Puck Daddy's daily Death Watch posts have become essential reading for me in a very short period of time because the races to see who can squeeze into the playoffs have been particularly fascinating this season.
Not that this is the kind of thing I think we should be saying too loudly, lest Gary Bettman and his cadre hear, but I've really come to enjoy the fact that this is a 48-game season instead of an 82-gamer. Each loss is that much more agonizing, each win that much more likely to bring a postseason berth. There's something to be said for the cold brutality of the natural selection that emerges over the course of a six-month season as opposed to one that runs three and a half, because it does a lot to ensure that the best teams possible are competing for the Stanley Cup. But seeing all these bad ones white-knuckle it has been fascinating.
The East is a conference with its playoff teams all but decided at this point, though Winnipeg has the slimmest glimmer of hope for unseating Washington atop the abysmal Southeast. Nonetheless, the fact that a team like New Jersey was hanging around at all says a lot about the type of competition they were facing.
It has given teams hope they almost certainly wouldn't have had otherwise, and allowed not-great teams like the Maple Leafs to secure a playoff spot they would almost assuredly have lost were it not for the fact that the calendar saved them from statistical correction running them down and sinking its teeth into their throat like a cheetah on the Serengeti.
The West, as you might expect given the generally higher quality of the teams involved therein, is far more interesting, insofar as the Blue Jackets, the team that spent most of the week in eighth place, has also spent pretty much that entire time with less of a chance of sneaking in than the Red Wings lurking directly behind them.
This, too, is somewhat a function of the shortened schedule: Games in hand simply mean far more than they do in an 82-game schedule, and holding on with slipping, whitening fingertips to that final playoff spot for a week has meant all the more given the number of games currently being packed into your average seven-day period this time around as opposed to the norm.
Normally, I'm all for seeing teams not good enough for a playoff appearance having their hopes scuttled on jagged rocks as soon as humanly possible, so everyone can get on with the business of watching hockey that's actually compelling in any way. But because of all these atypically tight races, even the games featuring otherwise bad teams are coming off as interesting and even lively.
Were this a season of standard length, Columbus would, at this late date, be playing out the string as the Tampas and Edmontons of the world; but no, still they hold on, fighting for lives that they otherwise wouldn't necessarily deserve. The short season has made a hero of Sergei Bobrovsky in particular, because to expect him to do this behind that Jackets defense for 60 games seems a mighty big ask.
The other genuinely great thing about this shortened season is the way in which it will create strong first-round matchups that otherwise might not happen.
The Rangers getting to take on Pittsburgh or Montreal in the first round, depending upon where they finish, is something that wouldn't happen over 82 games because even with that ugly start, they'd have had far longer to recover from it. Obviously they still wouldn't win their division, but the likelihood of their taking down fourth or fifth seems quite high if they were allowed to continue playing around the level at which they're currently humming along. Instead, we're likely to get a previously-struggling Ranger team playing a now-struggling Montreal, or an ever-dominant Pittsburgh, and the result is likely to be some high-quality hockey.
That, instead of the Pens running through an eighth-seed of traditional quality (i.e. low) is going to be far more interesting.
Obviously the problem with this 48-game season is what it took to bring about its existence, an acrimonious lockout brought on by supercilious owners and league executives who care only about bleeding fans dry, and it's not something I'd be willing to go through ever again.
But given the reality of the situation, you have to be pretty happy with how everything turned out across the league.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Here's a video of the Anaheim Ducks participating in a fashion show, but not one vowed to "wiggle it at 'em" so I guess I would recommend not watching it.
Boston Bruins: The Bruins have allowed six power play goals in the last three games before Sunday's contest with abject Florida. They'd allowed 12 in the previous 40. That's a bad slump in my opinion.
Buffalo Sabres: You can pretty much say adios to Ryan Miller in Buffalo. Asked if getting booed by fans once again prompted any Patrick Roy-in-Montreal feelings, Miller said, "It doesn't mean I want to leave, but if that's what you’re getting at, the guy won two Stanley Cups after, so hey, why not?"
Chicago Blackhawks: Even losing at home in the shootout to the Coyotes isn't enough to stop the Blackhawks from feeling great about themselves. If we get a Penguins/Blackhawks Cup Final we might as well shut down hockey forever because it's gonna be tough to top that.
Colorado Avalanche: The passing on this Avs goal, the only one they scored against the Oilers on Friday, was just awesome.
Dallas Stars: Starting to look like the Stars will have an "outdoor" game at Cowboys Stadium at some point in the near future, and by then it might not even be the first of its kind to not sell out. Good job from the NHL as always.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers went up 2-0 on the Devils on Saturday afternoon. Then they lost 6-2. They finished the game with 13 shots on goal. That's somehow worse than I expect them to play at this point.
Los Angeles Kings: Dustin Penner is already starting to grow out his playoff beard. But if Jonathan Quick doesn't turn his game around in a hurry, it won't get much beyond a playoff five o'clock shadow.
Minnesota Wild: It's believed the Wild will try to re-sign Matt Cullen but don't expect them to give him anything better than the current deal he's on. It's for three years and $3.5 million per. Would you have guessed that Cullen made that much?
Nashville Predators: The Preds' executives are perfectly content to chalk this team missing the playoffs to injuries, but that doesn't mean they're not going to be "very busy" this summer. Hey, maybe they can try to get that Suter guy back.
New York Islanders: What do you think is happening with the Jets' transition defense on this Michael Grabner goal? Do you think everyone on the team had a brain aneurysm at the same time? Is that what you think happened? Because that's what it looked like. It looked like everyone forgot how to play hockey right on this play. And then they lost in a shootout. Not like they needed that two points or anything.
New York Rangers: Just how soon will Derek Dorsett be able to play for the Rangers after he fractured his clavicle? He's at least shooting pucks in practice, and is now in Week 7 of the original estimate of missing between six and eight. So, soon, I guess.
Meanwhile, this happened.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues are listed as a seriously troubling potential playoff opponent for the top-seeded Blackhawks despite the fact that Chicago went 3-0-1 against them in the regular season. Meaning that when your scariest opponent got two of a possible eight points from you, the shape you're in isn't all that bad at all.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The Maple Leafs are in the playoffs for the first time in forever. It's gonna be one exciting first-round bounce-out for the center of the hockey universe! Shout out to Brian Burke for putting together a playoff-caliber lineup.
Vancouver Canucks: Just how far can the Canucks go in this postseason? They can very much look like the two-time reigning Presidents Trophy winner or a team that still hasn't even clinched the Northwest title on any given night, which doesn't portend good things going forward.
Winnipeg Jets: Taking solace in getting a point in an ugly home shootout loss is all well and good but the Jets played like garbage and are gonna get creamed by whichever top seed they draw if they make the playoffs, which they won't.
Play of the Weekend
I guess this is what the Islanders picked up Lubomir Visnovsky for.
Gold Star Awardnot only this weekend, but all season. I hate to break that to you all. He's awesome.
Minus of the Weekend
Shame on the Ducks for letting Brian McGrattan go coast to coast. In real life.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "Sick Rash" is doin' fine.
D Dustin Byfuglien
D Michael Del Zotto
F J.T. Miller
C Brian Boyle
Come on baby, why don't you come over tonight? I've got a new laser pointer.
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