The first round of the playoffs is usually the best round; teams are relatively fresh, it isn’t summer yet, and everyone who plays fantasy hockey still has a chance in his pool. But this year it could be even more compelling thanks to the way the standings are shaping up, with the possibility that three of the eight series will involve Original Six matchups. Right now, the 2-7 and the 4-5 pairings in the East could feature the Boston Bruins vs. the New York Rangers, and the Montreal Canadiens vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs, while in the West, the 1-8 matchup looks as though it will feature the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings. Boston and Montreal are still jockeying for position in the Northeast, but no matter who finishes on top, the other will drop to the No.4 seed. With Toronto sitting at No.5, it’ll just be up to the Rangers to hold off the Islanders for seventh to get the East to set up properly. Chicago will go in as the top seed in the West (with home-ice advantage throughout) and it’ll be up to Detroit to hold off a series of challengers to grab that final playoff spot (and keep intact its streak of making the playoffs every year since 1989-90, the longest in the league). Not much of a reward for Chicago’s excellence this season, though, to get the experienced Red Wings in the opening round. … The battle for 30th place can sometimes be just as compelling as the race for the Presidents’ Trophy, and that is particularly acute in Calgary, which has been in the NHL since 1972-73 and has never had the first overall pick in the entry draft. The Flames are jockeying with both the Colorado Avalanche and the Florida Panthers for the basement, and it creates a weird dynamic when the teams play, where the winner is actually the loser in the larger scheme of things. This past week, the Flames went into Denver and ended a two-month road losing skid by defeating the Avs. Not everyone on Colorado appeared fully vested in that game and it produced a postgame tirade from goaltender Jean-Sébastien Giguère, which appeared to have the desired effect. Giguère accused several of his teammates of being more concerned about their postseason plans to visit Las Vegas than putting in a professional effort night after night. One game later, Colorado had one of its most inspired efforts in a while and convincingly knocked off the second best team in the West, the Anaheim Ducks. Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, 20, seemed of two minds about Giguère’s diatribe. On one hand, it worked and created a spark. On the other, Landeskog implied that the points Giguère raised could have been handled internally. Maybe. Sometimes a good public airing of the laundry doesn’t hurt and Landeskog was the first to acknowledge the Avs came out as “a completely new team” against the Ducks. Giguère wasn’t backing off either, and noted that one game and one win didn’t necessarily guarantee that all was well in the Avalanche world. On a team as young as Colorado, sometimes a bit of wisdom from a former Stanley Cup champion and playoff MVP is not necessarily a bad thing. … The NHL changed its draft lottery this season so that every one of the 14 teams that miss the playoffs has a chance to move up to the No.1 spot (previously, only the bottom five could do so). The way the draft is shaping up, there are four players at the top who’ve set themselves apart (Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Finland’s Alexander Barkov), so a bottom-three finish is paramount if the goal is to draft a potential franchise player and protect yourself against a team getting lucky and winning big in the lottery. … The Calgary Flames and the Columbus Blue Jackets have three first-round picks each (though the choice going to Calgary is conditional and hinges on the St. Louis Blues making the playoffs). You wonder, if Colorado doesn’t get the first overall pick, how heavily would the Avs push to move into that spot to draft Jones, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, who spent his formative years in Denver (after being born in Dallas). With youngsters Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly at centre and Landeskog on the wing, Colorado could use a top-one defenceman to anchor the rebuild, and it wouldn’t hurt, for marketing purposes, to have that player be from Denver. … After gutting their team by trading away Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester, the Flames have a lot of holes to fill, but one of their biggest shortcomings in recent years – backup goalie – has been reasonably well filled by Joey MacDonald, whom they picked up off waivers from the Detroit Red Wings. MacDonald is 5-6-1; the Flames haven’t had five wins from a backup goalie since Jamie McLennan went 12-9-3 in 2003-04.
Goals in his past 13 games by the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin, tying him for the overall lead with Tampa’s Steven Stamkos at 26 and making him a candidate to win the Maurice Richard Trophy for the third time in his career.
Wins in 16 decisions for Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery, who also has a 1.90 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. Emery is an unrestricted free agent following this season.
THEY SAID IT
“Let’s be honest, right now, when you win or lose, it doesn’t have the same effect as when you’re in a playoff race and a game like that happens, you say, ‘Oh my God, we outplayed them and didn’t get the two points.” ~ Michael Cammalleri...The Calgary Flames’ forward, after a 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks in which the Flames held a territorial edge but were beaten largely by 40 saves from goaltender Roberto Luongo.
“I’ve been through a lot the last few weeks, so I wanted to really make sure I showed the guys that I’m here for the rest of the year and I’m 100-per-cent dedicated and I want to make sure they know that,” ~ Roberto Luongo...The Canucks played well in the goaltender’s return to the lineup, when starter Cory Schneider came down with the flu. Dustin Butler, signed to a one-day contract, dressed as Luongo’s backup.
“It’s not just the game on the line. It’s our season on the line. We needed that desperation” ~ Sam Gagner...The Oilers’ forward expresses his frustration following a 3-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, which further diminished Edmonton’s playoff hopes.