Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tuesday's trip around the league

I can't decide which were really the marquee games of the night, so we'll just do an old-school version, but lengthened, with playoff implications.

Stars of the night
--Olli Jokinen and Vinny Prospal had a goal and assist each, Marian Gaborik scored his 40th and the Rangers kept alive their playoff hopes with a 4-3 win over the Islanders. New York sits in 10th place with 78 points.
--Nik Antropov broke a 2-2 tie, and also had an assist, and Maxim Afinogenov had a goal and assist to lead Atlanta over Toronto, 3-2. The Thrashers remained in ninth place, two behind Boston.
--A four-point night from Jason Spezza on two goals and two assists (if tertiary assists existed, he'd have gotten one) and Alexei Kovalev's overtime power play goal gave Ottawa a 5-4 victory at Washington. The Senators have a magic number of one to clinch a playoff spot and trail Buffalo by five in the Northeast Division.
--Rick Nash netted a pair of goals and Columbus all but ended Tampa Bay's season, 3-2. The Lightning are two points from being eliminated from the playoffs.
--Eleven different players registered points as Detroit let a four-goal lead vanish but rebounded for a 5-4 win over Edmonton on Brad Stuart's late goal. The Red Wings are closing in on clinching a playoff spot and trail Nashville by just one, with two games in hand, for fifth place.
--If you want to call yourself a Stanley Cup contender, you have to stop losing to nonplayoff teams, but Chicago isn't doing that. Alexander Steen had two goals and an assist and St. Louis knocked off the Blackhawks, 4-2, handing Chicago its third straight loss, all in regulation. Honestly, the way things are going, I'm not ruling out Detroit overtaking Chicago for the Central Division title. I'm serious. Oh, and the teams meet in the regular season finale. That title could be on the line. As for the Blues, they're six points out with six to play.
--Henrik Sedin had a goal and two assists to extend his league-leading points total to 104 in Vancouver's 4-1 win over Phoenix. The Canucks seem locked into the third seed but have a chance of finishing second. They have a seven-point lead in the Northwest Division.

Clean sheets
--Tuukka Rask stopped 21 shots and Patrice Bergeron scored late in overtime to give Boston a 1-0 victory over New Jersey. The Bruins moved into a three-way tie at 82 points with Philadelphia and Montreal but remained in eighth place. Each team has six games remaining but the Bruins have the fewest wins of the three. The Devils are one point behind Pittsburgh for the Atlantic Division lead. Again both teams have six games left.

--Rookie Jonathan Bernier made 34 saves for his first career shutout as Los Angeles stopped an 0-3-1 stretch with a crucial 2-0 win at Nashville. The Kings, who got goals from Scott Parse and Sean O'Donnell, have 92 points, seven more than No. 9 Calgary.

Stat of the night
1 - Points for Kovalev since the Olympic break, including Tuesday's goal.

Quote of the night
"I liked the end result but the first two periods were a clinic in how not to play -- for both teams."
Columbus interim coach Claude Noel. The teams combined for 23 shots through two periods.

Wednesday's outlook
Seven games on the schedule and each one just about pits a playoff team against a non-playoff team. The one possible exception is Phoenix traveling to Calgary (9:30 p.m. ET), a must-win game for the Flames. Every other game has one team that's on the verge of elimination.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Monday's action highlighted by missed opportunities

Bad night for East's playoff hopefuls
While the playoff picture in the West is looking somewhat clear, it's murkier in the East. Problem is, the teams who are pushing for the second season didn't do much to help their cause.

Ryan Miller made 40 saves and Buffalo held off Boston, 3-2. The Bruins could've jumped to sixth place but instead remained in eighth. David Krejci scored a nifty goal to put Boston ahead, 1-0, but the Sabres struck for three straight goals by Tyler Myers, Paul Gaustad and Tim Kennedy (whom Joe Beninati consistently referred to as Tyler Kennedy, who plays for Pittsburgh. He either has the Penguins on the brain or was merging Tyler Myers with Tim Kennedy.)

Boston coach Claude Julien pulled Tim Thomas after the third goal, and while Tuukka Rask slammed the door on a Buffalo team that didn't have Tim Connolly or Thomas Vanek, the Bruins could get only Dennis Seidenberg's goal late in the third past Miller.

That result gave Atlanta a chance to tie Boston at 80 points, but despite getting the opening goal from Nik Antropov, the Thrashers dropped a 4-1 home decision to Carolina, a costly loss. Jussi Jokinen scored twice, Brandon Sutter had a goal and assist and Erik Cole also scored for the Hurricanes. Cam Ward returned to the lineup and made 26 saves.

Carolina, for what it's worth, is now seven points behind Boston with six games remaining.

Late comeback helps Nashville's cause
While some teams floundered, Nashville thrived, but it took some doing.

Patric Hornqvist scored his 30th goal with 3:07 remaining in regulation to force overtime then Francis Bouillon struck just a minute into the extra frame to give the Predators a 3-2 win over Florida. Nashville moved nine points clear of Calgary and has a magic number of either three or four depending on tiebreakers that my brain is too fried to figure out. They both have four points from the season series, so it comes down to whatever's after that.

David Legwand also scored and Marcel Goc and Steve Sullivan each posted two helpers for the Predators, who got 27 saves from Dan Ellis.

Keith Ballard and Stephen Weiss scored for Florida, eight points back of Boston with seven to go.

In other action
--Martin Havlat broke a 2-2 tie with a power play goal, and also had an assist, in Minnesota's 3-2 win over Los Angeles. Scott Parse scored twice for the Kings, who missed a chance to climb back into sixth in the West.
--Corey Perry had a goal and assist in Anaheim's 3-1 win over Dallas. The Stars, Ducks and Wild sit nine points back of Colorado with six, seven and six games remaining, respectively.

Stat of the night
3-0 - The road team's record in the season series between Carolina and Atlanta.

Quote of the night
"You don't like to see it. We are competitive to a certain degree, but I know he's a little bit frustrated. I didn't think there was a whole lot he could do on at least two of those goals."
Miller, sticking up for Olympic teammate Thomas, who was booed after he was removed. Thomas shut out Calgary in Boston's previous outing.

Notable games
Tuesday, March 30 (9 games)
-Boston (34-29-12) at New Jersey (44-26-5), 7 p.m. ET. The Bruins hope to rebound from Monday's loss while the Devils look to take back the Atlantic lead.

-Atlanta (33-31-12) at Toronto (28-35-13), 7 p.m. The Thrashers hope to rebound from Monday's loss.

-Los Angeles (42-27-6) at Nashville (44-27-6), 8 p.m. The Kings hope to rebound from Monday's loss while the Predators look to move closer to clinching a playoff spot.

-Phoenix (47-23-6) at Vancouver (45-26-4), 10 p.m. The Coyotes hope to rebound from... oh wait. Got caught up. Meant to say, this is a pairing of #3 vs. #4 so here's hoping it's a good one.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sunday's NHL action: West race maybe not over yet

As the West turns
So, that drama that Detroit took out of the Western Conference playoff race with its torrid winning pace? It's sort of back. With a new face.

A four-goal first period propelled Calgary to a shocking 5-3 victory at Washington - which has league-lows in home losses (nine) and home regulation losses (five) - and put the Flames four points behind No. 8 Colorado following the Avalanche's 4-3 loss to San Jose. Calgary was coming off a 5-0 loss to Boston that had people like me saying the Flames were done.

Goals by Ales Kotalik, Ian White and Jay Bouwmeester (you read right, Jay Bouwmeester actually scored) in the first 10:34 resulted in a goaltending change by Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, but Calgary got another late marker in the first period from Niklas Hagman.

Alex Ovechkin netted his 46th to get Washington on the board before Rene Bourque put the Flames ahead, 5-2. Bourque finished with three points. Washington got the next two goals, from Dave Steckel and Mathieu Perreault, but could not tie the score. The Capitals out-shot the Flames 20-2 in the third period but Miikka Kiprusoff (31 saves) held the fort.

Ovechkin also had an assist to hit the 100-point mark.

In the Colorado game, Devin Setoguchi struck twice for the Sharks, who played without Joe Thornton. Dan Boyle and Jed Ortmeyer also scored for San Jose and Thomas Greiss made 42 saves. Peter Mueller scored twice and Kevin Porter once for the Avalanche, who have lost two straight games but have a game in hand on Calgary.

In the East
--Sidney Crosby scored his 46th and 47th goals of the season, added one in a shootout and Pittsburgh got past Toronto, 5-4. The Penguins, who got a career-high three assists from Brooks Orpik of all people, needed a Matt Cooke goal with 2:48 to play to force overtime. Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel had a goal and assist each for the Maple Leafs.
--In a virtual must-win situation after an 0-4-1 stretch, Philadelphia torched New Jersey, 5-1. Five different players scored and Brian Boucher made 32 saves for the Flyers. Class act Daniel Carcillo took a match penalty for attempt to injure against David Clarkson late in the game. Even when they're the ones routing people, Philly just can't behave.

The results put Philadelphia in sixth place, up from eighth, and Pittsburgh and New Jersey once again swapped places, with the Penguins moving to second and the Devils dropping to fourth. New Jersey is two points back with a game in hand and the same wins total. The loss by the Devils also secured first place in the East for Washington.

--Keith Tkachuk's goal on his 38th birthday broke a 1-1 tie and St. Louis edged Edmonton, 2-1.
--Steve Mason's 33 saves held off Chicago as Columbus earned a 4-2 victory. Jakub Voracek had two goals and an assist. The Blackhawks be struggle-ling at 3-5-2 in their last 10.

Stat of the night
2.33 - Bouwmeester is making $2.333 million per goal this season. He has a $7 million salary and three goals. Good work if you can get it.

Quote of the night
From the Associated Press recap on the Calgary-Washington game: Even more stunning was the fickle display by some Capitals fans. The runaway top team in the standings actually heard boos on the way to the locker room.

Bonus quote
"I asked at the bench, 'What does he do?' And I got eight different answers. So I didn't know, I guess he's that good of a player you don't know what he's going to try."
Toronto goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, talking about Crosby's success in shootouts. Crosby is 8-for-10 this season. Giguere made 41 saves.

Marquee matchup
Monday, March 29 (5 games)
Buffalo (41-23-10) at Boston (34-28-12), 7 p.m. ET, Versus. A win ties the Bruins at 82 points with Philadelphia and Montreal with a game in hand on both, so technically Boston can jump from eighth to sixth. The Sabres push to finish second in the East.

Teams looking to play spoiler Monday include Florida (against Nashville) and Minnesota (against Los Angeles.)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Saturday's NHL recap: The Sick Version

Ugh. Y'know? Ugh.

