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POSTED ON Monday, 03.26.2012 / 10:17 AM

## Updated playoff projections: March 26th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

 EASTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 76 84 6 90 4 9th 76 84 6 90 4 10th 75 78 7 85 7 WESTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 75 86 7 93 5 9th 75 86 7 93 5 10th 77 86 5 91 5 11th 76 83 6 88 6
The skinny: It could be a "bloody" Monday for a few teams chasing a Stanley Cup Playoff spot.

In Winnipeg, the Jets will host the Ottawa Senators in a game that will decide if Winnipeg's playoff hopes remain vibrant or if the "fat lady" starts singing. The math is very simple for Winnipeg. They have seven games remaining, including Monday night, and are six points behind Washington for the No. 8 spot. Buffalo is also six points ahead of Winnipeg and plays Washington Tuesday night, meaning one of those teams is guaranteed two points. If the Jets lose Monday, they are guaranteed to wake up Wednesday eight points out with six games to play. That's not where they want to be.

The advanced math is no kinder. Presently, the projections suggest that it will take 91 points to qualify in the East. The Jets have 78, meaning they max out at 92 if they run the table. Lose Monday and 90 points becomes the max. Winning is the only option left for Winnipeg.

In the West, the projection for the eighth spot remains 94 points.

The Calgary Flames, who finish a home-and-home against the Dallas Stars after losing Saturday's opening half of the back-to-back showdown, are also in must-win mode. If Calgary wins each of its six remaining games, it will reach 95 points, one above the projected cut-off.

Fall short Monday against the Stars in this last stand and the Flames will be nearly assured of sitting out the playoffs for the third consecutive season. There is a big difference between mathematical possibility and probability. The possibility is remote with a loss by the Flames Monday -- the probability is nil. In a nutshell, the teams the Flames must overtake to qualify for the playoffs face each other at some point down the stretch, so there is no possibility that the teams the Flames are chasing will stay static in points.

San Jose plays Dallas & Los Angeles two times each. Phoenix and Colorado play San Jose once each. The math does not favor the Flames with a loss Monday. But with a 0-2-3 record in their past five games, the Flames didn't do themselves any favors either.

Colorado has five games remaining, so the Avalanche are fighting a two-front battle against the schedule, as well as their opponents.

Colorado can attain a maximum of 96 points. Lose to the Sharks on Monday and the Avs' margin for error falls to zero with four games remaining in the final 12 days of the season. That leaves a lot of off days to watch and hope for help from other teams. Like the Flames, the probability moves closer to nil because of the schedule and the fact that teams they will be chasing play one another.

The Avalanche don't have a lot of wiggle room, but beating San Jose moves them closer to the projected 94 points and also moves them two points clear of the Sharks, who have two games in hand.

In Vancouver, the Kings begin a four-game road trip having won six of their past seven games. This has put Los Angeles in a good position, controlling its playoff destiny. A loss to the Canucks, coupled with a Calgary win against Dallas, sets up an interesting showdown in Calgary on Wednesday between the Kings and Flames. Lose there and the Kings could easily be back in the "chasing" category instead of the "control" category.

The other aspect to Monday is the "bury your opponent" aspect. The Senators, Stars and Sharks can effectively end their Monday opponent's playoff hopes with victories, which is only added incentive if there is any needed.

Monday's scenarios certainly give different meaning to "blood" sport.
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POSTED ON Monday, 03.26.2012 / 3:00 AM

## There are high stakes for No. 1 seeds

I can't remember a year where finishing first has been this important. I've always been a guy that thought how you finish was more important than where you finish as long as it's in the top eight, but this year in both conferences it's just paramount that you finish first.

In the Eastern Conference, whether it's the Penguins or the Rangers, if they don't finish first they get Philly, which arguably, if Ilya Bryzgalov continues to play like this, is as good as Pittsburgh or New York. It's the same thing in the West. Whoever finishes second in the Central is going to get Nashville, Chicago or Detroit in the first round. I've never seen a year where finishing first and avoiding a tough first-round matchup has been this important, and that's going to affect how coaches think and how they coach down the stretch.

