Tag:Erik Cole
Posted on: September 23, 2011 1:41 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 2:09 pm
 

Southeast Division preview: Still chasing Caps

By Brian Stubits

The days of the South-least Division are slowly fading away.

For the last half decade, the Southeast Division has been the Washington Capitals' playground with four teams chasing. Of course the Caps have been very good through that time, but fattening up on their division "rivals" undoubtedly helped them to four straight division championships.

Just take the 2009-10 season as an example. That year the Capitals had 18 more points than the next closest team in the East while no other team in the division finished even in the top nine of the conference standings. That's especially amazing when you consider there are only 15 teams in the East.

They stil finished atop the East despite a transformation. Head coach Bruce Boudreau changed the way the team plays, trying to lock down on defense. As a result, the league's highest-scoring team the past few years dipped all the way to 19th in scoring. Alex Ovechkin had a very good season by almost anybody's standards. Just not his own.

The trick for Boudreau is to find that happy medium. They showed defense is something they can and in the past they showed they can score. Now they need to show they can do both. If they don't, especially early, Boudreau will hear the calls for his firing. The most successful regular-season team hasn't done enough after it to satisfy the increasingly antsy and demanding fan base.

But the somewhat surprising emergence of the Lightning last year has beefed up the division's rep. Tampa Bay figured to be on its way back up the NHL ladder, but the boom that came out of last season seemed to be ahead of schedule. Now the division has two of the game's elite scorers in Steven Stamkos and Ovechkin. With the Bolts unceremoniously sweeping the Caps in the playoffs last year, we just might have the beginning of an actual division rival for Washington.

The division also features something new: the most amped up fan base in the league, at least for one season. The Winnipeg Jets are still stuck playing in a division that will have them being true fish out of water. To say the Jets will suffer from jet-lag isn't just a fun pun but a reality they face. With that said, what was one of the easiest road trips in the NHL just became one of the toughest, especially for the teams in the Southeast that should look into taking the Concord to Manitoba.

Southeast Division (in order of predicted finish)

Washington Capitals: The Caps have become one of the league's elite teams and have done a pretty remarkable job of keeping their core together. Well this offseason owner Ted Leonsis and crew decided it was time to shake up the roster a touch to try and find the missing recipe to move Washington deeper into the playoffs. Enter Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Tomas Vokoun among others. I don't think there was a bigger offseason addition in this division than the Caps getting Vokoun, especially when you factor in the salary he'll be getting. Vokoun's talents have been hidden in Florida in the past four seasons, but he's an excellent goaltender but he is (or at least was) prone to prolonged slumps. As for Ward and Brouwer, they considerably beef up the Caps' toughness up front along the boards who are very capable two-way players.

Strengths: They have shown they can do every facet of the game well. It is a challenge to find a more talented team in hockey, including on the blue line. That's not something you could say in the past, but John Carlson and Karl Alzner complement each other well enough to make one of the best young defenseman duos in the NHL.

Weaknesses: It is tough to pinpoint any with this team, it is very well-rounded. It will be interesting to see how they handle expectations and increased heat when they hit some rough patches. Also, from an organizational standpoint the team has very little room to maneuver under the salary cap. That could be worth monitoring if/when GM George McPhee decided to tweak the roster.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Everything came together for a great run to a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference finals last season under new coach Guy Boucher. He brought in the ol' 1-3-1 system that seemed to be a magic trick for the Bolts. Now the question becomes can they repeat or was last year lightning in a bottle (that pun really was not intended)? One thing strongly in their favor is that the return almost the entire roster intact from last season. They did lose a couple of players such as Simon Gagne, but not much in the way of being unable to repair. one player who is back is Eric Brewer, and he'll be better for having spent camp and beginning the season in Tampa Bay. It will be interesting to see how this team fares with expectations on their shoulders.

Strengths: They roll out two excellent lines at the top. The Ryan Malone-Stamkos-Martin St. Louis line is one of the best in the game and the second group of Nate Thompson-Vincent Lecavalier-Teddy Purcell isn't too shabby, especially if Purcell continues his growth. They also had excellent special teams last year, ranking in the top 8 of both power play (it helps to have Stamkos, who scores 17 on the PP last year) and penalty kill a season ago. I also love the man on their bench as Boucher is a star in the making among coaches.

Weaknesses: I am still not in love with the goaltending situation. Dwayne Roloson was very good after being picked up by GM Steve Yzerman (he would qualify as another strength), but he just doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in me to keep it up. The addition of Mathieu Garon to back him up is a good one, though. Moreover, consistency might be an issue, especially for Stamkos. He really slowed down last season, failing to score 50 goals when he appeared to be on his way to 60 midseason.

