This is why the NHL awards ballots aren’t due until after the regular season is over. The most dramatic, defining moments can come at the end – like Wednesday night, when the Anaheim Ducks were fighting for a playoff berth, when Corey Perry(notes) scored a hat trick against the San Jose Sharks in a 6-2 victory, when the fans chanted, “M-V-P! M-V-P!”
Those three goals didn’t hand Perry the Hart Trophy. One game, no matter how magnificent or timely, does not make a most valuable player. And four days remain in the regular season. But this performance underscored a candidacy that has been building, especially in recent weeks, and as long as the Ducks make the playoffs, it could put him over the top.
Perry has 50 goals for the first time in his career, and he probably will be the NHL’s only 50-goal scorer this season. He leads the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s goal-scoring champ by six over the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos(notes). He also has a career-high 97 points, three behind the Vancouver Canucks’ Daniel Sedin(notes).
Nineteen of Perry’s goals and 29 of his points have come in the past 14 games, helping the Ducks go 10-4 down the stretch.
“If this guy doesn’t win the MVP, it’s a crime,” Ducks teammate Teemu Selanne(notes) told reporters in the dressing room after Wednesday night’s game. “This guy has been so rock-solid all season. Obviously this is a great league. There are so many great players in this league who could also deserve to be MVP. But come on. Let’s face the facts. This guy has been one warrior who has carried this team.”
It wouldn’t be a crime if Perry doesn’t win the Hart. Remember that Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby(notes) was the runaway favorite before he suffered a concussion at the midpoint, and there are several solid candidates now, starting with Sedin, who leads the league in scoring on the team leading the league in points.
Sedin has the better storyline. He could win the Hart one year after his linemate and identical twin brother, Henrik. That shouldn’t work in his favor, but his DNA shouldn’t work to his detriment, either.
Toronto Maple Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul(notes), a former Duck, made the case for Perry on Twitter by saying: “If the Ducks had 2 of him like Van does, they’d be in first place too …” True. So what? Henrik showed he could stand on his own last season while Daniel missed 19 games because of an injury. Daniel should be allowed to stand on his own.
But Perry should, too. He is not producing only because he plays on a powerful line with Bobby Ryan(notes) and Ryan Getzlaf(notes). Perry also put up eight goals and 14 points when Getzlaf missed 14 straight games from Dec. 31 to Feb. 5, leading the Ducks to a 10-4 record during that stretch. He plays a lot of minutes and in all situations. He’s a leader. “He’s been our one constant,” Getzlaf said.
Said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle: “I don’t know if there’s a player playing better, or to a higher level, in the league.”
“After that,” he said, “who wants to play …”
“… any of the other teams?” he continued. “It’s going to be tough whoever we play.”
Usually a pause like that is purely for political correctness. Not this time.
No one wants to play the Canucks, of course. It’s not just that they have already clinched the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season team. It’s that they have a 10-point lead in the West at a time when the competition has never been tighter. To put that in perspective, the second-place Sharks have a 10-point cushion over the ninth-place Calgary Flames.
But for all their dominance, the Canucks will have to win three tough rounds just to make the Stanley Cup final, and they could draw the juiciest matchup of the first round. They could face the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks, the team that ousted them in the second round each of the past two years and forced them to make changes in the off-season – adding depth, becoming more businesslike.
Maybe it could be the Canucks’ undoing again. The Blackhawks aren’t as deep as they used to be, after losing 10 members of their Cup team in a salary-cap purge, and they’re struggling just to make the playoffs, currently clinging to the eighth seed. But they still have enough top-end talent to do damage, and they still might be in the Canucks’ heads. And now some of the depth the Canucks added has been thinned, with Manny Malhotra(notes) out for the playoffs with a serious eye injury and Raffi Torres(notes) out for the first two postseason games because of a suspension.
Then again, maybe this would be just what the Canucks need. If they can beat the Blackhawks, it will reinforce their belief that they can beat anybody.
“The experience of losing two years in a row to the same team was one that was very difficult for a lot of people to accept,” Canucks general manager Mike Gillis said. “However, we did it with a team that we don’t think is as competitive as the team we have this year. We felt that Chicago had the best team top to bottom last year in the National Hockey League, and so we went about trying to bolster our core group of players. …
“We’ve learned from the experience of last year that if we stick to our game and play the way we want to play, we have the ability to beat most teams in this league on any given night. So I think our team right now is a very different team in terms of mindset that’s coming about through those two losses to Chicago, and hopefully we can translate it into success this year.”
The Blackhawks might make the playoffs because of a controversial goal Wednesday night. They trailed the St. Louis Blues 2-0. They looked lifeless. Then came Marian Hossa’s(notes) goal 7:52 into the second period, which sparked a critical 4-3 overtime victory.
