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Playoffs provoke sky highs to lowest of lows

by Phil Coffey
To many, the mind is racing ahead a few days to the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and all the possibilities hidden in that grueling two-month marathon.

"It gives me chills just to think about it," Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan told reporters. "I hated Fan Appreciation Night for the last six, seven years. It was like, 'Hey guys, thanks so much for supporting us. We'll see you next year.' This time, it's, 'We'll see you next week. Wear white.' And I like it."

For others, the sights are set on the here and now, which for the New York Rangers is a home-and-home series Friday and Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers that will determine the playoff fates of both teams.

"We wanted to make the Philly games count, and they do now," Rangers coach John Tortorella said after a 5-1 win against Toronto Wednesday kept hope alive. "It's within us. We don't have to look at the board anymore, because it's right in front of us, in our building and in their building."

And to others, it's a bitter look back at what might have been, what went wrong and what's to come.

"I know personally that I haven't been good enough to help the team or maybe the leadership isn't what was needed at times in here, too," Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer said. "I could have been better, and I'm sure a lot of guys can say that."

While it may be the end of the regular season, it won't be the end of the thoughts about the season, either from the teams that advanced to the postseason or who are packing their bags.

Tough days in Calgary -- It's safe to say no one in Calgary expected the Flames to miss the playoffs this season, not after acquiring defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and bringing in Brent Sutter as coach.

GM Darryl Sutter also made a couple big trades that radically changed the look of the team at the trade deadline, but in the end, Calgary couldn't overtake Colorado. And in the aftermath, Jarome Iginla, whose statistics were off from previous seasons, has taken the heat.

"I can't worry about that right now, but I understand the disappointment," Iginla told the Calgary Herald. "We haven't been very good, haven't gotten a lot of results. When you're winning as a captain, you get a pat on the back.

"But this year, it's been tough. We haven't been a very high-scoring team and I haven't produced as much as I'd like so, yeah, I think it's fair."

Iginla said you can blame an anemic offense, bad breaks or just plain, old bad luck, but don't point fingers at the players' commitment.

"Guys were committed this year," Iginla told reporters. "There's going to be a lot said from the outside that we have a bad locker room or that guys aren't character guys. That's not true. You can say whatever, but I won't believe that."

"This is the lowest point in my career right now," said defenseman Ian White, who came over from Toronto in the trade that sent Dion Phaneuf to the Leafs. "I thought we had enough to get in. I thought we had a team to do something special in the playoffs. We came up short. This stings right now."

Wait and see -- No, you will not trap Dan Boyle into saying there is a team he would rather his San Jose Sharks meet in the first round of the playoffs.

"I'm old enough now to know you've got to be careful what you wish for," Boyle told Dave Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News. "I would never wish to play a certain team because that can come back to bite you in the butt."

Can't tell Boyle is a veteran, can you?

Hoping against hope -- Kirk Maltby is a valuable Detroit Red Wing for a lot of reasons. So even though it's unlikely he'll see much action this postseason while recovering from shoulder surgery, he keeps the hope alive for a chance to play. But in the meantime, there are other things he can do.

"We are going to look at the shoulder in another week or two and see where I'm at and see how it's progressing," Maltby told reporters. "If it keeps progressing, you never know. But whether I am able to play or not, I am going to be a big cheerleader for these guys and help out in the dressing room any way I can."

Still Star-struck -- Mike Modano is keeping his future plans close to his vest at this point. The facts are he is an upcoming unrestricted free agent, and, at age 39, might opt to end a tremendous career.

As for any future plans, Modano is thinking it through, but would love to remain with the Stars in some capacity.

"That's something I've thought a lot about," Modano told Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News. "I don't know what capacity that might be in, whether it's ownership or management or what, but the Dallas Stars are very important to me and I would love to be a part of it. We've had so many good times here and such a good history that I'd love to be part of helping to bring that back. That's very important to me."

One more year -- While retirement talk has followed a number of long-time NHL players around in recent weeks, Mark Recchi of the Boston Bruins and Adam Foote of the Colorado Avalanche are looking to hang around a while longer.

"I still feel great and it's the end of the season, so I'm definitely leaning toward (playing again)," Recchi told reporters. "We'll see at the end of the year, but I'm still enjoying it."

"Right now, I'd say yeah, I want to play another season," Foote said. "I feel good and feel like I have my legs underneath me still. But first things first -- right now, all I'm thinking about is the playoffs."

Hail and farewell -- Four familiar faces will be leaving the NHL scene at the end of the season -- referees Kerry Fraser and Dan Marouelli, and linesmen Mark Pare and Lyle Seitz are retiring.

"We thank Kerry, Dan, Mark and Lyle for their many years of professionalism and dedication," said NHL Senior Vice President and Director of Officiating Terry Gregson. "We wish them all the best in their future endeavors and honor the contributions each made to our League."

The four officials logged an extraordinary amount of ice time during their careers. Fraser has called 1,901 games, the most by a referee in NHL history. His first game was nearly 30 years ago, between two teams that since have moved on -- the Colorado Rockies vs. the Minnesota North Stars, Oct. 17, 1980.