Carolina Hurricanes: If the playoffs were a night club, the Hurricanes have been the guy standing at the front of the line until the bouncer says they're full. Every year it seems they are squarely on the playoff bubble, including last season when it came down to Game 82, which was a sound defeat. This season figures to be more of the same for the 'Canes as they might just be the next-best thing to a playoff team the East has to offer. They had a very pleasant surprise in Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner last season and captain Eric Staal is still leading the show. Gone, though, is another Carolina long-timer in Erik Cole (now in Montreal). One thing you have to love about this franchise, though, is its consistency. GM Jim Rutherford has been there ever since they became the Hurricanes (and before). It seems like their best players don't leave the organization, either. Hopefully for them the consistency in their finishes doesn't stay the same, but instead they crack the postseason. But in a beefed up East, that will be tougher said than done.

Strengths: They have an excellent captain in Staal, both from a leadership standpoint and player quality. They also boast one of the better goalies in the league in Cam Ward, an All-Star last season. And there's that whole consitency thing they have going on, often helps in the old chemistry department.

Weaknesses: There is not much depth to talk about in Carolina. After Stall, Skinner, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu, they aren't likely going to find a whole lot of scoring. They also don't posses a ton of size among the forwards, hence the reason they brought in Anthony Stewert and Alex Ponikarovsky this offseason to help. There just doesn't seem to be enough to crack the postseason, but Rutherford admits to this being somewhat of a "rebuilding" phase. That's a pretty competitive team for one that's rebuilding.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers were incredibly active in the free-agent market in July, adding a slew of veterans to hold the tide while the youngsters develop. Undoubtedly the Panthers are better than they were last season, but how much better? They did lose arguably their best player in Vokoun and are replacing him with the combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, not exactly an exciting development. But it can't be denied that the Panthers now at least have NHL-quality players across their lines (and defensive pairings, led by Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski), but they still aren't high-quality players, not guys that you figure can get them into the playoffs, finally. The trick in Florida is not doing anything now to hinder the future, which is very bright as the system is loaded.

Strengths: I do like the defensive corps they are putting together, especially if 2010 No. 3 overall draft pick Erik Gudbranson makes the team as expected. It's very hard to say at this point with so many new faces coming together what kind of strenghts we're looking at, it's tough to predict how they will play together. But we do know something that isn't likely be a strength this year ...

Weaknesses: The aforementioned goaltender position. With Vokoun gone, the Panthers are relying on the combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen. Now, both do have experience, Theodore more so than the Clemmer, but in no way do they make up for what Vokoun, Florida's best player in recent seasons, took with him. You also have to wonder about chemistry issues with this team having brought in so many new faces. We'll put new coach Kevin Dineen as an "unknown."

Winnipeg Jets: The virtue of such a home-ice advantage will likely make the Jets a little better than the Thrashers were last season, but not enough. Thankfully for them the new home crowd in Winnipeg will just be jacked to have hockey back. They will need to take advantage of the home crowd, especially with a stretch of 10 home games in 11 contests that stretches from the end of November through December. But they will need to find scoring punch, especially from the forward group. They have excellent point producers among the defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, but Ladd needs more help. Hopefully, that's where Evander Kane will fit in. In his third year since being drafted in the first round (all of his time spent at the NHL level) this could be the year he steps up his game and becomes a franchise fixture. He is already a popular figure partly by virtue of his Twitter account and the way he has taken to Winnipeg.

Strengths: They were above average on the power play last season, finishing 12th in the league thanks to Byfuglien and Enstrom. Thrown in the potential of Zach Bogosian as an offensive weapon and that's a lunch of firepower coming back the blue line. I like Ondrej Pavelec in net if he can get a little better support from his teammates. I will put one more in this category, and that's the patience of the front office. They have a lot of first-round talent on the roster and they don't seem willing to abandon the long-term plan for a quick fix to appease the riled up fans.

Weaknesses: The forwards need to show more. Outside of Ladd, nobody up front cracked the 20-goal barrier last season in Atlanta. They need to find a way to tighten down defensively after giving up the second-most goals per game in hockey last year at 3.20. The forwards doing a better job of creating scoring chances and possessing the puck will certainly contribute. The penalty kill was almost equally bad last year, clocking in at 27th in the NHL. Like the Panthers, we'll put new coach Claude Noel as an "unknown."

