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Posted on: March 20, 2011 2:36 pm
 

Playoff Watch: Eighth-place teams faceoff

WHO CAN CLINCH: No new teams can secure a playoff berth today. 

ALREADY IN: Vancouver Canucks and Philadelphia Flyers

GAME OF THE NIGHT: Nashville Predators (37-25-10) at Buffalo Sabres (35-28-8), 5 p.m. ET

The two eighth-place teams in each conference converge for their one and only meeting of the season. Buffalo won't be dislodged from the top 8, but Nashville could be shuffled out with a loss.

The Sabres are 9-5-2 against the West teams this season and are coming off an 8-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers Saturday. The victory was goalie Ryan Miller's 30th of the season, making him the eight goalie in league history to win 30 or more games in six consecutive seasons. Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, a candidate for the Vezina Trophy, made 39 saves in 3-1 victory over Detroit on Saturday. 

ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Flames (37-27-9) at Ducks (39-27-5), 8 p.m. ET

The first two meetings between the Flames and Ducks couldn't have been much closer. The Ducks won both, the first in OT and the second in a shootout. Depending on how the Nashville-Buffalo game turns out, the winner could move into the top 8. Regardless, these are some crucial points. 

GOLF WATCH: A victory or overtime/shootout loss by the Predators eliminates the Colorado Avalanche. Edmonton already eliminated. 
Posted on: March 19, 2011 1:48 pm
Edited on: March 19, 2011 1:51 pm
 

Playoff Watch: Sabres can gain some separation

WHO CAN CLINCH:  The idle Philadelphia Flyers will seize the first playoff berth in the East with a victory in Dallas tonight. 

GAME OF THE NIGHT: Atlanta Thrashers (30-29-12) at Buffalo Sabres (34-28-8), 7 p.m. ET

The Sabres have one game in hand against the Thrashers and the weakest strength of schedule over their remaining games among teams eighth through 12th in the East. It seems like the bottom couple teams in the East -- no matter who they’ve been -- have slowed down a times to let everybody else catch up. The Sabres did just that Tuesday, losing to a Carolina Hurricanes team that enters even with them with points (76).

Buffalo is 2-0-1 heading into this fourth and final meeting between these two clubs. Defenseman Andrej Sekera enters on a tear, scoring 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) over the last 10 games. The Thrashers appeared to have to have solved their recent malaise, winning five of the last six games to become contenders again.  (The Thrashers enter in 10th place, four points behind the Sabres.) Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien have averaged a point a game against the Sabres this season. 

ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Anaheim Ducks (38-27-5) at Los Angeles Kings (40-26-5), 10 p.m. ET 

A victory by the Ducks against their SoCal rivals would put all five teams in the competitive Pacific Division back in playoff contention. Ray Emery earned his first NHL win in more than a year with a 30-save effort against St. Louis and could get the start in net again for the Ducks. The Kings will likely counter with Jonathan Quick, who has lost eight of this last 12 games.

GOLF WATCH: The Colorado Avalanche will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss tonight to the Edmonton Oilers, the only team already mathematically eliminated.
Posted on: March 18, 2011 3:34 pm
Edited on: March 18, 2011 3:41 pm
 

Playoff Watch: Devils face another roadblock

WHO CAN CLINCH:  The idle Philadelphia Flyers could clinch a playoff berth if the Carolina Hurricanes lose in regulation and the New Jersey Devils lose in any form. The Washington Capitals would get in by beating the Devils combined with a Carolina loss in regulation. 

GAME OF THE NIGHT: Washington Capitals (41-21-10) at New Jersey Devils (33-33-4), 7 p.m. ET

The Devils didn't help their playoff push by losing 3-1 to the last-place Ottawa Senators on Thursday. The task gets just slightly more difficult tonight as New Jersey plays host to Washington. The Capitals are 9-1-0 over their last 10 and are primed to challenge the Flyers for the top spot in the East. 

The Devils, who have won 23 of the last 29 games, enter six points out of the eighth and final spot in the East. With only 11 games remaining after tonight, the Devils are running out of time to complete their improbable comeback. This game will mark the first time David Steckel will play his former club and could have seen the return of Jason Arnott. But Arnott, swapped for Steckel before the deadline, has an undisclosed injury and the Caps say he’s week-to-week. 

ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Phoenix Coyotes (38-23-11) at Vancouver Canucks (47-16-9), 10 p.m. ET 

The road team has won each of the first three meetings between these two clubs. While the Canucks have already clinched a playoff berth, the Coyotes could move to within a point of the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks with a victory. 

GOLF WATCH: Edmonton Oilers have been mathematically eliminated.   
Posted on: March 18, 2011 3:05 pm
Edited on: March 18, 2011 3:07 pm
 

Nashville's Hornqvist escapes suspension, fined

Nashville Predators forward Patric Hornqvist received a $2,000 fine, the maximum allowable under the collective bargaining agreement, for the elbow he landed to the head of Boston Bruins forward Tyler Seguin on Thursday night.

An official with the Predators confirmed the fine to CBSSports.com on Friday, which means Hornqvist won’t be suspended like two other players this week for hits to the head. Hornqvist received a five-minute major for elblowing and a game misconduct. 

Seguin required seven stitches to close the gash to his ear lobe. 

The suspension vs. fine delineation may have come down to whether Hornqvist actually used his elbow, which longtime Predators coach Barry Trotz said isn’t so clear on the replays. 

"The referee said, 'I saw his elbow out and make contact with the head,'” Trotz told The Tennessean. "When I watched the replay, Hornqvist had his elbow out, and then as he goes into Seguin he brings his elbow in and actually puts the brakes on and sort of turns. When I looked at it, I really didn't think it was a penalty.""

Here’s the video of the hit, which takes place about 45 seconds into the clip:



-- A.J. Perez
Posted on: March 18, 2011 4:30 am
Edited on: March 21, 2011 1:01 pm
 

Morning Skate: String of suspensions may continue

Apparently, the fact the NHL doled out suspensions on consecutive days didn't stop the questionable hits on Thursday.

Nashville Predators forward Patric Hornqvist delivered an elbow (or at least a shoulder) to Boston Bruins forward Tyler Seguin late in the first period, a collision that resulted in a gash near Seguin's ear that required stitches. North of the border, Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier was tossed after a two-hand chop delivered to Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban

So much for deterrent value. 

San Jose Sharks forward Dany Heatley was suspended Wednesday and Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand received a ban on Thursday, each receiving two games for blindside hits to the head. 

And Hornqvist, who received an elbowing major and a game misconduct, appears to be the most likely between two players ejected Thursday to be on tap for another ban. (The collision takes palce about 45 seconds into this replay .)

"I came into the room, and (the trainer) said 'nice ear lobe, it looks its falling off' and I got stitches," Seguin told CSNNE's Joe Haggerty after the Bruinhs fell, 4-3, in overtime. 

Haggery reports that the Preds tried to explain away the hit.
Preds coach Barry Trotz attempted to claim that his player “pulled his elbow in” at the last minute on the hit, but that leaves no explanation for how the 19-year-old’s ear was gruesomely ripped open and sewn together after the game. Perhaps it was the leprechauns on St. Patrick’s Day, eh Barry?

While it wasn’t a headshot, Lecavalier didn’t exactly deliver a love tap to Subban. Here's the video of the incident .  

Line Changes
Lecavalier received a slashing major and a game misconduct after two-hand hack to Subban. Subban, who received slashing minor on the play, went to the locker room before he returned to the game.

Damian Cristodero of The St. Petersburg Times reports on what Lecavalier said preceded the slash and his reaction to the ejection:

"He slew-footed me a couple of times in front of the net," Lecavalier said of Subban. "And when I went around the net, he slashed me twice on the wrist, and that's when I turned around and slashed him back."

Subban went down holding his left arm. But the Lightning said its replays showed Subban was slashed on the thigh.

"I don't know about getting kicked out of the game," Lecavalier said. "Obviously, he came back, and he was well on the next shift." Subban was unavailable to reporters after the game.


PACIORETTY PROGRESSING: Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens forward carted off after his head collided with a stanchion last week, could be back as soon as the playoffs, Habs coach Jacques Martin told reporters on Thursday. 

“Good news today regarding Max Pacioretty,” Martin told The Montreal Gazette . “He’ll be able to return to training with contact within four to six weeks of his injury.”

