NHL Week in Review (March 23-29)

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The NHL Playoffs are approaching fast and playoff runs are ending with playoff spots shrinking fast for every team. This past week the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues would be joined by a number of other teams in clinching a playoff spot. The Bruins and Blues were the first among the rest of the teams to clinch spots in the playoffs but there were many teams who sat right on the edge. These teams would finally take that step to the playoffs when a number of teams would get the wins they needed to clinch a berth. Joining the Bruins and Blues would be the Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Colorado Avalanche, and the Chicago Blackhawks. All five teams would punch their tickets to the playoffs completing good years and taking more teams out of the playoffs. Florida and Edmonton would join the Buffalo Sabres as the only teams mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. More teams will be following both those who clinched and those who have been eliminated in the coming weeks with only a few more chances to make a run at the playoffs. Those precious few chances have some teams and some fans very nervous though as their teams try to avoid being eliminated. Many teams have fought all year for the chance to earn a spot but now find themselves on the edge of elimination. That includes a team that seemed to be only a few weeks away from moving into the postseason for the second year in a row after a seven-year playoff drought. The Toronto Maple Leafs are generally talked about a lot from NHL analysts as they represent the most successful NHL franchises. The Leafs are the most valuable franchise in the NHL and have a history that can only be matched by the Montreal Canadiens. Yet they have not won a Stanley Cup since 1949 and spent seven years outside of the playoffs until they barely made it in the 2012-13 season. It has been a constant source of frustration for Toronto fans but last year their misery seemed to be on its way out as they had finally turned the corner to make the playoffs. Nobody expected them to win the Stanley Cup this year but making the playoffs seemed to be a safe bet as they looked like they were back and ready to start competing again. Heading into the last month of the season the Leafs were sitting in a fairly good spot. On March 13th the Maple Leafs were sitting in second place in their division behind the Boston Bruins and ahead of the Montreal Canadiens. It was a matter of continuing to play the way that they have been playing and adding a few more points to clinch a playoff spot. They would only need a few more wins to go back to the playoffs but everything would begin to fall apart. In a week Toronto had fallen from second place in the division to third place and had fallen from a division leader spot to the wild card. It was still fine for fans as there was still plenty of time to get back into the division leader hunt and to at least clinch a playoff spot even if it was the wild card. The collapse would continue though and a 7-game losing streak was the result as the Leafs fell further out of the playoff picture. Heading into their Saturday Night game against the Detroit Red Wings the Leafs had the perfect opportunity to get back into the wild card spot. The Leafs and Red Wings were a part of a four-way tie for the two wild card spots and a win would push them into one of the two spots. The Leafs would not get it done though as they would lose 4-2 to the Red Wings and put their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy as they now require some help to make it in. As the playoff spots are taken the Maple Leafs are looking like they will be at the losing end of another collapse that is sure to be the talk of the offseason for many around the league. It is a perfect example of what can happen when the pressure is increased on teams and something goes wrong at the worst time. The collapse may see the Leafs out of the playoffs this year as time is running out with the NHL playoff run coming to an end soon and time is running out for teams like Toronto to get their spot in the postseason.

 

Overtime:
(Thoughts on the past week in the NHL)

Islanders for Sale
They have been struggling for years to bring in enough player to make them a viable team and finally the burden seems to be too much for majority owner Charles Wang who is now looking to sell his stake in the Islanders with the Brooklyn ownership group leading the rumours

Sabres find their coach
The Buffalo Sabres are now at the end of their tear down and beginning of their rebuild and the first step in the rebuild was to sign their head coach to a three-year deal as Ted Nolan will try to lead the team back to being a contender

Hasek Entering the Rafters
The Buffalo Sabres have not been a team to watch for most of the season but they would announce that next season at least one game will get people out as they will retire Dominik Hasek’s number

 

NHL Playoff Outlook

Eastern Conference
Division Leaders:
1. d-Boston Bruins (108)
2. p-Pittsburgh Penguins (99)
3. Montreal Canadiens (93)
4. Tampa Bay Lightning (91)
5. New York Rangers (86)
6. Philadelphia Flyers (85)
Wild Card:
7. Columbus Blue Jackets (82)
8. Detroit Red Wings (82)
In the Hunt:
9. Washington Capitals (80)
10. Toronto Maple Leafs (80)
11. New Jersey Devils (77)
12. Ottawa Senators (74)
13. Carolina Hurricanes (74)
14. New York Islanders (68)
Out of the Running:
15. Florida Panthers (62)
16. Buffalo Sabres (49)

Western Conference
Division Leaders:
1. p-St. Louis Blues (107)
2. p-Anaheim Ducks (104)
3. p-San Jose Sharks (103)
4. p-Colorado Avalanche (100)
5. p-Chicago Blackhawks (99)
6. Los Angeles Kings (94)
Wild Card:
7. Minnesota Wild (87)
8. Phoenix Coyotes (84)
In the Hunt:
9. Dallas Stars (83)
10. Vancouver Canucks (79)
11. Winnipeg Jets (75)
12. Nashville Predators (75)
13. Calgary Flames (69)
Out of the Running:
14. Edmonton Oilers (61)

d-Clinched Division
p-Clinched Playoff Berth

 

Key Scores:
Montreal Canadiens 2 – 1 Boston Bruins (OT)
– The Canadiens have seen the benefit of the collapse from the Maple Leafs and they are trying to take full advantage as they would beat their longtime rivals to take another step towards the playoffs

Phoenix Coyotes 3 – 2 Pittsburgh Penguins
– The Penguins would go into the week looking to try to clinch their spot but it would not come this time as they would lose to the Coyotes who would take another step towards the playoffs taking a wild card spot for the time being

St. Louis Blues 5 – 1 Minnesota Wild
– The Blues are the best team in the league right now and the addition of Ryan Miller has only helped them to continue to stay at the top of the division as they would beat the Wild and push the Wild further away from the playoffs

Philadelphia Flyers 4 – 2 Toronto Maple Leafs
– The Toronto Maple Leafs have fallen out of the playoffs in the last month of the season and this loss to the Flyers would be their seventh straight and would send the Leafs further out of the playoffs putting a panic in Leaf fans

 

Next Week:
Washington Capitals vs. Nashville Predators (Sunday March 30th; 8:00 pm ET)
– The wild card race for the Eastern Conference is looking like it will come down to the very end and the Caps are right on the doorstep as they look to beat the Predators to move closer to taking a wild card spot

Colorado Avalanche vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (Tuesday April 1st; 7:00 pm ET)
– The Avalanche have just punched their ticket to the playoffs in one of the best turnarounds in the league as they are headed back to the playoffs after finishing second last in 2012-13 and they try to ensure they can take a top spot in the division by continuing to win

Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (Thursday April 3rd; 7:30 pm ET)
– The Bruins are clearly through into the playoffs with one of the top two spots in the conference but now they look to play spoilers to the Leafs who are hanging in the fight but need a win against the best in the conference to get closer

Detroit Red Wings vs. Montreal Canadiens (Saturday April 5th; 7:00 pm ET)
– The Red Wings are in the playoffs right now but hanging on to the wild card as they continue to try to push their way into the postseason by beating a team looking to lock up one of the top six spots in the conference

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