Down Goes Brown: Five NHL cast-offs looking for playoff revenge

Evgeni Malkin recorded a "Gordie Howe hat-trick" to down the Jets, The Senators stayed hot against Dallas while the Bruins buried the Red Wings in Boston

They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. “They,” of course, are hockey players who have a chance to knock their old teams out of the playoffs.

Or maybe not. I didn’t really research the origin of that quote. But with just over a month left in the regular season and the playoff picture getting clearer, we can start thinking ahead to some revenge scenarios that could be in play.

After all, while helping your own team into the playoffs is always the top goal, doing it at the expense of somebody who gave up on you can make it even sweeter. Here are five situations where that could be exactly what happens.

Brian Elliott vs. the Blues

We may as well start with what’s probably the most obvious case: the struggling St. Louis Blues vs. the goaltender they jettisoned in the off-season for a draft pick. At the time, the Flames thought they were getting an undisputed starter and the Blues figured they were in good hands with Jake Allen. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way for either team.

Up until a week or two ago, it looked like the last playoff spot in the West could come down to the Flames and Blues directly. That seems less likely now, thanks to Calgary’s recent hot streak. Elliott has been a big part of that, shaking off his early-season struggles to post a strong February that’s continued into March.

Elliott’s play has helped the Flames earn some breathing room, and today they’re closer to challenging the Ducks and Oilers for home ice than falling out of a post-season spot altogether.

Meanwhile, the Blues can’t seem to figure out what they are, following up a six-game win streak with five straight losses before two more wins. That losing streak overlapped with a trade deadline that saw Doug Armstrong seem to fold his hand, shipping out Kevin Shattenkirk without bringing in any reinforcements. But despite all of that, the Blues are still holding down the West’s final spot, three points up on a Kings team that can’t seem to get going.

However Elliot and the Flames finish, they’ll have an impact on the Blues’ chances. With a strong final push, they’ll guarantee that the Pacific grabs one of the wild-card spots for the first time since the new format came into play, leaving one less spot available for St. Louis. And if they slump, they may end up having to battle the Blues for a spot directly.

Either way, Elliott will have a chance to earn some payback on the team that dumped him in favor of a younger model. And yes, the two teams face each other once more this season, on March 25 in Calgary.

Valtteri Filppula vs. the Lightning

You can understand why Steve Yzerman felt he had to find a way to move Filppula to Philadelphia — or rather, to move his contract. With a cap crunch looming, several big-ticket contracts for key young players to get done and Filppula carrying a $5-million cap hit into next year, the trade made sense, even if the Lightning didn’t end up getting any assets in return.

But while Filppula probably doesn’t take the deal personally, he’ll still got a chance to haunt his former team down the stretch. The Flyers and Lightning are battling for one of the last Eastern Conference wild-card spots, and with each team still on the outside looking in, there’s a good chance there won’t be room for both of them. Heading into tonight’s action, 10th-place Philadelphia is sitting one point up on 11th-place Tampa with 17 games left to play.

Filppula’s already had an impact on the race; in his first game as a Flyer, he scored the tying goal midway through the third in what ended up being a 2–1 shootout win over the Panthers.

If he has another moment or two like that at the right times, it could be the difference in what’s shaping up as an unlikely late playoff push in Philadelphia. And if Filppula and the Flyers make it, it probably comes at the expense of the team that was forced to give him away.

Claude Julien vs. the Bruins

OK, we’re cheating here a bit, since this matchup probably won’t come until the playoffs. But what a matchup it could be, with the Bruins’ ex-coach returning to face the team that fired him and then somewhat inexplicably let him walk directly to their biggest rival.

It’s relatively rare for coaches to switch teams midway through a season. It’s nearly unheard of to those coaches to have both their current and former teams make the playoffs, let alone face each other once they get there.

After 10 seasons together, Julien and the Bruins know each other about as well as any coach and team could. Watching a reunion play out under the playoff microscope would be fascinating. And that would come on top of all the usual history and bad blood that surrounds any series between the Canadiens and Bruins. In terms of sheer drama, there may not be a better matchup on the board for the 2017 playoffs.

For what it’s worth, Julien and the Canadiens face the Senators three more times in March, while the Bruins host Ottawa twice. If those games were to break the right way and the Sens bolted to the top of the division, we could skip directly to that Bruins/Canadiens matchup in the first round. Just a thought.

Rick Nash vs. the Blue Jackets

It feels like a long time ago that Nash was the franchise in Columbus. And to some extent it was – this summer will mark the five-year anniversary of the blockbuster deal that sent him to the Rangers. At the time, Columbus was shipping him off to the other conference, but realignment put the Blue Jackets and Rangers in the same division and set the stage for an eventual showdown.

That showdown never really came; we had a near-miss in 2014, when Columbus ended up one win short of a first-round matchup with New York. Since then, the Blue Jackets’ struggles have kept them from mattering all that much to anyone, let a long a Cup contender like the Rangers.

But thanks to the Blue Jackets’ sudden emergence as an unexpected powerhouse, some fun scenarios are back in play. Nash isn’t a 40-goal scorer anymore – these days, 25 would count as a good year – but he’s still the most important player in Columbus franchise history, and seeing him have any sort of impact on their best season ever would be an interesting twist on the story. And let’s not forget Brandon Dubinsky, who went from the Rangers to the Blue Jackets in the same deal.

Maybe New York can sneak up into third in the Metro, setting up a first-round playoff matchup between the two teams. Or maybe we just get to watch Nash and the Rangers try to chase the Blue Jackets down and knock them back into fourth spot. Up until recently, that would have seemed less like revenge and more like doing them a favour, since the crossover path through the Atlantic seemed far easier than anything the Metro would offer. But with Carey Price and the Canadiens surging again, maybe not.

Nash has scored over 400 goals in his career, most of them in Columbus. But not many of them have had much impact on a Blue Jackets’ playoff race. Over the next few weeks, he’ll have a chance to change that.

James Reimer vs. the Maple Leafs

We’re not sure just how much of Reimer we’ll be seeing down the stretch. Roberto Luongo’s lower-body injury is still an unknown, and he could return at some point over the next week. But even if he does, it seems clear that Reimer will get a decent share of the playing time; he was outperforming Luongo even before the injury.

If that’s the case, and if Reimer can play well, he could help the Panthers nudge the Maple Leafs out of the Eastern Conference playoffs. That would add an interesting and somewhat ironic postscript to Reimer’s Maple Leafs story.

He debuted with the team back in 2010 as a relatively under-hyped prospect (which isn’t easy in Toronto), eventually established himself as the starter, got hurt, and recovered to help lead them to their first and so far only playoff appearance of the salary-cap era. But then came that disastrous game-seven meltdown against the Bruins, followed by the acquisition of Jonathan Bernier and an apparent falling out with coach Randy Carlyle. He never won the full-time starting job back, and was eventually dealt away at least year’s deadline for a disappointing return.

Depending on which Leafs fans you talk to, the heroes and villains in this story can shift. Some see a goalie who just couldn’t win the big one, and who had to be shipped out of town before the team could ever contend. Others saw a guy who was never given a fair shake after being scapegoated by a coach on the hot seat.

Whichever side you’re on, with the two teams looking like they might fight down the wire for the final wild-card or Atlantic spot, Reimer might end up making or breaking his former team. That’s true both in terms of his overall play and in head-to-head matchups; the Leafs and Panthers face each other twice over the next few weeks. In case you were wondering, Reimer has only faced the Maple Leafs once in his career, last November, and was on the losing end of a 6-1 final.

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