Posted on: March 28, 2011 4:00 pm
Edited on: March 28, 2011 4:05 pm

Playoff Watch: Crucial points at stake for 'Hawks

WHO CAN CLINCH: The idle Vancouver Canucks can win the Western Conference if the Detroit Red Wings lose Monday in regulation to the Chicago Blackhawks.

ALREADY IN: Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington. 

GAME OF THE NIGHT: Chicago Blackhawks (40-26-8) at Detroit Red Wings (44-22-9), 7:30 p.m. ET (Versus)

The Blackhawks can't drop out of the top-8 in the West, although a loss could make the defending champ's shot at the playoffs a little more trying. Calgary is a point back and the Dallas is two points behind the the 'Hawks to start the night. 

Chicago coach Joel Quennville has toyed with shuffling the lines since his team's 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday. The Red Wings have been forced into making a change of their own. Joey MacDonald will start in net in place of Jimmy Howard, who is day to day with an injured shoulder. 

"The one thing you want to do is get a lot of shots and a lot of traffic," Quenneville told ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers. "We want to make sure he has a hard time fighting through the traffic." 

Chicago has won two of these teams' first three meetings. 

ALTERNATIVE VIEWING:  Colorado Avalanche (28-38-8) at Anaheim Ducks (42-28-5), 10 p.m. ET

This is the only other game of the night, but it could still play a role on how the West plays out. Like the 'Hawks, the Ducks aren't in danger of falling out of the top-8 tonight. But the Ducks could fall a spot with a loss combined with a Blackhawks win. 

The Ducks enter 3-0 against the Avs. 

GOLF WATCH: No new teams will be eliminated today. Ottawa, Florida, New York Islanders, Colorado and Edmonton have already mathematically out of it. 
Posted on: March 28, 2011 2:51 pm
Edited on: March 29, 2011 3:24 pm

Exclusive Q&A: Sharks GM Doug Wilson

San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson performs his daily duties just as he did during his 16-season NHL career. He doesn’t wear a helmet. Just like those days on the blue line with the Chicago Blackhawks and Sharks, that’s not always a good thing. The Sharks had been the trendy pick the last few seasons to win the Stanley Cup, although the franchise has been hammered for their shortcomings come playoff time. The Sharks, who went to the Western Conference finals for the second time in franchise history a season ago, are surging of late and begin the week atop of the Pacific Division by four points over the Phoenix Coyotes. Wilson spoke with’s A.J. Perez about visors, possibly the toughest division in hockey and the headshot rule that led to the suspension of two of his star players. 

Q: The Dallas Stars (currently two points out of eighth place) are the only Pacific Division team without a playoff spot. Do you think the Pacific -- which has a shot to become the first division to get all of its teams into the postseason -- is the toughest in hockey?

Wilson: “Points are tough to get, for sure. There are no easy games in the division or the Western Conference. That includes Edmonton, which has a lot of good young players. The Pacific is arguably the most competitive in the league. We knew that coming into the year that it would be difficult and it’d be hard to win as many games as we wanted to.”

Q: With so many teams having a shot at the playoffs this late in the season, how much is that a nod to the salary cap?

Wilson: “We knew the environment we live and operate in. We’re competing at a high level of hockey. There are a lot of really good teams and each is trying to get better. It’s more competitive now than just a few years ago. I think everybody has elevated their level of play. There’s parity. You can’t look at the game schedule and assume anything. It’s quite a change and it’s been great for the fans.

“There are so many one-goal games. There is just so much talent in this league and with the rules, I think it’s pretty exciting hockey. The game is really never over. There are so many great young players that I think we sometimes forget how this good of a game this is. The (salary cap) gets dissected, but the game also hasn’t had this many talented players.”

Q: Last offseason, the league made regulation and overtime wins the first tiebreaker. (Under the old system, shootout wins were counted.) The move lessened the importance of shootout victories, although that extra point is still meaningful this time of the season. Do you like the change?

Wilson: “That’s what we all agreed upon. I would like to see more and more games decided in overtime. I think that’s something we’d all like to see. A tiebreaker for shootout wins is just not exciting for fans. This is the stretch run. I think in many cases the extra shootout point will still determine if a team makes the playoffs.”