Stars of the night
--Sidney Crosby tallied three assists and Pittsburgh stopped Philadelphia, 4-1.
--Derek Roy netted a hat trick and added an assist in Buffalo's 7-1 rout of Tampa Bay.
--Ilya Kovalchuk had two assists, including an unselfish one with an empty net looming 50 feet away, and New Jersey doubled up Montreal, 4-2.
--Erik Karlsson had three assists in Ottawa's 3-2 win over Florida.
--Nikolai Kulemin had the overtime winner and an assist, Jonas Gustavsson stopped 36 shots and Toronto stunned the Rangers, 3-2.
--From the "Did anyone anywhere watch this game?" files, Josh Bailey scored in overtime and Dwayne Roloson made 34 saves to lead the Islanders past Columbus, 4-3.
--Lee Stempniak continues to infuriate Toronto fans, this time by being good but not in blue and white, by scoring two goals and setting up another as Phoenix smashed Colorado, 6-2.
--Patrick Marleau's four points, including his 42nd goal, helped San Jose down Vancouver, 4-2.
--Brad Richards notched three points, including two goals, all on the Dallas power play that went 4-for-7 in the Stars' 4-1 win over Los Angeles.

Clean sheets
--Tim Thomas stopped 31 shots and Boston blanked fading Calgary, 5-0.
--Johan Hedberg's 34 saves allowed Atlanta to keep pace with the Bruins and put pressure on Philadelphia after a 4-0 win over Carolina.
--The goaltending clinic of the night was brought to you by Nashville's Pekka Rinne (38 saves) and Detroit's Jimmy Howard (33), who posted dual shutouts. The Red Wings won in a shootout, 1-0. The shootout lasted 11 rounds and only three total players scored.

Playoff peek
--Pittsburgh, Buffalo, New Jersey and Phoenix all clinched a playoff spot. Special props to the Coyotes, who became the third team to reach 100 points.
--Columbus became the second team to be eliminated.
--Philadelphia's five-game losing streak has dropped it to eighth in the East, and with shaky goaltending, the Flyers are in danger of missing the playoffs.
--It's essentially a five-horse race for three spots in the East: Montreal (82), Boston (80) and Philadelphia (80) sit 6-7-8 with Atlanta (78, 9th) and the Rangers (76, 10th) lurking. Four teams (Islanders, Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina) are on DEFCON 2 alert.
--Vancouver's magic number to clinch a spot is three.
--Nashville, Detroit and Los Angeles are sitting pretty at 5-6-7 in the West.
--Colorado's loss prevented the door from being slammed on, well, everyone else in the West, but the Avalanche are still in solid shape, up six points on Calgary.
--St. Louis, Anaheim and Minnesota can schedule tee times.
--Dallas can make it a foursome.
--Calgary? DEFCON 1. They stink. And the Capitals are ahead for the Flames.

Sunday's key games
Six games on the schedule and I don't think any are "must-see." Some have notes of importance. For instance, a regulation loss against Pittsburgh eliminates Toronto. A Flames loss to Washington has Calgary wondering if there's a higher level than DEFCON 1. Philadelphia (against New Jersey) and Colorado (at San Jose) look to remain in playoff positioning, but the Flyers' situation is more dire.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Friday night results

I tried to come up with a clever title but I'm tired.

The uniforms are different, the results the same
If Buffalo isn't careful, it's going to pull a Pittsburgh: Lose all six games to a division opponent it's battling for a division title. Except the difference is the Sabres managed to get one of those games to overtime.

Brian Elliott made 41 saves and Ottawa won its fifth game of the season against Buffalo, 4-2. The Senators closed to within five points of the first-place Sabres in the Northeast Division, but the problem is Buffalo has two games in hand.

Still, the Sabres are 0-4-1 against Ottawa and would have a comfier edge - if not a virtual lock - if they'd been able to win a game. Buffalo, I feel your pain.

Chris Kelly, Peter Regin and Jason Spezza scored goals for the Senators. Daniel Alfredsson was awarded a goal as time expired after being hooked by a Buffalo defender with an empty net looming. He, Kelly and Spezza each had an assist and Jarkko Ruutu helped set up two goals.

Tim Kennedy and Jason Pominville scored for Buffalo.

Detroit to naysayers: Any doubts now?
Yeah. Doesn't look like the Red Wings are gonna miss the playoffs.

Johan Franzen potted a pair of goals and set up two others for his first career four-point game, and Detroit took it to Minnesota, 6-2. The Red Wings moved into a points-tie with Colorado at 89 (the Avalanche have one game in hand) and six clear of ninth-place Calgary while knocking the Wild 11 points back with seven to play.

Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Ericsson and Tomas Holmstrom had a goal and assist each, Drew Miller scored and Nicklas Lidstrom and Jason Williams each had two assists for Detroit. Jimmy Howard made 25 saves.

Andrew Brunette and Owen Nolan scored for the Wild.

A win for Anaheim, but...
The Ducks stopped a two-game slide with an important win over an inferior opponent, but it's going to be too little, too late.

Two late third-period power play goals by Corey Perry pushed Anaheim past Edmonton, 3-2, but that little 0-4-1 stretch immediately after the Olympic break was a death knell to the Ducks' playoff hopes. Anaheim, even with the win, remained 11 points behind Detroit with eight to play.

George Parros also scored for Anaheim, which got two assists from Teemu Selanne and 34 saves by Curtis McElhinney. Gilbert Brule and Marc Pouliot netted for the Oilers, who had a three-game win streak against quality opponents snapped.

Pat Quinn says:
"It started off looking exactly like it was, two teams out of the playoffs and not caring how much they worked for the night. If we have an attitude like that, even one single guy, then we have losers. That's the attitude you don't want any time. You can be in 30th. But you don't have to like it or play like a 30th-place guy."

Stat of the night
174:35 - Elliott's shutout streak that ended with Kennedy's goal, less than 10 minutes shy of the franchise record held, coincidentally enough, by current Buffalo backup Patrick Lalime. Elliott had posted two straight shutouts earlier in the week. (And killing one of my fantasy teams in the process.)

Quote of the night
"I would've liked to have had that second goal back. Should have played it like a shortstop and attacked it instead of sitting back."
Howard. I guess he played the goal like a midfielder?

Notable games
Saturday, March 27 (12 games)
-Calgary (37-28-9) at Boston (33-28-12), 1 p.m. ET. I won't say write off Calgary with a loss, but the Flames need a win big time. Of course, they're not chasing the Red Wings any more, they're chasing the Avalanche. The Bruins need to erase that stinker against Tampa the other night.

-Detroit (38-23-13) at Nashville (43-27-5), 8 p.m. A win, plus certain other results, suddenly puts Detroit in sixth place. The Predators want to keep distancing themselves from others.

-Vancouver (45-25-4) at San Jose (45-19-10), 10 p.m. Not much on the line playoff-wise but probably the best game of the night.

Lot of bubble teams in action, obviously, with 12 games on the slate. It'll be fun to see what the standings look like Sunday morning.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A playoff update

Things are becoming clearer.

Eastern Conference
1. Washington 109 points (8 games left)
2. New Jersey 91 (9)
3. Buffalo 90 (10)
4. Pittsburgh 91 (8)
5. Ottawa 83 (8)
6. Montreal 82 (7)
7. Philadelphia 80 (8)
8. Boston 78 (9)
9. Atlanta 76 (8)
10. NY Rangers 75 (8)
11. Tampa Bay 72 (8)
12. Florida 71 (9)
13. Carolina 71 (9)
14. NY Islanders 70 (8)
15. Toronto 66 (8)

Thoughts: Fewer horses in the East race than the last update. Carolina is getting Cam Ward back, but both the Hurricanes and Panthers need small miracles to reach the postseason. The Islanders are done. Toronto will be eliminated soon. Tampa Bay is too inconsistent to make a run. Really, it's a three-horse race between Boston, Atlanta and the Rangers. We might not want to rule out a Philadelphia collapse though.

For the Bruins, Tuukka Rask needs to play more like he did Tuesday (a shutout) than he did Thursday (five goals on 18 shots.) Boston cannot score - even when Marc Savard was healthy - and needs to win games 2-1. The Thrashers need to avoid their tendency towards three-game losing streaks (they've had five of at least three losses; six if they lose their next game) to put more pressure on Boston. Plus, as I mentioned last week, their April schedule is brutal.

I don't know what New York team will show up from night to night. Neither does John Tortorella, I'm betting. Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist need to carry that team.

Western Conference
1. San Jose 100 (8)
2. Chicago 99 (9)
3. Vancouver 94 (8)
4. Phoenix 98 (7)
5. Nashville 91 (7)
6. Los Angeles 90 (9)
7. Colorado 89 (9)
8. Detroit 87 (9)
9. Calgary 83 (8)
10. St. Louis 79 (8)
11. Minnesota 78 (8)
12. Dallas 78 (8)
13. Anaheim 76 (9)
14. Columbus 72 (8)
15. Edmonton 55 (9)

Thoughts: Even less to talk about here. Detroit's surge since the Olympic break (9-2-1, plus a win in the final game before the break) is almost turning the playoff race into a laugher. A Red Wings win tonight over Minnesota puts them ahead of Calgary by six points and will cripple Anaheim, Dallas, the Wild and St. Louis - unless Colorado (5-4-1 in the last 10) or Los Angeles (4-4-2) continue to falter. The Blue Jackets are a couple points from being officially eliminated.

Really, in the West it's shaping up to discuss playoff positioning. Unless the Flames, pardon the pun, get hot. They'll need help even if they, er, catch fire.

The top four in each conference is looking relatively secure. Many teams need to go on a torrid streak and hope teams in front of them go on epic collapses.

Officially in: Washington, San Jose, Chicago

Officially out: Edmonton

Thursday's slate: Wild Night

So, that's a double pun. It wasn't meant that way though. There was a lot of crazy action in the NHL last night. That was the intended message. Coincidentally, the Wild was part of it. So it was like a double Wild night. Or something. I must be a writer for a living. Anyway.

BJs blow out Chicago
See what I mean? BJs, blow? Get it? Anyway.

Here's another question: What does $22.5 million get you? Two words: Cristobal Huet. To put it another way, you might as well just light that $22.5 million on fire.

Last week we saw a shocking 5-1 Edmonton victory over San Jose, and Thursday we got an 8-3 beatdown (it was 8-1 at one point) by Columbus over Chicago in a comparably stunning result. Huet gave up seven of those eight goals. He was pulled after giving up five, Antti Niemi gave up the sixth, then Joel Quenneville tossed Huet back into the fire for some reason and he gave up two more.

The best part was Rick Nash didn't do much of anything. He had a solitary assist. The damage was done by (deep breath) Antoine Vermette (two goals, one assist), Jakub Voracek (penalty shot goal, two assists), two goals by Kristian Huselius and one each by a murderer's row of goal scorers like Mike Commodore (his first), Andrew Murray (his third) and someone named Michael Blunden (his first; congrats, Rookie.)

Chicago's stars were mostly invisible. Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky and Andrew Ladd had the goals. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp combined for two assists. The Blackhawks clinched a playoff spot despite their result.

Steve Mason made 38 saves. Huet had 20.

