NHL Playoff Race - What Happened Last Night: Dust Settled
Your Central Division Champion: The St. Louis Blues. Please do not vomit on the concourse.
With some help last night, Nashville could've taken over the division lead. At the very least, Nashville could've pushed the Blues' celebration until Saturday with a win of any kind over Minnesota.
Instead, here we are recapping one of the great division collapses in recent memory.
Preds Lose to Minnesota
How they lost:
The Predators stormed out to a two goal lead, and looked like they were going to pepper Darcy Kuemper all night. Minnesota was resting a good portion of their offense, and played like it for the first period. So when Nashville took that 2-0 lead into the locker room, we didn't immediately remind ourselves of the trouble this team seems to have in the second period.
But, boy were we ever reminded. You shouldn't be upset at the power play goal. Not too shameful to give up against a good team.
But what happened next was inexcusable.
What a play by Scandella there, but this is just like the game in Denver where one goal begets another. It's another shameful lapse of focus.
But still they had a chance to win a period and win a hockey game. That.... that didn't happen.
Credit Mike Yeo for pulling his best Gregg Popavich by resting his starters, and still have the team motivated to play their game and execute. You and I might not like style the Wild play, but they all do their job and win games. And with the exception of one player, they usually do it clean.
Want a hot stat to demonstrate this 5 game slide? Nashville is straight up missing the net. A missed shot is defined as an unblocked shot attempt that just misses the actual net. Over the last 5 games, Nashville has missed the net 70 times compared to their opponent who has only missed the net 42 times.
There are very few reputations that are scarring in the world of sports. The terms "soft" and "choke artist" are not ones you want branded to your name. The reality is that this team let a 9 point lead in the division slip, culminating with blowing a two goal lead at home to a team playing a goaltender that hasn't seen the ice since the NFL playoffs.
That's bad. Just take a moment and smoke an imaginary cigarette while I go a bit deeper.
In 2010, this team had a chance to take a 3-1 series lead against the Blackhawks in the first round. They came out flat, got rolled 3-0, had that epic Game 5 from Hell, then that weird sixth game. Lost three in a row, lost the series, when they had a legit chance at winning it. They weren't favored to win that series, but the chance was there.
In 2011, this team had a chance to best a Vancouver team and brought home a 1-1 series. The overtime in game 3 preceded a rotten game 4 and Nashville was as good as done. Again, they had a legit chance at making it a series. That Vancouver team was mighty good, but Nashville was a tough matchup for them.
In 2012, this team had a chance to pave a way to the Conference Final and the only thing standing in their way was that bizarre Coyotes team. I don't even need to finish this paragraph. Oh, and that team had a great opportunity to win the division as well, but that was gagged away as well.
Here we are in 2015, and this one may really take the cake. The difference is that this team wasn't even supposed to be here. And if you want some real perspective, the 2010-11 Dallas Stars were among the best teams in the league for the first half of the year, had a bad February where they lost 8 of 10 at one point, and missed the playoffs completely. That was the same year Joe Nieuwendyk traded James Neal and Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligoski at the deadline. Brad Richards was in the last year of his deal, and the team elected to go all in. They failed miserably, and those moves set the franchise back for several years. Sound familiar?
The good news is that there are plenty of arenas in the NHL that are nearly declared fire hazards due to the hanging of meaningless banners without hanging the one that matters. This year's team does still have a chance to right all the wrongs seen down the stretch. The man at the helm has done this before, and their first round series might be the hardest series until the Cup Final, if they get that far. This season should still be treated like found money, but it's not over yet.
And now they can play Carter Hutton on Saturday and rest some guys.
Blues Win against Chicago
How they won:
I watched most of this. With the exception of a few tense moments at the end, there was no feeling that Chicago was going to win this. It reminded me of watching some old greyhound at some rural Florida track trying to keep the bunny in sight, but just not having the power to keep up. St. Louis intercepted so many passes cutting across the middle of the ice and without the wondrous Corey Freaking Crawford, it could've been 4-1 or more.
The Blues punched in a second period power play, and Paul Stastny lands the knock out blow.
While the Blues team didn't look incredibly scary, remind yourselves that they have beaten the Blackhawks twice this week without Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Steen, and starting Jake Allen.
Moving forward, Ken Hitchcock has all but said Jake Allen is who he's going with for their playoff run... because it wouldn't be a Blues playoff run without a goaltending controversy.
As for the Blackhawks, it's odd watching this team look this out of sorts. You know they have another gear somewhere, but St. Louis took the fight to them and Chicago didn't respond until the last 10 minutes.
Around the West
The Saddledome was absolutely rocking last night.
The coolest part about this game was the crowd. Calgary fans are wise enough to know this team is a bit flawed, but can still win some games. So in the late moments of the third the place was cheering for clearances, gaining the red line, whatever advanced the clock. And then, the beast was done.
It's too hard to avoid being happy for this team.
Congrats to the Flames and... well, the Jets too. The field in the west is set, but the seeding won't be finalized until Saturday.
It's still a tirefire set by some militia overseas. If Pittsburgh loses tonight to the Islanders, they're in real trouble. Boston needs to win their finale against Tampa Bay and the Penguins need to gag away both remaining games in order to set up their blood feud with the Rangers. Boston can also sneak in if Ottawa loses its last game against the Flyers, since the Bruins own the tiebreaker.
One of the last four Cup champs has already missed the playoffs. One of two others could miss as well. That's a very real possibility. I'm sure NBC is just loving this development.