Q: Two of your top forwards, Joe Thornton (Nov. 5) and Dany Heatley (March 16), were each suspended two games this season for blindside hits to the head of an opponent. Do you think the league’s players get the dangers of such collisions and has Rule 48 helped?

“The majority of players got it fairly quickly. What we’re trying to do is make the game as safe as possible. This is a fast game with big players and injuries are going to take place. We just have to find a balance. We aren’t going to eliminate all injuries or take away hitting, which is a big part of the game. A few players crossed the line and that had to be addressed.”

Q: You were grandfathered into the league’s helmet requirement since you were already in the league when the rule came into being in 1979. Would you wear one now even if you weren’t required?

Wilson: “I would and it would be one with a shield, too. The speed of the game has changed and everybody can shoot the puck. Player safety is concern for all of us. We want the players to play as hard as they can. At the same time, it’s tough to see the injuries like the one to (Vancouver Canucks center) Manny Malhotra. We recommend and encourage our players to wear shields. I wish they all would. All parties involved should be looking out for the players’ best interests.” 

Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: March 28, 2011 2:46 am

Morning Skate: Chicago makes push minus depth

At some point, the personnel departures had to catch up with the Chicago Blackhawks

Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Antti Niemi , John Madden, Brent Sopel and Dustin Byfuglien were either dealt or let go after the ‘Hawks won the Stanley Cup last season, mostly for salary cap reasons. Still, Chicago rallied midseason and were all the way up to fourth place in the Western Conference as recently as March 14.

The Blackhawks have played .500 hockey in the four games since -- including a 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday -- and enter tonight’s game against the Detroit Red Wings in the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. 

The slip coincides with recent injuries to Patrick Sharp (knee) and Dave Bolland (concussion). 

Line Changes
  • Eye on Hockey: Vancouver's Hamhuis concussed
  • Pens extend shootout win streak
  • Detroit's Howard day-to-day
  • playoff tracker

  • Minus the depth of a season ago, the Blackhawks could very well join the 2007 Carolina Hurricanes as the only teams in the last 72 years to miss the playoffs a season after hoisting the Stanley Cup. 

    The Blackhawks, however, are hardly focusing on who they don’t have in the lineup and are looking toward what they have to do to make it into the postseason, Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune reports
    “Maybe we go .500 and maybe that's not good enough," winger Patrick Kane said. "That puts us at 96 and we don't get in. Hopefully, we'll be better than .500."

    So somewhere between four and eight victories would appear to get the Hawks a postseason berth. They have three games remaining against the Wings, and one each against the Bruins, Blue Jackets, Lightning, Canadiens and Blues.

    "It would be nice to win a lot of them," Kane said. "You don't want to put a number on it because you don't want to set any expectations for yourself that are too low. We have to worry about Detroit right now and try to get two points there. It's a tough schedule remaining. You can't look past anyone." 

    The Blackhawks have 88 points, a point ahead of the Calgary Flames and two points up on the Dallas Stars.  Chicago has the second-toughest strength of schedule (.597) -- calculated by points percentage of future opponents --  for the remainder of the season, according to the NHL. 

    Chicago coach Joel Quennville appears to be shuffling around the players he has at his disposal, Jess Rogers of ESPN Chicago reports

    Kane and Jonathan Toews were put with Troy Brouwer at practice on Sunday. Marcus Kruger centered a line with Bryan Bicklel and Marian Hossa. Michael Frolik centered the third line with Jack Dowell and Thomas Kopecky at the wings. Viktor Stalberg, who had been playing with the first line in place of Sharp, moved to the fourth line with Ryan Johnson and Fernando Pisani

    The changes come a day after the forward Corey Perry – part of the Ducks’ top line -- scored twice with Blackhawks’ No. 1 line on the ice. 

    The ‘Hawks could get Sharp, injured March 20 against the Phoenix Coyotes, fairly soon. Quennville said this weekend that Sharp was making “rapid progress.” But the same can’t said for Bolland, who took a hit to the head March 9 that led to a two-game suspension for Tampa’s Pavel Kubina, is apparently still suffering concussion-like symptoms and Quennville said there was no change in his status. 

    Pittsburgh 2, Florida 1 (SO)
    Atlanta 5, Ottawa 4 (SO)
    Vancouver 4, Columbus 1
    Boston 2, Philadelphia 1

    -- A.J. Perez   

    Posted on: March 28, 2011 2:08 am
    Edited on: March 28, 2011 2:13 am

    Vancouver's Hamhuis suffers another concussion

    Vancouver Canucks Dan Hamhuis suffered his second concussion in less than two months Sunday, leaving the defenseman’s status for the postseason in doubt. 

