Tag:Eastern Conference
Posted on: April 6, 2011 2:13 am
Edited on: April 6, 2011 2:14 am

Morning Skate: Leafs' skid officially extended

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ playoff drought officially reached six seasons on Tuesday, although most of Ontario saw that coming with club’s horrific start. 

The skid, the longest in franchise history, predates the NHL lockout. Two teams (Carolina Hurricanes and Anaheim Ducks) have seized Stanley Cup titles for the first time and two other Original Six franchises (Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks) earned championships as the club at the center of the hockey universe has called it a season at 82 games.

Line Changes
  • Eye on Hockey: Vancouver's Torres ejected
  • Eye on Hockey: NYR's Callahan on shelf
  • Buffalo inches closer to playoff berth
  • CBSSports.com playoff tracker
  • So, where was the outrage Tuesday night? Imagine if baseball’s equivalent, the New York Yankees, or the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakes, went that long without a playoff berth. Heck, the fanbases for those franchises would be in an uproar if their teams didn’t secure a title or two. 

    The dependable Damien Cox of the Toronto Star for one wasn’t about to let the Leafs off the hook, understandably setting a good heap of the Leafs' lack of success on GM Brian Burke and coach Ron Wilson: 

    They’ve had their honeymoon period, and now this hockey town needs to demand answers and achievement.

    “I’m not going to conduct an autopsy here,” said Wilson after Tuesday night’s loss to the Caps.
    No problem. We’ll do it for you, coach.

    There were clearly factors that injured the Leaf season, including the failure to identify the organization’s best goaltender earlier, a serious injury to captain Dion Phaneuf, a good but not great season from (Phil) Kessel, the struggles of Mike Komisarek and, of course, that nightmarish power play.

    But the overriding issue that made the first half of the season a disaster and the second half not good enough is that this hockey club still lacks a defining personality, an identity that explains what it wants to be night after night.

    Burke built a solid nucleus in Vacouver, which included drafting the Sedin twins. After his contract was not renewed and a little bit of TV work, Burke needed only two seasons to turn the Ducks into Stanley Cup champs.

    He’s now about to complete his second full season in Toronto without nearly the success despite more resources at his disposal. Burke recently reaffirmed his backing to Wilson, who will return for his fourth season behind Toronto’s bench. 

    Nobody can question the credentials of either Burke or Wilson, but time could be running out for each -- and it doesn’t help that the team has hung out the “for sale” sign and could soon have new ownership that might not be as patient. 

    There are some positives, but who knows if they carry into next season. The Leafs are tied with the Los Angeles Kings with the fifth-most points (41) since the All-Star break. Rookie James Reimer (pictured above) was solid in net down the stretch, oftentimes keeping the Leafs in games to make their late-season run possible. Even in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals, Reimer made 39 saves in regulation and overtime. 

    "We can hold our heads high," said Reimer told the CBC Sports. "We’ve gained a lot of confidence."

    This is the latest, as CBC points out, the Leafs have gone (third-to-last game of the season) before getting eliminated since 2006. I guess that is what is considered progress these days in Toronto. The Leafs were actually eliminated a few minutes before their game ended via Buffalo’s victory over Tampa Bay. 

    "Everybody’s going to be really excited to get back here," Leafs forward Joffery Lupul told the network.

    Maybe it’s odd that the Leafs have lapsed into the “wait ‘til next season” mentality, but it has been 44 years since their last championship. It's quite understandable. 

    Buffalo 4, Tampa Bay 2
    Washington 3 , Toronto 2 (SO)
    Ottawa 5, Philadelphia 2
    Pittsburgh 4, New Jersey 2
    Montreal 2, Chicago 1 (OT)
    St. Louis 3, Colorado 1
    Nashville 6, Atlanta 3
    Dallas 3, Columbus 0
    Edmonton 2, Vancouver 0
    -- A.J. Perez

    Photo: Getty Images 

    Posted on: April 5, 2011 3:38 pm
    Edited on: April 5, 2011 4:00 pm

    Playoff Watch: Clinchers all around tonight

    WHO CAN CLINCH: The Philadelphia Flyers can clinch the Atlantic Division with a victory over the Ottawa Senators tonight combined with a win by New Jersey Devils, who face the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers can also win the division with an overtime or shootout loss to the Sens coupled with regulation loss by the Penguins. 