Other wackiness
--Chris Drury scored the equalizer with 16.5 seconds remaining and the Rangers came back to stun New Jersey, 4-3 in a shootout. Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves.
--It took Minnesota a while, but eventually the Wild figured out they were playing Brian Boucher. Two goals in the third period forced overtime and Minnesota beat Philadelphia, 4-3, on Kyle Brodziak's shot that went straight up then bounced off Boucher's skate and into the net. Martin Havlat had a goal and assist.
--Fresh off a shutout, Boston goalie Tuukka Rask decided to try the other end of the spectrum, giving up five goals on just 18 shots as Tampa Bay downed the Bruins, 5-3. Steven Stamkos joined Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin atop the NHL goals leaderboard by scoring a pair, his 44th and 45th of the season. Antero Niittymaki made 47 saves.
--Supposed playoff-contender Calgary decided to see what it was like to blow a lead. Er, again. The Islanders scored twice in the third period and dealt the Flames a horrid regulation loss, 3-2. Mark Streit posted two assists for New York.
--David Booth got laid out again. Sigh. Jaroslav Spacek drilled Booth, sending him to the hospital for the second time this season. In the game, Brian Gionta scored twice and Montreal defeated Florida, 4-1.
--Chris Mason's 30 saves allowed the Blues to play spoiler, 3-1 over Los Angeles. Big win for St. Louis but they still have a big mountain to climb.
--Evgeni Nabokov remembered how to be a goalie, stopping all 27 shots in San Jose's 3-0 victory over Dallas to clinch a playoff spot and become the second team to reach 100 points.

Other non-regulation games
--Mikhail Grabovski tipped Dion Phaneuf's point shot/pass in overtime and Toronto handed Atlanta a crucial loss, 2-1.
--Ray Whitney scored in the bottom of the third inning of the shootout to force extra rounds, Chad LaRose scored in the fifth and Mike Green didn't, and Carolina knocked off Washington, 3-2. Manny Legace made 41 saves for the Hurricanes.
--Phoenix mounted a late third-period comeback but Nashville recovered to earn a 4-3 shootout victory. Steve Sullivan and Patric Hornqvist had a goal and assist each and Pekka Rinne made 32 saves for the Predators. Props to Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle for his goal and two assists.

Stat of the night
2 - Team meetings held by losing teams after their fall-from-ahead losses: Calgary and Philadelphia.

Quote of the night
"At home, 3-1 going into the third period against a non-playoff team in the West, it's got to be money in the bank."
Flyers forward Scott Hartnell

Marquee matchup
Friday, March 26 (3 games)
Busy, busy night. The game to watch is Ottawa (39-30-5) at Buffalo (40-22-10), 7:30 p.m. ET. If the Senators have any hope of winning the Northeast Division, this is a must-win game. Even with two points though, the outlook is a little bleak with the Sabres holding two games in hand.

The Wild also travel to Detroit. A Red Wings regulation victory will officially eliminate Columbus and will essentially rule out a handful of other teams, including Minnesota.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wednesday's action: Caps win again; Wings creating pressure

For third time, Washington beats Pittsburgh
Even down 2-0 in a shootout, you can't count the Capitals out.

Alexanders Ovechkin and Semin and Mike Knuble scored three straight goals, Jose Theodore made two straight saves and Washington defeated Pittsburgh, 4-3 in a shootout, despite trailing 2-0 after three shooters.

Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby didn't disappoint too much in the latest meeting. Neither scored in regulation but each had a couple good chances and both found pay dirt in the shootout. It was Semin who turned the game around when he picked off another stupid cross-ice pass by Crosby and scored shorthanded to tie the score at 2-2. Knuble had scored earlier in the game and Eric Fehr scored shortly after the Semin goal for a 3-2 Caps lead.

Otherwise, the story was Theodore, who made 39 saves in regulation. Max Talbot, Bill Guerin and Jordan Staal scored for the Penguins. Both Crosby and Ovechkin recorded one assist.

Detroit wins again
There's only one team hotter than Detroit right now.

Valtteri Filppula scored two third-period goals and also had an assist to spur Detroit to a 4-2 victory over St. Louis. The Red Wings are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, are four points ahead of No. 9 Calgary, and just two behind Nashville and Colorado.

Henrik Zetterberg and Todd Bertuzzi each had a goal and assist and Jimmy Howard made 30 saves for Detroit. Brian Rafalski posted two assists.

Paul Kariya and Jay McClement scored goals for the Blues, who fell 10 points behind Detroit with nine games left. The Western playoff picture is taking shape and losing contenders.

In other action
--Marian Gaborik had two goals and an assist in support of Henrik Lundqvist's 27 saves in the Rangers' 5-0 whitewash of the Islanders to stop a three-game skid.
--Buffalo struck for two goals in the final two minutes and stunned Montreal, 3-2 in a shootout. Tim Connolly and Steve Montador scored 71 seconds apart and Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek had tiebreaker goals to give the Sabres the win. Andrei Kostitsyn had both Montreal goals.
--Another late comeback resulted in a valuable point, this time when Los Angeles erased a two-goal third period deficit, getting the tying goal from Alexander Frolov with 1:21 to play, but Colorado recovered to earn a 3-2 shootout victory. Peter Mueller had two assists for the Avalanche.
--Daniel Sedin scored a goal and set up two others in Vancouver's 4-1 win over Anaheim, a crippling loss for the Ducks.

Stat of the night
0-10-3 - Pittsburgh's record against the top six teams in the league (based on points)

Quote of the night
"Fleury, make a fucking save when you have a 2-0 shootout lead."

Marquee matchup
Thursday, March 25 (11 games)
I don't really think there are too many good games. I guess Phoenix (46-23-5) at Nashville (42-27-5), 8 p.m. ET. Lot of playoff-bubble teams are in action.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Top Gun: The Wild Missions

This got started over at GTRCMBSHP but I think it deserves fleshing out.

WRT mentioned that Burns looks like he might be playing with a little more reserve and a little less panache than before his recent spate of concussions.

I think this is a very important story line for the Wild as this season (mercifully) winds down and the off-season re-tooling begins.

Burns is like Maverick the first couple times up in the air after Goose (ironically) bashes his brain in on the canopy trying to eject. But now, Burns/Maverick is back up there, and Wild fans are Merlin sitting behind him. And there's a nasty dog fight going on all around us, and the MiGs are outnumbering us, and our #1 is in the really deep doo-doo with like three MiGs on him, and they've got missile lock and it looks pretty bad for old Iceman, and we're back there going "Come on Burns/Mav! Ice needs us! Get in there man! We gotta help Iceman!" And Burns/Maverick is up front shaking his head and whisper/talking (like Tony Almeida in the first couple seasons of 24) "Talk to me, Goose. Talk to me. It's no good. It's no good." and disengaging before he even gets into the fray.

Richards obviously needs to sit him down and do a little good cop-slash-father-figure-replacement-because-he-flew-with-Mav's-old-man-back-in-the-'Nam Viper routine on him.

Richards: What's on your mind?

Burns: My options, sir.

Richards: Simple. First, you've acquired enough reputation to continue playing, or you can quit. There'd be no disgrace. That concussion was hell, it would have shook me up .

Burns: So you think I should quit?

Richards: I didn't say that. The simple fact is that you feel responsible for your brain and you have a confidence problem. Now I'm not gonna sit here and blow sunshine up your ass. A good defenseman is compelled to evaluate what's happened, so he can apply what he's learned. Out there, we gotta push it. That's our job. It's your option. All yours.

Burns: Sorry to bother you on another optional skate day, sir. But thank you very much for your time.

Richards: No problem, good luck.

The point here is that, if Burns decides he can't go for it - that the golden retriever has been tamed and his joie de vivre muted - then he starts down a road the end point of which is that he's no good to the Wild. He can start down that road and decide to turn off of it at some point, obviously. But the question is: is Burns at 80% of his former enthusiasm level worth a top four spot on the Wild? It's not like there are a ton of options behind him right now.

Maybe it's good that this season is almost over. Maybe Burns will tweak a rib (or something that would heal) and they can shut him down for the rest of this sad denoument to the Wild's 09-10 season - resting his beleaguered melon through the summer, in the process. Maybe he's totally fine (mentally, like) and he's just getting back into game shape - and this is all uncessesary worrying.

But, it's an interesting story line for Wild fans because Burns has the potential to be such an integral part of the roster.

For now, when Richards talks to Mike Ramsay, the conversation's pretty simple:

Richards: Tell me one thing, if you had to go into battle would you want him with you?

Rammer: I don't know. I just don't know.


Tuesday's NHL action: A Quickie

Hectic night at work. On the bright side, I think I set a personal record for "fastest story written." Did it in like 15 minutes from scratch. Go me.

Stars of the night
--Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and three assists, Zach Parise posted two goals and a helper and Travis Zajac netted a pair in New Jersey's 6-3 win over Columbus.
--Scott Clemmensen made 42 saves, David Booth scored twice and Florida kept alive its weak playoff hopes, 4-1 over Toronto.
--Martin St. Louis' second goal, in overtime, lifted Tampa Bay over Carolina, 3-2, to salvage the Lightning's even more meager playoff hopes. The Hurricanes are close to dead.
--Kari Lehtonen's 34 saves and Loui Eriksson's goal and helper gave Dallas a huge 3-1 win over Nashville. Problem is the Stars are still five points back just of Calgary, let alone a playoff team. Jere Lehtinen was named the #2 star; I think they got their Finns mixed up in Nashville.
--Rob Blake tallied three assists and San Jose reversed its huge slide, 4-1 over Minnesota. Dan Boyle was the game's #3 star; I think they got their "San Jose defensemen that begin with a B" mixed up in Minnesota.
--Three different goal scorers and two assists each from Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester (seriously, J-Bo contributed something positive) helped Calgary defeat Anaheim, 3-1.
--Edmonton followed up its huge upset of San Jose by knocking off Vancouver, 3-2, behind 31 saves by Jeff Deslauriers.

Clean sheets
--Tuukka Rask stopped 27 shots and Boston blanked Atlanta, 4-0, in one of the key games of the night. Milan Lucic and David Krejci had a goal and assist. The Bruins are three points ahead of No. 9 Atlanta and trail Philadelphia and Montreal by just one point each, with a game in hand on all three teams.
--Brian Elliott's encore performance of his Monday shutout was pretty good, because he got another, making 26 saves in Ottawa's 2-0 win over Philadelphia.
--Not so fast, Phoenix. Antti Niemi pushed aside 28 shots and Chicago downed the Coyotes, 2-0, reclaiming sole possession of first in the West. With San Jose's win, Phoenix also dropped back to second in the Pacific Division.

On a side note, just about everyone of my fantasy playoff opponents had one of the above goalies. One had two of them. #$%#$@!%$#%$#.

I'm tired. That's enough for tonight. I'll do a look at the standings tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In the NHL: Wings take round two; Sens back on track

House of horrors
At least the Penguins will always have Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final to hang their hats on, because they really struggle in Joe Louis Arena.

Henrik Zetterberg scored twice and added an assist, Jimmy Howard made 26 saves and Detroit defeated Pittsburgh, 3-1, in the second regular season meeting between the two teams. Todd Bertuzzi and Nicklas Lidstrom had two assists and Valtteri Filppula had a goal and an assist.

Pascal Dupuis scored the lone Pittsburgh goal.

The Red Wings moved four points clear of Calgary. Both teams have 10 games left.

Miracles do happen: Ottawa wins
It's fair to say that since the NHL season resumed from the Olympic break, it's been a rough go for the Senators. At least if you judge by their 1-7-1 record.

