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I’m guessing no one out there picked not only the Calgary Flames to make the playoffs, but also the Los Angeles Kings to miss the playoffs. But here we are in what has been one of the most interesting playoff races in recent years. Hopefully you didn’t make your playoff pool picks a few weeks early (I don’t know why you would anyway). It should come as a surprise to many that the Canucks and Flames – not two of the California teams – now occupy second and third place in the Pacific Division.
The Flames and Canucks playoff matchup should be an interesting one. It’s been ten seasons since the two Smythe/Northwest/Pacific Division rivals have faced each other in a playoff series. The winner of Canucks/Flames first-round playoff series has gone on to the Stanley Cup Final in four different seasons: 1982, 1989, 1994, and 2004. The last three series in particular have been memorable ones, each of which went the distance. Here’s my favorite moment of those first-round series:
Yes, I’m a Canucks fan, which I believe I’ve said before. The Flames are a great story this season, but I believe the Canucks will prevail in six games because they have a little more playoff experience. But then again, what do I know. I was once told on Twitter that I was a “typical Canucks fan living in a bubble” after I dared to mention that there might be a team more disliked than the Canucks during the “everyone hates the Canucks” days.
The question for both teams might be who will start in net. Jonas Hiller will probably start for the Flames, although Karri Ramo and even Joni Ortio have grabbed the starting job for certain stretches throughout the season. It’s a little foggier for the Canucks, who have ridden the play of steady Eddie Lack while Ryan Miller has been injured. Miller is expected to start Saturday’s game against Edmonton as a possible tuneup for the playoffs, but your guess is as good as mine who will start Game 1 of the playoffs. My personal preference is Lack, although you never like to see a starter lose their job because of an injury.
The Kings’ post-mortem should leave the advanced stats believers scratching their heads. The Kings were the top SAT (5-on-5 shot attempts) and the top USAT (unblocked 5-on-5 shot attempts) team in the NHL this season. In fact, three Kings (Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Anze Kopitar) were in the top 5 of the NHL in 5-on-5 shot attempts, which shouldn’t surprise you if you watch those guys play. To compare, the Flames were 28th in both categories this season. So maybe there are some intangibles that can’t be measured by stats.
But if you’re looking for reasons, I have at least a few. There could be something to be said about a Stanley Cup hangover. After all, an NHL season complete with preseason and a full playoff run takes up a solid nine months. But look at the Kings’ lineup for a minute. Sure, you’ve got players like Kopitar, Doughty, Marian Gaborik, Jeff Carter, and Jonathan Quick. But the Kings did nothing to address losing Willie Mitchell and Slava Voynov until months later, when they acquired Andrej Sekera, who is now sidelined himself. On forward, you have Mike Richards and his white elephant contract, not to mention Dustin Brown and his 27 points and -17. Brown got under players’ skins when the Kings were winning, but he was barely noticeable in a Kings’ game that I watched recently.
Back to the Canucks for a moment. Yannick Weber had been held without a point over his previous six games, but he scored two power-play goals on Thursday. Thanks to some minutes on the Canucks’ first-unit power play, 5 of Weber’s 11 goals this season have come with the man advantage. Should the Canucks decide to re-sign Weber in the offseason, and given the Canucks’ lack of a true power-play QB, he could land back on the first-unit power play to start next season.
Just as I finished writing about one series announced last night, another series is now in place. The Islanders will face the Capitals in the first round, as those two teams won’t move out of the second and third spots in the Metropolitan Division. If you can’t embrace the new playoff system yet, one reason to like it a little is the fact that it rekindles old playoff rivalries. Think of the Isles and Caps in the old Patrick Division, just like you’d think of the Canucks and Flames in the old Smythe Division.
Here’s a great moment from a very long Islanders/Capitals playoff game. I used to like the Islanders (along with the Canucks) when I was a kid, but I remember having to go to bed after the third overtime period of this game.
But unlike the result of the old series, I’m going to go with the Capitals in seven games in this one. I think the Capitals are capable of winning a round (or two) this season with a team that is finally well-constructed on all ends. In addition, I think Braden Holtby is a better goalie than Jaroslav Halak, which will show in this series. Regardless, Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares on the same ice sheet will be fun to watch.
Not much happening on Friday night with only two games before the final day of the regular season, where everyone plays. But a few interesting things happened fantasy wise.
In one league, I picked up Brian Gionta in last-ditch attempt to win the league, simply because he plays both Friday and Saturday. I’ll wait and see if Gionta’s goal and assist on Friday against Columbus will make any kind of difference. Earlier this season, I never thought I’d be adding Gionta for any reason. But over his last 13 games, Gionta has 16 points (6g-10a), closing out his team’s dreadful season on a high note.
But I probably should have found some room on my team for Cam Atkinson, who was also available and scored a goal. Nick Foligno also scored a goal, putting his total to 31 goals and 73 points. Given his previous point totals, I’d expect at least a minor regression next season.
Hands up if you started Rob Scuderi on Friday. Hello? Anyone? Well, if you did, he scored his first goal in 181 games. To put it into perspective, his last goal was during the first game of the 2013-14 season. But it was his 100th career NHL point too.
Speaking of which, it’s almost like the Penguins and the Bruins don’t want that final playoff spot. They’re tossing it around like a hot potato or the task everyone passes the buck on at work. But even though Pittsburgh is hanging onto to the playoff spot, it’s almost like they want it even less than the Bruins. Who would have thought that the Penguins would be a wild-card team this season, but there they are after losing five consecutive games. Someone might be backing into that playoff spot.
But I’d hate to see Ottawa lose it now, given how far they’ve come. They were 14 points out of a playoff spot two months ago. But then the Hamburglar came along and the rest, as they say, is history. I’m really wondering how the emergence of Andrew Hammond will affect the Senators’ goaltending situation going forward. The tandem of Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner is under contract, while Hammond is a RFA during the offseason. Three-headed monsters almost never work, so it behooves the Sens to move one of their goalies.
This Connor McDavid kid is pretty good. Five goals for the future first overall pick in the Erie Otters’ 7-3 annihilation of the London Knights in OHL playoff action. I guess this kid’s not going to begin his NHL career flying under the radar.
Finally, here are the confirmed starters for Saturday, courtesy of Goalie Post:
Henrik Lundqvist (@ Washington)
Michael Hutchinson (vs. Calgary)
Carey Price (@ Toronto)
Jonathan Bernier (vs. Montreal)
Cory Schneider (@ Florida)
Al Montoya (vs. New Jersey)
Brian Elliott (vs. Minnesota)
Semyon Varlamov (vs. Chicago)
Ryan Miller (vs. Edmonton)
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