Faceoff: The dust settles
The final weekend of the regular season didn't bring quite as much drama as we'd have hoped for, with only one playoff race still left to be settled. But that race was a good one, with the Bruins, Flyers and Red Wings all heading into action with a chance at one of the East's two remaining spots.
Thanks to some scheduling karma, we got to sit back and watch it all play out on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, so did Tuukka Rask, who was a surprise scratch for the Bruins due to illness. That forced backup Jonas Gustavsson into action, and it went just about as well as you'd expect. Gustavsson was shelled, the Bruins dropped a 6-1 blowout to the Senators, and the Red Wings were in the playoffs despite losing to the Rangers. The streak lives, and the Wings will get a first-round rematch with the Lightning.
That loss left the Bruins on life support, and the Flyers pulled the plug a few hours later with a win over the depleted Penguins. That completes an impressive late-season run for a team that seemed all but out of the race in January. The Flyers will get the top-seeded Capitals in the opening round.
As for the Bruins, it's hard to see missing the playoffs as anything but a disaster for the franchise, especially after rookie GM Don Sweeney traded away four draft picks at the deadline for veteran reinforcements and is now likely to lose UFA Loui Eriksson for nothing. The bottom line is that the Bruins just aren't good enough, and changes of some kind are coming in Boston. We'll get to what seems like the most obvious of those a few sections down.
The other big news from the weekend were the two Western division titles up for grabs. The Stars grabbed the Central crown with a win over the Predators on Saturday; the Kings had a chance to do the same against the Jets, but blew a 3-0 lead and dropped a shootout decision to leave the door open for the Ducks. They strolled through it, beating the Capitals last night to win the division and set up a first-round matchup with the Predators. The Kings are stuck with a much tougher matchup with the Sharks, and have also squandered home ice in any second-round meeting with the Ducks. Hockey fans know better than to get ahead of ourselves, but that Kings loss to the Jets feels huge.
The full playoff bracket and schedule is now set, and can be found here.
Race to the Cup
The five teams with the best shot at winning the Stanley Cup.
5. Los Angeles Kings (48-28-6, +31 true goals differential)—Yes, still ahead of the Ducks, if only barely. Yes, I can see myself really regretting this about two weeks from now.
4. St. louis Blues (49-24-9, +22)—You always knew their path out of the West would go through Chicago. But in the first round? Ouch.