Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tracking The Race: Perry explosion ousts Iginla's Flames

The playoff races continue to be eye popping, especially in the West. While out East, it's still three teams for two spots with the Canes winning last night over the Red Wings, the West picture got a bit clearer thanks to wins from the Kings, Blackhawks and Ducks last night. LA's 3-2 shootout win over Phoenix clinched a playoff berth- vaulting them to fourth over the Predators with 98 points. The Coyotes need one point or any loss from the Stars or those behind them to wrap up a second straight postseason.

In the game of the night, the Hawks posted a wild 4-3 overtime win over old Norris rival St. Louis, increasing their chances of defending the Cup. Chris Stewart forced OT by powering past Duncan Keith and rifling one upstairs on Calder candidate Corey Crawford. In danger a second consecutive night of losing out on a valuable point, Crawford delivered a couple of money stops and captain Jonathan Toews beat Ty Conklin on a breakaway, lifting his team to the huge triumph. Toews' 32nd goal gave Chicago 95 points, who need just two more to qualify.

The Flames knew they needed help from San Jose even if they won. In the Battle Of Alberta, Calgary took care of business on the strength of captain Jarome Iginla's hat trick in a 6-1 rout of Edmonton. He once again scored 40 in a season, doing so for the fourth time in a brilliant career that's also included a 50 goal campaign in '07-08. Down the stretch the classy superstar was brilliant, putting up 14 points (9-5-14) over the last six games, featuring his second hat trick of the season. Since March 1, Iginla's scored a ridiculous 17 goals along with 10 assists, totaling 27 points- erasing doubts that the 33 year-old was on the downside. It's a shame that we won't get to see one of the game's brightest stars in the playoffs. If only they'd brought in Jay Feaster earlier to replace Daryl Sutter. During the run, Iginla's moved up to third in goals behind Rocket Richard leader Corey Perry (50) and Steven Stamkos (44) while tying Alex Ovechkin for sixth in scoring with 85 points (42-43-85). If not for a torrid pace from Perry, who now is front and center in the Hart discussion with The Sedins, Martin St. Louis, Tim Thomas, Carey Price and Pekka Rinne, Iginla would probably be at the top of the list for rescuing his team. Instead, he won't be part of the playoffs.

Meanwhile at The Pond Honda Center, the Sharks were no match for Perry, who continued his scoring assault by notching his third hat trick of '10-11 along with a helper in a 6-2 demolishing of their close California rival. So spectacular were the first two goals that they'll be replayed for quite a while with one an amazing forehand, triple deke to the backhand, roof job on a helpless Antero Niittymaki, who made his first start in 35 games, finally giving Finnish countryman Antti Niemi a night off. The poor ex-Flyer had no chance.

Fifty is a huge number,” beamed Perry after increasing the NHL's streak of 50 goal scorers to six post-lockout.  “Everybody talks about it, (but) not a whole lot of people get to do it and be in that category. It hasn’t really sunk in.”

It’s a tip to all of us when he can get 50, but it still takes a special player to get there,” proud linemate Ryan Getzlaf praised of Perry's work that's seen him rip up NHL goalies for 19 goals over the last 14 games. “He’s one of those guys who rise to the occasion. He plays playoff hockey any time you need him. He has proven time and time again he can play in those big games and have results.”
Perry's recent dominance that features a current 10-game point streak (14-8-22) has elevated the Duck to second in scoring with his 97 points (50-47-97) only trailing Daniel Sedin (41-59-100)
Ironically, the tear has him a point (28-27) better than Iginla since March. Going a step further, Perry is 25-20-45 since the All-Star break. No wonder he's at the top of many MVP lists. The Ducks aren't in yet with Dallas holding an extra game that includes a pivotal home-and-home versus the Avalanche tonight and tomorrow. With a home-and-home against the rival Kings tomorrow and Saturday, the Ducks can punch their playoff ticket by winning. They sit seventh in the West due to more regulation/OT wins than the Hawks, who also have two remaining in a home-and-home traditional theme versus chief rival Detroit Friday and Sunday. If Dallas wins its final three including a visit to Minnesota on the final day of the season, that would put them at 97 points. However, they'd come up short if tied due to the new tiebreaker. So, the Stars still need help. Quite fascinating stuff.

The East race is well documented with the Sabres (92 Pts), Rangers (91) and Hurricanes (89) all battling for the final two spots. For Buffalo, one point will ensure them a second straight postseason. They face the Flyers at home tomorrow and travel to Columbus Saturday. The Rangers need three points. A win tonight versus Atlanta would put them in good shape, forcing the Canes to stave off elimination tomorrow against those same Thrashers in Georgia. They could need to beat the Hudson rival Devils Saturday to wrap up the playoffs for a fifth time in six years. Meanwhile, Carolina will watch the action later and then battle Atlanta and finish with Tampa at home Saturday.

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