12:30 AM- Tony Amonte took a stick from an Oiler and Phaneuf is letting Thoresen know about it with 1:15 left. That's what we like most about the second-year future Norris winner. If not for another ridiculous season from the Sakic of defensemen Lidstrom in Motown, Phaneuf would take the trophy in our book. He's got it all. The Flames could drop their third straight headed into that Colorado game tomorrow. Just imagine if the Avs had prevailed. Wow. Did they catch a break.
It was funny hearing the CBC broadcasters discuss how Thoresen's goal meant that Edmonton wouldn't be in the lottery. Funny considering how many games they dropped after the Smyth deal. It didn't exactly go their way most of this season. But with one more clear, they will come out on top as boos rain down from annoyed Flames fans. The Oilers showed a lot of pride tonight. Maybe next year!
And that concludes our all day coverage. We hope you enjoyed it and look forward to today's Devils vs Isles showdown which decides the Leafs' fate in East Rutherford.
We're ready for the playoffs! Are you?!?!?!?!?!
12:27 AM- With our initial synopsis of six playoff match-ups done, we update the Battle of Alberta with the Oilers ahead on a Patrick Thoresen goal off a rush. The Flames have been very sloppy in their coverage tonight with tons of defensive breakdowns. You want to know why Kipper's numbers are down? Look no further than the more wide open style they're playing under Jim Playfair. Kiprusoff has been really good in this one too. Otherwise, the Oilers would have even more than the three unanswered they got as this one winds down.
11:47 PM- With the final game between periods, we figured we'd analyze some of the match-ups thus far that are set. And most are So let's give a quick synopsis with who we initially like:
East- (2) Devils vs (7) Lightning- Brodeur gives the Devs an advantage in net. Gionta's health could be a question going in. Lecavalier and St. Louis are hot and Ward is too. For the Devs, Parise, Zajac and Jim Dowd are playing well as is Sergei Brylin. Despite the edge in net, something tells me the Bolts can win this series. We'll know more in a couple of days.
(3) Thrashers vs (6) Rangers- It's going to be a 2nd year goalie battle between Lundqvist and Lehtonen. That will most likely decide who wins. Keith Tkachuck has added a lot and played well for Hotlanta. Hossa, Kozlov and Kovalchuk are always dangerous. Nylander and Jagr are on fire entering. Thomas Pock has really improved on the blueline. One key match-up could pit ex-Ranger Bobby Holik against Matt Cullen (his replacement). You also know Sean Avery is going to mix it up with Mellanby, KT and Andy Sutton. This has the potential to be a wild entertaining series. But Atlanta has more scoring and physicality which might not bode well for the Rangers. We'll see.
(4) Senators vs (5) Penguins- Quick. Which power play is more lethal? Be careful before you answer. Superstar series. Crosby, Malkin and Staal on one side. Spezza, Alfredsson and Heatley on the other. Two young netminders in Fleury vs Emery. Ottawa's active backline featuring Redden, Mezsaros and underrated Tom Preissing. The Pens' lethal 1-2 punch of Gonchar and rising star Ryan Whitney. The grit of Roberts plus underrated Michel Ouellet and Erik Christensen. The underappreciated Mike Fisher and pest in Neil. This is a very tough series to call. Something just tells me Sid the Kid won't be denied.
West- (1) Wings vs (8) Flames- As Datsyuk and Zetterberg go, so do the Wings. Problem is they haven't been big playoff performers. How will they fair against potent tandem Phaneuf and Regehr? A battle between two Vezina winners in Hasek and Kipper. Lidstrom tries to get it done for Detroit. And Bertuzzi will be vital for the Wings. But Iginla has much better support this year with Huselius, Langkow and Conroy. Wayne Primeau has played well. Kris Draper is always a factor for Detroit. You'd think the home ice would be enough but it doesn't mean anything. Just ask the Wings three years ago. And these Flames get dirty and will score more. I like them to do it again.
