Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The five most memorable Game Sevens in conference final history

Well, at least the Senators came through. While the Ducks couldn't stave off elimination in Monday's Game 6 loss to the Predators, the Senators managed to extend their series with the Penguins with Tuesday night's win. That means we'll at least get one Game 7 out of this year's conference finals.

So to celebrate, let's count down the five most memorable conference final Game 7s, dating back to the introduction of the four-round format back in 1975. Here's hoping the Pens and Sens can deliver something that will push for a spot on this list when they meet Thursday night.

No. 5: Devils vs. Senators, 2003

Here's a secret about the 2003 conference final showdown between the Devils and the Senators: It was for the Stanley Cup.

Nobody wanted to say that out loud at the time; it would have been bad form. But the Senators had posted the league's best regular season record, while the Devils had finished fourth overall. With all of the other contenders already eliminated, Ottawa and New Jersey were playing for the right to face the upstart Mighty Ducks in the final. And while Paul Kariya and friends were a great story, nobody gave them much of a chance against either the Senators or Devils.

So this series really did feel like it was for the championship. And the two teams put on a show worthy of those stakes, with the Devils taking a 3-1 series lead before the Senators roared back to force a seventh game thanks to a Chris Phillips overtime winner in Game 6. That set up a deciding game back in Ottawa, and it lived up to the hype. The teams traded goals, Martin Brodeur and Patrick Lalime traded big saves, and we were all tied at 2-2 late in the third.

And then, with overtime looming, it all fell apart for Ottawa thanks to a broken coverage on a harmless-looking rush.

Jeff Friesen's goal held up as the winner, and New Jersey moved on. Those Mighty Ducks turned out to be a tougher opponent than most of us expected, stretching the final to seven games. But the Devils prevailed, capturing their third Cup and leaving Senators fans to agonize over how close they'd come.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How this year's playoff performances are upending the offseason

The conference finals are always a bit of a weird time for hockey fans. On the one hand, three teams are still alive, fighting tooth and nail for the right to lift the Stanley Cup. There’s nothing more important in this sport than the do-or-die games we’re watching right now.

On the other hand, we’ve got 28 teams on the sidelines, and some of those teams have been there since early April. If we’re being honest, at least some fans are already thinking about the off-season. We’ve got a summer’s worth of trades, free-agency signings, and this year even an expansion draft waiting for us. It can be hard to keep focused on the playoffs without looking ahead.

So which is it, playoffs or off-season? Today, let’s do both. Let’s look at how this year’s playoffs may have changed what we should expect to see in the coming off-season. After all, an especially good or bad playoff run can influence or even completely upend the perception of a player (just ask Dave Bolland). Maybe it shouldn’t — a handful of games shouldn’t change how we view a guy who’s been around for years — but that doesn’t really matter. A few weeks in, the spring can rewrite everything that’s going to happen in the summer.

This year will be no different. Now we just need to figure out who’s changed what. We’ll look at a few key aspects of the off-season, starting with what some GM’s have called the biggest day of the year for off-season mistakes: July 1.

Free agency

There's nothing like a disappointing playoff run to send a player into unrestricted free agency with a dark cloud hanging over them. Fair or not, a player can cost themselves some serious money with a poorly timed post-season slump.

That may have been what we just saw happen to Kevin Shattenkirk. Widely considered to be the top player on this year's market, Shattenkirk doubled as the biggest name to move at the trade deadline. He seemed like an ideal fit for a Capitals team that was already the Stanley Cup favourite. But a disappointing playoffs saw Shattenkirk paired with Brooks Orpik, and the two veterans struggled to keep the puck out of their net.

After eight games, Shattenkirk was sitting at a minus-7 rating, a performance that his own coach publicly called "not good enough". He rebounded somewhat after that, including scoring the OT winner in game three against Pittsburgh. But heading towards July 1, teams will be asking themselves if Shattenkirk deserves to be paid like a top-pairing defenceman, and his playoff performance didn't give him much evidence to point to.

The Capitals' other pending UFAs were more of a mixed bag. T.J. Oshie had a productive post-season and probably boosted his value at least a little bit while Karl Azner struggled. Meanwhile, Justin Williams played well but lost his Mr. Game Seven aura against the Penguins.

The deadline's other top name didn't fare much better that Shattenkirk. Minnesota's Martin Hanzal heads into free agency after managing just a single point during the Wild's abbreviated run. He's a two-way player who wasn't brought in to light up the scoreboard, but when your own owner is publicly wishing his team hadn't traded for you, you may have cost yourself a few dollars.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, May 19, 2017

Grab bag: Kesler vs. Johansen, boring Sens, Kessel vs. Phaneuf

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Are the Senators boring?
- Ryan Johansen calls out Ryan Kesler, kind of
- An obscure player who was the first link between the Ducks and Predators
- The week's three comedy stars
- And we look back at Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel sharing some friendly banter about how much they hate each other

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Podcast: Sens and sensitivity

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Dave and I talk about the (maybe) boring Senators and their (definitely) over-sensitive fanbase
- We debate Murray vs. Fleury, and one of us is right
- Thoughts on Ryan Johansen calling out Ryan Kesler
- That terrible new playoff ad that everyone seems to love
- The NHL unveils its list of the 20 greatest teams and it's wrong
- And lots more

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The 2017 playoff all-disappointment team

We’re well into the conference finals, which is great for fans of the four teams left standing. The Senators, Penguins, Predators and Ducks are filled with positive — and at times even inspiring — stories of perseverance and success.

It’s annoying. All of this saying-nice-things is getting exhausting.

So today, let’s get back to what hockey fans do best: Complaining about guys who didn’t meet our expectations. Yes, it’s time to name our annual playoff-bust team, in which we find a roster’s worth of players who’ve had a disappointing last few weeks.

We’ll fill out a complete lineup card, including a third-string goalie. For an extra challenge, we’ll do it all-star style, meaning we want at least one player from every team (including the four active ones). And like all great teams, we’ll build from the net out…


Sergei Bobrovsky: We'll ease into things with one of the most straightforward picks on the roster. Bobrovsky will probably win his second Vezina this year, and deservedly so. But he never got going during the playoffs, giving up three or more goals in all five games and finishing as one of only two post-season starters with a sub-.900 save percentage.