Earning the Northeast Division title, or even home-ice advantage, seems like a long shot now for Ottawa, but it reversed its skid with a 2-0 blanking of Montreal behind Brian Elliott's 29 saves. Erik Karlsson had a goal and assist, Peter Regin scored and Daniel Alfredsson posted two assists. Ottawa, seven points behind New Jersey for fifth place, had lost five straight.

Drought ends, Doughty wins
Ryan Smyth snapped his eight-game goalless drought with a two-goal performance, but it was Drew Doughty's overtime power play goal that gave Los Angeles a 4-3 win over Colorado.

Wayne Simmonds also scored for the Kings, and Anze Kopitar and Jarret Stoll had two assists each. Jonathan Quick stopped 18 shots.

Peter Mueller had a goal and assist, Chris Stewart and T.J. Galiardi (with seven seconds left) scored and Paul Stastny had two assists for the Avalanche.

Stat of the night
5-0-1 - Detroit's record in its last six games. Suddenly it's "how high will they finish?" instead of "will they even make it?"

Quote of the night
"If I actually told you what play was drawn up on the board, you'd be mad at him that he shot the puck."
Kings coach Terry Murray on the game-winning goal. Doughty was actually supposed to pass the puck, but his intended recipient was covered. So he shot instead. Darn.

Notable games
Tuesday, March 23 (10 games)
-Boston (32-27-12) at Atlanta (32-29-11), 7 p.m. ET. The Thrashers can climb into eighth place with a regulation win.

-Philadelphia (37-30-5) at Ottawa (38-30-5), 7:30 p.m. And the Flyers can move into fifth.

-Carolina (30-34-8) at Tampa Bay (28-32-12), 7:30 p.m. Both teams are long shots to make the playoffs but one will be all but done with a loss. The Lightning have lost five straight.

-Phoenix (46-22-5) at Chicago (45-19-7), 8:30 p.m. Whoda thunk it, but first place in the West is on the line.

Monday, March 22, 2010

In the NHL: Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Sunday's NHL schedule featured nine games and a number of teams were dealt crucial losses while some sorta-saved their seasons.

Southeast Division
--Even with a 5-2 victory over Tampa Bay that vaulted Florida three spots in the standings, the Panthers are still seven points back of Boston. Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton and Cory Stillman each had a goal and assist for Florida. The Lightning dropped to 14th.

--A day after knocking off the defending champions on the road on a rookie's first goal just before the final buzzer, Carolina laid something of an egg at home, falling behind 4-0 in an eventual 5-3 loss to Buffalo. Jochen Hecht scored twice and Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek had two assists for the Sabres. The Hurricanes fell eight points back with 10 games left.

Northwest Division
Two second-period goals by Chuck Kobasew and Josh Harding's 29 saves helped Minnesota take down the Flames, 4-3, a costly loss for Calgary, which remained two points back of Detroit. The Red Wings have a game in hand. A loss would've been worse for the Wild, who are seven back with 10 to play.

Pacific Division
Teemu Selanne's 600th goal, plus an assist, helped Anaheim take down Colorado, 5-2. Ryan Getzlaf had a goal and assist and Corey Perry notched three helpers for the Ducks, who played without Bobby Ryan. Anaheim is seven points out with 11 to play.

Broom broom go the Thrashers
Ondrej Pavelec stopped 44 shots and the Thrashers swept a home-and-home and the season series with Philadelphia, 3-1. Atlanta remains a point behind Boston and the two play Tuesday. Ron Hainsey had a goal and two assists and Rich Peverley had a goal and assist.

Late strikes
Two goals in a span of 48 seconds in the final four minutes, one by Patric Hornqvist and the other by Dustin Boyd (his second) gave Nashville a shocking 3-2 win over St. Louis. The Blues are six points out.

The four-pointer of the night
Tuukka Rask fended off 23 New York attempts and Boston held off the Rangers, 2-1, in a meeting of No. 8 vs. No. 10. The Bruins, who got goals from Miroslav Satan and Dennis Wideman, opened a five-point gap between them and the Rangers.

Moving up
I think the Jack Adams Trophy for Coach of the Year is Dave Tippett's to lose.

Radim Vrbata's solid overall night and Adrian Aucoin's fifth goal in five career shootout attempts boosted Phoenix past Dallas, 3-2, for its ninth straight win, a victory that puts the Coyotes atop the Pacific Division and tied with Chicago for the most points in the West.

Vrbata registered a goal and assist, both on the power play, and scored the tying shootout goal in the bottom of round three. Jason LaBarbera made 30 saves.

Stunner of the night
The Olympic break might not be an excuse, but for whatever reason, the Sharks are spiraling out of control. Their three best forwards, probably their four best, and top defenseman had long Olympic runs and their starting goalie had an abysmal performance. All that seems to be carrying over after San Jose hit absolute rock-bottom in a stunning 5-1 loss at Edmonton. The Sharks have lost six straight, the last five in regulation.

Devan Dubnyk made 27 saves and was 3:02 away from his first career shutout when Ryane Clowe scored. Dustin Penner, Fernando Pisani and Shawn Horcoff had a goal and assist each for the Oilers.

Stat of the night
3 - Players to score 600 goals after winning the Calder Trophy: Selanne, Luc Robitaille and Mario Lemieux. Selanne is the 18th player overall to score 600 goals.

Quote of the night
"At least we didn't get booed out again."
Rask, comparing Sunday's end-game reception from the fans to Thursday's after a 3-0 loss

Massive Monday
There's only three games on the schedule for Monday but each should be good. First, there's a rematch of the last two Stanley Cup Finals, with Pittsburgh (42-24-6) at Detroit (35-23-13), 7 p.m. ET on Versus. At 7:30 p.m., Ottawa (37-30-5) visits Montreal (36-29-7). Both teams have 79 points. Finally, Colorado (40-25-6) heads to Los Angeles (41-24-5) at 10:30 p.m. Nashville has passed both teams in the standings and the Avalanche and Kings might be looking over their shoulders.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Quirky schedule make-or-break for Atlanta


If you really wanted to, you could label every team in the NHL as a "Jekyll and Hyde" team. Some teams show it more than others, while some, like Washington, rarely are up-and-down. For instance, the Sharks are very much in a Hyde phase at the present time.

One of the teams whose season has been a bumpy roller coaster ride for most of the year is Atlanta. The Thrashers, both pre- and post-Ilya Kovalchuk, have shown stretches of being a genuine hockey club. Then there are times when they're the poster child of the SouthLeast Division.

Yet they just might make the playoffs.

How they play over the final three weeks will in part determine that, and Atlanta has something of a goofy schedule. On paper, the Thrashers' remaining games can also be described as Jekyll and Hyde.

Fresh off a 5-2 win over Philadelphia Saturday, Atlanta plays the second of a home-and-home with the Flyers on Sunday. Of Atlanta's last 11 games, nine come against five opponents.

Following the second game against the Flyers, the Thrashers play two games each against Toronto, Carolina (back-to-back), Washington and Pittsburgh. But it's what happens in March that might make Atlanta's season.

Atlanta's next five games, the final five in March, are against teams that arguably, the Thrashers should defeat. A big matchup with Boston looms Tuesday, then the four games against the Maple Leafs and Hurricanes, who are both playing very good hockey these days. In fact, Carolina isn't necessarily out of the playoff picture now.

It's imperative for Atlanta to earn as many points as it can from these six games (counting Sunday's game at Philadelphia) because as much as March might make its year, April could tear it down.

Three of Atlanta's five games in the final month are on the road. The opponents: at Washington, at Pittsburgh, New Jersey, back to Washington, then close the season home against Pittsburgh again.

Ouch. Particularly when you factor in the Thrashers' record against those five opponents. (See below.)

Potentially working in Atlanta's favor, at least in the two meetings with the Capitals, is Bruce Boudreau may rest some of his players for the postseason. Washington, with Chicago and San Jose's troubles, is rapidly pulling away with the Presidents' Trophy and will have little to play for in April.

The Penguins and Devils, on the other hand, could still be jockeying for the Atlantic Division title.

So that's four games against teams below them in the standings, one against the team directly above them, and five against arguably the top three teams in the conference. Which Atlanta team will show up? The one that went 2-5-1, including six straight losses, right out of the Olympic break to knock it out of contention, or the one that has earned three straight impressive victories against quality teams (Buffalo, Ottawa, Philadelphia) to be just a point out of eighth going into Sunday?

Atlanta's head-to-head record against remaining opponents
Philadelphia: 3-0-0
Boston: 0-2-1
Toronto: 1-1-0
Carolina: 2-2-0
Washington: 0-4-0
Pittsburgh: 0-2-0
New Jersey: 1-2-0

NHL Recap 3-20-10: Who let the Thrashers back in?; Coyotes comeback stuns Chicago

Reports of Atlanta's demise were greatly exaggerated
Just a few days ago, many people, including yours truly, all but wrote off Atlanta from being part of the playoff picture. The Thrashers apparently took exception to that.

Colby Armstrong's second straight two-goal game helped Atlanta earn its third consecutive victory, 5-2 over Philadelphia, and the Thrashers are now just one point behind Boston for eighth in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins have a game in hand and the two teams meet Tuesday.

Just a week ago, Atlanta was mired in an 0-5-1 stretch that made the playoffs seem a pipe dream. Now it's beaten Buffalo, Ottawa and Philadelphia - all playoff teams as of today - in succession.

Niclas Bergfors scored his 20th of the season, Nik Antropov posted a goal and two points for the fourth straight game, and Bryan Little also scored. Tobias Enstrom and Clarke MacArthur each had two assists and Johan Hedberg made 25 saves.

Daniel Carcillo and Blair Betts scored for the Flyers, who are in a three-way tie with Montreal and Ottawa at 79 points.

Deja vu for Chicago
Stop me if you've heard this before, but Chicago experienced another late collapse.

Phoenix twice came back from two-goal deficits and earned its eighth straight win, moving just one point behind San Jose in the division and two back of West leader Chicago after knocking off the Blackhawks, 5-4 in a shootout.

Goals by Troy Brouwer and Patrick Kane gave Chicago a 2-0 lead before Wojtek Wolski and Lee Stempniak scored to tie the game. Just 1:22 after Stempniak's goal in the third period, Andrew Ladd caught Ilya Bryzgalov napping for a 3-2 lead. Then, 73 seconds later, Patrick Sharp restored Chicago's two-goal lead.

Cue dramatic music.

Stempniak netted his second of the game three minutes later, then Adrian Aucoin tied the game at 4-4 with 5:07 to play. In overtime, the Coyotes' Matthew Lombardi was awarded a penalty shot but was stopped by Antti Niemi, then Phoenix had an apparent game-winner by Vernon Fiddler waived off because Fiddler kicked the puck into the net.

The game went to a shootout, where Radim Vrbata was the only skater on either team to score. Bryzgalov's save on Sharp gave Phoenix the win.

Around the league
--Ottawa's Jason Spezza had a hat trick and assist but Dallas earned an important victory, 5-4 over the Senators in regulation. Brad Richards scored twice.
--Ryan Miller fended off 31 shots, Tyler Myers posted two assists and Buffalo defeated Florida, 3-1.
--Jose Theodore stopped 33 shots, Alex Ovechkin scored his 45th goal in his first game back from suspension and Washington downed Tampa Bay, 3-1.

