair feel about it: “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.”

2. San Jose Sharks vs. 7. Los Angeles Kings

An all-California playoff series is something we’ve been rooting for to happen for all season long and with all three California teams in the playoffs, things broke down perfect to get these two to face off against each other. The Sharks have the “playoff choker” thing still following them around but that doesn’t apply to this team. Antti Niemi has been lights out, they’ve got a host of new blood in the form of Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski to go along with the quietly monstrous year from Patrick Marleau as well as his running crew of Joe Thornton, Devin Setoguchi, and Dany Heatley. The Sharks are firing on all cylinders now and very dangerous.

Los Angeles meanwhile is hurting without Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. Their offense isn’t as lethal as it once was without them and it’ll be up to Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown to score goals while Jon Quick will need to be lights out to keep the Kings involved. One thing they’ll really need is for Drew Doughty to once again look like the Norris Trophy finalist he was last year. He’s been off a bit and they could really use big production at both ends of the ice from him.

3. Detroit Red Wings vs. 6. Phoenix Coyotes

They meet yet again. Last year it was Detroit ending Phoenix’s dream season in Game 7 in the desert during the first round of the playoffs. These two teams are more than familiar with each other and they’ll get to dance once again, this time with Detroit having home ice advantage. Detroit’s been a bit erratic to close out the year and they’ll start their series without Henrik Zetterberg. They’ll have a fully healthy defensive corps with Niklas Kronwall returning but they’ll need to be tough offensively to deal with the tough Coyotes defense.

Phoenix has been similarly hot and cold going into the end of the season and matching up against a skilled veteran squad like Detroit means they’ll have to be especially sharp. It’s a dangerous draw for both teams as they each have parts of their game that the opponent can struggle with. Phoenix’s physicality can give Detroit fits and the Wings’ savvy in big moments frustrates the Coyotes. If Shane Doan can break out his “DoanFace” a couple more times, the Coyotes might be able to finally make the second round.

4. Anaheim Ducks vs. 5. Nashville Predators

What a brawl this one should be. Both teams play overtly physical hockey. Anaheim comes in with offense to burn with Rocket Richard trophy winner Corey Perry and old man dominator Teemu Selanne scoring tons of goals. Not to mention Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan along with defensemen Cam Fowler and Lubomir Visnovsky, these Ducks aren’t like the Ducks from 2007 that won the Cup and would mug your grandmother to do it. The Predators are going to have to add that kind of snarl to the series if they’re going to win their first playoff series in franchise history.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne will need to be the best player for Nashville while they try to generate offense from Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist, and Steve Sullivan. The Preds have been here before and at some point they’re going to get through. Whether or not captain Shea Weber can rally his team to do it this time against a Ducks squad that’s been uber-dangerous the last two months should make for some great drama and even better hockey.

Chicago sneaks in the playoffs through the back door, Dallas loses 5-3 to Minnesota

Greg Zanon, Brenden Morrow, Jose Theodore

On a day when both Dallas and Chicago needed to come up big, both teams came up incredibly small and for Chicago that means they get to live another day and defend their Stanley Cup championship. Minnesota beat Dallas 5-3 tonight thanks to Antti Miettinen’s go-ahead goal in the third period as the teams traded goals all night long. Jose Theodore stood taller than Kari Lehtonen and the Wild sent Dallas packing for the summer.

For Minnesota, their only motivation in this game was to prevent the Stars from making the postseason and their effort paid off as they frustrated the Stars most of the night. It wasn’t the Wild’s top players getting it done tonight. Instead it was role players like Brad Staubitz, Colton Gillies, and Jared Spurgeon all scoring big goals. Pierre-Marc Bouchard added the empty net goal to cinch the game for Minnesota and crush the Stars’ postseason dreams. For longtime Minnesota hockey fans, being able to knock out the team that once called Minnesota home before they were moved to Dallas payback is indeed sweet.

For Chicago, their reward is the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs and a first round date with Vancouver. Chicago has knocked Vancouver out of the playoffs the last two seasons and while this Canucks team is more of a machine and not the psychologically fragile team we’ve seen in the past, you know damn well it’ll be in their minds that they’ll have to exorcise the demons of playoffs past if they want to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

Dallas now heads into an offseason which sees their top point producer Brad Richards becoming an unrestricted free agent. Unless Dallas’ ownership situation gets settled by July 1, it seems apparent that Richards will be playing in a different uniform next season and for the seasons to come. As the best free agent on the market, he’ll get a long term offer for big money and with the NHL salary cap reportedly heading up to over $62 million, there’ll be plenty of suitors for Richards.

Your move, Carolina: Rangers pound Devils 5-2, force Carolina to win their way into playoffs

Bryan McCabe, Chris Drury, Mats Zuccarello

Call it guts, call it manning up when needed, call it the comeback of Chris Drury if you want to but either way the Rangers did what they had to do today. New York’s 5-2 win over New Jersey gave them a shot at making the playoffs and now they’ll have to sweat out tonight’s game between Tampa Bay and Carolina from Raleigh to see if they can make the postseason.

The Rangers didn’t start off today’s game on the right foot getting down just over two minutes into the game when Nick Palmieri tipped home an Ilya Kovalchuk shot to give New Jersey an early 1-0 lead. Moments later, however, the Rangers would get the spark they were looking for out of captain Chris Drury. Drury put home a beautiful backhand goal after a great feed from Erik Christensen to tie the game at one. Drury made his comeback today after being out since February 3 with a knee injury.

