Suspension of disbelief
Thanks to the on-ice antics of
Unfortunately, we're parting paths on the three-game vacation handed to
The NHL has made it clear time and again that they're going to hit back hard against anyone who takes aim at an opponents head, and Ott came to the league's attention as attempting a borderline head shot. But that's it -- borderline. Leopold, who had just dished the puck up the boards, was aware of Ott's impending arrival and was in position for contact. The hit was hard, but Ott led with his the shoulder. If Leopold's head was impacted, it didn't appear to be the focal point of the blow.
To this observer, it looked like the kind of hit that's not only a regular feature of the game, but one of its better elements. Hard and right on the edge. The kind that makes the player on the receiving end think twice before he makes his next move, and creates an advantage for the administrating team.
Ott's certainly no saint. He treats the rules as though they have a considerable degree of elasticity, and has the penalty totals to prove it. He's even developed a
Maybe Ott's reputation played a part. Certainly, the result of his hit did. And that's where the real problem in Campbell's decision lies. Chances are that if Leopold had bounced up afterwards, this hit would never have been given a moment's consideration. There are nastier blows than this almost every night of the schedule that go unpunished because the player on the receiving end has more jam. And that's why the league should be more concerned with intent or irresponsibility than the aftermath.
One game would have been understandable in this case, a sort of general reminder from the league to play nice. Three games? That sounds more like a stern message. One that, in this case, anyway, didn't need to be sent.
When it comes to the Pacific Division, and I'm paraphrasing the great
As it stands today, the Pacific boasts three teams that rank second, third and fifth in the NHL points race. And while the standings undoubtedly will change between now and April 6, it's not a stretch to suggest that the Sharks, Stars and Ducks are three of the best five teams in the league.
And that's why it should be noted, with no apologies to the fans in Colorado, Vancouver, Nashville, Toronto, Boston or Philadelphia, that the only playoff race that matters is the battle for top spot in the Pacific. Because of the NHL's divisional seeding rule, the two teams left in the dust are headed for a must-see first round battle royale that's going to eliminate a worthy Cup contender in the opening days of the postseason.
If the Stars fall short -- and that's looking more likely by the day they'll reflect in horror on the 25 seconds of mental meltdowns on Thursday night in Detroit that cost them a third-period lead and a chance to wrest first place back from the Sharks.
Joe Louis Arena has been a recurring nightmare for the Stars -- goalie
Third period meltdowns have been an issue with the Stars during their current 2-4-0 slide that's seen them give ground in the race. To complicate matters, the loss came on a Sharks off-night, leaving intact San Jose's one-point lead and three games in hand with which to extend it. The Sharks, a perfect 10-0 since Feb. 21, may not need home ice if they slip out of the top spot. They've captured eight in a row away from the Shark Tank to solidify their standing as the league's most dangerous road team, and they look almost unbeatable since adding the missing link -- slick puck-mover
The Ducks, meanwhile, are without their leading goal scorer,
The more you watch
After watching three key teammates --
At the same time, don't be surprised if GM
Miller's been downplaying his interest in negotiating any time soon, and has expressed very little enthusiasm that suggests he's committed to the Sabres. Regier has the cap space, but with the franchise in transition, it's doubtful that cash alone with sway Miller's eventual decision.