Clean sheets
--Ty Conklin made 29 saves and Alexander Steen's goal with 13 seconds left in the first period held up as St. Louis knocked off New Jersey, 1-0.
--Pekka Rinne and Steve Mason matched save for save until overtime, when Nashville's Cody Franson slipped a shot past Mason for a 1-0 Predators victory over Columbus. Rinne made 33 saves and Mason stopped 30 shots.
--Jonathan Quick posted his fourth shutout by stopping 26 shots to lead Los Angeles to a much-needed win, 1-0 over the Islanders. Brad Richardson had the only goal for the Kings, who had led the Flames by just four points before the victory.

Working late
--Jamie McBain's first career goal couldn't have come much more dramatically. His slapper from the point off a mad scramble got past Marc-Andre Fleury with 1.5 seconds remaining in overtime (0.9 officially) and Carolina upended Pittsburgh for the third time this season, 3-2.
--Nikolai Kulemin and John Mitchell tallied in the shootout, Jonas Gustuvasson stopped two shooters and Toronto earned its third straight win, and sixth in the last seven, 3-2 over Montreal. Brian Gionta scored twice for the Habs.
--Holy crap. More Detroit magic. One night after earning a point by scoring with 0.5 second left against Edmonton, the Red Wings did it again when Henrik Zetterberg netted the overtime winner with 0.3 second on the clock and Detroit stunned Vancouver, 4-3, to move two points ahead of Calgary. Valtteri Filppula had a goal and two assists for Detroit. Bob Luongo stopped 50 shots in defeat.

Stat of the night
14 - Consecutive wins for Nashville at home over Columbus.

Quote of the night
"It's embarrassing. There's really no other way to say it or talk about it."
Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith. The Blackhawks are still 29-1-3 when leading after two. The losses are happening more frequently of late though.

Notable games
Sunday, March 21 (9 games)
-NY Rangers (31-31-9) at Boston (31-27-12), 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC. Don't expect much in the entertainment category, but this is a matchup of No. 8 vs. No. 10 in the East.

-Calgary (36-26-9) at Minnesota (34-31-6), 3 p.m. A regulation loss could be the final nail in the Wild's coffin.

-Atlanta (31-29-11) at Philadelphia (37-29-5), 7 p.m. Depending what happens in the first game on this list, the Thrashers could jump into the eighth spot.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

NHL Recap 3-19-10: How the West Finished 8th

Four games Friday and each one featured a team chasing one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.

Questionable call hurts Wild
Actually, it wasn't all that questionable. Seems fairly obvious the Wild were on the wrong end of a bad call.

Kris Russell tied the game at 2-2 with a slap shot that found its way through Josh Harding despite apparent interference from Blue Jackets center R.J. Umberger. The goal was allowed to stand and Rick Nash scored 27 seconds later. Nash added a second goal in his first game back from injury as Columbus played spoiler, 4-2 over Minnesota.

Kristian Huselius got the first goal for the Blue Jackets. Mikko Koivu and Chuck Kobasew had given the Wild a 2-0 lead.

Minnesota fell seven points back of Detroit and Calgary with 11 games left.

Big lead turns to narrow win for Flames
San Jose is still struggling and Calgary took full advantage.

The Flames took a 2-0 lead nine minutes into the game, opened a 4-1 margin and hung on to hand the Sharks their fifth straight loss, 4-3. Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow, Nigel Dawes and Eric Nystrom scored for Calgary, which got 25 saves from Miikka Kiprusoff.

Dany Heatley got San Jose on the board at 2-1 in the second period, and goals late in the third by Manny Malhotra and Dan Boyle made things interesting.

Calgary is tied in points with Detroit and holds the wins tiebreaker but has played one more game.

Last-second goal salvages point for Detroit
I really want to know what the hell Theo Peckham was thinking.

As the seconds wound down and Edmonton clinging to a 2-1 lead, Oilers defenseman Peckham, who otherwise had a great game with seven blocked shots, inexplicably tried to play a puck in the corner with his hand. The weird thing is he had a fully functioning stick but decided to try smothering the puck with his hand, then body, instead.

It didn't work.

The puck sprung free to Brian Rafalski, alone right in front of the net, and the silver medalist banged home the tying goal with 0.5 second remaining to force overtime. Edmonton went on to win the game, 3-2 in a shootout, but the Red Wings salvaged a valuable point.

Andrew Cogliano and Ryan Whitney gave Edmonton a 2-0 lead five minutes in. Patrick Eaves scored for the Red Wings.

In the shootout, Ryan Potulny and and Gilbert Brule, who had two assists, scored for the Oilers. Devan Dubnyk stopped two shooters and made 31 saves for his first career victory.

Shell doesn't work, Anaheim stuns Isles
The lone East team in action, the New York Islanders, seemed to have things in hand. A 4-2 lead, midway through the third period... Woops.

Anaheim scored two goals in the final 10:07 of regulation, then Saku Koivu capitalized off a brutal turnover by Bruno Gervais to score the overtime winner on a breakaway just 14 seconds into the extra period of the Ducks' 5-4 victory.

Jason Blake scored on a power play - just his third goal in 15 games with Anaheim - to get the Ducks to within 4-3, then Lubomir Visnovsky cranked his second goal of the game to tie the score with 32 seconds remaining. Matt Beleskey had a goal and Teemu Selanne posted two helpers for Anaheim. Curtis McElhinney made 13 saves - only two in the third period - in relief of shaky starter Jonas Hiller.

Kyle Okposo scored twice and the Islanders also got goals from Richard Park and John Tavares.

New York is six points back of Boston but has three other teams in front of it and Anaheim is seven back of Detroit and Calgary.

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"We did what a bottom-place team does: We backed off and gave them lots of room at the end. Dubnyk was really good, in the third period, especially. You never think a puck is going to go in with less than a second left. But we've had that happen to us earlier this season as well."

Stat of the night
0-1-2 - Detroit's record against Edmonton this season.

Quote of the night
"It was a play that shouldn't have been made. We had another option. Bad break or not, it wasn't a play that had to be made."
Islanders coach Scott Gordon, on the Gervais turnover in OT

Notable games
Saturday, March 20 (11 games)
-Philadelphia (37-28-5) at Atlanta (30-29-11), 7 p.m. ET. The Thrashers try and continue their momentum (three straight wins.) The Flyers look for separation.

-Chicago (45-19-6) at Phoenix (44-22-5), 9 p.m. The Blackhawks, with San Jose's slump, now sit in solid positioning to finish atop the West. The Coyotes, with San Jose's slump, are now thinking division title (three points back.)

-Detroit (34-23-13) at Vancouver (44-24-3), 10 p.m. The Canucks have lost only nine games at home, a tough game for the Red Wings to try to break their tie with Calgary.

Friday, March 19, 2010

NHL Recap 3-18-10: Atlanta staying alive; San Jose slumping

Three-goal third period puts Atlanta back in the hunt
An 0-5-1 stretch seemed to knock the Thrashers out of playoff contention. Two straight wins, plus the putridity of the East, has them back in it.

Nik Antropov and Colby Armstrong each scored a pair of goals and Atlanta handed Ottawa its fourth straight loss, 6-3, and climbed three points back of No. 8 Boston. The Thrashers tied the Rangers for ninth with a game in hand.

Antropov's second goal of the game snapped a 3-3 tie in the third and Armstrong netted his two in five minutes. Jim Slater and Evgeny Artyukhin also had goals for Atlanta. Armstrong had an assist for a three-point night.

Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Phillips scored for the Senators, who are 1-6-1 since the Olympic break. The lone victory came against lowly Edmonton and Ottawa has just 12 goals in those eight games, four coming against the Oilers.

Do you know the way to a win for San Jose?
Something's wrong in southern California.

Bob Luongo fended off 32 shots and Vancouver hung on for a 3-2 victory over former No. 1 San Jose, the Sharks' fourth straight loss (0-3-1.)

Since scoring eight goals in an 8-5 win over Nashville - a game that wasn't running up the score; the Predators actually led 4-2 and the game was tied 5-5 - the Sharks have scored just two goals in each of the four games in their current losing streak. Three of the losses are to teams not likely to make the playoffs - Florida, Dallas and Anaheim.

Alexander Edler and Ryan Kesler each had a power play goal and assist for the Canucks, who got the eventual winner from Ryan Johnson, his first goal in 83 games. Joe Pavelski led San Jose with a goal and assist and Ryane Clowe also scored.

Around the league
--St. Louis capitalized on a shaky Henrik Lundqvist, scoring four goals on its first 14 shots, and earned a 4-3 victory over the Rangers. Mike Weaver scored his first goal in three years and Paul Kariya got his 400th. Marian Gaborik had a goal and two assists for New York.
--Jason Pominville's hat trick and Derek Roy's goal and two assists sparked Buffalo's 6-2 rout of Tampa Bay, which remained six points back of Boston. The Sabres lead Ottawa by five points with two games in hand in the Northeast Division.
--Scott Hartnell's goal midway through the third period snapped a 2-2 tie and Philadelphia picked up a 3-2 victory over Dallas, which got two goals from Steve Ott.

Working late
--Ray Whitney's goal late in overtime gave Carolina a 4-3 victory over Washington. The Hurricanes had taken a 3-2 lead with 1:35 to play before Eric Fehr tied the score with 10 seconds left in regulation. Joe Corvo netted two goals for the Caps against his old team.
--Phil Kessel scored in regulation and the shootout and Toronto knocked off New Jersey, 2-1. Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 24 saves.
--A three-goal third period, capped by Radim Vrbata's fluke goal with one minute remaining, turned a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 Phoenix shootout victory over Florida. Lauri Korpikoski and Vrbata scored in the shootout for the Coyotes, who set a franchise-record with their 44th win.

Clean sheets (the lite version)
--The much-anticipated Beantown Brawl between Boston and Pittsburgh was fairly lifeless, and the Penguins earned their first shutout of the season, 3-0. Matt Cooke fought Shawn Thornton two minutes into the game, and the Bruins seemed content to go home after that. Marc-Andre Fleury needed to make just 17 saves. Tyler Kennedy, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Mike Rupp scored.
--Pekka Rinne faced just 17 shots and Nashville blanked Minnesota, 5-0. Jason Arnott, Colin Wilson and Patric Hornqvist each had a goal and assist for the Predators, who moved six points clear of No. 9 Calgary. The Wild are six back of Detroit.
--Seventeen was the magic number of the night, because that's all Antti Niemi needed to stop in Chicago's 3-0 whitewash of Los Angeles. Tomas Kopecky scored twice and Troy Brouwer netted his 20th for the Blackhawks, who moved into first place in the West.

Stat of the night
42 - Years since the last Pittsburgh shutout in Boston, when Les Binkley did it on Jan. 28, 1968. But who's counting? It was only the Penguins inaugural season.