    Hamhuis and defensive partner Kevin Bieksa converged on Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash as he drove toward the net in the first period. All three players went down in the collision, but Hamhuis' head struck the ice hard. He remained on the ice for a few seconds and went directly to the locker room with the assistance of the team's trainer. 

    Vancouver went on to beat the Blue Jackets, 4-1, for their 50th win on the season to inch closer to the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy, not that it seemed to be a priority for players after the game. 

    "Obviously, that sucks and doesn't feel good," said Bieksa told The Province. "Let's hope it's not serious and he's back soon. And let's not read into that (retirement threat_ too much. Guys are emotional after a concussion. Give him some time and see how he feels."

    This is his fourth concussion of his career. After his third suffered on Feb. 9, the 28-year-old said another would make him reassess things, The Province reported at the time: 

    "If there is more (concussions) to come, I think you have to take a look at what is important," Hamhuis, the father of two, said after suffering a concussion last month when his head struck the glass on a heavy check by Ryan Getzlaf. "If I ever felt like it's like putting myself at risk long term, then I'll have to step back and think about things.”

    Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault already lost center Manny Mahotra for the season with a an eye injury and forward Mikael Samuelsson has now missed three consecutive games with an undisclosed injury. 

    “He’s been one of our best defensemen of the year with his steady play both offensively and defensively,” Vigneault told the Vancouver Sun. “It’s part of the game. It’s not our first injury and we’re going to play through it.”

    -- A.J. Perez
    Posted on: March 27, 2011 4:18 pm

    Playoff Watch: Two division leaders meet

    WHO CAN CLINCH: The Boston Bruins will secure a spot if they defeat the Philadelphia Flyers. It would be the Bruins' fourth consecutive playoff appearance. 

    ALREADY IN: Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington. 

    GAME OF THE NIGHT: Boston Bruins (41-23-10) at Philadelphia Flyers(45-19-10), 7 p.m. ET

    Powered by James van Riemsdyk's first career hat trick, the the Atlantic Division-leadding Flyers eliminated the New York Islanders with a 4-1 victory on Saturday. The win halted a two-game slide for Philly. The Flyers' once-sizable lead in the East is down two points over the Washington Capitals, but they do have a couple games in hand entering tonight. 

    The Bruins, the top team in the Northeast, are coming off a 1-0 loss on Saturday where they were stymied by New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Veteran forwad Mark Recchi remains a point away from tying Paul Coffey for 12th on the NHL career points list (1,531). 

    Boston has won two of the first three meetings between these two clubs and this will be their last meeting this season. 

    GOLF WATCH: No new teams will be eliminated today. Ottawa, Florida, New York Islanders, Colorado and Edmonton have already mathematically out of it. 

    -- A.J. Perez
    Posted on: March 26, 2011 5:56 pm
    Edited on: March 26, 2011 8:21 pm

    Kings' Anze Kopitar breaks ankle in win

    The Los Angeles Kings are now without their two top scorers for several weeks.

    Center Anze Kopitar broke his ankle during the Kings' 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday. Kopitar got his skate caught on the ice as he battled along the boards with Avs defenseman Ryan O'Byrne. (A replay of the injury is below.)  As he lost his balance, Kopitar's lower leg twisted awkwardly and he was unable to get up on his own. 

    King coach Terry Murray told reporters that Kopitar would be out at least six weeks. 

    "He's our best player. We’ve got to find a way either way," Kings captain Dustin Brown told Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times. "Injuries happen during the year. You don’t want to have your best player go down, but if that’s the case, we’ve got to shoulder the responsibility collectively and find a way because no other team is going to feel sorry for us.

    "It’s an opportunity for someone else to step up. It’s going to be tough to match Kopi’s play both defensively and offensively, and we’ve got to find a way. The staple of our game is defense, and he’s a big part of that when he’s on the ice. Ultimately it’s a five-man, six-man game for us."

    Kopitar was assisted off the ice and went straight to the dressing room after the injury. He's scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday. He shares the team lead in goals with Brown (25) and leads in assists (48).