Would a better performance have powered the Blue Jackets past the Penguins for their first-ever playoff series win? Maybe not, but without their star goalie in top form, Columbus never had a chance.

Brian Elliott: Elliott is the other starter to fall under the .900 mark, and he was actually a few points back of Bobrovsky. He made four starts, the Flames lost all four, and his 3.88 GAA tied with Bobrovsky for the post-season's worst. But unlike Bobrovsky, he almost certainly won't get a chance to redeem himself next year, at least not with the Flames.

Braden Holtby: Emergency backup duties on our all-disappointment roster is a little trickier call; you could make a case for Corey Crawford, or maybe even John Gibson. But we'll go with Holtby, who falls victim to sky-high expectations that he and his Capitals teammates carried into the playoffs. His shaky numbers were as much about bad bounces as any obvious flaw in his game, but given the stakes in Washington, Holtby's performance was a letdown. Spoiler alert: He won't be the only Capital on this team.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Five teams that hit rock bottom before winning a Cup (and what they can teach the Capitals)

A week can be a very long time in the NHL.

One week ago today, the Capitals were getting ready for the biggest game in recent franchise history. And it sure looked like they were about to record the biggest win in recent franchise history, as they went into Game 7 against the Penguins with all the momentum. With a win, they'd complete the comeback from down 3-1 in the series and advance to the conference final for the first time in the Alexander Ovechkin era.

We know how that turned out. Now, the Capitals look like a franchise in ruin. They've got several paths forwards, and none of them look good. For a team that everyone seemed to have penciled in as favorites, it's hard to imagine the mood around the team being much worse.

So what happens when a Cup contender has it all go bad?

If there's any good news to be found for the Capitals, it's that there's actually a decent history of NHL teams having miserable postseason exits, only to bounce back and win the Stanley Cup a year or two later. So today, let's try to cheer up Washington fans with a look back at five Cup contenders who hit rock bottom or something close to it before winning it all, and what those teams could teach the Capitals.

2010 Boston Bruins

What went wrong: Like the current Capitals, the 2009-10 Bruins hadn't been out of the second round in a long time. It had been 18 years since their last trip to the final four, including a disappointing 2008-09 season in which they came within a point of first overall, then were stunned by the sixth-seeded Hurricanes in Round 2.

But in 2010, things were different. The Bruins beat out the Sabres in the opening round, then took a 3-0 series lead over the Flyers in the second round. But after missing a shot at a sweep by dropping Game 4 in overtime, the Bruins lost Games 5 and 6 as well, forcing a seventh game on home ice. Then they blew a 3-0 lead in that game, completing one of the most stunning collapses in NHL history, becoming (at the time) only the third team to ever lose a series it had led 3-0.

But then: The Bruins traded for Nathan Horton and Greg Campbell in the offseason, and drafted Tyler Seguin with Toronto's pick. But other than that, they kept the roster largely intact (getting Tim Thomas back to gull health helped). It paid off when they won the Stanley Cup in 2011. Nobody mentions the blown 3-0 lead anymore.

What the Caps can learn: If you're looking for a case of a team resisting the urge to overreact and being rewarded, the Bruins are a decent choice. Nobody got fired, and none of the top stars were shown the door. And for once, the "stay the course" approach worked.

1979 Islanders

What went wrong: The 1978-79 seasons marked the fourth straight year in which the Islanders finished with one the five best records in the league. This time, they were the best, period, winning the Presidents' Trophy with a franchise record 116 points. But in all that time, they'd never been able to get over the hump and into the final.

The 1979 playoffs were supposed to be different. The Islanders swept the Hawks in Round 1, setting up a meeting with a Rangers team that had finished 25 points back of them in the standings. But the Rangers largely shut down the Islanders' high-octane offense, winning the series in six and leaving fans on Long Island to wonder if their team would ever figure it out in the playoffs.

But then: It's safe to say they figured it out; after that Rangers loss, the Islanders won their next 19 playoff series, a pro sports record that still stands today. That included four straight Stanley Cups and full-fledged dynasty status.

That was despite taking a step back during the 1980-81 regular season, falling to a pedestrian 91 points. But a late-season move to bring in Butch Goring seemed to spark the team, and is often cited as one of the best trade deadline deals ever.

What the Caps can learn: The lesson here is to stay calm if the team seems to regress next season, although it's hard to imagine that message actually sinking in for a Washington fan base on edge. Still, the Islanders are another decent "stay the course" story, with a little bit of "load up at the deadline" mixed in.

Of course, there's also one other Islanders move that's been largely forgotten: They switched captains in 1979, moving the "C" from Clark Gillies to Denis Potvin. Sorry, Alex.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ranking the candidates to be Canada's Team

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised some eyebrows recently when he suggested that the entire country should be rooting for the Ottawa Senators. They’re Canada’s last remaining playoff team, after all, and with the nation riding a Stanley Cup drought going on 24 years, surely we could all unite in a common cause of rooting them on.

Not so fast, responded hockey fans around the country. Once we were done being thankful that this is what passes for a controversial statement from our leader, the backlash to Trudeau’s comments was swift.

The whole “Canada’s team” thing always comes up around this time of year, and it always divides fans. Many are on Trudeau’s side, happily throwing their support behind whichever of the country’s teams is the last one left. But others want no part of switching allegiances, even temporarily. For those fans, the idea of getting behind some other team is a non-starter, and anyone who’d suggest otherwise doesn’t get what being a fan is all about.

We’ll save that particular debate for another day. Instead, let’s take a look back at the teams that have laid claim to “Canada’s Team” status over the years. Since the start of the country’s Cup drought in 1993, there have been 11 Canadian teams that have made it to at least the conference finals as the nation’s last remaining team.

Today, we’ll rank them from least to most likable and see where this year’s Senators would slot in if (and we emphasize the “if”) you were the sort of fan who’d jump on the bandwagon of the country’s last remaining team.

#11. 2011 Canucks

The good: There's a strong case to be made that this was the country's very best team of the Cup drought era. They finished the season with 117 points, the most by a Canadian team in 22 years, and earned the first of back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies. They barely survived their first-round series against the Blackhawks, nearly blowing a 3-0 series lead before winning Game 7 in overtime, and seemed to get stronger as the playoffs wore on. By the time a Stanley Cup final matchup with the Bruins arrived, it really did seem like this was going to be the Canucks' year.