Quote of the night
"He couldn't get back to the net and he was elbowed in the face. Other than that, the ref said it was a good hockey goal."
Thrashers coach John Anderson, on the Senators first goal on which goalie Johan Hedberg was knocked down by Ruutu

Marquee matchup
Friday, March 19 (4 games)
San Jose (43-17-10) at Calgary (35-26-9), 9 p.m. ET. The Sharks try and get back to winning, the Flames try and leap Detroit in the standings. The Red Wings are also in action, as are Minnesota, the Islanders and Anaheim in bids to save their seasons.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

NHL Recap 3-17-10: Devils sweep Penguins; Chicago keeps losing (players)

Pittsburgh gift-wraps New Jersey sweep
The Devils brought out their retro, Christmas-color uniforms for their March 17 tilt against Pittsburgh. The Penguins apparently thought that meant to bring gifts.

New Jersey capitalized on a series of horrendous turnovers, scoring its first four goals off bad plays by Pittsburgh, in an eventual 5-2 victory that allowed the Devils to reclaim first place in the Atlantic Division and sweep the six-game series (all in regulation) with the Penguins.

Pittsburgh actually scored first, on a Chris Kunitz goal, before a ridiculous play by Kris Letang helped set up a breakaway by Danius Zubrus to tie the game. Late in the first period, it was Bill Guerin turning the puck over at neutral ice, freeing Paul Martin in on a breakaway for his first goal of the season in his first game back since missing 59.

Consecutive giveaways on the power play provided two shorthanded breakaways for New Jersey. The first, by Travis Zajac, was saved by Marc-Andre Fleury but the second one, just a few ticks later, Patrik Elias converted. Another bonehead Pittsburgh play later on set up a 4-on-2 rush for the Devils, finished off by Zach Parise.

And actually, another turnover led to Rob Niedermayer's empty net goal but the game was decided by then so it didn't have as much significance.

Ruslan Fedotenko had a goal for the Penguins.

Birthday wishes for Ryan, bad times for Chicago
It sucks to be the Blackhawks right now.

Bobby Ryan scored two goals on his 23rd birthday and Anaheim dealt Chicago its third straight loss, 4-2, but not many people were talking about that.

Former Blackhawk defenseman James Wisniewski leveled a malicious hit on Canadian Olympian Brent Seabrook, who'd dealt Corey Perry a big hit just seconds earlier. Seabrook appeared to be knocked unconscious by the hit and had a dazed look as he fell to the ice. Words I've seen describing the aftermath include "stomach-wrenching" and "nauseating." I would concur with those sentiments.

Seabrook left the game and did not return. Wisniewski made a bee-line towards the Chicago D-man from the faceoff circle and launched himself at Seabrook. Wisniewski was assessed a minor for charging, which is ridiculous.

Seabrook and Marian Hossa had goals for Chicago. Saku Koivu and Todd Marchant scored for the Ducks, who got 39 saves from Jonas Hiller. The Blackhawks were also unhappy on Koivu's goal, the eventual winner, after Perry seemed to get away with a cross check.

Calgary staying in it
Backup goalie Vesa Toskala made 32 saves, Rene Bourque scored once shorthanded and again on the power play, and Calgary netted a big victory, 3-2 at Colorado. The Flames are a point back of Detroit, which has a game in hand.

Stat of the night
22-5 - Goal margin for New Jersey in its season sweep against Pittsburgh. The Penguins are 12-2-1 against every other division opponent. The Devils are 7-7-1 against the other three teams. I'm going to go throw up now.

Quote of the night
"Wisniewski had two fights tonight. He was probably the first star in our minds, as far as involvement in the game."
Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle. I don't really think I need to add any editorializing. Sigh. Go Ducks.

Notable games
Thursday, March 18 (11 games)
-Pittsburgh (41-24-5) at Boston (31-26-12), 7 p.m. ET. Matt Cooke's first game against Boston. A who's-who of NHL front-office stars, including Bill McCreary and Colin Campbell, are expected to be in attendance.

-St. Louis (32-28-9) at NY Rangers (31-30-9), 7 p.m. Two teams battling for their playoff lives.

-San Jose (43-16-10) at Vancouver (43-24-3), 10 p.m. Two of the West's top three.

Key playoff pairings: Ottawa-Atlanta; Buffalo-Tampa Bay; Minnesota-Nashville; Philadelphia-Dallas.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

NHL Recap 3-16-10: Bs win, dodge bullet

Boston gets valuable win, avoids injury scare
The last thing the Bruins needed, particularly after the high of earning a big victory, was the low of losing another star. Fortunately for them, they got the best of both worlds.

Tuukka Rask fended off 30 shots and Boston ended its seven-game road trip with a 5-2 victory over Carolina. Leading scorer Patrice Bergeron, who scored the game's first goal, took a shot off his leg late in the game and had to be helped off the ice, but coach Claude Julien deemed the injury not serious.

Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder and David Krejci each scored a goal and assist for Boston, which moved three points ahead of the Rangers with a game in hand. Johnny Boychuk also scored.

Erik Cole scored twice for the Hurricanes, who fell 10 points behind Boston with 13 games to play.

Key playoff victories
Several teams in the hunt for the postseason earned crucial wins. To wit:

--Apparently all Atlanta needed to end its six-game skid was to play Olympic MVP Ryan Miller. The Thrashers scored three goals against Miller in the first five minutes, let that lead slip away but got a late goal from Jim Slater for a 4-3 victory over Buffalo. Niclas Bergfors posted three assists. The Thrashers trail Boston by five points.

--Sergei Kostitsyn snapped a 1-1 tie early in the third and Montreal defeated the Rangers, 3-1. Montreal hurdled Philadelphia into sixth place but the Flyers have two games in hand.

--Pekka Rinne made 42 saves and three more in the shootout to lead Nashville past Philadelphia, 4-3. The Predators are six points ahead of No. 9 Calgary.

--Andrew Ebbett and Martin Havlat each scored a goal and assist in support of Josh Harding's 34 saves in Minnesota's 4-2 victory over Edmonton. The Wild closed to within six points of Detroit.

--Kari Lehtonen made 45 saves as Dallas routed San Jose, 8-2. Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow each scored two goals and two assists. Both had a shorthanded goal in the third period. Dallas is seven points out.

--A career-high five points, including two goals, for John Tavares sparked a 5-2 victory for the Islanders over Vancouver. Dwayne Roloson made 35 saves. New York is seven points out.

In other action
--Jonas Gustavsson stopped 30 shots, 12 different players had points, and Toronto upended Ottawa, 4-1.
--Phoenix got 27 saves from Ilya Bryzgalov and held off Tampa Bay, 2-1. The Coyotes trail San Jose by five points in the division and lead No. 5 Colorado by five points in the race for home-ice advantage. Phoenix also tied a franchise-record with its 43rd win. (On a side note, I don't think I'm ever drafting Vincent Lecavalier again in any fantasy league. Unless it's a league for overpaid, overrated so-called superstars.)
--Brooks Laich scored two goals with an assist, Brendan Morrison had a goal and two helpers, and Washington smacked down fading Florida, 7-3.
--Peter Mueller netted a pair of goals, added an assist, and Colorado dealt St. Louis a big loss, 5-3. Paul Stastny posted a goal and two helpers.

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"Right now, we're struggling with knowing how to play a game and play it all night long."

Stat of the night
500 - Career victories for Dallas coach Marc Crawford after Tuesday's win, the 15th coach to reach the milestone.

Quote of the night
"That's a kick to the berries."
Daryl Reaugh, Dallas color commentator after the first Stars shorthanded goal against San Jose, which made the score 5-2 early in the third period.

Marquee matchup
Wednesday, March 16 (3 games)
Well, it's either the Penguins getting swept in the season series by the Devils or an episode of "How the Goalies Turn" featuring Chicago, fresh off two horrible collapses, against Anaheim. Calgary is also in action against Colorado needing a win.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

NHL Recap 3-15-10: Bad start dooms Bruins; Wings win showdown

Devils close ground, Boston can't open
The Bruins are sitting in precarious playoff positioning in the East but had a small comfort in having more games left than other competitors. That comfort doesn't mean anything if they can't take advantage.

New Jersey struck for three goals in the first period and held off Boston for a 3-2 victory, a win that puts the Devils two points behind Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division with a game in hand and keeps Boston at 71 points, one ahead of the Rangers.

Rob Niedermayer got things going when he somehow deflected a David Clarkson shot past a floundering Tim Thomas, then Clarkson buried a breakaway chance off a great pass by Martin Brodeur, who made 34 saves. Just 45 seconds after Clarkson scored, Zach Parise knocked in a rebound for a 3-0 lead, which caused Claude Julien to replace Thomas after the first period.

Despite the goalie change and Blake Wheeler's goal 43 seconds into the second period, the Bruins couldn't muster enough for a comeback. Patrice Bergeron made things interesting by scoring with 1:03 remaining but it was too little, too late. Boston remained in eighth place and still has a game in hand on New York.

Late goal gives Detroit big win
I'm so pissed. I had this great lead for this game. I was going to write, "Five teams in unison muttered a word that rhymes with 'duck' when the Calgary-Detroit game went to overtime." Then Tomas Holmstrom ruined it. Damn Swede. I hate you.

Holmstrom broke a 1-1 tie with just 1:19 left in regulation and Detroit scratched out a 2-1 victory over Calgary, putting the Red Wings three points ahead of the Flames and just one back of Nashville.

Holmstrom played a key role in both Detroit goals. He deflected a long slap shot by Johan Franzen past Miikka Kiprusoff for the eventual winner and set up a great screen to allow Pavel Datsyuk to sling a puck past Kiprusoff on the power play in the second period that tied the score. He was in the same spot in front of the crease on both goals.

Craig Conroy had given Calgary a 1-0 lead just 1:47 into the game but the Flames couldn't get anything else past Jimmy Howard, who had to make just 22 saves. He also stopped Curtis Glencross on a penalty shot 40 seconds before Datsyuk's goal.

Franzen had two assists.

The "other" game of the night
Kristian Huselius had a goal and three assists and teammate Antoine Vermette scored into an empty net and posted two helpers for Columbus, which earned a 5-3 win over Edmonton in the least-heralded game of the night. Steve Mason made 29 saves in the win.

Pat Quinn-ism of the night
"Of late?"

Quinn was asked about Edmonton's road troubles "of late." The Oilers are 1-14-1 on the road since mid-December.

Stat of the night
27 - Consecutive games in which Boston has not scored more than one third-period goal, the longest stretch in the team's 86-year history. (Thanks, Bill Patrick.)

Quote of the night
"You always look at the standings when your team is not winning. When you're winning, you don't have to."
Devils coach Jacques Lemaire

Notable games
Tuesday, March 16 (11 games)
-Montreal (35-29-6) at NY Rangers (31-29-9), 7:30 p.m. ET, Versus. This is the kind of game New York needs to win if it wants to get into the top eight. Montreal looks to create some separation from Boston.

-Philadelphia (36-28-4) at Nashville (38-26-5), 8 p.m. Two teams who seem comfortable in the standings but can't relax.

Bubble teams in action: Just about all of them. Busy night in the schedule. Anaheim, Detroit and Calgary are the only ones not playing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Standings still murky

This week's look at the standings.

