The Islanders still have three games left and will host Toronto at the Coliseum Thursday night in a huge game for both clubs. In order for the Isles to stay alive, they'll need to win that and root for a Rangers' regulation victory over the red hot Canadiens. The Habs held up the easiest guarantee I've ever made by shutting out the hapless Bruins 2-0. They got another quality performance from their young goalie Jaroslav Halak. If they get in, it will be because of this 21 year-old rookie who came out of nowhere to spark them. Remarkably, the Habs selected him in the ninth round four years ago. Now, he could become a hero up north almost on par with what Patrick Roy did 21 years ago. Go figure.
With Tampa coming back from two goals down to eliminate Carolina, the Hurricanes became the first defending champion to not qualify for the postseason since the 1996-96 Devils. Injuries to some key players and a fragile D proved to be too much for Peter Laviolette's club to overcome. It says here that they'll live to regret trading former 2005 third overall selection Jack Johnson. Jim Rutherford sacrificed not just the next couple of years but the future. The return on what he got back:
Defenseman Tim Gleason managed just six points (2-4-6) in 57 games with a minus-10 rating. He was a healthy scratch last night. Depth center Eric Belanger meanwhile added only eight goals and 12 assists in 56 contests before being dealt away to Atlanta for Jaroslav Vasicek (2-7-9 in 23 GP). A similar grinding forward.
You do have to wonder one thing. If there were similarities between the '96 Devils and this team. Both got out of the gate slowly and were inconsistent during their defenses. The only difference we see is that that New Jersey team played well down the stretch to give themselves a shot. However, they somehow managed to lose on ther own home ice with it all on the line to Ottawa. So you can't say they didn't choke. The Canes went from playing very well a couple of weeks ago to fading out with some really brutal losses- basically collapsing.
So what else hurt these teams? The Devils missed Conn Smythe winner Claude Lemieux. Steve Thomas didn't make fans forget that feisty SOB. The Canes missed Matt Cullen and Aaron Ward a heck of a lot more than they believed. Cullen has added a lot to the Rangers. While the stats might not bare it out, he's worked his butt off and supplied plenty of character and grit to the Blueshirts. If they do get in, he's a reason why.
Maybe losing the vet along with the fiery Ward hurt the Canes. I'll tell you one thing. Ward might not have worked out here but he sure would've helped the depleted Carolina blueline with starter Frantisek Kaberle out a majority of the season. Ward is physical and gets in the path of shots sacrificing his body. I find it hard to believe Carolina would've missed had they had these two on their team. Either would've made a difference.
With runner-up Edmonton tanking after the Ryan Smyth trade, it's the first time in NHL history that both previous Cup combatants won't see the postseason. Amazing, huh? Some friendly advice to puck fans who are having a good laugh at their expense. Get used to it. This could become more of a trend in the 'New NHL.' Think we're joking? In this cap influenced era, the teams who get that far will get burned and pay the price. Buffalo will most likely lose both Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency this summer because they had to give most of their younger core raises. And if they take the Cup in June, the price will be through the roof. It's pick your poison for GMs. This is what Gary Bettman wanted. Just remember that when your team is warming up their golf swings two months earlier than expected. It could happen!
As for the updated Eastern playoff race, here it is:
+*1.Sabres 109 3 GR (all meaningless except for Afinogenov and Connolly's expected returns)
*2.Devils 104 2 GR- Fri @ Phi, Sun vs NYI (1 point clinches Atlantic 2nd seed and home ice)
*3.Atlanta 93 3 GR- Wed vs Wsh, Fri @ Car, Sat vs TB (4 pts clinch 1st ever division)
*4.Senators 103 2 GR- Thu vs Pit, Sat @ Bos (home ice in probable 1st rd vs Pens is on line)
*5.Penguins 101 2 GR- Thu @ Ott, Sat vs NYR (need 2 wins and 2 NJ reg. losses for division)
6.Lightning 92 2 GR- Fri vs Fla, Sat @ Atl (can still move up to 3; certainly dangerous team)
7.Rangers 92 2 GR- Thu vs Mtl, Sat @ Pit (1 pt gets'em in; better not leave it for Saturday)
8.Canadiens 90 2 GR- Thu @ NYR, Sat @ Tor (it's going to come down to that HNIC game)
9.Toronto 89 2 GR- Thu @ NYI, Sat vs Mtl (2 regulation wins and they'll make it)
10.Islanders 86 3 GR- Thu vs Tor, Sat@ Phi, Sun @ NJ (3 wins and anything can happen)
Two thoughts on why the Rangers lost with a chance to clinch, basically making it a lot harder now for themselves even with the brownie point they got:
1.Renney's move backfired. Hollweg was minus-2 and played just over six minutes. Why he didn't play Prucha is beyond this writer. He better be back Thursday!
2.You cling on for dear life at the end of regulation and kill two Isles' power plays. Then you get a soft call (even if it was interference) with less than a minute left. Where were the shots? Where was the desperation? They chanced it and paid the price. Dubielewicz was awesome.
Which brings me to a question for our Islanders writer Rob. If Mike Dunham (Doneham) wasn't best friends with GM (general moron) Garth Snow, is he even on an NHL roster? I bet Dubi was better and could've gotten the Isles a few more points. Snow is an idiot!