    The Washington Capitals can clinch the Southeast three different ways:
    • a regulation victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs
    • a point against the Leafs via a shootout/overtime loss and a Tampa Bay Lightning loss to the Buffalo Sabres (in any manner). 
    • a Lightning loss in regulation.

    The Montreal Canadiens can secure a playoff berth with any kind of victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.

    The idle Phoenix Coyotes are in if the Dallas Stars lose to the Columbus Blue Jackets

    The Los Angeles Kings, also idle, are also in with a Stars loss, as long as it’s in regulation. 

    The Nashville Predators can dance in the land of milk and honey if they beat the Atlanta Thrashers (in regulation, OT or shootout) and the Stars lose in any fashion. The Preds are also in with a shootout/overtime loss and a regulation loss by Dallas. 

    ALREADY IN:  Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia, San Jose, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Washington.     

    GAME OF THE NIGHT: Tampa Bay Lightning (44-24-11) at Buffalo Sabres (40-29-10), 7 p.m. ET

    The Sabres will again be without goalie Ryan Miller, who will miss his fourth consecutive game with an upper body injury. Of course, with the way rookie Jhonas Enrothm (pictured above) has been playing, he doesn’t exactly have to rush back. Enroth is 2-0-1 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in Miller’s absence. Enroth has gotten points in his last six starts overall and the Sabres, who enter three points ahead of idle Carolina in the eighth place, would like to see that trend to continue. 

    Tampa Bay enters on a five-game win streak. Captain Vincent Lecavalier, who took a high-stick to the eye in Sunday’s 2-0 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks, will play in tonight’s game, according to The St. Petersburg Times. He had been listed as day-to-day since he received stitches and was examined by an eye doctor. 

    ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Washington Capitals (46-22-11) at Toronto Maple Leafs (37-32-10), 7 p.m. ET
    The Caps don’t need a victory to clinch the Southeast for a fourth consecutive season, but the Leafs do need one to stay alive in the playoff picture. Of course, even that may not be enough to keep the Leafs from missing the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season (see below).

    GOLF WATCH:  The Toronto Maple Leafs will be eliminated if they lose (in any form) to the Capitals in regulation or overtime. Toronto is also out if the Sabres manage to get one point tonight. Atlanta, New Jersey, Minnesota Columbus, Ottawa, Florida, New York Islanders, Columbus, Colorado and Edmonton are already mathematically eliminated.  

    -- A.J. Perez

    Photo: Getty Images
    Posted on: April 4, 2011 9:00 am

    Morning Skate: Not much drama in final week

    Several days ago it looked like we had an epic down-the-stretch battle for playoff berths on our hands, especially in the Western Conference. 

    Maybe the objects in the mirror aren’t really closer than they appear. 

    One team in the East (the Carolina Hurricanes) and one in the West (the Dallas Stars) have legitimate shots of unseating one the current low seeds in their respective conferences. Sure, Toronto and Calgary are mathematically alive, but let’s be real. 

    The Hurricanes, in fact, could have pulled even with the Buffalo Sabres points-wise for the eighth and final playoff slot in the East had things turned out just a bit differently in their game Sunday. Rookie Jonas Enroth made 35 saves and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani scored with two minutes left in overtime as the Sabres pulled out the 2-1 victory. (Here’s our game recap.) At least the Hurricanes picked up a point as they head into their final three games --- Detroit (Wednesday), Atlanta (Friday) and Tampa Bay (Saturday) --- three points behind the New York Rangers, who fell to eighth with the Sabres' win.

    Here’s Carolina coach Paul Maurice told The News & Observer after the loss:

    "We've been feeling like this for the last two weeks, three weeks -- that you had to win that game," Canes coach Paul Maurice said. "There seems in every one of these you're going to lose a game that feels like it's the end and you can't let it be that way.

    "You get a real feeling of disappointment after a loss like that. But not a feeling that you let one slip away, because you did what you were supposed to do."

    The Dallas Stars, who entered on a six-game skid, netted a must-win victory, 4-3, against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. (Here’s a link to the game recap.)  The Stars’ win -- aided by two Ducks goals that were waived off over the final couple minutes--- kept  Anaheim, Los Angeles and Phoenix from clinching playoff berths, at least for another day or two. 
    Dallas coach Marc Crawford sounded upbeat Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika reported

    "There's no quit in our team, and we're still in the race. We have to keep coming out and having performances like this. This was a very deserving game for our team. You make your luck, and tonight we played with the desperation we've been striving for. It's a huge win, and hopefully we can get this to snowball."