NHL season preview schedule
Wed., Sept. 21: Step-back players Tues., Sept. 27: Atlantic Division
Thur., Sept. 22: Breakout players Wed., Sept. 28: Central Division
Fri., Sept. 23: Southeast Division Thur. Sept. 29: Northeast Division
Mon., Sept. 26: Pacific Division Fri., Sept. 30: Northwest Division

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.



Posted on: September 22, 2011 12:03 pm
Edited on: September 22, 2011 1:22 pm
 

'Canes sign GM Rutherford to four-year extension

By Brian Stubits

The Hurricanes signed general manager Jim Rutherford to a four-year contract extension on Thursday, keeping him in Carolina through the 2015-16 season.

“Jim is one of the premier general managers in all of sports,” 'Canes CEO, Owner and Governor Peter Karmanos said. “In the 14 years since the Hurricanes arrived in North Carolina, his leadership has allowed our franchise to host two Stanley Cup Finals, the NHL All-Star Game and the NHL Draft, bringing tremendously positive attention to the team and the area. This contract will take him through his 30th year with our hockey organization, and I am proud to have been associated with Jim for that long.”

That's right, Rutherford has held his position as the GM of the organization going back to their days as the Hartford Whalers. He is the second-longest tenured GM in the NHL behind only Lou Lamoriello in New Jersey.

Rutherford has had a good run leading the organization, highlighted by the team bringing the Stanley Cup to Carolina in 2006. He has done a good job keeping up a level of success as the 'Canes did make it back to the Eastern Conference finals two years ago and they have been in the playoff hunt every season.

Part of the staff's success in Carolina has been the ability to draft. It isn't as if Raleigh has been a location where players are breaking down doors to play or that they are winning by virtue of a big budget. Instead they are led by home-grown talent such as Eric Staal, Erik Cole, Jeff Skinner, Cam Ward and Chad LaRose.

Twice in his career in Carolina has he been recognized as the Executive of the Year by THN, both years the Hurricanes made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: July 5, 2011 11:30 am
Edited on: July 5, 2011 11:49 am
 

Daily Skate: Burke not too pleased with criticism

BURKE BURN: If you happened to catch the free-agency coverage on TSN (Versus was carrying the stream) you probably noticed Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons more or less lambasting Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke for not being present on the opening day of free agency, which included the team's meeting with Brad Richards. Instead, he was spending Canada Day with troops in Afghanistan. Burke, who had plenty of communications with everybody back in Canada via cell phone and Skype, is offended by the criticism, saying he would do it again. The National Post has the whole story.

RICHARDS OR POORER? Since Brad Richards elected to sign with the Rangers, it's been a lot of euphoria in Blueshirt land as they finally got a top-line center they hope can give them close to the production that messiah Messier once did. But it's not all rainbows and sunshine. Blueshirt Banter reins in the party on Broadway a bit by looking at the downsides to Richards, going deep into the world of statistics to do so.

COLE AS GOOD AS GOLD: As you might have gathered by now, this was not a deep free-agent class by any means, so it was tough for teams to fill their needs. But Montreal Canadiens blog Lions in Winter thinks the team did a fantastic job of taking care of its principle need: a top-six power forward. Outside of the pipedream of signing Richards, the conclusion is that Erik Cole was about the best fit they could find.

HEAT-ING UP? Dany Heatley had 26 goals and 38 assists for the San Jose Sharks last season. For most players in the league, those are great numbers. For a guy that has shown he can score 50 goals in a season? A little lackluster. So he gets a fresh start in Minnesota, a team that will be looking for every ounce of scoring it can find. Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune takes a look at the new partnership between the two and how they all hope it brings a return to form for Heatley.

TORRES' TREK: Raffi Torres is the son of a Mexican father and Peruvian mother who hails from Canada and has red hair. All make for one interesting player ... and determined. Torres, who just signed with the Phoenix Coyotes, gained that proverbial chip on his shoulder growing up facing the prejudices of playing hockey as a Latino. The Arizona Republic explains.

By Brian Stubits

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.


Posted on: July 1, 2011 3:40 pm
Edited on: July 1, 2011 5:16 pm
 

Canadiens sign forward Cole away from 'Canes

Erik Cole has spent the majority of his career in Carolina, but his time in Raleigh is done as he's headed to Montreal for four years, $18 million, according to multiple reports.