The bad: There's really no nice way to put it: This was a thoroughly unlikable team. Not top-to-bottom – they had easy-to-root-for players like the Sedin twins and Roberto Luongo. But they also had guys like Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Maxim Lapierre, all of whom fell solidly into the "like them when they're on your team, hate them when they're on anyone else's" category at the time. (And according to Ryan Johansen, still do today.)

To make matters worse, the team quickly gained a reputation for diving, whining and dishing out cheap shots. It's true that every team does their share of that stuff, but it's a reputation that stuck to the 2011 Canucks, and fans of other teams had plenty of fun with it.

By the time they started biting opponents, their role as post-season villains had been sealed. Nobody was jumping on this bandwagon.

Bottom line: Over the years, it's become easier to overlook some of the unfortunate moments and appreciate this team in a way we may not have been able to at the time. But back in 2011, these guys were a hard no.

#10. 2002 Maple Leafs

The good: They were a solid team that was fun to watch, playing the attacking style favored by coach Pat Quinn. And they had to overcome plenty of adversity just to reach the conference finals, with captain Mats Sundin missing the majority of the playoffs due to injury.

The bad: Let's start with the obvious: It's the Maple Leafs. Most fans in this country wouldn't jump on the Leafs' bandwagon if the entire roster sprouted halos and angel wings.

And this particular team were certainly no angels. While the roster featured guys like Sundin and future Lady Byng winner Alexander Mogilny, it also had Tie Domi throwing elbows and Darcy Tucker taking out knees. Within months, no less an authority than Sports Illustrated would be calling this team "the NHL's most notorious band of whiners, divers and cheap-shot artists". That might have been a little harsh, but given that the 2002 Leafs had a player suspended for a Game 7 because he tried to kick an opponent in the head, only a little.

Bottom line: The fact that they didn't make it all the way to the final is probably the only thing keeping this team from challenging the 2011 Canucks for the least likable crown.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, May 15, 2017

Weekend wrap: Senators' OT magic (but the backlash is on the way)

In the NHL playoffs, as the old saying goes, you’re never truly in trouble until you lose one at home.

There’s a corollary to that: If you lose two straight at home, you’re probably screwed.

The Ducks were facing that fate last night, after dropping Game 1 against the Predators on Friday night. It looked like Nashville might head home with a 2–0 series lead; the Predators held a two-goal lead after just 10 minutes, and led 3–2 midway through the second. But the Ducks stormed back, helped along by an uncharacteristically shaky outing from Pekka Rinne.

The two teams will now head to Nashville tied at a game apiece, with the series resuming tomorrow night.

The Penguins will be looking to follow the Ducks' lead tonight, as they host the Senators in what feels close to a must-win game. The high-powered Pens couldn't get much going in Saturday's Game 1, trailing 1–0 for most of the night before Evgeni Malkin tied it up late to briefly wake up a largely comatose Pittsburgh crowd. That gave the Penguins an opportunity to steal a win in overtime, but instead it was Bobby Ryan who capped it off for the Senators.

Game 2 goes tonight, and a Senators win would send them back to Ottawa with a shot at a sweep. The Senators head into this one having won five of seven on the road in this year's post-season.

On to the weekend's power rankings...

Top Five

Celebrating the players, teams, storylines and themes that have had the best week.

5. The Ryan Kesler vs. Ryan Johansen rivalry: The NHL playoffs are always better with a little bad blood mixed in, and the Nashville/Anaheim series is providing plenty early on. Much of it has come courtesy Kesler and Johansen, who've spent most of the first two games matched up against each other.

Things boiled over last night, with Johansen ripping on Kesler after the game. The mini-rant came after he appeared to be on the receiving end of a Kesler elbow, among other battles, and at one point included Johansen telling reporters that "I don't know how you can cheer for a player like that."

You can understand Johansen's frustration, but you have to think those sorts of comments are music to Kesler's ears. For the record, he was relatively complimentary of Johansen immediately after the game. But Kesler has been down this playoff road a few times before, and he knows how to get under someone's skin. He's apparently already there with Johansen, and there are still up to five games left to go.

4. Ben Bishop: The Dallas Stars got a jump on the off-season by locking down the first big-name UFA of the summer, signing Bishop to a six-year deal worth $29.5 million after acquiring his rights from the Kings.

The deal represents a pay cut for Bishop, who'll average about a million dollars less per season than he did on his last contract. But the term will more than make up for that; Bishop is 30 years old and coming off an injury-plagued season, and the market hasn't been especially kind to goalies in recent years. The track record for bigger goalies aging well isn't great, so getting a six-year commitment from a team is a clear win for Bishop.

From the Stars' perspective, Bishop is a clear upgrade at a position that's been a problem for years. He didn't come cheap (and they also had to give up a fourth-round pick to acquire his rights), but at some point GM Jim Nill needed to address his goaltending issues. There's an excellent chance that the contract comes back to bite the Stars by the end, but right now Nill has a potential Cup contender in place, and going another season with the status quo wasn't an option. Let's tentatively call this one even from a Dallas perspective, at least until we see how they wriggle out from Kari Lehtonen and/or Antti Niemi's contracts.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, May 12, 2017

Podcast: Break up the Capitals

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Dave and I react to a pair of game sevens
- We argue over whether the Caps should just blow it all up
- One surprising name it might make sense for Washington to trade
- Conference finals predictions
- The whole Sidney Crosby concussion fiasco
- The Stars finally get their goalie
- The Chris Neil narrative is so dumb
- Reader questions, and lots more

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Conference final preview + predictions

Welcome to the third round of the NHL playoffs. Let's get you caught up on what's happened so far.

The worst team in the Central, according the standings, made it through. The worst team in the Atlantic, according to the experts, did, too. The Presidents' Trophy winner went home in the second round, and their fans are very sad. And in the Pacific, a top seed that never wins Game 7 captured the division by winning a Game 7.

In other words, nobody has any idea what's going on, or what's going to happen. It's chaos out there. Beautiful, beautiful chaos. Let's get to the conference final preview.

Western Conference

One team is back in the conference final for the second time in three years. The other has never been here before, ever. It's not exactly a matchup between long-established hockey markets, but it should be fun.

WC Nashville Predators vs. #1 Anaheim Ducks

In this corner: The Predators (41-29-12, 94 points, +18 goals differential not counting shootouts), who struggled through an underwhelming first half of the season before hitting their stride in time for the playoffs.