(2) Ducks vs (7) Wild- A rematch of the '03 WCF which Anaheim swept. But that was then. This is now. If you don't know who Nik Backstrom is, shame on you. You'll know in this series. That's how well he's played since Fernandez went down for Minny. Marian Gaborik is a superstar. When healthy, he's one of the most dangerous forwards in the game. The Ducks could find that out in this series. The Wild also have Rolston and gritty forwards Mark Parrish and P.M. Bouchard. Mikko Koivu is no longer just younger brother of Saku. Dom Moore is a key cog as well. So can they win? Sure. But how do they match the firepower that the Ducks get from the blueline in Norris winners Niedermayer and Pronger? McDonald and Selanne are clicking. Dustin Penner finished the season with 29 goals and he won't be up for the Calder. Did we mention he was also undrafted? Ryan Getzlaf is a horse. Corey Perry supremely skilled. They have a nice mix. But it hinges on Giguere. If he holds up, the sky's the limit. This is a potentially dangerous series for the Ducks but one they should have enough to prevail in.
(3) Canucks vs (6) Stars- If you've watched these two teams do battle this season, then you're in for a treat. They are eerily similar. Both defensive minded. Both physical and both tactical/fundamentally sound. Roberto Luongo is finally in the playoffs and he can send a thank you postcard to now TSN analyst Mike Keenan for one of the worst trades ever made. So how will the Vezina hopeful hold up? He played an awful lot this year. Is he fatigued? He sure didn't seem it against the Avs the other night. For his counterpart Turco, can he finally deliver in the next season? He's the A-Rod of NHL goalies. Not that it was all his fault but he hasn't played well. Time is ticking. The Sedins are a delicious duo who are so crafty with the puck they fake out even the audience. Naslund is scoring some again. Taylor Pyatt has been a factor. We always said if he got the ice-time, he'd become a good player. What's Kevin Bieksa's status after today? Salo, Sopel and Ohlund supply balance on the blueline for the Nucks. Dallas doesn't score a lot either. They rely heavily on blueline tandem Zubov and Boucher. Will that work? Can Norstrom make a difference? Modano is healthy and Lehtinen is scoring goals. Both need big showings. But captain Brenden Morrow is the glue of this team. Jokinen can do more than finish shootouts. Does Lindros have anything left? What about Jeff Halpern? The Nucks boast an underrated player in Matt Cooke and popular vet Trevor Linden is still playing well. This is a tough series to call but something tells me Luongo and the Sedins get it done for Vancouver.
(4) Preds vs (5) Sharks- Nashville has been sort of up and down since the Forsberg trade. There's also a question in net between Vokoun and Mason. Yes, they have a lot of skill as evidenced by their comeback which KO'd the Avs. Kariya steps up. Radulov is very talented. Legwand is a complete player. What's Sullivan's status? The Sharks are coming in playing well. Joe Thornton is again on fire and Cheechoo is scoring every game again. Michalek has gotten his touch back and Bernier is back up and playing better. But how is Marleau? And will Guerin add the dimension they need? They also have the same goalie question with the tandem of Nabokov and Toskala. Both bluelines are solid. This shouldn't be a first round match-up. But it speaks to how highly competitive this conference is. Initially, we like the Sharks to break some more hearts in Music City. Just gut feel.
11:44 PM- Showing what this Alberta battle means, Ladislav Smid beats Kipper in the final minute to knot it up at two. It might not mean as much now but Edmonton is playing hard even if they can't spoil their bitter rivals night.
11:33 PM- Ales Hemsky wires one top shelf past Kiprusoff to get the Oilers on the board via the man-advantage. It's been a rough year for the 2006 runner-ups. Unloading the heart and soul of the franchise in Ryan Smyth on Mark Messier night no less and now Smyth might help the Isles miraculously get in. You can count on one hand how many wins Edmonton has since that deadline deal. Hemsky missed significant time after signing a big deal. Key acquisition Joffrey Lupul in the Pronger deal has flopped in his first year after showing much promise with the Ducks. You really wonder what happens with the future of this proud franchise. Their fans are remarkable and deserve to see a winner. They better hope Robert Nilsson and Ryan O'Marra turn into players. They also pray Smyth doesn't wind up with their Alberta archrival or in Vancouver. Talk about worst case scenario.