Cole was one of the top-rated forwards on the board this free-agent season. There was still hope in Carolina that the team would bring back Cole, but GM Jim Rutherford hinted that perhaps the team wouldn't be able to afford what he would be looking for.

Rutherford shared what happened from a Carolina standpoint: "The Canes took a last ditch effort to sign Cole and changed position considerably, but were unable to keep him."

It's a pretty hefty contract for Cole, but it helps the Canadiens add some size and scoring on the wings.

Last season Cole scored 26 goals and had 26 assists last season for the 'Canes.

By Brian Stubits

Photo: Getty Images

Click here for more free-agency updates.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: June 30, 2011 2:25 pm
Edited on: June 30, 2011 5:57 pm
 

Flyers won't offer Stamkos after mulling move

We are now in the window of time teams can send offer sheets to restricted free agents. Thus far, no such offers have been sent to the biggest RFA out there, Steven Stamkos, and the Flyers won't be the first.

Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News confirmed the Flyers have declined to extend a sheet to the young superstar in Tampa Bay.

According to Seravalli the Flyers had been seriously contemplating sending an offer to Stamkos. He reported the deal would have been a 12-year, $115 million contract, which would have carried a $9.58 annual cap hit. The most any team could offer is $12.86 million annually, or 20 percent of the salary cap. Tampa Bay would have seven days to match the offer.

NHL Free Agency

At debate for the Flyers wasn't whether they could afford Stamkos. They wouldn't be able to re-sign players like Ville Leino if they had, but that's a tradeoff they would've taken. Other residual moves, such as possibly sending Scot Hartnell and his $4.2 million contract to the AHL where it doesn't hurt the cap, would have had to be made to make everything fit.

Part of the concern was knowing whether or not Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is bluffing when he says no matter the offer, the Lightning will match it. Maybe he's telling the truth, maybe he's not. But if he is, he could -- and likely would -- take seven days to give a response to any offer a team might send. In that time Philadelphia could have seen all of its potential targets -- Leino, Michael Ryder, Erik Cole, John Madden among others -- sign elsewhere and be left hanging out to dry a bit.

The Flyers have already given the organization a very different look in the past few weeks, but adding Stamkos would be getting a nose job, tummy tuck and facelift all in one stop. Perhaps it was all just a bit too costly for Philly's britches (we didn't even mention that if they somehow did take Stamkos away, they would owe Tampa Bay four first-round draft picks).

It probably would have been all for naught as I am of the mind that Yzerman isn't bluffing when he says Tampa Bay will do whatever it takes to keep Stamkos around. You just don't let franchise players like him go that easily.

By Brian Stubits

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl on Twitter or @BrianStubitsNHL

Posted on: June 29, 2011 6:23 pm
Edited on: June 30, 2011 2:36 pm
 

Free agency: Richards cream of offensive crop

You ever see a fish feeding frenzy? When the fish basically jump on top of each other to get the food first? That's what free agency will look like because of the dearth of big fish to be found, to mix our metaphors.

There is no doubt who the most coveted free agent is this season. Brad Richards tops all names up for grabs and pretty much every team is likely to show some interest in signing the former Stars center.

NHL Free Agency

Richard expects to be a busy man come Friday, according to his agent, Pat Morris, who spoke to Buffalo radio station WGR 550 on Wednesday.

"If five teams call, I'd be shocked by the limited number. If 25 teams called, I wouldn't be shocked," Morris said.

Perhaps the first ring will come from the Rangers, who seem to be the team most coveting Richards. They would love to find a center who can score to anchor the first line with Marian Gaborik. Just a reminder, though: veteran newcomers don't always work out so well for the Blueshirts, just think of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury.

If Rangers GM Glen Sather isn't first to get in touch with Richards, then it could very well be Brian Burke and Toronto. The Leafs are hungry to get back to the playoffs after a lengthy drought by the organization's standards (six seasons). Richards grew up a Leafs fan, so that has helped drive speculation in Ontario. But honestly a massive chunk of the NHL players grew up Maple Leafs fans, so that means next to nothing.

His former team in Tampa Bay, the Sabres in Buffalo, and even the Flyers are potential suitors, too.

Frankly, any team that has enough room to sign Richards will probably be standing with food in hand, hoping to get the hook, line and sinker on the best player to be had.

Here are this year's best forward options (in alphabetical order).

Sean Bergenheim -- Lightning: Before the postseason, Bergenheim would have likely re-signed quietly with the Lightning after a modest 14-goal, 15-assist season. But he busted out in a big way during the playoffs, scoring nine goals in 16 games. Since then he has turned down an offer from Tampa Bay with GM Steve Yzerman commenting that the two sides obviously see Bergenheim's value a little differently. At this point it looks like he'll be playing elsewhere.