The road so far: They stunned the favored Blackhawks with a four-game sweep in the opening round, then disposed of the Blues in six to reach the conference final for the first time in franchise history.

Injury report: With the obvious yet important caveat that just about everyone is banged up at this time of year and NHL teams are under no real obligation to tell us anything, the Predators injury list is fairly empty, apart from Kevin Fiala, who is out for the year after suffering an ugly broken leg in the second round.

The big question: How do you slow down the Predators offense from the blueline? The team's big three of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, and Ryan Ellis have combined for 24 points, with each of those players ranking among the team's top five scorers. For comparison, the team's other three blueliners have just three points total.

It's rare for a team to get that much scoring from the backend, and it's made up for the fact that the Predators forwards have been only OK. It will be interesting to see if the Ducks make any sort of adjustment to try to take away those blueline chances and force the guys up front to beat them.

One player to watch: Ryan Johansen. The fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft has long been viewed as an underrated two-way center—think along the lines of a poor man's Jonathan Toews or Anze Kopitar.

The Predators paid big to get him, surrendering Seth Jones in a blockbuster trade with the Blue Jackets last year, and for the most part he's given them what they were looking for. His 61 points tied him for the team lead, and he led the forwards in ice time. Still, he's the sort of player who always seems to leave you wanting just a little more. He has a team-leading nine points in this year's postseason, but with a matchup with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry looming, he'll be under the brightest spotlight of his career over the next two weeks.

Key number: .951, Pekka Rinne's save percentage so far in the postseason. You can dig into all sorts of numbers and narratives, but when your goaltender is stopping 19 out of every 20 shots, you're going to win.

Rinne isn't as good as his numbers indicate; he was a more pedestrian .918 on the regular season, and has been under .910 in each of his last two playoff runs before this current one. But that doesn't matter. He's red hot right now, and if he stays that way, the Predators probably win the series.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Grab bag: Stop wearing bright orange to playoff games you cretins, and other issues

In a special Thursday edition of the Grab Bag:
- Fans keep wearing bright orange to playoff games and we need to put a stop to it.
- Sidney Crosby just showed us why the concussion spotter system is broken
- An obscure player from an obscure trade that ended up being kind of important
- The week's three comedy stars, including an NHL team personally making fun of me
- And a look back at how the Predators started: With a terrible country song called "Hockey Tonk"

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

What do the Washington Capitals do now?

Heading into last night, it felt like something might have finally changed for the Washington Capitals. After three decades of increasingly devastating playoff debacles, this time felt like it might be different. After falling behind 3–1 in their series with the Penguins, they’d fought back to force a seventh game. You could feel the narrative rewriting itself — the notorious choke artists were finally going to flip the script on their arch-rival, the sort of dramatic turnaround that sends a franchise on the way to its first championship.

And then it all happened again.

Last night’s 2–0 loss didn’t just end the Capitals’ season. It was the worst-case scenario — one that saw yet another promising Washington season end with a whimper. It wasn’t their best game. It wasn’t even close. And they know it.

And now they’re left wondering what’s next. How do you fix this? Can you fix this?

This the part where I’m supposed to lay out what the Capitals’ ideal off-season plan should be. But here’s the thing: I’m not sure there is one. There are several different routes the Caps could go here, and each one has some serious flaws.

Option #1: Blow it all up

The approach: Sometimes when you're holding a losing hand, the smart thing to do is to keep playing until your luck turns around. And sometimes, the right move is to fold your cards, walk away from the table and cut your losses.

The Alex Ovechkin-era Capitals have been trying to win a Cup for a dozen years now, and the core of this year's edition has been together for the last five. That's a long time in the salary-cap world. The list of NHL teams that have been contenders that long without ever getting close, only to finally break through years down the line, is an awfully short one. It might even be empty.

Something's rotten in the foundation. Bulldoze the whole thing and rebuild.

The problem: Let's start with the obvious: This is a really good team. They've put up 238 points over the last two seasons, which is ridiculous in the NHL's age of parity.

So why haven't they won a championship? Well, as unsatisfying as the answer might be, maybe they're just unlucky. The league's playoff format means they have to get past a tough Penguins team to escape the second round, and they've come within a bounce or two of doing it. An 82-game season should tell us a lot more than a seven-game series, and in the Capitals' case, it's telling us that this is an excellent team. Blowing them up because they lost a Game 7 seems foolish.

But let's say you don't buy any of that, and you really think this team needs to start over. How do you do it? The team's four highest-paid players in terms of cap hit are all signed through at least 2020, and as you may have heard, trading big contracts isn't easy these days. You can let UFAs like Karl Azner or T.J. Oshie walk, but breaking up the core might be just about impossible. And if you do manage to trade some of your bigger names, you won't be getting anywhere near fair value.

Option #2: Trade Alex Ovechkin

The approach: OK, so making a bunch of trades will be tough. So instead, make one. There's no bigger move the Capitals could make, and no cleaner break from the identity they've built, than pulling the trigger on an Ovechkin deal.

It's been called "unthinkable", and yet you can bet a lot of Capitals fans are thinking it right now. Ovechkin is a great player who'll be an easy Hall of Fame pick some day. Heck, he might go down in history as the greatest goal-scorer of all-time.

But between the playoffs and the Olympics, he's come up small when his team needed him most time and again. At some point, that becomes a pattern. And with four years left on his deal, there's only one realistic way for Washington to break out of it.

The problem: Like with the point above, we could wonder whether this sort of move wouldn't be a massive overreaction to a small-sample-size problem. In a league where goals are hard to come by, parting with a guy who produces more of them than any other player seems like a strange choice.

But again, let's ignore that and assume the Caps do decide that they want to move on from their franchise player. Who are you trading him to? Ovechkin will be 32 by opening night and carries the fourth-highest cap hit in the league. Not many teams could trade for him even if they wanted to.

Granted, we could have said similar things this time last year about someone like Shea Weber, and we know how that worked out. We've seen some big one-for-one deals in recent years, so maybe some other team that wants a big shakeup would be willing to roll the dice. But it seems extremely unlikely, and again, that's ignoring the fact that it doesn't necessarily seem like a great idea.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The five nights in NHL history with three (or more) Game Sevens

Hockey fans are going to get a rare treat Wednesday night, as the NHL serves up a pair of Game 7s. It will be the first time in a little over three years that we've had more than one in a night, and having a pair of Game 7s on the same date is relatively uncommon; it's happened just ten times in the last two decades.