If you finish first in the East, you're going to get Buffalo, Washington, Winnipeg, maybe Florida, but definitely one of those teams. That's no comparison to Philadelphia. Those teams can beat you, but if I'm going to take my chances, I'm going to take my chances with Buffalo or one of the teams in the Southeast. I'm not going to take my chances with Philadelphia. If you look in the West, you could get Phoenix, Dallas, Colorado, maybe L.A. Any of those teams are a much better matchup than Chicago, Detroit or Nashville.

This might be a year where the first-place team is going to have to play right to the end, and that changes things because when you clinch and find out where you're going to be, that's when you can rest guys or rest your goalie or do some experimenting with young guys in your lineup. For two weeks, you can really manage your team to determine what matchups and lines might help you in the playoffs that you didn't know about before. I think all of that goes out the window this year. Those teams are going to have to battle for first overall because in both conferences the matchups are too important.

The really interesting thing is you might see teams in the middle of the playoff field also trying to avoid tough first-round matchups by not being so upset if they end up dropping to the sixth seed so they can face the weakest division winner. In the East, facing the winner of the Southeast is different from facing Philadelphia, while in the West, facing the winner of the Pacific is different than facing Detroit or Nashville. Are we going to see teams start to not worry about dropping? Will they start resting players so they can finish sixth?

I think most times, certainly home ice is important, but I'm not really a big believer in home ice in hockey because I've seen the visiting team win a first-round series too many times. Our athletes don't have problems winning on the road, and I don't think home ice is the be all and end all. I truly believe it's more important that your team is playing well heading into the postseason, and considering how strong the middle of each conference is, I would rather finish sixth than fifth this year. If you get the coaches and they can be honest and you look at the scheduling and who you would play, I would think they would much rather finish sixth in that sleeper position and open on the road against a weaker team than have home ice in the 4-5 matchup.

Ultimately though, getting that first seed in both conferences is going to be huge this season. Staying away from Philadelphia will be crucial. That's why I don't see Pittsburgh or the Rangers resting anybody, worrying about ice time or any of those things as the season goes down to the wire. You just don't want to face Philly in the first round. The Flyers have been playing great lately, Bryzgalov is playing his best hockey of the season right now, Briere is starting to score and the young guys are starting to get healthy.

It's going to be very interesting to watch how teams play this out, and don't forget, the Rangers and Penguins play in the second to last game of the season in Pittsburgh on April 5. That game could very easily be for first in the East, and it could be a major factor in who goes deep once the playoffs start.
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POSTED ON Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 10:27 PM

## Disallowed Anaheim goal -7:22 of the Third Period

At 7:22 of the third period in the Bruins/Ducks game, the referees huddled to discuss the validity of the goal scored by Matt Beleskey . Under the recent direction of the General Managers on plays/situations where there is significant presence in the goal crease that results in goaltender interference the four officials are mandated to huddle and discuss the validity of the play. It was determined that Andrew Cogliano impaired  Marty Turco's ability to defend the goal and move freely in the crease area.
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POSTED ON Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 9:01 PM

## NSH @ CHI - 5:42 of the Second Period

At 5:42 of the second period in the Predators/Blackhawks game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that the puck deflected off Alexander Radulov's skate, then off Patric Hornqvist's skate and entered the net in a legal fashion. Good goal Nashville.

According to rule 49.2 "A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player's skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal."
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POSTED ON Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 6:59 PM

## Injured Hawks take another step

CHICAGO -- The next hurdle is getting cleared for contact, but for now, injured Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews will take the steady progress he seems to be making.

Toews, who will a 16th straight game on Sunday night with an upper-body injury believed to be concussion symptoms, did on-ice work for a sixth straight day on Sunday at the United Center. The Hawks didn't hold a morning skate, but Toews and several other injured Hawks were put through the paces skating in order to see how their bodies reacted.

"He did good," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said on Sunday afternoon. "He progressed. I thought all of those guys today that skated had a good skate. Everybody was feeling all right."