The first period would end with the Devils leading 2-1, however, as Ilya Kovalchuk beat Henrik Lundqvist with a shot with 42 seconds left to play. It would be the last tally the Devils would get on the game however as the Rangers blew the game open in the second. Wojtek Wolski, Ryan McDonagh, and Brandon Prust each netted goals in the second while Vinny Prospal added one in the third to provide the 5-2 final score.  For McDonagh, it was his first NHL goal and for Wolski it was his first goal since February 22. If you needed a definition of a “character effort” this game was it for the Rangers.

Henrik Lundqvist finished the game with 24 saves and closed out his regular season with 36 wins. If the Rangers make the playoffs, the Capitals will have their hands full in dealing with King Henrik and his 11 shutouts this season. He’s more than capable of carrying the team and if the Rangers got hot in the postseason he makes for an imposing figure.

They have to get there first though and that means getting a win from Tampa Bay, Rangers coach John Tortorella’s old team, tonight against the Hurricanes. If Carolina pulls off the win, they’re in the playoffs and for the first time ever there won’t be a New York City-area team in the playoffs. Ever since the Devils moved to New Jersey in 1982, one of the Islanders, Rangers, or Devils have made the playoffs to represent the Big Apple in one way or another.

It makes for quite the altered perspective for old time fans as you’d have teams from Nashville, Tampa Bay, North Carolina, Phoenix, and three from California in the playoffs and just two Canadian teams and none from New York in the playoffs. Let that sink in a little bit the next time you pile on about how the non-traditional hockey markets stink.

No pressure though Carolina, the task is simple: Win and you’re in.

Race for the playoffs: Western Conference seeding up for grabs tonight

Ryan Smyth, George Parros

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

Western Conference playoff race

pz-1. Vancouver – 115 pts (1 GR)
y-2. San Jose – 103 pts (1 GR)
y-3. Detroit – 102 pts (1 GR)
x-4. Nashville – 99 pts (1 GR)
x-5. Phoenix – 99 pts (1 GR)
x-6. Los Angeles – 98 pts (1 GR)
x-7. Anaheim – 97 pts (1 GR)
8. Chicago – 97 pts (1 GR)
9. Dallas – 95 pts (1 GR)

p- clinched Presidents’ Trophy
z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
GR – games remaining

While the final playoff spot won’t be decided until tomorrow, the seeding can get settled out a little bit tonight. Bear with us as we try to explain things as simply as possible. The chances of a three-point game erupting in any of tonight’s games makes things get a little nutty.

San Jose: The Sharks wrap up the second seed with a win over Phoenix tonight. A point from an overtime or shootout loss would move them two ahead of Detroit as the Wings play tomorrow afternoon against Chicago. Should things break down that way, a Detroit win in regulation or in overtime would make them the two seed. A win in the shootout would make San Jose the second seed because the Sharks went 3-1-0 against Detroit this year.

Detroit: The Red Wings seem destined to be the three seed given how the Sharks are playing. They can earn the second seed with a Sharks loss tonight and a win tomorrow against Chicago. The Wings can also end up in second if San Jose gets just one point tonight and they win in regulation or overtime against Chicago.

Nashville: Home ice in the first round is in Nashville’s hands tonight. A non-shootout win by the Predators over St. Louis locks up the fourth seed. A shootout win coupled with Phoenix not getting two points against San Jose would also do the trick. If the Predators get a win in the shootout and Phoenix wins in regulation/overtime, then Nashville would end up fifth behind Phoenix.

Phoenix: The Coyotes can wind up fourth in the West with a win over San Jose and a loss by Nashville. Phoenix can also wind up first with a non-shootout win coupled with a Predators shootout win. They’d be even in points but the Coyotes would then have the tiebreaker on Nashville for regulation/overtime wins. Currently they each have 38 of those.

Los Angeles and Anaheim: The winner of tonight’s game, at the very least, will be the sixth seed. If the Kings win and Nashville and Phoenix both lose in regulation, they can end up as high as fourth. The Kings won’t have a tiebreaker against either Nashville or Phoenix with regard to regulation/overtime wins so a Kings win and a overtime/shootout loss by either Nashville or Phoenix would slot them in behind those teams.

Should L.A. lose in regulation they could wind up either seventh or eighth depending on what happens with Chicago tomorrow. A Kings win tonight helps solve their playoff picture one way or another, a loss makes them wait it out another day to see whether they’ll end up playing Detroit, San Jose, or Vancouver.

An Anaheim win regardless of situation and regulation losses by the Preds and Coyotes would vault them into fourth thanks to owning the tiebreaker on both of those teams with 42 regulation/overtime wins. A Ducks loss makes them sweat it out til tomorrow to see whether they’ll be seventh or eighth.

Chicago: If Chicago wins, they’ll be in the playoffs and could wind up as high as fifth provided Nashville and Phoenix both lose in regulation and the Blackhawks win in non-shootout fashion.

Dallas: Should Dallas get into the playoffs, they’ll be the eighth seed no matter what and have a date with Vancouver. The Stars will need to beat Minnesota and have Chicago lose in regulation to do it.