Tag: standings analysis

Stephane Robidas, Mike Fisher

West playoff picture complete: Sharks, Kings and Coyotes are in


With the Pacific Division title still up for grabs, it’s unfair to say that the Nashville Predators’ 2-0 win against the Dallas Stars killed the drama of matches like the Los Angeles Kings-San Jose Sharks home-and-home series. Still, the Predators’ pursuit of home ice advantage* sure made things a lot less interesting.

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Update: the Columbus Blue Jackets continue to revel in their role as spoilers; they eliminated the Colorado Avalanche with a 5-2 win.

What it clinched:

Playoff spots for the Phoenix Coyotes, Kings and Sharks.

Who’s eliminated:

The Stars would max out at 91 points, so the Predators hammered the final nail in their season. The Avalanche can only get 90, so they’re done too – and against a team that’s far less dangerous (although almost as dangerous lately).

Why there’s still some drama:

Again, the good news is that Pacific – and thus, the third seed – is still up for grabs. (Also, the seventh seed serves as a solid consolation prize.)

Sure, it’s not as thrilling as just about everyone fighting tooth-and-nail for a playoff spot, but notching the No. 3 spot can be a huge advantage – especially if the Vancouver Canucks and/or St. Louis Blues stumble in early playoff rounds. Still, it’s stunning to realize that the Stars could have been right there too if they took care of their late-season business.

* Nashville’s win and Detroit’s 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils means that the Predators only need a point to clinch the fourth seed and the huge (especially in negative way for the Red Wings) home ice advantage in their likely upcoming series. Of course, there’s also a chance the Chicago Blackhawks could slide into the fifth seed; check out this breakdown from On the Forecheck for all the headache-inducing details.

Red Wings come back, beat Blues in shootout

Brian Elliott, Todd Bertuzzi

The St. Louis Blues have done a lot to show that they’re not just the flavor of the month, but topping their big brothers from Detroit is a mountain they still need to climb. After winning the first two games of the season series, St. Louis lost four straight games against the Red Wings, including tonight’s 3-2 shootout thriller on NBC Sports Network.

A questionable Ryan Reaves hit seemed primed to be one of the biggest talking points of the game until the Red Wings’ ensuing major power-play advantage ended up blowing up in their faces. David Perron scored a shorthanded beauty to make it 1-0 and then a Detroit penalty allowed gave Andy McDonald the chance to score a 4-on-4 goal to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead midway through the final frame.

Normally that would be an ample lead for stingy St. Louis, but this is mean big brother Detroit we’re talking about. Some dazzling work from Pavel Datsyuk (redundant, I know) opened the door for two Johan Franzen goals and the Red Wings eventually benefited from Todd Bertuzzi’s 10th shootout goal to prevail in a useful win for the old standbys.

Those two goals were extra-shocking because Elliott’s shutout streak was ended at 241 minutes and 33 minutes, which in true Elliott fashion sort of slipped under the radar.

Check out highlights from the game below:

The impact for both teams

The Central Division is still firmly in the Blues’ control, but this loss damages their chance to take the Presidents’ Trophy and No. 1 seed in the West. St. Louis sits two points behind Vancouver for the West’s top seed with the tiebreaker advantage and two games left apiece. The Rangers also have a two-point lead with two games remaining but have more regulation/OT wins than the Blues.

In other words, it seems like the Red Wings spoiled the Blues’ chances of winning something they’re usually in the running for: the Presidents’ Trophy. Instead, Detroit is wrestling for at least one round of home ice advantage. They took a one-point lead over the Nashville Predators for fourth place in the West with both teams also having two games left, but things should remain interesting as Nashville holds the tiebreaker.


Long story short, it wasn’t an enormous loss for St. Louis while Detroit squeezed out two points that could be huge considering its overall road woes.

Perhaps the Red Wings also planted the seed of doubt if the two teams happen to meet in the playoffs.

Mike Smith stops regulation-record 54 shots for third straight shutout

Mike Smith

Ilya Bryzgalov might have been the first star of March but Mike Smith has easily been one of the best steals of the 2011 free agent summer. Considering his struggles in Tampa Bay, it’s understandable that many downplay his accomplishments as the mere product of Dave Tippett’s system, but he’s putting up the numbers of a star whether he is one or not.

That’s been especially true lately, when Phoenix needs him to play like a Vezina winner – and he’s delivered to a stunning degree. Tonight may rank as his masterpiece, however, as he extended his shutout streak to three consecutive games by stopping 54 Columbus Blue Jackets shots in a 2-0 win.

Update: his masterpiece will go down in NHL history, by the way. Bruce McCurdy confirms that 54 saves sets the new mark for the most in a regulation game. Yeah, that’s impressive.

Sure the Coyotes were “supposed” to win, yet the Blue Jackets have delighted in playing the spoiler lately with three straight wins against playoff-level teams. Obviously Columbus didn’t just roll over against Phoenix – Jack Johnson had eight shots alone – but Smith dazzled in giving the desert dogs a great chance to win at least the seventh seed (if not the Pacific Division).

