The Colorado Avalanche announced on Thursday that playoff tickets will go on sale Saturday.
No, it wasn't a well-timed gag, though going by their play of late -- over the last month, the Avs have been a house of horrors befitting Halloween more than April Fool's Day -- one could be forgiven for double-checking the calendar.
Actually, if the team had been smart, it would have moved the sale up to today. Because if things don't go well when the eighth-place Avs host the ninth-place Calgary Flames, there might not be much demand for those ducats.
Though the clash is being promoted as a must-win game for both sides, that's not quite true. The Flames have four games after it, the Avalanche five, leaving some room for last-minute jockeying. But with two points and a world of momentum separating them in the race for the final playoff spot in the West, the game sets up as the most important contest either has played this season.
What's hard to believe is that it ever got to this point. When these teams met back on March 17, the Avs held a comfortable nine-point lead. The Flames earned a 3-2 win that night in Denver, a victory that could have propelled their their playoff pursuit. Instead, they stumbled along, running up a 4-3 record that included humiliating losses and pulse-pounding wins. Exactly the sort of performance you'd expect from a team that's good but not quite good enough to earn an invite to the postseason party. But even mediocrity wasn't enough to extinguish the Flames. Not with the Avalanche grinding to a halt.
Since that night, the Avs are 1-4-1, allowing Calgary to carve away at their lead until it was down to just a pair of points. And with a regulation loss in their final meeting of the regular season, it's down to zero.
Winning in 60 is key to Calgary's cause. If the two teams are deadlocked at the end of the season, the Avs are likely to have the edge in wins (41-39 at the moment). They already have the head-to-head battle locked up after winning the first four meetings. But it has to burn Colorado that it's come to this. That they've become the cliche: the team that peaked too soon.
That's part of learning how to win in this league, but right now it's an awfully tough lesson to swallow.
Where other teams are ramping up their intensity, the Avs seem to be withdrawing. And while they'd never say as much, you get the sense that their confidence is flagging in a clearly exhausted
Not to take anything away from his remarkable season -- where would they be without his heroics? -- but Anderson is dragging. His glove hand has slowed, his positioning is off. His slumping play is the biggest reason that, in the 15 games since the Olympics, Colorado has allowed 3.60 goals per game. That's a significant step down from Edmonton's 30th-ranked 3.36 season average and a full goal more than the 2.59 that the Avs were surrendering prior to the break.
Of course, Anderson's not the only reason for the slide. The team's overall defensive effort has slipped as it has scrambled to do too much. The forwards,
Though they were credited with just seven on the night by the kind-hearted Anaheim statisticians, the true number might have been double. It's a sign of a team that's trying to do too much. And that lack of patience is biting them hard.
But as grim as this skid has been, there's hope. Truth is, Colorado's fate is in its own hands. Beat the Flames, and the Avs are back in charge.
They'll also get a big boost when
Will that be enough to snap this skid? Hard to say. But the Avs might want to make sure they have a few extra operators standing by, just in case.
It wasn't long ago that I was convinced the Sutter brothers had enough collateral to buy at least one more season to turn things around in Calgary. Now, despite this late run, it's hard not to get the sense that things have changed. Unless the pressure is relieved by advancing past the first round, you could see a new look in place before the draft. If that happens,
But would he want it?
It's not even certain that Yzerman, who has served as vice-president of the Red Wings since Sept. 2006, believes he's ready for the challenge of managing an NHL team just yet. And if he is, he may not be looking for a
Consider what he'd have to deal with. He'd be handcuffed financially by the contracts awarded recently to
Yzerman is so highly regarded as a managerial prospect that he can afford to pick his spot. Calgary might offer the type of challenge he craves. More likely, though, he holds off for something more appealing.
I think Kings coach
That said, don't count on Quick being the guy who runs the table in the postseason.
Sure, he'll get the first shot. He's earned it. But it's undeniable that Bernier has given the team a boost when it was struggling to find its defensive soul over the last couple weeks. He made 34 stops in a crucial 2-0 win over conference rival Nashville on Tuesday, making him the youngest goalie in franchise history to earn a shutout. He might have done nearly as well Thursday against Vancouver if his teammates hadn't hung him out to dry after building an early 5-0 lead on the way to an 8-3 win.
In short, he gave the Kings a chance to find their footing after a disquieting four-game losing streak sent them tumbling closer to ninth than they should have been. But that'll be it...for now, anyway. Quick, who has won a franchise-record 39 games this season, will get the start Saturday when the Kings host Anaheim. The Kings shipped Bernier back to Manchester as regular backup
It's looking even more likely now that
Speaking of the Stars, we may also be watching
Ribeiro was already rumored to be on his way out before a disciplinary breach on the road last week (he missed a team meeting) earned him a spot in the press box as a healthy scratch for Dallas' 4-1 win over the Kings. If he had any supporters in the organization before that incident, they're considerably more scarce now.
My hometown loyalties aside, I think I'd rather watch the Ontario Hockey League's second-round battle between the Windsor Sptifires and Plymouth Whalers than just about any matchup I can picture in the NHL this spring. Of course, so would every scout whose team has a prayer of drafting in the top five.
The series, which got underway Thursday night with a 5-1 win for the Spitfires, features the top three prospects for this June's draft: Windsor left winger
At this point, Hall, the top-ranked player according to the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau, has little to prove. The MVP of the 2009 Memorial Cup, a member of Canada's World Junior squad, the OHL's leading scorer....he's shown his ability to ramp up his game when it matters most. And if the team with the first overall selection is looking for a dynamic scorer off the wing -- think
But there's plenty to like about Seguin, a crafty playmaker who shared that OHL scoring crown with Hall. A supporting player during last year's six-game series, he'll be front and center this time around. And with so little separating the two, an outstanding performance here could provide an edge.
Give that early edge to Hall, who scored a pair of goals in Thursday's win. That gives him multi-point performances in each of Windsor's five playoff games and four consecutive multi-goal efforts. Seguin was pointless and a minus-three. Not the best night on his resume, but as one scout said this morning, "He's got plenty of bounce-back in him."
The series resumes Saturday in Plymouth and could extend to April 12 if it goes seven games. That'd make for a nice ramp up to the NHL's draft lottery, which will be held in New York on April 13.
I mentioned this last season, but it's worth bringing up again: I'd really like to see the Central Hockey League's anti-scrum rule enacted in the NHL. The legislation, which is in effect for the playoffs only, puts an immediate end to all of the post-whistle, goalmouth silliness by dictating that the referee must penalize one involved player for every incident. The actual call can vary by situation -- roughing, interference, unsportsmanlike conduct -- but there will always be a man advantage arising from any gathering of the clans. And since the players know there'll be a call, but don't know which team it'll go against, they're inclined to beat a safe retreat to the face-off circle or the bench at a stoppage. A CHL official said the rule saves time and keeps the energy focused where it belongs: between the whistles. I like it.