11:29 PM- As they returned to action at The Saddledome, the Avs score was announced to loud cheers. The Flames were leading the Oilers by two anyway halfway through. I did guarantee that if Calgary made it, they'd knock out whoever they got in Round 1. I'm sticking to that prediction. In other words, new contract or not for Datsyuk, the Red Wings will be out in six. And if I'm wrong, let me know about it! ;)
11:21 PM- They're in the final minute in Denver and the Avs nearly tie it on a backhand from Arnason. The ref blows it dead with 48.6 left and Budaj on the bench. Here's the ending:
Hejduk centers it but nothing doing. The Avs nearly get a setup for Sakic in front but Shea Weber breaks it up and Dumont fights off an Av to score the empty netter and seal Colorado's fate. You have to give them a ton of credit. Joel Queeneville's club never gave up. Maybe it wasn't meant to be. But considering where they were, they gave it a great run. In Alberta, they're breathing easy as is the rest of Canada. Now everyone keeps an eye on tomorrow's Isles-Devs game to see if another Canadian team makes the cut for a date with the President's Trophy winning Sabres. Well deserved btw.
11:18 PM- Steve says the Leafs and Habs don't deserve it and maybe he's right. Maybe it's fitting one team is home and one needs the Devils to prevail against a hungry Islander team without its No.1 goalie tomorrow. We'll see. Meanwhile, time is running out on the Avs. 1:20 left down a goal. Fans want a penalty for Delay of Game but the refs rule it's tipped. If the Avs miss, it will be the first time since they relocated to Colorado that's happened. The last time the Nords/Avs franchise missed was 1993-94.
11:11 PM- Just updating this. The Avs are less than 8 minutes away from elimination. The Preds get the tying goal from Legwand and the go-ahead from Kariya. Listening to these Avs announcers whine is kind of sad. But you have to tip your cap to the team. They've played their asses off for so long. Maybe this is the final straw.
11 PM- I just want to give a lot of credit to Steve for doing an outstanding job with this live blogging feature idea. I'm sorry I couldn't help out more before. It was a tough day.
In any event, we're on now and here to provide some updates of what's left. There are two games going on that have significance. One is in Alberta. At the end of one, they're scoreless between Edmonton and Calgary.
Right now, in the other game, the playoff desperate Avs continue to lead the Preds 2-1 on a second period Andrew Brunette tally. Talk about guys who are underrated. Of course, it certainly helps who he's with. Joe Sakic could probably turn Brad "Stonehands" Isbister into a 20-goal guy.
Some random thoughts on what took place before:
-The GAME up north was as good as advertised. They left everything on the ice. You have to give a lot of credit to Paul Maurice for having the guts to pull Raycroft for Aubin. It was a risky move which paid off. Especially at 4-3 down. The Leafs showed what they were made of with their backs to the wall. But definitely a key was Souray going down in the third and not returning for Les Habitants.
-The Rangers didn't play well in Pitt. But apparently were stronger in the third getting their only goal in the 2-1 defeat to the Pens. Tom Renney's club will need to be sharper against their first round opponent Atlanta on either Wednesday or Thurday.
-The end of that Bolts-Thrashers game was exciting as well. Johan Holmqvist gave Tampa every chance to steal a win and the sixth spot to setup an all Southeast battle against the same team. But the shootout was unpredictable. Especially with Kovalchuk actually tallying to force another round as Ranger and Devil fans were probably glued to the set thinking there would be a first round rematch. And how ironic would it have been if ex-Blueshirt Jason Ward had decided the fate by beating Kari Lehtonen. Ward btw has played extremely well for the Lightning on a line with Perrin and Richards. He's playing major minutes and could be a factor against the Devils in that first round series.
-What can you say about Joe Sakic that hasn't been said? The franchise Nordique/Avalanche player is as classy a captain as there is. In what was supposed to be a retooling year for the Avs, there is the model of consistency leading his club to the bitter end. They might fall short but nothing can be said negative about this man. With two assists tonight, that's 97 points for the season. We're talking about a guy who's 37 going on 38. He's just amazing.
-You just have to wonder if the two match-ups the Devils and Rangers got are the best ones against the two Southeast first round opponents. Tampa has played the Devs tough all year. Holmqvist has played well against them as has Martin St. Louis and Richard winner Vincent Lecavalier. Meanwhile, the Thrashers have been a thorn in the side of the Blueshirts as well. They won the last three match-ups including the final one on an Alexei Zhitnik bomb in OT. Kari Lehtonen also seems to play very well in net and Marian Hossa always kills them. These are definitely going to be interesting series which you figure will go at least six.