Wednesday’s Rivalry Night showdown for Pacific Division supremacy and California bragging rights displayed two teams pointed in opposite directions. A convincing 5-2 victory by Anaheim’s two-game rookie goaltender John Gibson shone a spotlight on a stretch-run trend: the Ducks are soaring and the Sharks are floundering, goes the lazy animal metaphor.
True, it sounds harsh to pick on a team with 107 points, a solid pair of goaltenders, and an enviable mix of experienced pros (Thornton, Marleau, Boyle), ready-for-prime-time players (Vlasic, Couture, Pavelski) and promising youth (Nieto, Hertl). GM Doug Wilson deserves credit for instilling a model mix of talent and leadership. Heck, the consistency and professionalism here is kinda Detroit-like, minus the rings of course. Even San Jose’s post-season streak — nine seasons with no end in sight — falls second to the Wings’.
But when you look at the NHL’s first-round match-ups, the higher-seeded San Jose appears to be a prime upset target, despite having home-ice advantage over the L.A. Kings and defeating L.A. 2-1 a week ago.
We know the Kings can rise to the occasion come post-season; the jury’s till out on San Jose. The Sharks have six divisional titles and one Presidents’ Trophy but zero conference championships. They always make it to the dance but always pass out before midnight.
So it’s not encouraging to discover they’ve lost seven of their last 11 — and that includes defeats at the hands of the eliminated Flames, Panthers, Predators, Jets and Capitals. A more focused team might’ve won some of those in effort to avoid L.A. in Round 1.
The last time the Sharks defeated a playoff-bound Western Conference team by more than a single goal? Flip all the way back to Dec. 29, when they trumped Anaheim 3-1.
Put it this way: This is the lowest we’ve ranked the Sharks all season. A bad time for Jumbo Joe and the boys to be trending downward.
With the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 spot under lock and key the Presidents’ Trophy is theirs to lose, the Bruins let a couple games slip away. Still, one regulation loss in Boston’s last 20 games is insane.
Earning points in 10 of their last 12, the Ducks have positioned themselves to seize home ice through the first three rounds. The back-to-back Pacific Division champs are 28-8-4 at Honda Center and have already set club records for standings points (112) and goals scored (257). P.S.: Cam Fowler’s back.
By defeating St. Louis, the Avalanche have now beat every other NHL team at least once this season. Fifty-one victories and counting for Colorado.
The NHL’s third-stingiest defence allowed four goals per game in three straight losses to the Capitals, Blackhawks and Avalanche while mustering just three goals total for themselves in that span. The Ducks could nab the No. 1 seed in the West.
A nice four-game run, including Sunday’s big W over St. Louis, might give the supporting cast some confidence as Chicago awaits the return of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane — both promised to be back for the playoffs.
Dan Bylsma became the fastest coach in NHL history to reach 250 career regular-season victories, by reaching the milestone in 396 games. (Bruce Boudreau held the former mark at 416 games.) Unfortunately for Bylsma, he’ll be judged on playoff success alone.
“All right Canada, let’s do this. #bringStanleyhome,” tweeted the only team north of the border that qualified for the playoffs. Josh Gorges (hand) is back in the lineup, and the Habs are scoring at will these days.
Drew Doughty is nursing an upper-body injury and the Kings have lost four of five. They are destined to be a road team in the playoffs, but that shouldn’t bother them (see: 2012).
As the Rangers target home ice for Round 1 of the playoffs, one imagines coach Alain Vignault looking westward this week with a big Cheshire grin.
The Sharks have barley played .500 hockey since mid-March and haven’t defeated a playoff-bound team by more than a single goal in over a month. Solid, but far from dominant right now.
Ben Bishop, injured Tuesday against the Leafs, is done for the regular season. This is bad news. Backup Anders Lindback has a .878 save percentage. We could well see “Carey Price vs Kristers Gudļevskis: The Sequel” when the Habs and Bolts face-off in the opening round.
So what if he’s flakier than a turnover? Ilya Bryzgalov has been spectacular for another playoff-bound Wild team. Minnesota has won three in a row, and Bryz will be the team’s Game 1 starter.
Winning three straight, including an overtime thriller over Phoenix, a young Columbus team has shown tremendous spark down the stretch and secured the franchise’s second ever playoff spot.
Of all the teams who haven’t clinched a playoff spot yet, Dallas deploys the greatest offence — 231 goals rank the Stars ninth overall in that category. Think the Stars want back in the dance?
On Oct. 21, the Flyers were 1-7-0. Captain Claude Giroux made a promise that his team would make the playoffs. Everyone scoffed. Tuesday night, Giroux earned a great, big told-you-so.
I have no doubt Mike Babcock could devise an appropriate system and drag a midget house-league team into qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Detroit’s postseason streak turns 23.
The Devils’ shootout woes continue, and a crushing loss to Calgary put the nail in the coffin here. That, and Columbus has rolled along nicely.
A nice little road trip for the Preds sees Nashville defeat the Sharks and Ducks and split points with Dallas. Character finish for an irrelevant club.
Washington paradox: Alex Ovechkin has a league-leading 50 goals. But his minus-34 rating (if it holds) will be the worst of any 50-goal scorer in NHL history.
The Senators never could recover from their awful start. Ottawa has earned points in seven of nine, but it was too little too late. One nice thing: Bobby Ryan said he could see himself committing to the team for the long term.
Goaltender Karri Ramo (16-13-4, .914 save percentage, two shutouts) has been one of many bright spots on a roster that figured to have almost none. Calgary continues to play teams tough down the stretch, winning three in a row.
Not having Mike Smith has hurt Phoenix, but not as much as an inability to score big goals. With their postseason dream vanishing, the Dogs have lost five straight; three of those were one-goal affairs.
Amidst another shutout loss and another humbling by a California-based hockey team, the Canucks’ fan base lost their patience and their appetite to renew season tickets. With a finger snap, GM Mike Gillis loses his job and Vancouver enters the Trevor Linden era.
The boys on the ice aren’t doing much to increase the value of owner Charles Wang’s team. New York is on a three-game skid, and the Isles’ minus-46 goal differential ranks them 27th overall.
Injuries to captain Andrew Ladd and roving behemoth Dustin Bufuglein add to Winnipeg’s woes. But Saturday’s healthy-scratching of Evander Kane and the tense media scrums that ensued foreshadow a compelling summer in the Slurpee Capital of the World.
Upon the Leafs’ mathematical elimination, a total of 45,279 NHL regular-season and playoff games have been played since Toronto last won the Stanley Cup. A total of 3,253 NHL players have been born since that 1967 championship. (Thanks to @SportsnetTicker for what is a ton of math.)
Still looking for his 20th goal, disappointed Hurricanes captain Eric Staal accepted responsibility for his team’s poor performance this season.
Dead last in the West again. Nice season for Taylor Hall, though: 77 points, and 80 is within reach.
Scottie Upshall leads all Panthers with 37 points through 80 games. Fun fact: In a non-shortened season, the NHL record for fewest points by a team’s leader is 39 (Scott Pellerin with the 2000-01 expansion Minnesota Wild).
The Sabres began their 2013-14 campaign with seven consecutive losses. If they can’t defeat the Rangers, Bruins or Islanders, they will also end their 2013-14 campaign with seven consecutive losses. Circle of death.