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by Kevin Sylvester / Buffalo Sabres
Tyler Myers (Getty Images)
♦  I think too little fanfare has been made of clinching a birth in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  After a two-year absence, this is a great accomplishment.  You have to embrace the small victories in life before you target bigger wins. 

♦  Now that that is done, I’m with every fan in wanting to win the Northeast Division and surpass Pittsburgh for the No. 2 seed in the East.  It should make for an interesting final two weeks of the regular season for those two quests.  It will also be exciting to see how the final three spots in the east shake out.  Can Boston hang on to the 8th seed or will Atlanta jump in there despite trading Ilya Kovalchuk.  Washington has to be hoping for Atlanta, an easier out than the Bruins.  How far will Montreal climb and what’s going on with New Jersey’s slide?  Good stuff and great for interest in the league.

♦  What’s not great for interest in the league is players leaving on stretchers.  Hopefully the new measure on blindside hits and hits that target the head will end the what seems to be too frequent displays of thugery.  It remains to be seen, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of “supplemental discipline” Colin Campbell hands down to the first offender.  I have a feeling the hit to that player’s wallet will be harder than the one delivered to the injured player. 

What has been good to see since the unanimous vote to prohibit blindside hits to the head, is hard severe other infractions have been dealt with during games.  Mike Fischer was given a 5-minute major and game misconduct for clearly chasing and then boarding Patrick Kaleta.  It wasn’t a severe hit, but the intention was there and thus a good call.  The very next night, Vincent Lecavalier was given the same treatment for spearing Tyler err…Tim Kennedy.  And just today, Philly’s Dan Carcillo was given a two game suspension for cross checking New Jersey’s Dave Clarkson in the face.  It seems that by voting to eliminate the major stuff, the more “minor” ugly infractions are getting proper attention.

♦  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spent some time in Buffalo last week and spoke at the final Power Play Luncheon of the season.  The guy takes a lot of heat for the Southern initiative that has attendance problems, and for what seems like consistent turnover in ownership of franchises.   He deserves credit for not fleeing markets that experience tough times (see Buffalo, Ottawa, Pittsburgh), and the ability to harvest interested owners for franchises when situations sour.  He also should be applauded for taking questions from the crowd in Buffalo, holding a press conference with local media just for the sake of availability, and for taking fans questions on his satellite radio show.  Criticize all you want, but also give him credit for not hiding. 

♦  Commissioner Bettman is also going to have his hands full if the NHLPA is able to convince Donald Fehr to take control of the wandering vessel.  Fehr has a sterling reputation (on the union side of things) from his work as head of the baseball player union, and is known as tough negotiator.  He is to be respected for sure.  Obviously the circumstances for the NHL are much different than MLB’s and it’s in everybody’s best interest to negotiate the next CBA in good faith.  Faith is something the players need in their new leader whether it’s Fehr or anybody else.  Of course the players wouldn’t be in this mess if Paul Kelly wasn’t the victim of late night mutiny that still seems to make little sense to me.

♦  Tough time of year to have four forwards on the shelf with injuries, but given the relative health the Sabres have had all season they’ve been lucky.  Raffi Torres is close, Vanek and Connolly seem short term, and Kaleta is the biggest concern after thumb surgery.  If I know Kaleta like I think I do, he’ll do everything in his power to tape it up and be back for the first round of the playoffs.  Stickhandling and shooting will be an issue, but that’s not why he’s on the ice.  He’s the X factor for the Sabres, and I don’t envision anyone else filling that role to his level. 

♦  Out of all the non-hockey guests I’ve interviewed on the intermission reports during the past 5 seasons, James Woods is by far the coolest.  He’s also the most talkative.  Here are my top 5 non-hockey guests so far.

1.    James Woods
2.    Nick Bakay
3.    Thurman Thomas
4.    Dudley Hart
5.    John Ratzenberger

And here are the top 5 non-hockey guests that have a hockey connection I hope to have on the show someday:

1.    Keifer Sutherland
2.    Mike Myers
3.    Kurt Russell
4.    Christie Brinkley
5.    Craig Stadler

It’s your job to figure out why.
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