Hawks defenseman Steve Montador (suspected concussion symptoms), rookie center Marcus Kruger (suspected concussion symptoms) and defenseman Sami Lepisto (lower body) joined Toews in the workout.

Montador has been cleared for contact and the plan is to get him acclimated to it in practice
this coming week before potentially returning to the lineup. After top defenseman Duncan Keith was suspended five games for an illegal elbow he hit Vancouver's Daniel Sedin in the face with, the Hawks' blue-line depth will be challenged.

"He's cleared for contact, so we'll get him out here and get some contact in this week," Quenneville said of Montador, who's missed 21 straight games. "We've got a busy week as well, so we'll see how he progresses this week and we'll get him in here at some point."

Kruger is day-to-day with a suspected recurrence of an earlier upper-body injury believed to be a concussion, while Quenneville is hopeful that Lepisto might also return before the regular season ends. After Lepisto was hurt on March 6 in St. Louis, he was initially classified "out indefinitely" and has missed seven straight games.

"He tried it in the ice today," Quenneville said. "Not bad. He had a spin a little while ago, but first real spin."
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POSTED ON Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 5:25 PM

## Steen activated, will play against Coyotes

The St. Louis Blues received a big boost to their lineup, announcing that winger Alex Steen has been activated from injured reserve and will be in the lineup Sunday night against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Steen, who has missed the last 39 games due to a concussion, has not played since Dec. 27 at Detroit.

"Anytime you get a good player back in your lineup, it's a positive," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "We want to be cautious when (Steen) comes back in and we understand that it's going to take time to get up to full speed. But with the (limited) number of games left in the season, it's good that he's in the lineup."

Steen had been in Southern California for the last month receiving treatment from a concussion/spinal specialist while also having the use of a hyperbaric chamber, something that teammate Andy McDonald used while he was sidelined with a concussion this season.

Steen, who has 13 goals and 24 points in 36 games this season to go with a plus-20 rating, is among one of the top all-around players for the Western Conference-leading Blues, who enter Sunday night's game with 101 points.

Steen was cleared for contact on Friday, along with teammate Matt D'Agostini.

"I always think it's necessary to leave those decisions to the players," Armstrong said. "Obviously they consult with the training staff and the doctors. He was skating and conditioning when he was in California (receiving treatment). He skated a couple of times with the team ... Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday... he's had time to get up and running."

In addition to Steen, defenseman Kris Russell will also return to the lineup Sunday night. Russell has been sidelined with a concussion since Feb. 23, missing the last 14 games.

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POSTED ON Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 2:26 PM

## Pens Showing Off Many Looks as Playoffs Approach

PITTSBURGH -- If opposing teams are scouting the Pittsburgh Penguins for clues on how to defend against their three elite centers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- and no doubt they are -- they certainly are filing up a few computer hard drives.

Coach Dan Bylsma is showing off all kinds of looks -- and multiple line combinations featuring Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal -- as the Penguins try to catch the New York Rangers and secure the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins' hopes of doing that took a hit when they were blown out 8-4 by the Ottawa Senators with rookie Brad Thiessen in goal Saturday night. It was Pittsburgh's first loss in regulation since Feb. 19 against Buffalo and only its second defeat in 15 games overall, leaving the team three points behind the Rangers.

But playing such a game allowed Bylsma to mix and match his lines, and Crosby -- who scored his first goal since his March 15 return against the Rangers -- wound up playing at least one shift with every forward except Craig Adams.

Crosby has 1 goal and 10 assists in the six games since he resumed playing for the first time since Dec. 5. Crosby is playing mostly on a third line with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, who have benefitted greatly by playing alongside No. 87. Cooke had a pair of goals Saturday, his third multiple-goal game in the six games he has played with Crosby, and Kennedy has three goals and four assists.

With the Penguins (46-22-6) playing back-to-back games, they did not hold a morning skate Sunday.

