As the start of a new week approaches, much can be taken from the last 7 days when looking at it in retrospect. With most teams playing 3 of their final 6 games, the stakes were high and every point was worth attaining. Teams such as the Philadelphia Flyers and Nashville Predators won their matches to clinch a spot in the post-season, while the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild ended disappointing campaigns via official elimination from the playoff race. Very few spots remain in the top 8 of each conference, and more will disappear every day. The time for teams to take charge and win games is now.
The playoff race did not drastically change from Sunday to Saturday. The Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres are still competing for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference while the San Jose Sharks, Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings, and Dallas Stars take turns in 9th looking in. More notably, certain playoff matches were somewhat validated, with two powerhouse matchups between the Penguins and Flyers in the east, along with the Red Wings and Predators in the west.
With only a week remaining, certain players attempted to put the finishing touches on their respective award categories. Up front, Evgeni Malkin broke the century mark despite missing 7 games to secure the Art Ross and likely the Hart trophy. Steven Stamkos also raised his goal total to 55, all but clinching his second Rocket Richard Trophy. Henrik Lundqvist also had a dominant week to keep the Rangers in first place, and will likely win the Vezina.
When the playoff race is this close and teams are still battling, many people often disregard what happened during the week that doesn’t pertain to the overall standings. The week was filled with controversy and excitement, leading up to an incredible closing week to the regular season. This week, the NHL saw a captain’s performance for the ages, brotherly “love”, and California controversy among other things. Here is “The Week That Was” for March 25th to April 1st.
Now THAT’s a Captain
There are two types of players in the NHL: Those who lead, and those who follow. Over the course of the regular season, it’s incredibly easy to find out who the natural leaders are, and how their presence consequently affects the team in a positive way. There are old school captains such as Nicklas Lidstrom that have shown over the course of decades their worth by creating a winning culture in the locker room. There are also young leaders such as Jonathan Toews, who has won on every level and plays an admirable two-way game that young players try to emulate. However, the most underrated captain in the entire league is Ryan Callahan. The 27-year-old defenseman received the capital “C” on his sweater during the past offseason, with many observers somewhat indifferent to the move. He was hardly a big name in comparison to teammates Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, and didn’t have the defensive-rock title that Dan Girardi possessed. But over the season, Callahan has proved all doubters wrong. He only has a lick over 50 points, but Callahan has over 250 hits, over 80 blocked shots, over 200 shots, and 8 game winning goals. To anybody that still questions the heart that this leader possessed, all skepticism was thrown out the window after his performance in Manitoba.
The New York Rangers faced the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday, with the Jets’ playoff hopes on the line in front of their enthusiastic home crowd. As expected, Winnipeg came out strong in the must-win game, posting 2 goals in the first 5 minutes. With the Jets on the powerplay looking for the 3 goal lead, Callahan forechecked hard while down a man, won the puck battle, and set up Del Zotto to cut the deficit in half. He followed this up with a powerplay goal to tie it, sparking the Rangers to a 4-2 victory. The Rags had just won a vital game in regards to their conference-clinching hopes, and Callahan was the reason why. Aside from his points, he added 4 shots, 2 hits, and 4 blocked shots. In addition, he played just over 27 minutes, more than star defensemen McDonagh and Girardi. This kid knows how to win and will put the team on his back, as seen in this instance. Callahan is a fantastic captain, and will be the reason for success if the Rangers have a deep cup run.
Regal Help Needed
Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, and Drew Doughty are all offensive-minded players that are all capable of scoring goals and setting up plays. If put on the same team, they would surely bring one of the best offenses in the league to the table every game, right? To the surprise of many, the Kings still boast the second worst goals-for total in the league, but remain in contention thanks to the stellar play of star goaltender Jonathan Quick. He has bailed the team out in many games when their offense does not produce. Even in a game where they scored no goals, Quick managed to get the game to shootout where Carter and Richards prevailed. However, for the most part there is only so much Quick can do when the team doesn’t score a single goal, and that’s happened multiple times this year. Aside from the 1-0 shootout victory, the Kings have been shut out in 9 contests. Of those games, the Kings have lost by 1 goal in the last 6. This happened again on Monday in Vancouver.
Just 3 minutes into the opening stanza, Manny Malhotra fired a shot past Quick to give the Canucks a 1-0 lead. It wasn’t an incredibly tough goal, but Quick is allowed to make a mistake, as long as he redeems himself. In typical fashion, the goaltender composed himself to make 24 out of 25 saves, only needing his high-octane offense to get 1 goal to send the game to overtime. As it’s gone all year, the Kings couldn’t get it done. They fired 38 shots but could not solve Luongo despite dominating the game. Jonathan Quick must be frustrated, posting fantastic numbers consistently. On most teams, letting in 1 goal is considered a great outing but the Kings apparently need a shutout every night. The Kings still look like they can squeak into the playoffs, but if they face the Blues or Canucks, scoring goals will be vital, and 1-0 losses will not be tolerated.
Hockey First, Family Second
Darryl Sutter has always come across as a competitive person who loves to win. He might love his hockey-crazy family, but as the General Manager of the Flames, Darryl made headlines by trading his son Brett to Carolina. As a result, he proved that winning comes first, and family comes second. Now the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings, Darryl had the ability to demoralize his former organization at the Saddledome. The Flames made it clear that a perfect end to the season was needed to make the playoffs, and started this with a victory over the Stars. However, this victory set up the perfect story and for Darryl to put the final dagger in his brother’s team. Not only did he do this, but did so to an embarrassing degree.
In a 3-0 victory over the Flames, Darryl and the Los Angeles Kings mortified the home team, outplaying them in every regard. The Kings were faster, stronger, better defensively, and more energetic. In fact, it got to the point where the crowd was jeering the Flames as an outcry for more effort and a disappointing end to the season. The loss proved costly as the Flames would lose in overtime on Saturday to mathematically eliminate themselves from playoff contention. At the end of the day, the former member of the Calgary Flames mortified his brother and team. If that’s not eternal bragging rights between the competitive siblings, I’m not sure what is.
Confusing Duck Calls
The cry for the better officiating became even louder after two odd calls involving the Anaheim Ducks. The first incident occurred on Sunday, when the Ducks hosted the Boston Bruins. Down by 1 in the third period, Matt Beleskey fired home a goal past a screened Marty Turco to tie the game- or so it seemed. In an odd turn of events, the referees had a discussion and came to the conclusion that the goal will not count (watch the video here). The goal was disallowed under rule 69, claiming that Andrew Cogliano’s screen affected Turco’s ability to play the puck. Under the current rules it was the right call, but the rule should be abolished or reviewable. As clearly outlined in the clip, Cogliano not only did not touch Turco, but Turco didn’t even attempt to move out further in his crease. Had a coaches’ challenge been used in this situation, the referees would’ve been able to see that the goal should’ve counted. The end result was a 3-2 loss for the Ducks.
However, the Ducks got a make-up call for the odd disallowed goal when they played the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday. With 9 seconds to go, the Ducks were
leading by 1 when Corey Perry tried his luck at the empty net whilst in the offensive zone. Perry was positioned to the side of the goal, and fired a shot. Sharks defender Dan Boyle slid to block the shot, as the puck hit the side of the net and before the net was hit off of its moorings. However, the goal was awarded to the Ducks. At first, people assumed that this was just a misunderstanding, and that the review would clearly show that the goal should not count. After a lengthy discussion, the referees concluded that the goal will stand, which is insane. The fact of the matter is that the puck did not go in and the removal of the net would not have made a difference. As a result, nothing more than a faceoff should have ensued.
Play of the Week: Spezza’s Pretty Pass