Erik Cole -- Hurricanes: Cole has been a near lifer in Carolina, spending all but a part of his nine seasons in the red of the 'Canes (he was sent to Edmonton and then promptly reacquired by Carolina). He enters free agency coming off a 26-goal, 26-assist campaign, more than attractive numbers. Carolina GM Jim Rutherford would still like to re-sign Cole and keep him around longer, but at this point they haven't been able to find common ground. Carolina is still the odds-on favorite, though.


Simon Gagne -- Lightning: Gagne is coming off a 17-goal, 23-assist season in Tampa Bay, his first with the Lightning. It wasn't long ago that Gagne was a 40-goal scorer for the Flyers, last hitting that mark in 2006-07. It isn't as if he's too old to still flash that form at 31, but the concern might be in the injury department, specifically concussion concerns. Could be worth a shot from a team looking for scoring on the wings.


Jussi Jokinen -- Hurricanes: Another player Rutherford has said he's not sure if he'll be able to re-sign but wants to, Jokinen should draw a good amount of interest if Carolina can't lock him up. The last two seasons for the 'Canes he has surpassed 50 points, highlighted by a 30-goal, 35-assist campaign in 2009-10. (June 30: Re-signed with Hurricanes for three years, $9 million)


Ville Leino -- Flyers: The 27-year-old Fin is coming off his best season in the NHL, scoring 19 goals with 34 assists on the heels of his 21-point postseason when the Flyers went to the Cup Finals. There is no question the Flyers would like to have him back, but it's a matter of if they can have him back. The Flyers are still reportedly eyeing RFA Steven Stamkos, so Leino could be left in the lurch and snagged by another team while Philly chases that option.


Richards -- Stars: Richards is a true No. 1 center. Last season in 72 games for the Stars he tallied 77 points on 28 goals and 49 assists. The mystery isn't who will be interested in Richards, it's who will Richards be interested in? He will likely have his pick of the litter, from his old stomping grounds in Tampa to New York or Chicago.


Michael Ryder -- Bruins: The 31-year-old Ryder hasn't made the best impression in the world in either Montreal or Boston, the two stomping grounds in his career. However, the guy has scoring ability, hitting the 25-goal plateau in four of his seven NHL seasons, including 38 as a rookie.



Maxime Talbot -- Penguins: Talbot isn't the highest-scoring center you'll find (just eight goals and 13 assists last season) but he has earned a reputation as a postseason performer, which never hurts. The Maple Leafs have shown interest in Talbot since it became clear he wouldn't be returning to Pittsburgh and seem the most likely destination at this point.


Scottie Upshall -- Blue Jackets: Smack dab in the middle of his prime at 27, Upshall has plenty of talent to draw interest. He hasn't found the perfect spot for himself in either Columbus or any of the spots before. But each of the past four seasons has seen his goal total rise, hitting 22 last season for the Jackets. Once concern is that last season was the first time he played 75 games (he played all 82).


Others of interest: Jason Arnott (WAS), Tomas Fleischmann (COL), Radim Vrbata (PHO), Joel Ward (NSH), Marcel Goc (NSH), Raffi Torres (VAN), John Madden (MIN), Andrew Brunette (MIN), Tim Connolly (BUF)

By Brian Stubits

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: June 28, 2011 5:21 pm
Edited on: June 29, 2011 11:00 am
 

'Canes keep Pitkanen, face decisions with others

The players are flying off the free-agent market and the season hasn't even begun. You can add Joni Pitkanen to the list.

The Carolina Hurricanes locked up their young defenseman with a three-year contract at $4.5 million annually before he could test the open waters. The 28-year-old has spent the past three seasons in Raleigh with the 'Canes, scoring five goals with 30 assists last season.

"Joni has been a very important part of our defense as he plays in all situations," GM Jim Rutherford said. "He plays a lot of minutes, and is one of the top puck-movers in the league. We are very pleased that he wanted to return to the Hurricanes."

If he were to hit free agency, he was set to be one of the most coveted defensemen available. Instead, a rather bare market becomes even less inviting for the spenders.

"He's a guy that plays a ton of minutes in all situations, is a big, strong guy, and, if you look at the free agent list for defensemen, he was near the top of it," Rutherford said. "We thought he would want to test the market, but he really loves playing here and I really appreciate what he did to make that happen."