The Devils (42-27-6), who lost to Toronto 4-3 in a shootout Friday, held an optional morning skate attended by a majority of the team. The most-watched player on the ice was center Travis Zajac, who has been limited to eight games this season by a sore left Achilles tendon but will play against Pittsburgh. Zajac last played on Jan. 2.

Devils coach Peter DeBoer is shaking up his lines, not just to accommodate Zajac but to try to find some more scoring chances.

New Jersey scored only six goals in its previous five games before scoring three times against Toronto, and has had only one game with as many as four goals in its last eight. Pittsburgh, by contrast, has scored at least four goals all but once in its last seven games, piling up 34 goals during that span.

The new lines find Zajac with Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei PonikarovskyPatrik Elias with Zach Parise and  Dainius Zubrus and Adam Henrique with Petr Sykora and David Clarkson.

"I'm not even concerned about goals," DeBoer said. "I think the goals will come. What we want is offensive zone time. We want to create chances. We want to look for some chemistry -- all of those things when, when things are going well, you have in place."

The likely lineups for the sixth and final meeting for the Atlantic Division rivals this season; New Jersey won three of the first five:

DEVILS

Ilya KovalchukTravis ZajacAlexei Ponikarovsky
Zach ParisePatrik EliasDainius Zubrus
Ryan CarterJacob JosefsonSteve Bernier

Andy GreeneMark Fayne
Anton VolchenkovMarek Zidlicky

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

Brodeur has nine shutouts in 79 career games against Pittsburgh.

PENGUINS

Chris KunitzEvgeni MalkinJames Neal
Steve SullivanJordan StaalPascal Dupuis
Matt CookeSidney CrosbyTyler Kennedy

Brooks OrpikZbynek Michalek
Kris LetangPaul Martin
Matt NiskanenDeryk Engelland

Marc-Andre Fleury

Fleury will be back in net after Thiessen gave up eight goals on 28 shots in Ottawa, his first NHL loss in four decisions.
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POSTED ON Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 1:26 PM

## Projected lineups for Predators-Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- The Nashville Predators look quite a bit different from the last time the Chicago Blackhawks saw them on Valentine's Day at Bridgestone Arena.

Of course, the same could be said the other way around too. Chicago didn't make as many changes through trades as the Predators have made since that 3-2 Nasville victory, but the Hawks are certainly not the same team as they were at that point.

That loss was Chicago's ninth straight winless game and things seemed to be spiraling downward in a hurry. The Hawks still had captain Jonathan Toews healthy, but their psyche wasn't.

Meanwhile, the Predators since that game have decided to push all of their chips toward the center of the proverbial poker table -- making trades to bring in the likes of pieces like defenseman Hal Gill, forward Andrei Kostitsyn and center Paul Gaustad and then convincing Alexander Radulov to return from Russia to join the cause.

Toews (suspected concussion symptoms) and Duncan Keith (five-game suspension) won't be playing on Sunday night when the Central Division teams meet up at the United Center for the fifth of six games against each other this season, but it's no less exciting of a matchup.

After winning five straight games and going 9-1-1 in the past 11 -- all without Toews -- the Hawks have pulled themselves within two points of the Preds in both the division and Western Conference standings.

A regulation win on Sunday night will pull them even and both teams will be just one point behind Detroit for second in the division and fourth in the West.

Pekka Rinne has started all four of the previous meetings for the Preds this season, going 3-1, and is likely to get the nod on Sunday too. On the other side, Corey Crawford has seemingly reasserted himself as the Hawks' starter with five straight wins and only five goals allowed in the last 107 shots he's faced.