    The Stars, who trail eighth-place Chicago by three points, have four games left on the schedule, all against non-playoff teams: Columbus (Tuesday), Colorado (Thursday), Colorado (Friday) and Minnesota (Sunday). The ‘Hawks also have four games left in the schedule. 

    The Flames are only two points in back of eighth, but they only have two games left to play. 

    SCHWARTZ PASSES: Yale Hockey player Mandi Schwartz’s lost her battle with myeloid leukemia Sunday, certainly a sad day for all those she inspired in her two-plus years battling the disease. She was 23. 

    Here’s part of the statement from the school
    The grace and courage with which Mandi approached her treatment, and the enthusiasm and optimism with which Mandi approached life itself have inspired countless people, both here in New Haven and beyond. Her efforts -- and the efforts of those close to her -- to raise awareness of, and participation in, marrow and cord blood donor programs have already yielded potentially lifesaving results.

    Thousands of people were brought into donor programs on her behalf, not to mention her perseverance despite continuous setbacks were an inspiration. 

    My former AOL FanHouse colleague, Lisa Olson, caught up to Schwartz -- whose treatment included several rounds of chemotherapy along with bone and stem cell transplants -- at a rink in Seattle where she helped coach a girls hockey team last December
    Rarely has there been a one-time assistant coach as satisfied as Mandi Schwartz was on that fine day. For three glorious periods, in a frosty rink similar to the hundreds she frequented as a child in Saskatchewan, Mandi wasn't a leukemia patient. She was a hockey nut, swaying to the music of blades skimming ice. 
    Nora Keaney, wobbling atop skates at age four, is 13 now, and she plays alongside Maddie Davis on an elite select team. They competed in the MLK Invitational Girls'/Women's Hockey Tournament in San Jose over the holiday weekend, took second place, and talked about Mandi Schwartz the way teenage boys talk about Sidney Crosby. 
    "When I first met her she was at the hospital. She didn't look too good. We were just happy she was getting better," Nora says. "There aren't a lot of (hockey) opportunities for girls. The leagues are almost always all guys. She's such an inspiration to us."

    NY Rangers 3, Philadelphia 2 (SO)
    Detroit 4, Minnesota 2
    St. Louis 6, Columbus 1
    Buffalo 2, Carolina 1 (OT)
    Tampa Bay 2, Chicago 0
    Calgary 2 Colorado 1
    Dallas 4, Anaheim 3  
    -- A.J. Perez
    Posted on: April 3, 2011 1:46 pm
    Edited on: April 3, 2011 3:27 pm

    Playoff Watch: East race could swing in Raleigh

    WHO CAN CLINCH: The idle Washington Capitals will win their fourth consecutive Southeast Division title if Tampa Bay loses in regulation to Chicago. The Detroit Red Wings can clinch the Central Division title if they beat Minnesota (regulation or OT) OR if they win via a shootout and Blackhawks lose to Tampa Bay. If the Anaheim Ducks beat the Dallas Stars, as many as three teams can secure playoff berths. The Ducks and Los Angeles Kings are in with a regulation winand the Phoenix Coyotes can earn a slot with a regulation, OT or shootout win by Anaheim.

    GAME OF THE NIGHT: Buffalo Sabres (39-29-10) at Carolina Hurricanes (38-30-10), 5 p.m. ET

    Separated by just two points, there's plenty on the line for this fourth and final tilt between these two teams. The Hurricanes enter on a three-game win streak and have won six of their last seven games. The 'Canes are coming off a 4-2 victory over the the New York Islanders on Saturday. They were briefly just a point out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East until the New York Rangers used a 3-2 shootout victory over Philaelphia Sunday to push that margin back to three points and move up a spot to seventh. 

    The Sabres -- who enter in seventh place in the East -- felt the absence of starting goalie Ryan Miller, who missed his second consecutive game with an upper-body injury. Buffalo still managed to pick up a point in an OT loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday, but Jhonas Enroth was shaky at times in net.

    ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Dallas Stars (38-28-11) at Anaheim Ducks (44-29-5), 8 p.m. ET
    This game means a lot to plenty of teams (see above).  The Stars are fighting to stay in the playoff hunt heading into the final week of the season. (Dallas’ only hope with a loss would be to catch eighth-place Chicago, but that would be a major stretch.) The Ducks have won four of the first five meetings, although they could be without defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, who left Saturday’s 4-2 loss to San Jose with an upper-body injury. The Stars have enter on a six-game skid. 