    Justin Williams, second on the team in scoring, separated his shoulder in a game against the Calgary Flames on Sunday, an injury that could mean the end of his season

    -- A.J. Perez

    Photo: Getty Images
    Posted on: March 26, 2011 2:52 pm
    Edited on: March 26, 2011 5:25 pm

    Playoff Watch: Carolina, Tampa get quick rematch

    WHO CAN CLINCH: The Pittsburgh Penguins (idle Saturday) are in if the Carolina Hurricanes lose in any fashion. The Boston Bruins could have clinched with some help today, but fell to the New York Rangers, 1-0.

    ALREADY IN: Vancouver, Philadelphia and Washington. 

    GAME OF THE NIGHT: Tampa Bay Lightning (39-24-11) at Carolina Hurricanes (35-29-10), 7 p.m. ET

    The first half of this home-and-home went well for the ‘Canes, who remained three points behind the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres. Erik Cole scored twice to lead Carolina past host Tampa Bay, 4-3, on Friday. The teams have split the first four meetings this season, although the two Southeast Division clubs have been going in opposite directions as of late. 

    The ‘Canes enter on a three-game winning streak, while the Lightning have dropped four in a row with only two victories over the last 10 games. (Tampa did get points in four of those games with OT/shootout losses.) Tampa has allowed three goals on the penalty kill over the last two games, but they’ve also scored that many on the power play with two coming off the stick of Simon Gagne on Friday. 

    ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Anaheim Ducks (41-28-5) at Chicago Blackhawks (40-25-8), 8:30 p.m. ET

    With the Western Conference standings as bunched up as they are, this Blackhawks (seventh place) and the Ducks (eighth) game should have another playoff game vibe to it. When Patrick Kane scores, like he did in Wednesday’s victory over the Florida Panthers, things usually bode well for the ‘Hawks, who are 15-1-2 when the forward lights the lamp. It’ll be interesting to see which goalie -- Jonas Hiller, Dan Ellis or Ray Emery -- Ducks coach Randy Carlyle will go with tonight. Hiller was shaky in his return from more than a month off due to vertigo and Ellis and Emery had been solid in net in recent weeks. 

    GOLF WATCH: The New York Islanders need to win and have the Buffalo Sabres lose in regulation to remain in it. Florida, Ottawa, Edmonton, and Colorado are already mathematically eliminated. 

    --- A.J. Perez
    Posted on: March 25, 2011 4:04 pm
    Edited on: March 25, 2011 4:07 pm

    Playoff Watch: Pens can clinch against Devils

    WHO CAN CLINCH: The Pittsburgh Penguins can clinch a spot with a victory over the New Jersey Devils combined with a Carolina Hurricanes loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Pens could also clinch if they get a point and the 'Canes lose in regulation. 

    ALREADY IN: Vancouver, Philadelphia and Washington. 

    GAME OF THE NIGHT: New Jersey Devils (34-35-4) at Pittsburgh Penguins (43-23-8), 7 p.m. ET

    The Pens can clinch a playoff spot a couple different ways (see above), but the Devils are just trying to hang on. The Devils have nine games renaming, all but two against teams currently in the top-8 in the Eastern Conference. Only the Atlanta Thrashers have a tougher schedule for teams entering play Friday 12th place or better in the East. 

    The Devils, who start the night nine points behind eighth-place Buffalo, are looking to avoid what would be their first two-game skid since Jan. 8.  New Jersey will get a boost as soon as Wednesday when Zach Parise could return. He's been out since Oct. 30 with a torn meniscus and began skating with the team this week. The Pens may get back center Sidney Crosby in the not-so-distant future as well. He skated again on Friday, but did not talk to reporters. GM Ray Shero told that the team still has “no expectations, no timetable” for Crosby's return. 

    ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Carolina Hurricanes (34-29-10) at Tampa Bay Lightning (39-23-11), 7:30 p.m. ET
    These two Southeast Division teams will become familiar with each other down the stretch. They will face each three times over the final nine games, contests that are little more vital for the 'Canes. Carolina in ninth place, tied points-wise with Toronto, and three points behind Buffalo. 

    GOLF WATCH: The Ottawa Senators will need a victory plus a regulation loss by Buffalo to remain in it mathematically. The Florida Panthers will get the boot if they don't beat the Sabres in regulation. Colorado and Edmonton have already been eliminated. 
    -- A.J. Perez
    The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or