But if you want to get into the really rare stuff, you have to look for the nights where there were three or more. That's only happened five times in NHL history, probably because hockey fans' hearts couldn't take much more than that.

So today, as we get ready for a Game 7 doubleheader, let's look back at those five times that we've had three. We'll start with the most recent, which came three years ago.

April 30, 2014

Before Wednesday night, this was the most recent case of even two Game 7s falling in the same night, as the opening round of the 2014 playoffs closed out with a trio of do-or-die games.

At Madison Square Garden, the Rangers and Flyers played a tight game to cap off a back-and-forth series. Despite some decent star power on hand, the goals came from some unlikely sources, with Daniel Carcillo and Benoit Pouliot scoring for the Rangers while Jason Akeson replied for the Flyers. Henrik Lundqvist outdueled Steve Mason in a 2-1 Rangers win.

We got another close one in Colorado, where the Avalanche faced the underdog Wild. A late goal by Minnesota's Jared Spurgeon pushed the game into overtime, where Nino Niederreiter finished off the upset.

The night's third Game 7 wasn't as close, but it made some history. The Kings went into San Jose and stomped the Sharks by a 5-1 final, finishing off just the fourth comeback from a 3-0 series deficit in NHL history. After dropping the first three games, the Kings won the next four by a combined score of 18-5, and went on to capture the franchise's second Stanley Cup.

April 22, 2003

We have to go back over a decade to find our next triple-header, and it starts off feeling a bit familiar: With the Wild knocking off the favored Avalanche in overtime. This time it's Andrew Brunette pulling off the move of a lifetime to send the Avs home – and end the career of Patrick Roy.

The night's other two Game 7s didn't pack quite as much drama. In Philadelphia, the Flyers pounded the Leafs 6-1, sending Toronto home in the first round for the only time during the Pat Quinn era. And in St. Louis, the Canucks finished off a rally from down 3-1 in the series to knock off the Blues by a 4-1 final; the Blues went on to win just one playoff game over the next seven seasons.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Will the Capitals or Penguins win game seven? Yes.

The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will face each other tonight in a Game 7 showdown that seemed exceedingly unlikely just a few days ago. Through four games, it looked like Pittsburgh had all but wrapped up a trip to the conference final. But after seeing Washington play it’s two best games of the series in a pair of must-wins, who knows what’s going to happen tonight?

I do. I know what’s going to happen.

It’s not actually all that hard to figure out. Tonight’s winner is pretty obvious if you know the five key factors to look for. So today, let’s list those five factors, and why they add up to a sure thing.

(Note to editors: I actually have no earthly idea who’s going to win tonight. So I came up with five good reasons for each team; I’m thinking you can just “accidentally” hold off publishing this until after the game, then delete all the ones that turn out to be wrong. It’s all pretty foolproof, just as long as nobody screws up and posts the whole thing during the day.)

Here are the five reasons why tonight's winner is an easy call. Spoiler alert: Don't read any further if you want to be surprised!

The Penguins will win because: They know how to close.

You're going to hear a lot about Justin Williams in the lead-up to Wednesday night. He's Mr. Game 7, after all, with a track record of coming through in the clutch.

That's nice that the Capitals have one guy who fits that description. The problem is that the Penguins have a roster full of them.

These are the defending Stanley Cup champs we're talking about. Several key guys have two rings. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and others have won a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup final. The franchise is 5-0 in Game 7s on the road, including a win in Washington. They're not going to wilt here.

The Capitals, on the other hand... well, we'll get to that in a bit. But it's fair to say that when it comes to knowing how to win, this one is no contest. One team has been talking about getting over the hump for the better part of a decade. The other actually goes out and does it. When in doubt, go with the team that's been there before.

The Capitals will win because: They're dominating right now.

History lessons about past Pittsburgh glory are nice and all, but we're worried about right now. And right now, the Capitals are kicking the Penguins' butts all over the rink.

That was largely true even early in the series, when the Pens were getting wins and everyone was ready to write the Capitals off. Washington wasn't playing perfect hockey by any stretch, but they were playing well enough to deserve a better fate. The Caps have outshot the Penguins by a lopsided 200–133 count so far in the series. They've also dominated possession, and had more scoring chances.

Early in the series, they ran into a hot goalie and some tough bounces, and probably deserved a better fate. But that sort of thing can start to even out over a long series, and that's what we've seen over the last two games.

Right now, there's really no question over who's the better team. It's been Washington all along, and the gap is only getting wider as the series goes on.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Oilers are playing a game seven and something horrible is about to happen

The Oilers stomped the Ducks on Sunday night, staving off elimination and forcing a seventh game Wednesday night in Anaheim. In a series that’s had a little bit of everything, Edmonton’s 7–1 blowout was just the latest unpredictable twist, and at this point it’s fair to say that anything is possible in Game 7.

But we do know one thing: Something horrible is going to happen.

The Ducks’ recent history of losing Game 7s has been well documented; they’ve dropped five in a row, including seeing each of their last four seasons end in a Game 7 loss on home ice. Last year’s loss cost Bruce Boudreau his job and had Bob Murray ripping his players.

So today, as we wait for Wednesday night's showdown, let's relive the Oilers' history of Game 7 misery (with one Game 5 thrown in for good measure). We'll count down all 10 of the winner-take-all games in the team's history, from least to most tragic.

No. 10: 1984 – Oilers 7, Flames 4

The setup: The Oilers had run away with the Presidents' Trophy, finishing 37 points up on Calgary. They'd also threatened to run away with the series, taking a 3–1 lead, before a pair of one-goal Flames wins forced a deciding game.

The game: The Flames held tough early on, coming back from an early 2–0 deficit to take a 4–3 lead midway through the second. But the Oilers poured it on from there, scoring the game's final four goals to earn a 7–4 win.

Defining memory: Reggie Lemelin made a highlight-reel save on a Pat Hughes breakaway but lost his stick in the process, and Kenny Linesman stuffed home the winner while the Flames' goalie was scrambling to retrieve it. The goal also touched off a line brawl, because this was the Battle of Alberta and that's just how they rolled.

