Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In the NHL: The West is set; the East is close

Just call me Crabby Crabowski right now. Ugh.

Western teams setting tee times, selling playoff tickets
The drama is done, the positioning can commence.

All the pieces fell into place Tuesday to determine the top eight teams in the Western Conference. Calgary got the ball rolling with a 2-1 regulation loss to San Jose thanks to 38 saves by Evgeni Nabokov and goals by Rob Blake and Jamie McGinn. That result didn't mean a whole lot until...

-Colorado recovered from blowing three one-goal leads and knocked off Vancouver, 4-3 in a shootout, to eliminate the Flames from playoff contention and completing one of the better collapses in sports recently. Well done, Calgary. Remember when they used to be good? Me neither.

Avalanche rookie Matt Duchene scored the only goal in the shootout for the victory. Craig Anderson made 29 saves.

-Anaheim showed a solid ability to choke as well, blowing a 4-1 lead and losing 5-4 in a shootout to neighbor Los Angeles, a defeat that knocked the Ducks out of the picture. Actually, never mind. I think Colorado's win had already eliminated the Ducks. Unless Anaheim's loss came chronologically before Colorado's win, in which case... ah screw it. Math makes head hurt. Anaheim is done, bottom line.

The Kings received a goal and assist from Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, whose goal with 1:09 remaining in regulation forced overtime, and shootout tallies by Jack Johnson and Anze Kopitar.

Teemu Selanne scored twice for the Ducks.

Clearer picture in the East
I'd like to say I'm a prophet when I said Atlanta's April schedule would likely break its playoff hopes, but one didn't really need a degree in rocket science to figure that one. Regardless, that's just about how it played out.

Once on the verge of sneaking into the top eight, the Thrashers dropped three straight games to Washington, Pittsburgh (in overtime) and New Jersey. The 3-0 defeat to the Devils eliminated Atlanta from playoff contention. It was a solid run from a team not expected to compete once trading Ilya Kovalchuk, who had no points or shots against his old team.

Martin Brodeur needed to stop just 19 shots and New Jersey got goals from Dean McAmmond, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. The Devils essentially clinched the Atlantic Division.

-Another team that failed to help its cause was the Rangers, who got walloped by Ryan Miller's 30 saves and three points from Tyler Ennis as Buffalo defeated New York, 5-2. The Rangers still control their own destiny. They are four points behind No. 7 Philadelphia and three behind Boston, which has three games left.

New York plays Toronto and Philadelphia twice. Wins in all three games without allowing the Flyers a point will get the Rangers to the playoffs. Whether Philadelphia gets in depends on what Boston does. New York can still get in even if the Flyers - whose home-and-home with New York are their only remaining games - earn a point but that would require the Bruins to lose some points. That's certainly possible as Boston has Buffalo, Carolina and at Washington remaining.

-Montreal kinda-sorta helped itself, but not entirely. The Canadiens gave up a tying goal late in the third period and lost to the Islanders, 4-3 in a shootout, but the one point earned moved the Habs closer to clinching. However, a victory would've sealed the deal. Still, Montreal is five ahead of New York with two games to play.

Frans Nielsen did the damage to Montreal. He tied the game at 3-3 with 2:01 to play and netted the clinching goal in the shootout. Martin Biron made 28 saves. Sean Bergenheim had three points (one goal) for New York.

-What goaltending problem? Brian Boucher stopped all 23 shots he saw and the Flyers earned a key 2-0 win over Toronto. We discussed Philly's playoff situation in the segment on the Rangers, so I'm not going to repeat myself. Claude Giroux had a goal and assist.

Elsewhere in the league
--Nicklas Backstrom posted three assists, Alex Ovechkin scored two third-period goals - one into an empty net with 00.2 second remaining - to reach 48 and Washington swept Pittsburgh in the season series, 6-3. Sidney Crosby scored his 48th goal and had two assists.
--Eric Staal had four points, including two goals, Rod Brind'Amour had two goals for his first multi-point game since Oct. 9 and something called Drayson Bowman also netted a pair of goals for Carolina in a crazy 8-5 win over Tampa Bay. Brandon Bochenski scored twice for the Lightning and Steven Stamkos got his 47th of the season.
--Mike Fisher scored twice, Chris Neil had three points and Ottawa downed Florida, 5-2. The Senators trail Pittsburgh by four points with two games left for fourth place. (Personal note: They might take fourth and I might not mind that. Penguins can't win at home anyway.)
--Colin freaking Fraser scored two goals and Chicago beat up Dallas, 5-2. For some reason, the Stars started Matt Climie in goal.

What to watch for
Wednesday, April 7 (5 games)
There's a couple things. The first of those three New York games, home against Toronto, is at 7 p.m. ET. A New York loss, be it regulation or OT/SO, clinches Montreal's playoff spot. If the Rangers lose in regulation, the Flyers are in as well, regardless of what happens in that two-game series.

Otherwise, there's playoff positioning in the West. Detroit (against Columbus, 7:30) and Nashville (at Phoenix, 10) are jockeying in the 5-6-7 range. The Coyotes need to earn at least one point against the Predators to clinch the fourth seed and home-ice in the first round. Chicago (against St. Louis, 8:30) tries to tie San Jose for first in the West and Colorado (at Edmonton, 9:30) tries to claw its way toward seventh and the right to play San Jose or Chicago in the first round. The Avs are behind Detroit by three points.

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