Fraser worked a dozen Stanley Cup Final series, two All-Star Games, the 2004 World Cup, the 1998 Winter Olympics and NHL Premiere series in Europe. His last game is Sunday in Philadelphia, where the Flyers and Rangers have playoff hopes on the line.

Marouelli worked 25 NHL seasons and 1,621 games. His last game is Saturday night, when the Canadiens host the Maple Leafs. He debuted in 1984-85 and worked four Stanley Cup Final series, two All-Star Games, the 1996 World Cup and the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Pare called the lines in 2,169 games, starting in October 1979, and that is the most games among active linesmen and third on the all-time list. He has officiated 30 playoff games and two All-Star Games. His final game is April 11, when Chicago hosts Detroit.

Seitz has 735 games under his belt and worked his last game April 7 He officiated at the 2008 All-Star Game and the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park.

Wait 'til next year -- Here is a sampling of what players and coaches who didn't make the Stanley Cup Playoffs had to say about the demise of their teams.

* "My play wasn't at the standard I wanted through the season. Obviously, you learn from it, and hopefully, take it into next season." -- Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman

* "It's an awful feeling. I watched the (Colorado-Vancouver) game and realized that we put ourselves in a position where ... the play of other teams determined whether we get in or not. You obviously look back at games and situations that we could have changed." -- Blues goalie Chris Mason

* "I set out to have a better year, and to have a personal best in goals and assists is nice, but it is bittersweet. It would mean a whole lot more to me if we were in the playoffs, or at least pushing for a spot. It has been a tough year." -- Edmonton's Dustin Penner

* "Obviously it's not the way I anticipated, but some things you can't control. The back injury, I'm training pretty hard in the offseason. I feel that I've done everything I could to prevent any kind of injuries, back or groins or hips or whatever. When it happens it's hard, it's frustrating, but hopefully we'll move forward and next year it'll be something that won't be an issue and it'll be a lot more fun." -- Edmonton's Nikolai Khabibulin

* "I'm excited. I've had a chance to coach with Hockey Canada before over the years and it's always an honor to go try and help represent your country. It's a little bittersweet. The only chance you get to go and work in this tournament is if you're out of the playoffs. But hopefully it'll put a good spin on the end of the year and get us ready for next year." -- Florida coach Peter DeBoer

* "I really wanted to be here, not just because I love Minnesota and the organization, but because I thought with what they had here that we'd be a contending team. And then everything, Gabby getting hurt and not playing most of last year and the changeover, it's been a strange couple years -- the strangest being not being in the playoffs. I thought for sure with the core group, we'd be in for sure." -- Minnesota's Andrew Brunette to Mike Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

* "As a coach I love the fact that we tried so hard, but on the other hand, we still have to find a way to do what other teams are doing. We have to find a way. That's just the bottom line. We have to review the whole year, break it down and find out how we can get those five or six extra points." -- Atlanta coach John Anderson

Looking good -- Fun story in the Buffalo News, sort of akin to the green hard hat the Calgary Flames have passed around after wins. For the Sabres, the apparel is a cream-colored jacket with the old Sabres logo on the right breast, a white handkerchief in the left pocket and "Will" inscribed on the back.

And while wearing it may get you called out for bad fashion sense, the Sabres are delighted to have the chance to wear it.

"It's pretty cool. Makes it a little extra fun when you win," Drew Stafford told Mike Harrington of the News. "We got together and figured out something we could do after games. A lot of teams do things but we didn't want to be like other teams. We wanted our own thing."

The protocol is the current wearer of the cream coat gets to pass it along to a deserving teammate after a win. A la the Masters, the current holder helps the new guy into the jackets and speeches are involved.

"The (new) guy gets up to give a speech and it's pretty funny what he has to say," Tim Kennedy said. "It's another way to bring the team together."

"It's an idea that knocked around with the players and coaches and we came up with it," coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's a little bit of creative thinking."

Hail and farewell II -- For Keith Tkachuk, the timing just seemed right. He will finish his NHL career at 18 seasons, having scored over 500 goals and 500 assists and surely will spark discussion for Hall of Fame recognition.

"It's unfortunate that we're not in the playoffs this year, but it's been a great ride," Tkachuk told Norm Sanders of the Belleville News-Democrat. "It's just the right timing and the right thing to do right now."

The official end is Friday at home against Anaheim, where he will be honored in pre-game ceremonies.

"It's been a tough year with my health, so it's definitely the right decision to step away after this season," Tkachuk told's Brian Hedger. "It's always hard. I played a lot of years and cherish every moment."
"The thing I'm most proud of is the fact I'm retiring as a St. Louis Blue," said Tkachuk, a four-time Olympian and silver medalist who came into the League with Winnipeg and played for the Blues for nine seasons. "St. Louis is a great place to play and live. It's been a great run playing for the Blues."

"It's tough to express how I felt today," Tkachuk said during the Blues-Blackhawks broadcast Wednesday night. "It was an easy decision and I think it's time. I had a great run here in St. Louis and I think I'll always be the most proud of the fact I'm going to retire as a Blue."

"Keith is a true warrior who had an excellent career and I was hoping this day would never come," Blues President of Hockey Operations John Davidson said. "The NHL is losing an individual who gave a lot of time and dedication to the game and I wish him and his family a happy retirement and the best of luck."

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