Red-hot Devan Dubnyk of the Wild is just one goalie to watch as the playoff races go down to the wire.
Some things I think about when I think about goalies ...
Much has been made about how the proposed expansion draft rules that allow for the protection of just one goalie will be disastrous for teams that have two solid keepers on the roster or a top prospect who is close to making the jump.
But imagine how it might benefit an established team in need of an upgrade between the pipes.
The idea, of course, was designed to ensure that an expansion club would come out of the gate with some depth in net. But it could also help rebuilding organizations like the Carolina Hurricanes or Calgary Flames acquire a goalie who can get them over the hump.
Consider the Hurricanes. Cam Ward will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and it's a safe bet he won't return next season. Eddie Lack, who is signed through 2017-18, will be back, but the 28-year-old career understudy isn't someone who is worth protecting. And the team's goalie of the future, 2014 draft pick Alex Nedeljkovic, has yet to turn pro and is still years removed from being a viable No. 1 in the NHL.
The timing is right then for Carolina to upgrade at the position. And there should be a glut of talent available as teams look to move assets before losing them for nothing.
Seeing the steps the Canes have made this season while being saddled with inconsistent netminding, it's easy to imagine them reaching the next level if GM Ron Francis takes advantage of this situation to snag a proven veteran like Brian Elliott, Frederik Andersen or Ben Bishop. And because there will be more sellers than buyers, he should be able to pick up a Tesla for the price of a used Toyota. Something to keep in mind as we head into the offseason.
• I'm not concerned about the Blackhawks and their annual late-season slide. I am worried about the health of Corey Crawford, who still isn't skating after suffering an upper-body injury on March 14. There have been whispers that he's dealing with post-concussion symptoms. Crawford reportedly is day-to-day.
• If the battle between the Avalanche and Wild for the final wild-card spot in the West is going to be tilted by the efforts of one player, it'll be Devan Dubnyk who makes the difference. The 29-year-old keeper hasn't been the consistent force he was after being acquired by Minnesota last season, but he's finding his groove at just the right time.
Dubnyk is 8-1-1 with a 2.18 GAA and .922 save percentage in his past 10 games, and he all but willed the Wild to victories over the Blackhawks and Kings in his past two starts. He stopped 29 of 31 shots against Chicago, and was a perfect three-for-three in the shootout, to secure two points from the Hawks. He was even better in a 2–1 win over Los Angeles, a game in which the Wild were outshot 39-18. "He basically single-handedly got us the win,” Erik Haula said of Dubnyk's first-star performance. “He almost had 40 saves and he stood on his head the whole game. He definitely was the backbone tonight.”
When Dubnyk's at his best, like he is now, he's a perfect blend of aggressiveness and control. He challenges shooters, battles for space, and is economical with his rebounds. And he can track the puck with the best of them. That's exactly what he's doing now ... which is bad news for the Avs, who will be without their top scorers Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon for at least two games.
• While Jake Allen is the future for the St. Louis Blues, Brian Elliott looks like Mr. Right Now. In his past 10 appearances, he's posted an 8-0-1 mark with a 1.61 GAA and .948 save percentage. He's been even better on the road, winning his six most recent starts with a 1.34 GAA and .951 save percentage. That stretch includes back-to-back shutouts over Vancouver and San Jose in his first two starts since returning from the knee injury that sidelined him for nearly a month.
If there were any questions about who'll start for the Blues when the playoffs roll around, that 1–0 win over the Sharks should have put them to bed. Elliott was solid while stealing a game in which St. Louis was outshot 37-24 and outplayed by a wider margin than that. He was at his very best late in the game when the Blues took two penalties and the Sharks pulled Martin Jones to create a furious 6-on-3 attack. His poise under pressure was the difference, and that's a quality the Blues will desperately need next month.
• Can't say enough about Flyers goalie Steve Mason, who made a career-high 51 saves on Tuesday night but was saddled with a loss after Philly blew a two-goal lead with just over a minute to play against the Blue Jackets. He'll probably take some heat for allowing Cam Atkinson's equalizer with eight seconds remaining, but his failure to pounce on a rebound was less of a sin than his defense allowing three Columbus attackers to gain unfettered access to his crease.
Mason needs to step up with Philadelphia's playoff hopes hanging in the balance and Michal Neuvirth sidelined for the next three weeks. If that contest, along with his previous performance against the Islanders, was any indication, he's ready for the challenge.
But he won't be going it alone. Philadelphia has three sets of back-to-back games in the final nine days of the regular season, so minor leaguer Anthony Stolarz, who has yet to make his NHL debut, could be in the mix for one or two starts as well.
The numbers game
• The Dallas Stars clinched a playoff berth and finished their season series against the Blackhawks with a 4-1-0 record including wins in both of their visits to Chicago's United Center.
• The Capitals need two wins to tie their single-season franchise record (54)set in 2009-10 when they won the Presidents’ Trophy. Washington has equaled its franchise mark for road victories (24), which was also set that season.
• Down 2-0 on Tuesday night, the Blue Jackets scored twice in the final 64 seconds of regulation for the first time in their history before downing the Flyers in a shootout. Columbus also became the first team to overcome such a deficit and win since Dec. 23, 2005 when the Red Wings rallied from 2–0 down in the final 39 seconds of regulation before beating the Blackhawks in overtime.
• Michael Arace perfectly captures the soul-crushing burden of yet another failed season in Columbus.
• Tip o' the hat to Dave Stubbs for pointing out this amazing gallery of vintage New York Rangers images.
• Craig Button's latest listing of the top 100 prospects for this year's draft is full of surprises. Which is no surprise, really, given that his lists always tend to veer away from consensus. And that's a good thing.
• This bit of stickhandling wizardry by Anaheim's Rickard Rakell is one of the greatest moments of the season. Absolutely amazing.
• Here's a look at 12 players on the verge of making their first-ever postseason appearance. A few unexpected names here.
• There's another side to the goalie equipment debate and it deserves greater attention.
• Patrick Roy talks about losing Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon and what it all means for the Avs this season.