The puck hit Hossa’s left skate. That’s a fact. Hossa made a distinct kicking motion. There is little debate about that. But did Hossa’s stick make contact with the puck before it crossed the goal line? And it did it cross the goal line completely?
There was a lengthy delay while the NHL’s hockey operations department reviewed video in Toronto. Eventually, it was ruled a goal, upholding the call on the ice, because the video evidence was inconclusive.
To me, it should not have counted. I agree that if the video evidence is inconclusive, you have to stick with the call on the ice. But work backward to the part of the video that is conclusive, and it just doesn't seem like the right ruling, even if it technically is.
Did the puck completely cross the line? Inconclusive. The puck ended up just inside the right post, and it was impossible to see whether there was any space between the puck and the line before goaltender Ty Conklin(notes) covered it with his glove.
OK, did a stick touch the puck before it got to the goal line? Inconclusive. As many times as I’ve seen the replay, I don’t see how anyone could say for certain that a stick touched that puck.
Now, did Hossa make a distinct kicking motion? Yes.
Then no goal.
Jeff Skinner(notes) just doesn’t stop. The 18-year-old has skated right around the rookie wall. In his 80th NHL game Wednesday night, the Carolina Hurricanes’ 3-0 victory over the Wings, he used a technique he learned as a kid in figure skating, splaying his feet at 10 and 2 o’clock. He whipped around behind the net and stuffed in the puck for his 30th goal and 59th point of the season.
Skinner has been consistent all season, and he hasn’t seemed nervous at all down the stretch. He has eight goals and 12 points in the Hurricanes’ last 16 games.
“He loves the pressure situations. He loves to try to be that difference-maker in every big game,” said captain Eric Staal(notes), who sits next to Skinner in the Hurricanes’ dressing room. “He’s a factor for our team. If we didn’t have him, we wouldn’t be where we’re at, fighting for a playoff spot.”
It would be fascinating to watch Skinner in the playoffs. He produced 20 goals and 33 points in 20 playoff games last season for the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers, and that was a big reason why the Hurricanes drafted him seventh overall in June – and some other teams might have nabbed him soon afterward – even though he was 34th in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings.
Those rankings are done prior to the playoffs, just like the voting for the Calder Trophy for the NHL’s rookie of the year. Skinner, who leads rookies in scoring, will get his share of Calder votes, but he faces stiff competition from a deep class that includes San Jose’s Logan Couture(notes), Chicago’s Corey Crawford(notes) and the New York Islanders’ Michael Grabner(notes). So his teammates are stumping for him.
“I’m not a goal-scorer. Whatever he’s got now, it’s more than I’ve got in eight years,” cracked Hurricanes defenseman Tim Gleason(notes), who has scored 14 goals since breaking into the NHL in 2003-04. “He’s very creative. He’s smart. He’s a humble kid, and I know he’s going to stay like that, so that’s what I like about him.”
• Condolences to the friends and family of E.J. McGuire, the vice-president of the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, who died of cancer Thursday at age 58. McGuire worked in the game for almost four decades – from college, to junior, to the minors, to the NHL. He was as friendly as he was knowledgeable. He will be missed.
• The NHL was harsh when it suspended Torres four games for his hit on the Edmonton Oilers’ Jordan Eberle(notes). But suspending Torres for the Canucks’ final two regular-season games would have meant little to nothing, when they’ve already wrapped up the Presidents’ Trophy. Extending the suspension two games into the playoffs makes a strong statement, and this was a textbook blindside headshot. Eberle’s head was a little low as he lunged for the puck, but it doesn’t matter. Torres didn’t go for the puck at all. He went right for Eberle’s head. That’s the mindset that has to change: Players should hit to separate their opponents from the puck, not to separate them from their heads.
• Tyler Bozak(notes) is not a No. 1 center. With one game to go for the Toronto Maple Leafs, he has 15 goals and 32 points – and a minus-28 rating, fourth-worst in the NHL. But did you see the goal he scored during a two-man disadvantage Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils? The 25-year-old still has potential. He just needs to be in the right role. “He’s probably playing up a box, and that’s not his fault,” Leafs general manager Brian Burke said. “That’s our fault. What he has become for us is an invaluable, indispensable guy – his situational ice time, his penalty killing – but he’s probably playing a box too high, maybe two boxes too high.”
• Maybe Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) really is human. The 40-year-old Detroit defenseman seems like a model of emotionless efficiency, but he said this week: “I still get excited to hit the second season, as we sometimes call it, when the playoffs start, and I still get a little bit nervous. I still get the jitters.” Nervous? The jitters? Still? Lidstrom?
• @cotsonika tweet of the week: “Hawks down, 2-0. Oshie shows up and they don’t?” (T.J. Oshie(notes), who sat out two games for missing practice recently, was the one who put the Blues up by two Wednesday night.)