Misery ranking: 2/10. Consider this relatively painless game as the exception that proves the rule; the late collapse was tough on the Flames, but we'd all expected an Oilers win and the Flames had done well just to push them to the limit. Calgary would get a rematch two years later. Spoiler alert: That one would be worse.

No. 9: 1998 – Oilers 4, Avalanche 0

The setup: After dropping Games 3 and 4 at home to fall behind in the series 3–1, the underdog Oilers fought back to force a seventh game against an Avalanche team looking to win their second Stanley Cup in three years.

The game: What seemed like a potential goaltender's duel between Patrick Roy and Curtis Joseph ended up being a one-sided affair, with the Oilers building a 3–0 lead by midway through the third period. They'd end up taking the game by a 4–0 final in front of a dead-quiet Colorado crowd.

Defining memory: Joseph gets wiped out in the corner by a teammate, then scrambles back to his crease to make a diving save on Rene Corbet, snuffing out any hope of a Colorado comeback.

Misery ranking: 5/10. This would be the Avalanche's only first-round loss (and only time they didn't make it at least as far as the Conference Final) in their first seven years in Colorado. More importantly for the rest of us, it ended any chance of seeing another Red Wings/Avalanche cage match.

No. 8: 1989 – Kings 6, Oilers 3

The setup: A win in the dying second of game four had put the Oilers up 3–1 in the series, but the Kings fought back to force a seventh game. (As a side note, a lot of Oilers seven-game series seem to involve teams coming back from down 3–1. This means something. I don't know what.)

Of course, this was more than just a playoff series — it was the first post-season meeting between the two teams since the previous summer's blockbuster that had sent Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles.

The game: Gretzky opened the scoring less than a minute in, but the two teams were tied late in the second. That's when Bernie Nicholls scored the eventual winner, as the Kings went on to a 6–3 win.

Defining memory: Gretzky's empty netter sealed the deal, ending the Oilers' two-year reign as champions.

Misery ranking: 6/10. Whether losing to their former franchise player made this more or less painful for Edmonton fans is a matter of perspective. At the time, it felt like the Oilers' time as an elite NHL franchise had ended with the trade, although they'd come back and win another Cup the following season.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, May 8, 2017

Weekend wrap: Oilers make it seven

Well, that was an interesting weekend for the Edmonton Oilers.

On Friday, they suffered one of the most devastating playoff losses in recent memory, blowing a 3–0 lead with just over three minutes left in regulation before losing in overtime. That collapse had them facing elimination last night, in front of 18,000 Edmonton fans praying that the team could make it to seven.

That was seven as in a seventh and deciding game. Instead, they got seven goals, with the Oilers going full 1980s mode on a hapless Ducks team that just couldn't keep up. The Oilers had put three pucks past John Gibson before the game was nine minutes old, and the onslaught had only begun. By the time it was over, the Oilers had taken the game by a 7–1 final, racking up their biggest playoff blowout in 27 years.

The lopsided score doesn't necessarily mean anything heading into Wednesday night's Game 7. Oilers fans know that well, after watching their team get waxed 7-0 by the Sharks in the opening round before winning two straight to close out that series. Momentum from a big win typically lasts right up until the opening faceoff of the next game.

But there's more than one bad loss at play here. The Ducks have a history of crushing Game 7 losses. And this isn't a Washington Capitals type of history, stretching back decades to a time before some of the players were even born. Anaheim has seen its season end with a Game 7 loss on home ice in each of the last four years, and several key players were there for each and every one of them.

Last time around, it cost Bruce Boudreau his job and had Bob Murray demanding more from his core. Now they're facing the possibility of it all happening again.

Maybe none of that matters. Maybe the Ducks put together the sort of 60-minute game we haven't seen much of from them during this series, close out the young Oilers and move on, ending all the Game 7 talk in the process. But it's not hard to picture them gripping their sticks a little tighter if things go south early. And that's especially true if Gibson looks anywhere near as shaky as he did last night.

Either way, four weeks into the post-season, we're finally getting our first Game 7. And the dream of two Canadian teams in the conference final for the first time in 23 years is still alive, with the underdog Senators now just one game away from sending the Rangers home.

On to the weekend's rankings...

Top Five

Celebrating the players, teams, storylines and themes that have had the best week.

5. Vegas Golden Knights: The Knights have yet to make a trade, or at least any that we know about. But with six weeks to go until the expansion draft, George McPhee and company have been keeping busy. They signed their second player over the weekend, landing highly covered KHL star Vadim Shipachyov. And according to one report, he could be joined by Shipachyov's former teammate Evgeni Dadonov soon.

Targeting the KHL isn't a bad strategy for a Golden Knights team that won't get much help from the expansion draft. They're going to have plenty of holes in the lineup, especially if McPhee can start locking down some deals that see him acquiring picks and prospects in exchange for passing on certain teams' veterans. And because the roster won't be very good, they should have plenty of cap space to work with. Signing establish NHL free agents could be a tough sell, so raiding the KHL makes sense. And it's nice to see the Knights finally start to feel like a real team.

4. Conspiracy theories: It's been a good week for the tinfoil-hat brigade.

After shaking off the disappointment of a draft lottery that didn't really offer up much in the way of conspiracy fodder, fans who see hidden plots lurking behind everything that happens in the league took centre stage after the Alex Ovechkin/Matt Niskanen/Sidney Crosby incident.

Most of us saw a play that was somewhere between an unfortunate accident and an outright dirty hit. Not so, argued others — it was all part of a secret plan, hatched by the Capitals at a players-only meeting held after Game 2, and then ruthlessly executed in the early moments of Game 3.

Meanwhile, as the Capitals were planning the demise of their opponents, the NHL and its officials were apparently doing the same for the Oilers. Thanks to a pair of questionable goaltender-interference calls — and we'll get to those in more detail a bit later — we now know that the fix is in.

Why? Well, because obviously the league doesn't want Edmonton in the conference final. You see, the Oilers don't have much to offer the league beyond its very best and most marketable young player, and Anaheim is a really big TV market that... wait. OK, the logic here may need more work.