With that in mind, here’s how that fuzzy situation looks now:

3. Los Angeles – 93 points, 34 regulation/OT wins with two games left

7. Phoenix – 93 points, 34 regulation/OT wins with two games left
8. San Jose – 92 points, 33 regulation/OT wins with two games left

9. Dallas – 89 points, 35 regulation/OT wins with two games left
10. Colorado – 88 points, 32 regulation/OT wins with two games left

The Coyotes and Kings have identical records – even standard wins with 40 each – so Los Angeles likely holds the season series advantage (or perhaps a more obscure tiebreaker). The good news is that the Sharks and Kings close out their seasons with a home-and-home, so one way or another they’ll probably get some help.

Colorado is already irrelevant to Phoenix since it tops out at 92 points while the Stars would be out of the picture if the Coyotes gain a single point. So, yes, the playoffs aren’t a guarantee in Glendale – but they’re awfully close to that.

Perhaps the best news is that the Coyotes won’t have to worry about the Detroit Red Wings in the first round this time – although Smith at least wouldn’t carry the same baggage as his universe-pondering predecessor in the first place.

Sharks sweep huge home-and-home vs. Stars

Steve Ott,Brent Burns,Antti Niemi

Going into their home-and-home series, the Dallas Stars had a chance to essentially bury the San Jose Sharks. Instead, their bitter division rivals shoveled two huge regulation losses on top of them, including today’s soul-crushing 5-2 decision.

(In fact, Stars coach Glen Gulutzan didn’t say anything to the team after the loss because emotions were too high.)

Two of the standout moments came in the third period where San Jose was just a little bit better than Dallas. Jamie Benn received a partial breakaway and made a nice backhand move but Antti Niemi got his stick down to prevent a heart-stopper when it was 3-2. Just moments later, Joe Thornton scored his 17th goal of the season to make it 4-2 and essentially lock it down.

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The “clutch” criticisms of Thornton continue to wither away as he’s coming up big for San Jose in later months; he has 18 points in February and generated 15 in March. (He’s quietly putting together another nice season as his 75 points ties him for 14th overall in the NHL.)

What’s next for Dallas, San Jose

Now, it’s true that much like the Colorado Avalanche, the Stars aren’t technically done. They’re now simply reduced to last week in the NFL-type scenarios where they root for different teams to win and lose at different times while needing to squeeze every point they can out of two remaining games.

By a similar token, the Sharks aren’t assured of a spot. Here’s what the West situation looks like at the moment, with a crucial Columbus Blue Jackets-Phoenix Coyotes still to be determined:

3. Los Angeles – 93 points, 34 regulation/OT wins, two games left

7. San Jose – 92 points, 33 regulation/OT wins, two games left
8. Phoenix – 91, 33 regulation/OT wins, three games left (one tonight)

9. Dallas – 89, 35 regulation/OT wins, two games left
10. Colorado – 88, 32 regulation/OT wins, two games left

Depending upon how the Coyotes fare, the Sharks’ home-and-home series against the Los Angeles Kings might just decide the Pacific Division title. Meanwhile, Dallas essentially must hope that one of the three teams ahead of them finishes with as few points as possible (to keep it simple).

The Stars face the Predators in Nashville and host the St. Louis Blues in their last two games, so those are tough draws from both the quality of opponent and the fact that they cannot influence other bubble teams. Dallas had its chance to do that and watched both games go up in smoke – in regulation.

Panthers cough up chance to clinch Southeast, playoffs

Toronto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers

There aren’t many sports that allow you to “back into” a third seed, but the Florida Panthers might just do that with the Southeast Division this season. They keep inching toward that mark and/or their first playoff berth in more than a decade, but they’re earning virtually zero style points (not to mention tempting the jinxing gods.)

At first, it seemed like they were ready to cruise to an exciting destination as they opened up a 3-0 lead against a Winnipeg Jets team that had every excuse to fold – especially on the road.

Blame it on “playing not to lose,” just not being good enough or any number of other factors, but the bottom line is that the Jets took over the scoring after Tomas Fleischmann made it 3-0 just 25 seconds in the second period. Winnipeg collected two goals to end the middle frame and then scored two goals within four minutes of the third period to make it 4-3. On the bright side, the Panthers squeezed another charity point out of the game as Tomas Kopecky scored the game-tying goal but Andrew Ladd’s OT winner has to be tough to swallow.

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Well, unless you’re the team that ends up with the East’s sixth seed, that is. In that case, you’re probably licking your chops.

Southeast showdown

This sets up a great opportunity for the Washington Capitals to unseat the Panthers for the Southeast title. Florida only needs a point to clinch a playoff spot and the division but the Caps could make that less of a certainty by beating them at the Verizon Center on Thursday.

After that, the Panthers visit the Carolina Hurricanes while the Washington Capitals face a Rangers team with little to play for in Madison Square Garden – both on Saturday.

It would be surprising if Florida fails to win the division and even more shocking if they fall out of the East’s top eight if things really fall apart, but they opened themselves up to that possibility by letting a seemingly certain victory slip away.