Also on Tuesday the Hurricanes re-signed Patrick Dwyer to a two-year deal.

They are the first of many decisions the Hurricanes have to make in the coming weeks. At this time, they have just five forwards under contract at the NHL level. Cory Stillman, Erik Cole, Chad LaRose and Jussi Jokinen are all unrestricted free agents come Friday while Brandon Sutter is on the restricted list.

Rutherford, holding little back, said things aren't going well with LaRose, Cole or Jokinen.

"For Erik and Jussi, this is about money to them," Rutherford said. "I'll use the same quote that I always use this time of year. You have players who say the right thing publicly about wanting to stay, but what they forget to add is, 'Unless I can get more money somewhere else.'

"That may very well be what happens, and in that way I understand their position."

-- Brian Stubits

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl on Twitter or @BrianStubitsNHL

Posted on: April 8, 2011 4:44 pm
Edited on: April 8, 2011 5:05 pm
 

Playoff Watch: 'Canes, Stars face crucial tilts



WHO CAN CLINCH: The idle Washington Capitals will repeat as Eastern Conference champs if the Philadelphia Flyers lose to the Buffalo Sabres in regulation, overtime or a shootout.

The Philadelphia Flyers will clinch the Atlantic Division title with either: 
  • a victory over the Sabres combined with Pittsburgh Penguins loss to the New York Islanders
  • an overtime loss to Sabres and a Penguins loss. 

The Buffalo Sabres can secure a berth with either:
  • they net a point against the Flyers
  • the Carolina Hurricanes fall to the Atlanta Thrashers in regulation, overtime or a shootout.


The Nashville Predators will clinch a berth if either:

The Phoenix Coyotes can clinch a berth one of three ways:
  • a victory or a shootout/overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks
  • the Stars lose to the Avalanche in regulation, overtime or a shootout.
  • the Stars beat the Avalanche, but it’s in a shootout. 


The Anaheim Ducks can secure a berth three different ways:
  • the Ducks beat the Los Angeles Kings
  • the Ducks get one pints against the Kings AND the Stars lose to the Avalanche.
  • the Stars lose to the Avs in regulation. 

The Chicago Blackhawks advance to the postseason with either:
  • a victory over the Detroit Red Wings in regulation or overtime coupled with a Stars loss or if the Stars need a shootout to beat the Avs. 
  • the ‘Hawks beat the Wings in a shootout coupled with a Stars loss. 


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

GAME OF THE NIGHT: Carolina Hurricanes (39-30-11) at Atlanta Thrashers (34-34-12), 7:30 p.m. 

Any kind of victory will move the Hurricanes into the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, although they may want to take care of things in regulation or overtime. Sure, a shootout win will give them two points and that’d be enough to boot the New York Rangers out of eighth. That would, however, still leave the Hurricanes and the Rangers with the same amount of regulation/overtime wins (34) heading into Saturday. (The Rangers finish up against the rival New Jersey Devils, while the ‘Canes play Tampa Bay.) The ‘Canes still hold the second tiebreaker, a better head-to-head record against the Rangers. 

All of the first five meetings between these two Southeast Division rivals have been one-goal games with four contests reached overtime. (One of the games also went to a shootout.) The Canes’ have won four of the five games with forward Erik Cole netting the game-winner Carolina’s three regulation/overtime wins. The road team has won nine of the last 11 meetings. 
The Thrashers showed with their 3-0 victory over the Rangers Thursday that they don’t mind playing the role of spoiler. Of course, they could just as easily help the Rangers with a victory tonight. Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec made 29 saves Thursday for his fourth shutout of the season. 

ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Dallas Stars (41-28-11) at Colorado Avalanche (29-43-8)
The Stars can either rein in their playoff destiny or get eliminated tonight. No pressure. Dallas will probably know by sometime during the second period of their game how the Blackhawks-Red Wings contest turned out. A ‘Hawks regulation loss coupled with a Dallas regulation/overtime win puts the Stars back  in control heading into their finale against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday. (In that scenario, a Stars victory in the finale would mean an entry in the playoffs and would mark the first time a division has gotten all of its teams into postseason at once.) The Avs have one two of the first three meetings between these two clubs. 

GOLF WATCH: The Stars will be eliminated with a loss combined with a regulation victory by Chicago. Calgary, Toronto, Atlanta, St. Louis, New Jersey, Minnesota, Ottawa, Florida, New York Islanders, Columbus, Colorado and Edmonton are already mathematically eliminated.  

-- A.J. Perez

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