Eastern Conference
1. Washington 101 points (13 games remaining)
2. Pittsburgh 87 (13)
3. Buffalo 82 (15)
4. New Jersey 83 (15)
5. Ottawa 79 (13)
6. Philadelphia 76 (14)
7. Montreal 76 (12)
8. Boston 72 (15)
9. NY Rangers 71 (13)
10. Tampa Bay 68 (14)
11. Atlanta 67 (14)
12. Florida 66 (15)
13. NY Islanders 65 (13)
14. Carolina 64 (14)
15. Toronto 58 (13)

A week ago, eight points separated #8 Boston from #13 Carolina. Now it's seven points between the Bruins and the new #13, the New York Islanders. Florida is still in the hunt at six points back, but the bigger difference between a week ago and now is, well, there's fewer games. Carolina's surge, as good as it was (nine wins in 12 games), is looking like too little, too late. The Hurricanes ended November with five wins. If they'd had, say, four more by that time, they'd be right in the hunt.

The Thrashers are just five points out but it's hard to believe they'll make a run. Atlanta looked good for a while but six straight losses has crippled it. They're not out yet but they better turn things around in a hurry and hope for help.

I think a lot of people maybe expect Boston to falter without Marc Savard. The Bruins are 1-1-1 since the injury, not counting the regulation loss to Pittsburgh, but they're in good position considering they have games in hand on pretty much everyone around them. We'll learn more about Boston after this week, which features games against New Jersey, Carolina, a rematch with the Penguins, and finally a huge game against the Rangers.

No one's really pulling away nor fading significantly. The Islanders and Rangers have both won two straight, so while Long Island isn't out of it yet, it's awfully close.

Western Conference
1. San Jose 96 (14)
2. Chicago 94 (14)
3. Vancouver 89 (13)
4. Phoenix 89 (13)
5. Los Angeles 85 (14)
6. Colorado 84 (14)
7. Nashville 81 (13)
8. Detroit 78 (14)
9. Calgary 77 (14)
10. St. Louis 73 (14)
11. Minnesota 72 (14)
12. Dallas 71 (14)
13. Anaheim 70 (14)
14. Columbus 65 (13)
15. Edmonton 49 (14)

To begin, Edmonton became the first team to be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Second, huge game tonight when Calgary hosts Detroit. It's shaping up to be those two teams jockeying for the final spot, unless either Nashville falters or someone else gets hot.

You can never really rule anything out with over a dozen games left for everyone, but a 1-5-1 start to the post-Olympic break has all but ended Dallas' hopes. At this point, the Stars need a lot of help to hurdle all those teams ahead of them. The same goes for the Ducks, who are 1-4-1 since play resumed.

Even being 7-2-0 in its last nine, St. Louis remains five points out. Thanks in part to the downward spirals of Dallas and Anaheim, Minnesota hurdled two teams since last week but needs to leap over two more just to get into ninth. Given what we've seen of the Flames of late, it's easy to believe another collapse is possible.

The West picture seems clearer than in the East. Some teams can be ruled out: Edmonton, Toronto and most likely Columbus. Everyone else in both conferences still has glimmers of hope, but some need to start winning and fast - Anaheim, Dallas, Carolina and the Islanders.

NHL Recap 3-14-10: Ovie-less Caps stun Chicago; Canucks hang on

The 'other' Capitals mount comeback
A 3-0 lead after two periods and no Alex Ovechkin on the opposing bench should've been the recipe for a victory for one of the supposed elite teams in the league.

Chicago seemed to think that, because the Blackhawks shifted into park. Not neutral, not letting off the gas pedal. Park.

A massive letdown allowed the Capitals, lifeless through two periods after Ovechkin was given a game misconduct for boarding, to find new life. Washington pounced for three goals in 2:16 in the third and went on to win the game in overtime, 4-3.

Careless play, especially with their sticks, doomed the Blackhawks. Jordan Hendry took a double minor for high sticking and Brooks Laich scored in the first half. As soon as he scored, Laich received another high stick, giving the Capitals a two-man advantage for two minutes. They didn't score on the power play but Nicklas Backstrom converted three seconds after the penalties ended.

Just 13 seconds after Backstrom scored, Dave Steckel out-raced a Chicago defenseman to an icing call and centered for Eric Fehr, who snapped a shot past Antti Niemi to tie the game. Backstrom scored his second goal of the game in the extra frame on a nifty play to give Washington an improbable victory and become the first team to reach 100 points.

The Blackhawks, who got two goals from Jonathan Toews and one from John Madden, had just one shot in the third period.

Luongo saves Vancouver
So. A 20-6 shot advantage and three goals in the first period. Easy win for Vancouver, right? Well, not quite.

After a shaky first period, Calgary poured things on Vancouver, but Bob Luongo stood tall and fended off the Flames, leading the Canucks to a 3-1 victory. After registering those 20 first-period shots, the Canucks mustered just eight the rest of the game, all in the second period.

You read that correctly. Vancouver recorded zero shots on goal in the third period.

The Flames finished with a 33-28 shots advantage, but only Robyn Regehr found the back of the net to ruin Luongo's shutout bid just past the midway mark of the final period. Calgary remained a point behind Detroit in the West.

Danrik Sedin sandwiched goals around Ryan Kesler's score in the first period for the Canucks. Luongo made 32 saves, 10 in the third period.

In other action
--Patric Hornqvist snapped a tie score with 3:31 remaining and Nashville earned a crucial 3-2 victory over Los Angeles.
--Craig Anderson made 48 freaking saves, Paul Stastny scored twice and Colorado handed Dallas a devastating defeat, 5-3. Someone please argue why the Hart Trophy finalists should not be Anderson, Ryan Miller and Ilya Bryzgalov.
--Sean Avery had two goals and was particularly pesty a game after being a healthy scratch and the Rangers knocked off Philadelphia, 3-1.
--Blake Comeau posted three assists and the Islanders stopped the powerhouse Maple Leafs (three straight wins), 4-1.
--Two goals in the first 5:17 of the third period allowed Pittsburgh to mount a 2-1 comeback win over Tampa Bay, which got 37 saves from Antero Niittymaki. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 21 shots for the Penguins.
--Jason LaBarbera's 39 saves and Adrian Aucoin's shootout goal in round four gave Phoenix a 3-2 win over Atlanta.
--Minnesota's Josh Harding fended off 36 shots, Mikko Koivu tallied three points (one goal) and the Wild defeated St. Louis, 4-2.
--Jonas Hiller made 31 saves, Teemu Selanne scored his 599th career goal and Anaheim knocked off San Jose, 4-2.

Marquee matchup
Monday, March 15 (3 games)
Oh boy. Detroit (33-23-12) at Calgary (34-25-9), 9:30 p.m. ET. Don't think I have to say anything about this one.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ovechkin ejected

Just over 12 minutes into Washington's game against Chicago Sunday, Alex Ovechkin was given a five-minute major for boarding Brian Campbell and a game misconduct.

My initial reaction was the same as Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury's, that it was an overreaction and not worthy of that severe a penalty. My second reaction was Ovechkin's play was similar to what Montreal's Maxim Lapierre did to San Jose's Scott Nichol recently. Lapierre's "hit" - more a push into the boards - earned him a four-game suspension.

McGuire suggested a double-minor for Ovechkin's play, which is kind of odd, because we never see double minors for anything but high sticking penalties.

Ovechkin's hit:


Darren Pang wrote a column earlier this season that "pushing" should become a penalty, for plays like this. It's not quite a boarding play and it's not exactly a hit, but when a player shoves an off-balance opponent from behind into the boards, he can cause serious injury. The player is vulnerable and defenseless, and both Nichol and Campbell left the game with injuries.

Now, time for Colin Campbell to spin his wheel again. He cited consistency for not suspending Matt Cooke for his hit on Marc Savard - a ruling which, if you take emotion out of it, made some sense, except it didn't make common sense and was still wrong - so it'll be interesting to see if Ovechkin hears from Colin Campbell.

Assuming the precedent was set with the Lapierre ruling, Ovechkin should be suspended. Earlier this season, Ovechkin was banned two games for a knee-to-knee hit on Carolina's Tim Gleason. Given the quirkiness of the NHL, I don't know if knee collisions get the same treatment as boarding penalties, so I don't know if Ovechkin is technically a repeat offender in this case. Cooke wasn't for his hit on Savard despite being suspended once before this season for a hit to the head of the Rangers' Artem Anisimov. I felt that history would've sealed Cooke's fate, but the league seemed to rule that a shoulder (Savard) saved Cooke, who used his elbow against Anisimov.

But we'll see. Ovechkin's push didn't seem as bad as Lapierre's - Ovechkin's hit seemed a little more from the side compared to Lapierre, who didn't even get a minor penalty for his play - but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. It all depends on how Colin Campbell feels in the morning.

NHL Recap 3-13-10: West's best fall; Advantage: Wings

Presidential races hit a wall
If Chicago and/or San Jose wants to pass Washington in the race for the Presidents' Trophy, they'll have to do better than they did Saturday.

Cristobal Huet and the Blackhawks blew a 2-1 lead very late, conceding a tying goal with just over two minutes to play and then the winning (or losing, depending on perspective) goal with 2.1 seconds to go, and Philadelphia stunned the Hawks, 3-2.

Simon Gagne opened the game's scoring in the third period for the Flyers before Kris Versteeg and Marian Hossa staked Chicago to a 2-1 lead. Then Scott Hartnell tied the score with 2:04 remaining in regulation.

With 2.1 ticks on the clock, Chris Pronger threw a shot past a diving Huet for the winning goal, and Chicago went away with no points after two seemed fairly secure.

San Jose had a sorta-not-quite-similar collapse. The Sharks scored the game's first two goals in the third period, by Ryane Clowe and Patrick Marleau, before falling in overtime to Florida, 3-2. The Sharks had just become the first NHL team in history to win three straight games in regulation when trailing after two periods.

Much to fantasy owners' dismay, no stars on the Panthers figured in on the goals. Rather than guys like Stephen Weiss, David Booth, Cory Stillman or Bryan McCabe, Florida got goals from Keith Ballard, Shawn Matthias and Bryan Allen (the OT winner) to stun the Sharks.

Tomas Vokoun helped out though with 37 saves.

Your move, Calgary
The back-and-forth play between Detroit and Calgary for the eighth playoff spot in the West is fun. It's the Flames turn to counter.

Brian Rafalski's power play goal off a carry-over power play in overtime lifted Detroit to a 3-2 victory over Buffalo, and the Red Wings are a point ahead of Calgary for eighth. And Nashville better look out, as the Predators are just a point ahead of Detroit.

The Red Wings looked to have this one well in hand when Pavel Datsyuk and Patrick Eaves scored in the first three minutes against Ryan Miller, but Miller (34 saves, No. 1 star) shut the door from there. At least until overtime.

Jochen Hecht scored twice for the Sabres. Calder Trophy front-runner Tyler Myers took an unfortunate delay of game penalty late in regulation that led to the Rafalski winner.

In other action
--Ilya Bryzgalov made 29 saves and Phoenix blanked Carolina, 4-0, Bryzgalov's league-leading eighth shutout. Lee Stempniak and Martin Hanzal each scored two goals.
--Sergei Kostitsyn netted a pair and Montreal edged Boston, 3-2.
--Dwayne Roloson's 38 saves boosted the Islanders past New Jersey, 4-2.
--Phil Kessel scored twice and added an assist and Tyler Bozak had a goal and two helpers in Toronto's 6-4 win over the Oilers. Edmonton is officially eliminated from playoff contention.
--Andy McDonald's three points, including one goal, led St. Louis to a 5-1 rout of Columbus.
--Mikael Samuelsson scored two goals with one assist and Vancouver took down Ottawa, 5-1.