But logic is never the point for these sorts of things. They're dumb and pointless, and deep down we all know it. But sometimes it's good to vent, and if a shadowy backroom plot helps that along, so be it. It's the playoffs; we can all reactivate our brains once the offseason arrives.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, May 5, 2017

Grab bag: Playoff outrage, lottery complaints, and Sudden Death

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- There's so much playoff outrage boiling over that we need a lightning round to cover it all
- Stop complaining about the draft lottery
- The most obscure four-goal playoff scorer who isn't Jean-Gabriel Pageau
- The week's three comedy stars
- And if you think Marc-Andre Fleury looks like an action hero in the Penguins' net these days, wait until you see the guy in this week's YouTube breakdown...

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Making the case for each lottery team to trade their first round pick

Once the ping pong balls had stopped bouncing and Saturday’s draft-lottery announcement was complete, we knew two things: 1) That the hockey gods hate the Colorado Avalanche, and 2) The order for this year’s top 15 picks. The bottom half of the draft is still sorting itself out in the playoffs, but the top half is locked in.

Well, at least for now.

While the order is set in stone, the picks themselves could still change hands via trade. This year’s first round has been unusually stable as far as deals go. Only two picks have changed hands, with the Blues getting Washington’s pick in the Kevin Shattenkirk deal and the Coyotes getting Minnesota’s for Martin Hanzal. (A third pick is still up in the air, as the Stars could still get Anaheim’s first from the Patrick Eaves trade.)

That said, "easy" isn’t necessarily fun, and we like to have some fun around here. In what's expected to be a weaker draft, maybe this is the year that we can talk some GMs into shopping their picks. So today, let's see if we can make a case for each of the lottery teams to trade its first-round pick. This will get tougher as we get closer to the first-overall pick, so we'll start out easy and work our way up to it.

Pick No. 15: New York Islanders

The case for a trade: The Islanders just endured a disappointing season, following up their first playoff series win in 23 years by missing the playoffs and firing their coach. But they only missed the wild card by one point, so it's not like they're a candidate for a full-on reset.

Maybe more importantly, this is a team that has some serious incentive to win now. They're looking for a new arena deal, and those can be easier to come by when you've got some positive momentum to build on. There's also the John Tavares situation; the Islanders' franchise player is eligible to sign an extension on July 1, and he may not be interested in spending what's left of his prime treading water for a middle-of-the-pack team.

Add it all up, and mix in some new ownership that's going to want to see some progress, and waiting around two or three years for another prospect to be ready is going to be a hard sell for Garth Snow.

Does it hold up?: It's a pretty solid case. It's not like Snow is going to be able to land a superstar for a mid-round pick in a weak draft, but using the 15th choice as an asset in a deal would make a lot of sense.

Pick No. 14: Tampa Bay Lightning

The case for a trade: We all figured they were Stanley Cup contenders, and maybe they still are. But after a season where just about everything went wrong, their window seems a lot smaller than most of us thought. Trading their top pick for immediate help would make a lot of sense, especially since anyone they draft from this spot isn't likely to be a difference-maker any time soon.

Does it hold up?: On the surface, sure. But the problem in Tampa is the salary cap, where Steve Yzerman barely has enough room to handle all the guys on his current roster. Adding another veteran would be tricky, so while the Lightning's focus should be on right now, Yzerman may not have any choice but to bank this pick for down the line.

Pick No. 13: Winnipeg Jets

The case for a trade: This year's Jets season played out just like all the others since the team's return — lots of young talent and plenty of potential, but, ultimately, zero playoff wins. Kevin Cheveldayoff has been preaching patience for years now, but at some point you need to start winning.

Fans in Winnipeg are among the most loyal in the league, but they've been looking one or two years down the road for six seasons now. The team needs to take a step forward someday. If not now, when?

Does it hold up?: You'd think so. Dangling the team's top pick – maybe for goaltending help — seems like a reasonable play. But no team in the league has been more reluctant to make big trades than Cheveldayoff and the Jets, so let's file this one under "unlikely."

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Five forgotten games that ended up changing the draft lottery results

Saturday night's lottery certainly shook up the draft order, with four of the league's worst teams suffering the dreaded three-spot drop while the Devils, Flyers and Stars all moved up.

We probably should have seen at least part of that coming. Earlier in the week, I predicted that the Devils would win because they had the lottery's most unbeatable good luck charm: Taylor Hall. He was drafted with a lottery-winning choice, he stuck around Edmonton for multiple lottery wins, he was eventually traded for another player taken with a lottery-winning choice, and now he's willed his team to yet another one. By the time it was made official, even Hall himself was having some fun with it.

But were Saturday night's results really inevitable? Maybe not. The beauty of the NHL system is that once you know which spots in the standings held ended up holding the winning combos, you can go back and play "what if?" with certain games during the season. That's how you get Patrik Stefan's empty net miss costing the Oilers the Patrick Kane pick, or how a comical Ryan Getzlaf giveaway ends up costing the Coyotes the services of Patrik Laine.

Now that we know which spots in this year's standings turned out to be the lucky ones – 27th, 19th and 24th if you're keeping track – let's take another run at some alternate history with five games that may have single-handedly changed the lottery results. Warning: This can get painful for certain teams. You've been warned, Canucks fans.

March 19, 2017 – Hurricanes at Flyers

The Flyers and Hurricanes both went into this late-season matchup desperately needing a win. Tied at 72 points, both teams were seven back of the Maple Leafs for the final playoff spot and needed to all but run the table to have a shot at the postseason.

It turned out to be a good game, with the Flyers taking a 2-0 lead early in the second before the Hurricanes pushed back to tie it. It stayed that way until a Jordan Staal goal midway through the third gave Carolina a 3-2 lead, and a shot a crucial road win.

But with the goalie pulled in the final minute, the Flyers tied it up on a fluke. Travis Konecny's attempt at a centering pass got caught in the feet of Hurricanes' defenseman Brett Pesce, who accidentally kicked it into this own net. That sent the game to overtime, where Brayden Schenn won it for Philadelphia less than 40 seconds in.

At the time, the loss seemed like one more blow to the Hurricanes fading playoff hopes. But it ended up being something more. If Carolina avoids Pesce's accidental own goal and holds on for a regulation win, they finish the year with 88 points, passing the Flyers for 19th spot. That would have made it a Hurricanes logo that Bill Daly flipped over for the second overall pick, the first lottery win in Carolina franchise history.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

50 years without a Cup: Are the Leafs really the NHL's most miserable team?