Nashville beat Winnipeg 3-1 Saturday night at home, while Chicago's been off since beating the Vancouver Canucks in overtime Wednesday at the United Center. Here's a look at how the two teams might line up:

PREDATORS

Martin Erat - Mike Fisher - Sergei Kostitsyn
Alexander Radulov - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Andrei Kostitsyn - Nick Spaling - Gabriel Bourque
Brandon Yip - Paul Gaustad - Matt Halischuk

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Hal Gill - Kevin Klein
Francis Bouillon - Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

Injuries: Roman Josi (upper body)

BLACKHAWKS

Andrew Brunette - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Brendan Morrison - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Jamal Mayers - Michael Frolik

Johnny Oduya - Nick Leddy
Sean-O'Donnell - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford
Ray Emery

Injuries: Jonathan Toews (upper body, suspected concussion symptoms), Steve Montador (upper body, suspected concussion symptoms), Marcus Kruger (upper body, suspected concussion symptoms)
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POSTED ON Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 12:11 PM

## Updated playoff projections: March 25th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

 EASTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 76 84 6 90 4 9th 75 82 7 89 5 10th 75 78 7 85 7 WESTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 75 86 7 93 5 9th 75 86 7 93 5 10th 77 86 5 91 5 11th 76 83 6 88 6
The skinny: Try telling the teams in the Stanley Cup Playoff race that Sunday is a day of rest.

After Saturday's games and the resulting shuffle in the standings, the Sunday schedule features intense battles for the final spots in each conference.

Washington hosts the Minnesota Wild and after losing Friday to the Winnipeg Jets, the Caps want to get back into the win column -- but, more importantly, also back into a playoff spot after Buffalo took the No. 8 spot with Saturday's win against the same Wild. Now, it is time for Washington to keep pace and for the jockeying to continue.

Let me emphasize how important this game is for the Caps. They are two points behind the Sabres for No. 8 and play Buffalo on Tuesday night. A loss Sunday, coupled with a loss to the Sabres on Tuesday  and the Caps will be four points out of the eighth spot with five games to play, including games against the Bruins and Rangers, who are the top two teams in the East. A win Sunday by Washington and the Caps will be in position to move two points ahead of the Sabres by beating them Tuesday. That could be a potential six-point swing of significant importance.

Down in Florida, the Panthers continue their path toward the playoffs in a meeting with the Islanders. They need to gain five points to hit the 91-point plateau that is the current projection for playoff participation in the East. With eight games remaining, the Panthers have put themselves in excellent position to do exactly that. But, they have more than that to play for as Boston and the No. 2 seed appears to be in the Panthers' reach -- especially if the Bruins lose in Anaheim in Sunday's close to a quick West Coast trip.

In the West, Phoenix hosts the St. Louis Blues in a pivotal game for both teams.

The Coyotes picked up a point Saturday night against San Jose in a shootout loss and held onto a playoff spot, remaining in seventh place. If 94 points remains the magic number -- and that is the projection in the West as of now -- then Phoenix moves to 89 points with a win. Needing five points in the five games that follow is an easier task than needing seven points in those five games.

St. Louis is trying to maintain its hold on first in the Western Conference and continue toward a Presidents' Trophy. The Vancouver Canucks, who won in OT against Colorado Saturday night and clinched the Northwest Division title, want to have a say but the Blues have control the race as long as they continue to win.

In Chicago, the Hawks play the Predators in a key matchup. Detroit sits in fourth with 95 points, Nashville, has 94 and the Hawks have 92. All three teams are in the hunt for the No. 4 seed in the postseason and the all-important home-ice advantage that come with it.

So while there might be some rest with 16 of the League's 30 teams enjoying a day off, there still promises to be unrest and upheaval in the standings and the playoff races that appear destined to rage until April 7.
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POSTED ON Saturday, 03.24.2012 / 11:13 PM

## BOS @ LAK - 5:56 of the Third Period

At 5:56 of the third period in the Bruins/Kings game, video review upheld the referee's call on the ice that Benoit Pouliot's pass deflected off Chris Kelly's left skate and into the net. According to rule 49.2 "A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player's skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal."  Good Goal Boston.
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Puck Personalities!
Quote of the Day

I don't know what to say, to be honest with you. You get a couple [goals], and it's pretty much a done deal. He's been great. I don't know how many times I have said this before: He's giving us a chance and that's all you really want.

— Kings forward Anze Kopitar on rookie goalie Martin Jones, who improved to 8-0-0 after a shootout win over the Avalanche on Saturday