Stat of the night
5 - Goals by Stempniak in four games with Phoenix. He had just 14 goals in 62 games with Toronto.

Quote of the night
"It's something you have nightmares about."

Marquee matchup
Sunday, March 14 (10 games)
Washington (45-14-9) at Chicago 44-18-5), 12:30 p.m., NBC. That Presidents' Trophy race could've gotten even more interesting if the Blackhawks hadn't choked. Should still be a fun game.

Playoff bubble teams in action: Dallas, NY Rangers, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, St. Louis, Minnesota, Calgary.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

NHL Recap 3-12-10: Devils beat Pens again; Dallas, Anaheim stumble

Like a news network declaring a winner in a presidential election, I hereby award the Atlantic Division title to New Jersey. Never mind the Devils are two points behind Pittsburgh. They have two games in hand and have decisively won the first five meetings with the Penguins following a 3-1 victory Friday. Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and two assists. Sidney Crosby scored his 45th goal.

Bad tidings in the West
Two teams. Dallas and Anaheim. Two games. One goal. Literally.

With playoff hopes growing dimmer with each loss, neither Dallas nor Anaheim could muster victories against teams ahead of them in the standings. The Stars salvaged a point by losing 2-1 in a shootout to Los Angeles, but any points they give away are costly.

Fredrik Modin (LA) and Brenden Morrow (Dallas) exchanged goals in regulation, and Jarret Stoll was the only player, in round six, to score in the shootout. Jonathan Bernier made 29 saves for the Kings.

Anaheim, meanwhile, couldn't even match Dallas' production, either in the standings or on the scoreboard. Pekka Rinne made 31 saves and Shea Weber's first period power play goal held up in Nashville's 1-0 victory over the Ducks.

After winning a franchise-record 11 straight at home, Anaheim has lost four straight at Honda Center. The Ducks have dropped five consecutive games overall.

Dallas is six points behind No. 8 Calgary. Anaheim has fallen nine points back, both with 15 games remaining.

--Matt Walker had a goal and assist, Antero Niittymaki made 28 saves and Tampa Bay knocked off Washington, 3-2. The Lightning are four points back of a playoff spot.
--Vinny Prospal's two goals and assist, plus Marian Gaborik's goal and two helpers, boosted the Rangers past Atlanta, 5-2. After previously being in a playoff position, the Thrashers have lost five straight games, all in regulation, and have scored just six goals in that time. New York is three points back of Boston.
--Josh Harding made 43 saves, allowing just Thomas Vanek's pair, and Minnesota upended Buffalo, 3-2, to keep its playoff hopes alive.

Notable games
Saturday, March 13 (9 games)
-Buffalo (36-21-9) at Detroit (32-23-12), 7 p.m. ET.

-Boston (30-24-12) at Montreal (34-29-6), 7 p.m.

Friday, March 12, 2010

NHL Recap 3-11-10: The Angry Edition

Seriously, few losses piss me off more than when the Penguins score two quick goals, enjoy a tremendous shot and territorial advantage, get a lot of scoring chances, particularly good ones, and somehow find a way to lose. Bonus points if the team played in overtime the previous night and the Penguins didn't. Both teams this blog roots for suck.

Stepping up
Patrice Bergeron scored a goal with two assists, Tuukka Rask made 31 saves and the Bruins downed Philadelphia, 5-1. David Krejci had a goal and an assist. Bergeron and Krejci both need to carry Boston's offense the rest of the way. The Bruins lead No. 9 New York by five points.

Clean sheets
--Craig Anderson made 27 saves and Paul Stastny scored twice to lead Colorado past Florida, 3-0.
--Miikka Kiprusoff stopped 33 shots and Calgary blanked Ottawa, 2-0, to keep pace with Detroit, a 5-1 winner over Minnesota behind two Johan Franzen goals and a goal and two assists by Henrik Zetterberg.

Not so clean sheet
Holy crap. Nashville took a 4-2 lead after two periods against San Jose, then promptly gave up six freaking goals in the final 20 minutes of a zany 8-5 San Jose victory. Joe Pavelski had two goals and two assists, Dany Heatley potted a pair of goals with one helper, and Manny Malhotra had three points including one goal for the Sharks. Patric Hornqvist and J.P. Dumont each had two goals for the Predators.

In overtime
--Brian Pothier's goal 23 seconds in allowed Carolina to squeak out a 4-3 victory over Pittsburgh, a game in which the Penguins led 2-0 less than six minutes in and out-shot Carolina, 40-21. Justin Peters made 37 saves. Ray "Penguin Killer" Whitney had a goal and assist as did Eric Staal.

--The future seems to look good for Toronto. Phil Kessel scored in overtime to give the Maple Leafs a 4-3 win over Tampa Bay. Viktor Stalberg scored twice, set up both times by Luca Caputi, and Tyler Bozak also had a goal for Toronto. Steven Stamkos scored his 42nd goal and had a helper for the Lightning, who aren't helping their playoff hopes.

In a shootout
--Andrei Kostitsyn scored the only tiebreaker goal in round five and Montreal got by Edmonton, 5-4. Sergei Kostitsyn had a goal and assist and Andrei Markov posted two helpers for the Canadiens.

--Chris Mason's 29 saves and shootout goals by T.J. Oshie and Brad "The only place I can score these days is in shootouts" Boyes gave St. Louis a 2-1 win over the Islanders. Fucking Matt Moulson scored for the Islanders after I benched him for Claude "No Points" Giroux.

With Tampa Bay's loss and Atlanta's 2-1 regulation loss to Columbus, Washington clinched the Southeast Division and didn't even need to play. What a piss-poor division. Kristian Huselius had a goal and assist and Mathieu Garon made 28 saves for the Blue Jackets.

Marquee matchup
Friday, March 12 (6 games)
Pittsburgh (40-22-5) at New Jersey (39-23-3), 7 p.m. ET. The Penguins can open a six-point division lead or the Devils can close to within two having won the first five matchups. Frankly I'll be stunned if this outcome is anything but New Jersey 5, Pittsburgh 0.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

NHL Recap 3-10-10: Rookie leads Sabres; Devils chase King Henrik

There's nothing in the HTP rule book that says I can't keep posting nightly recaps, so here's Wednesday's. We'll analyze the rule in the offseason. Any changes we implement won't take effect until 2010-11.

Tyler Myers is good
Everyone's favorite 6-foot-8, 20-year-old defenseman in the Calder Trophy race had himself a mighty fine night.

Buffalo blueliner Tyler Myers scored a goal and posted three helpers for a career-high four points, and was also a plus-4, in Buffalo's 5-3 victory over Dallas. Most people's favorite to be Rookie of the Year, Myers has nine goals and 36 points while averaging over 20 minutes of ice time for the Northeast Division leader.

Dallas and Buffalo played a wild one, with six goals scored in the first period. Myers opened the scoring only to be canceled out by Toby Petersen's marker. Another youngster, Mark Mancari, scored his first career goal to regain the Sabres lead before Steve Ott and Jamie Benn gave the Stars a 3-2 advantage.

A point shot by Myers was deflected home by Jason Pominville in the period's final minute. Thomas Vanek put Buffalo ahead to stay midway through the game and Derek Roy sealed the win with an empty netter. Buffalo out-shot Dallas, 40-23.

Henrik Lundqvist is not that good
At least for one night. Though to be fair, his team didn't help him out very much.

In another back-and-forth affair, New Jersey scored the game's final three goals, chasing Henrik Lundqvist after the fifth, and earned a 6-3 win over the Rangers to tighten the Atlantic Division race.

The Devils held leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 only to see New York counter each time. On two of those occasions, the Rangers scored less than a minute after a New Jersey goal. Six different Devils scored - Rob Niedermayer, Bryce Salvador, Zach Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Rolston and Travis Zajac.

Vinny Prospal, Erik Christensen and Brandon Prust scored for the Rangers, who failed to close ground on eight-seed Boston.

Working late
--Tomas Fleischmann's goal in overtime gave Washington a 4-3 victory over Carolina. Mike Green scored twice for the Caps.
--Patrick Sharp scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner, and Chicago edged Los Angeles, 3-2.
--A crazy shootout in Phoenix was won by the Coyotes over Vancouver, 4-3. After only two of the first six shooters found the back of the net, five of the next six players recorded goals. The one miss was from Mason Raymond in the bottom of the sixth round after Adrian Aucoin scored for Phoenix. Lee Stempniak had two goals in regulation and Ilya Bryzgalov made 36 saves for the Coyotes.

Stat of the night
0-4-1 - Dallas' record in Buffalo since the legendary (or infamous, depending on your perspective) Brett Hull goal in Game 6 of the 1999 Final.

Quote of the night
"We were very fortunate to get any points out of it let alone two. We're playing against a team that played last night and they dictated the play. We need to get on the road. Too much home cooking right now."
Phoenix coach Dave Tippett. The game was the last of a five-game home stand for the Coyotes and also the final one of a 14-game road trip for the Canucks. Vancouver posted an 8-5-1 record.

Notable games
Thursday, March 11 (10 games)
-Boston (29-24-12) at Philadelphia (35-26-4), 7 p.m. ET. Both teams looking to create some separation in the East standings.

-Minnesota (31-28-6) at Detroit (31-23-12), 7:30 p.m., NHL Network. This game has some measure of importance in the West.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The League has condoned hits to the head in the nature of the Mike Richards hit on David Booth or the Matt Cooke hit on Marc Savard. Apparently, because these types of hits will likely be illegal next season, and because the league is on record as not suspending Richards earlier this season, the league feels its hands are tied.

So here's the drill:

As long as you don't leave your feet, or have your elbows come up or away from your body, and you lead with your shoulder and/or your shoulder is the first part of your body to come into contact with the other player's head, YOU WILL NOT GET SUSPENDED THIS SEASON.

Got a big intra-division game with playoff implications coming up? TAKE OUT THEIR STAR PLAYER!

Got a buddy on another team that's in better playoff position than you? If you're playing a team that is in your buddy's team's way, GO AHEAD AND CRUSH THEIR GOALIE.

Not only will you not have to face the music (but for a pro forma scrum immediately after the hit where you will be called derogatory names and the sexual proclivities of your mother questioned) due to, among other things, the instigator, but you might not even get a minor penalty - and a suspension? Forget about it!

Now, this is a limited time offer. Once a team skates around with the Cup this spring/summer, it's over. Because next year, ho boy, next year Colin Campbell's gonna get medieval on your ass for this kind of disgusting, dangerous, wreckless, disrespectful hit.

But this year? THIS YEAR, that kind of hit is straight kosher, bro.


In other news, Toyota has reversed course on its reaction to the accelerator issues some of its models are exhibiting. In a statement, the embattled auto maker said "We have decided to rescind the recall notice. We recognize there is a problem, and we will correct it for the next model year. But current owners of cars with problems will not be considered for reparations."