That would mean he’d be able return to full practices as quickly as April 5, five days before the end of the regular season. Martin added that Pacioretty, who suffered a broken bone in his neck and a severe concussion, would “be on complete rest” until Saturday and would follow the league’s new concussion protocol that dictates a player’s route back to game action after a concussion. 

That’s certainly not bad for those who watched as he lay on the ice and wondered if the 22-year-old would be able to walk -- let alone play hockey --  again.  

THURSDAY’s RESULTS

Atlanta 4, Philadelphia 3 (SO)  
Detroit 2, Columbus 0  
Florida 4, Toronto 0 
Ottawa 3, New Jersey 1 
Montreal 3, Tampa Bay 2 (SO) 
Nashville 4, Boston 3 (OT)  
Dallas 5, Chicago 0  
Phoenix 3, Edmonton 1 
Calgary 5, Colorado 2
San Jose 3, Minnesota 2  
St. Louis 4, Los Angeles 0  
Posted on: March 17, 2011 4:37 pm
 

Playoff Watch: Big points up for grabs in Dallas

WHO CAN CLINCH: Nobody can clinch a playoff spot tonight.

GAME OF THE NIGHT: Chicago Blackhawks (38-24-8) at Dallas Stars (37-25-8), 8:30 pm ET

The Stars have dropped two in a row, the last a 6-3 decision to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. But a victory tonight would move Dallas even in points with the sixth-place Blackhawks (84 points). Calgary and Nashville are also in action tonight, so the bottom of the Western Conference could get reshuffled once again. Forward Loui Eriksson, one of four Stars players to reach the 20-goal mark this season, is out of tonight's game with an upper-body injury 

The 'Hawks have only one regulation loss over the last dozen games and two over the last 17. Patrick Sharp matched a franchise mark for assists in a period (four) in a 6-3 victory over the San Jose on Monday. He's also two goals shy of his career high in goals (36), a mark he set last season. 
  ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Tampa Bay Lightning (39-22-9) at Montreal Canadiens (38-25-7), 7:30 p.m. ET

There's something about the official start of March Madness that usually bodes well for Montreal. The Habs are 27-14-4 in their games during the NCAA men's basketball tournament since the 2005-06 season. These two teams are separated by only four points in the East, so Montreal will take any edge they can get. 

GOLF WATCH: Edmonton Oilers have been mathematically eliminated.  

PLAYOFF TRACKER
Posted on: March 17, 2011 2:57 pm
Edited on: March 17, 2011 3:17 pm
 

NHL players remain (mostly) loyal in NCAA picks



Joe Pavelski can’t be called a homer. 

The San Jose Sharks forward (above left) is the only one of the four NHL players to fill out the CBSSports.com’s Bracket Challenge who did not pick his alma mater to win it all. Pavelski, who attended the University of Wisconsin, has the Badgers falling in the fourth round to Florida and penciled in Duke to win the NCAA men’s basketball championship.

His Sharks teammate and fellow Badger Dany Heatley has Wisconsin beating Duke in the finals. Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller has his Michigan State Spartans winning their third national title by beating rival Ohio State. (The odds of those schools winning it all, according to VegasInsider.com, are 35/1 and 60/1, respectively.) 

Columbus Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger (above right) has top-seeded Ohio State overtaking Louisville in the championship game, so it was fairly easy for him to stay faithful to his collegiate roots.

The Eye on Hockey blog will be upating how these four players' brackets are holding up as March Madness progresses.

-- A.J. Perez

Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: March 17, 2011 2:11 pm
Edited on: March 17, 2011 3:22 pm
 

Bruins' Marchand suspended two games for elbow

Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand became the second player in as many days to be suspended for elbowing an opponent in the head. 

Marchand received a two-game ban for his elbow deleivered to the back of the head of Columbus Blue Jackets winger R.J. Umberger on Tuesday. The suspension announced Thursday follows an identical suspension to San Jose Sharks forward Dany Heatley

“I understand where the league is coming from,” Marchand told CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty. “They’re obviously cracking down on head hits right now. I’m disappointed to miss a couple of games and it’s always frustrating to have to watch your team play.

“But I understand why it happened. The biggest thing is to regroup now and get ready to play when I’m called back to action.”

No penalty was called on the collision that occurred midway through the second period. Umberger remained in the game.

Marchand will forfeit $6,330.64 in salary. 


 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com