    GOLF WATCH: The Calgary Flames will be eliminated if they lose to Colorado in regulation AND Chicago defeats Tampa Bay. Atlanta, New Jersey, Minnesota Columbus, Ottawa, Florida, New York Islanders, Columbus, Colorado and Edmonton are already mathematically eliminated. 
    Posted on: April 2, 2011 12:42 pm
    Edited on: April 2, 2011 1:24 pm

    Playoff Watch: Sabres to face Caps minus Miller

    WHO CAN CLINCH: The Washington Capitals can seize the Southeast Division crown wiht a victory over the Buffalo Sabres combined with a regulation loss by the Tampa Bay Lightning, who take on the Minnesota Wild. The Boston Bruins can win the Northeast with either a point against the Atlanta Thrashers or if the Montreal Canadiens lose to the New Jersey Devils. The Detroit Red Wings can clinch a playoff berth if they get one point against the Nashville Predators or if the Dallas Stars lose to the Los Angeles Kings

    ALREADY IN:  Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia, San Jose, Tampa Bay and Washington.    

    GAME OF THE NIGHT: Buffalo (39-29-7) at Washington Capitals (45-22-11),  7 p.m. ET

    The Buffalo Sabres will face at least the first game of this vital this two-game trip minus starting goalie Ryan Miller. It possible he could join the team in Ralaiegh, where the Sabres play tomorrow, The Buffalo News reports. Miller was injured when he took a shot near his collarbone on Tuesday. The team has described it as an upper-body injury. Backup Jhonas Enroth is coming off a 1-0 shutout victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday. 

    While the Sabres have to battle to hold one to one the final two seeds in the East, the Capitals remain in the hunt to repeat as conference champs. The Caps could pull ahead of the idle Philadelphia Flyers with a victory. 

    ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Dallas Stars (38-27-11) at Los Angeles Kings (44-27-6), 4 p.m. ET

    The Kings’ final five games are against Pacific Division opponents, starting with the Stars tonight. Los Angeles have lost Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams -- their two top scorers -- likely for the season over the last couple weeks and the team finally felt the lack of production as Vancouver beat the Kings, 3-1, on Thursday. Now, Los Angeles faces a Dallas team desperate to stay in playoff contention. The Stars are winless over their last five games and are 1-4-3  over the last eight. The San Jose Sharks embarrassed the Stars, who enter five points behind eighth-place Chicago, with a 6-0 victory on Thursday. 

    GOLF WATCH: A regulation or OT loss by the Devils will officially end their playoff hopes. The  Thrashers are done if they lose in regulation to the Bruins. The Wild are done with any sort of loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Columbus, Ottawa, Florida, New York Islanders, Columbus, Colorado and Edmonton are already mathematically eliminated. 

    -- A.J. Perez
    Posted on: March 31, 2011 2:08 pm
    Edited on: March 31, 2011 2:17 pm

    Playoff Watch: Leafs face another must-win game

    WHO CAN CLINCH: The Boston Bruins can clinch the Northeast Division if they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Tampa Bay Lightning will secure a playoff berth if they beat the Pittsburg Penguins. The Canucks will seize the Presidents’ Trophy with a victory over the Los Angeles Kings combined with a regulation loss by the Philadelphia Flyers, who face the Atlanta Thrashers. The San Jose Sharks are in with regulation win over the Dallas Stars.

    ALREADY IN:  Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.   

    GAME OF THE NIGHT: Toronto Maple Leafs (35-32-10) at Boston Bruins (43-23-10), 7 p.m. ET

    Toronto won the last two meetings of these Original Six franchises and it probably needs to make it three in a row to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. The Leafs enter the night seven points behind both the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers, who each have 87 points and occupy seventh and eighth place, respectively.

    The task is not an easy one tonight for the Leafs, who will need to get the puck past Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. Thomas has won his last four starts and has a 0.50 goals-against average during that stretch, which includes a 3-0 shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. He has nine shutouts this season, the most for a Bruin since Byron Dafoe (10) in 1998-99. The Leafs’ young goalie, James Reimer, has also kept them competitive for weeks. He leads all rookies in save percentage (.922) and is 13-4-4 in his last 21 decisions. 

    ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Los Angeles Kings (44-26-6) at Vancouver Canucks (51-17-9), 10 p.m. ET
    The Kings have so far have not felt the absences of their top two scorers. The Kings have won all three games minus Justin Williams (out at least another three weeks with a separated shoulder suffered March 21) and their victory Tuesday over the Edmonton Oilers came without Anze Kopitar (out indefinitely with torn ligaments in his ankle). Los Angeles enters on a four-game winning streak overall, but the biggest test comes tonight against a team that can clinch the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time in franchise history. 

    GOLF WATCH: The Columbus Blue Jackets need to win tonight to remain in the mix. The Atlanta Thrashers need to get at least one point tonight. Ottawa, Florida, New York Islanders, Colorado and Edmonton have already mathematically out of it.

    -- A.J. Perez
    Posted on: March 30, 2011 3:40 pm
    Edited on: March 30, 2011 3:55 pm

    Playoff Watch: Seeds could shift in East tonight

    WHO CAN CLINCH: The idle Tampa Bay Lightning can lock down a berth if the Carolina Hurricanes lose in regulation to the Montreal Canadiens

    ALREADY IN:  Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.   

    GAME OF THE NIGHT: New York Rangers (41-30-5) at Buffalo Sabres (38-29-9), 7 p.m. ET
    The Sabres could tie the seventh-place Rangers points-wise with a victory. Both enter with 33 regulation/overtime wins -- the first tiebreaker -- so if this game goes to a shootout it becomes even more convoluted. But with five games left for each team after tonight, there’s plenty of time sort things out. Buffalo, which fell to Toronto on Tuesday, is probably more worried about the team behind them. The Carolina Hurricanes are just three points back. One thing the Sabres have going for it is that they haven’t lost consecutive games since Feb. 18-20. The Rangers have won two of the first three meetings between the clubs. 

    ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Montreal Canadiens (41-29-7) at Carolina Hurricanes (36-30-10), 7 p.m. ET
    The Eastern Conference is not as bunched up for the final playoff seeds as the West, but games like this make things interesting. The ‘Canes beat the Washington Capitals --- for the first time in six meetings this season --- on Tuesday, a victory powered by rookie Jeff Skinner and the goaltending of Cam Ward. Skinner knotted the game at the end of regulation and scored one of Carolina’s two shootout goals in the 3-2 win at Verizon Center. The Hurricanes face another team that they have gone winless against this season, this time in the previous three meetings. 

    GOLF WATCH: The New Jersey Devils will be eliminated a couple different ways tonight: If New Jersey loses (in regulation or overtime) and the Buffalo Sabres defeat OR if the Devils lose in regulation and the Sabres earn at least one point. The St. Louis Blues will be eliminated if: they lose to the Detroit Red Wings, in any manner.  Ottawa, Florida, New York Islanders, Colorado and Edmonton have already mathematically out of it.

    -- A.J. Perez
    Posted on: March 29, 2011 2:55 pm

    Playoff Watch: 'Canes look for win No.1 over Caps

    WHO CAN CLINCH: The Tampa Bay Lightning can lock down a playoff spot if they beat the Ottawa Senators and the Carolina Hurricanes lose to the Washington Capitals in regulation. The Vancouver Canucks can win the Western Conference by earning at least one point against the Nashville Predators tonight. 

    ALREADY IN: Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.  

    GAME OF THE NIGHT: Carolina Hurricanes (35-30-10) at Washington Capitals (44-22-10), 7 p.m. ET
    The ‘Canes enter five points in back of the Buffalo Sabres, who hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Carolina has lost each of the first five meetings between these Southeast Division rivals and the ‘Canes are coming off a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. 

    The Capitals could get forwards Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott back in the lineup tonight. (Both have been sidelined with undisclosed injuries.) Washington coach Bruce Boudreau wouldn’t disclose to reporters at the morning skate if either will see action, but both skated with the team again. The Caps are returning from a season-long six-game trip where they posted a 4-2-0 record. For the month of March, Washington is 11-2-0. 

    Carolina forwards Eric Staal, Cory Stillman and Erik Cole each enter with four-game points streaks.

    ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Dallas Stars (38-26-10) at Phoenix Coyotes (41-25-11), 10 p.m. ET

    The Stars enter the night four points out of eighth, making this final regular season meeting between these Pacific Division rivals crucial. Phoenix has won three of the first five meetings and the last three contests were decided by a goal. Dallas enters 1-3-2 over the last five games, a skid that has seen the Stars drop from fourth to 10th in the West. 

    GOLF WATCH: No new teams will be eliminated today. Ottawa, Florida, New York Islanders, Colorado and Edmonton have already mathematically out of it.
    The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com