Today is an important anniversary for Toronto Maple Leafs fans.

You’ll notice I didn’t say “happy anniversary,” since this isn’t exactly a day that Leafs fans will want to celebrate. Oh, it marks the anniversary of a happy moment in franchise history; it was 50 years ago tonight that George Armstrong’s iconic empty-net goal sealed a 3–1 win over the Canadiens, securing the franchise’s 13th Stanley Cup.

The not-so-happy part is what’s happened in the 50 years since. Or, more accurately, what hasn’t happened. A full five decades later, the Maple Leafs are still stuck on 13 Cups, as the team’s championship drought has officially reached the half-century mark.

We’ve known this milestone was coming for a while now; it’s been clear for just about the entire salary-cap era that the Maple Leafs weren’t going to win a Cup any time soon. But there’s hope in Toronto these days, as the best collection of young talent the team has had in a generation seems to be on its way towards contending again, maybe as early as the next year or two. For the first time in ages, there’s some genuine optimism that the drought could end someday soon.

Still... 50 years. Man, that's a long time. I wasn't alive back then. You probably weren't either. We knew this day was coming, but it still feels like a big number. From Harold Ballard to Kerry Fraser to JFJ to 4–1, it's been a rough stretch for long-suffering Leafs fans.

But all that said, have the Maple Leafs really been the NHL's most miserable team over the last half-century? After all, it's not like they're the only team that hasn't won a Cup since 1967. That list is actually a reasonably long one, meaning even if we rule out one-off teams like the Rangers and Flames, we're still left with a dozen Cup-less candidates.

So today, as we celebrate Toronto's dubious anniversary, let's compare them to the other teams that haven't won a championship since 1967, and try to figure out how they stack up against the Maple Leafs track record of misery.

St. Louis Blues

The history: Of all the teams who haven’t won a Cup in the post-1967 era, the Blues join the Leafs as the only one that actually existed back in 1967. And only barely; they took the ice for the first time as an expansion team that fall. That's led to an ongoing argument over whether the Blues and Leafs are tied for the NHL's longest Cup drought or whether the Leafs technically own the claim outright, which has to be just about the saddest sports debate there can be.

Closest call: The Blues went to the Stanley Cup Final in each of their first three seasons, which sounds impressive until you remember that the NHL stuck all its terrible expansion teams in the same division, guaranteeing one of them a spot in the final. The Blues were the best of the worst all three years, but got swept each time and haven't been back since.

Low point: The 1999–2000 Blues won 51 games and the Presidents' Trophy, heading into the playoffs as Cup favourites. Seven games later, they were out in the first round, thanks largely to this long-distance goal:

They might be even worse than the Leafs at: Drafting. Like Toronto, the Blues have been better lately (the Vladimir Tarasenko pick was genius). But this is still the team that took Erik Johnson over Jonathan Toews in 2006, which not only set them back but also helped a division rival build a dynasty. And as bad as the Leafs have been, at least they never no-showed a draft entirely.

But at least: From 1980 through 2004, the Blues made the playoffs in 25 straight seasons. These days, the Leafs are hoping to just get there in back-to-back years.

Are they worse?: This one is closer than you think, especially since the Blues' three trips to the final don't really count. But their general consistency and lack of truly rock-bottom moments leaves them a notch behind Toronto on the misery scale.

Washington Capitals

The history: While they give the Leafs a decent head start by not existing until 1974, the Capitals gain that ground back quickly by immediately posting the worst season in modern NHL history. The 1974–75 Caps team managed just 21 points, and the team didn't make the playoffs until 1983. And then things got bad.

Closest call: The Caps at least made it to the 1998 Cup final, although they didn't win any games once they were there.

Low point: At the rate things are going, check back in a few days.

They might be even worse than the Leafs at: Protecting series leads. The Capitals have a stunning history of repeatedly blowing two-game leads in the playoffs; it's kind of their thing. Granted, it's not like Leaf fans can get all high and mighty about protecting playoff leads, but the Caps have dedicated decades to their craft.

But at least: The Capitals have won three Presidents' Trophies in the last eight years; the Maple Leafs have only topped 100 points once in their history.

Are they worse?: This one may be too close to call. The Caps have had lower lows, both in the regular season and playoffs. But they've also had higher highs, including that one trip to the final. Let's see just how heart-breakingly this season ends before we make any final decisions.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Podcast: Draft lottery edition

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- People are mad about the draft lottery, which I argue is the most NHL reaction possible
- Dave and I are very sorry about spoiling the results ahead of time
- I have a minor conspiracy theory about the Vegas Golden Knights that I manage to convince Dave of
- We look at the first round so far
- We do not talk about the Crosby hit because we recorded yesterday
- Reader questions
- And lots more...

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Weekend wrap: Four out of five ain't bad

OK, so we had to let the Americans win one game. It was the polite Canadian thing to do.

Last night’s Ducks win in Edmonton spoiled what had been a perfect second round for the two remaining Canadian teams. That was a little uncool, especially after Oiler fans went and salvaged the American anthem.

Still, four out of five isn't bad. The Oilers hold a 2–1 series lead over the Ducks, and now get an extra day to stew over last night's 6–3 loss before Game 4 goes on Wednesday. It was an odd game, one that saw the Ducks score three straight early on, the Oilers rally to tie it up, and the Ducks score three more to pull away.

But every team hits a few bumps along the road in the playoffs, even if that team is (briefly) the Stanley Cup favourite. If the Oilers could shake off a 7–0 loss to the Sharks in round one, you figure they've got a decent shot at doing the same here, especially if Cam Talbot can bounce back and Connor McDavid keeps doing ridiculous stuff like this:

Meanwhile, the Senators have pulled off a pair of comebacks to take a 2–0 lead over the Rangers. Saturday's dramatic overtime win was Ottawa's eighth straight one-goal game of the playoffs, and sends them to New York with a chance to all but wrap up the series in tomorrow's Game 3. That's not bad for a team that was widely considered an underdog against both the Bruins and Rangers, despite holding home-ice advantage heading into each series.

The country's 24-year Stanley Cup drought has been well-documented, and we're still 10 wins away from either the Oilers are Senators ending it. But they're getting close to breaking another streak that's lasted almost as long; two Canadian teams haven't made it to the conference final in the same season since the Maple Leafs and Canucks faced each other in 1994. And it would be the first time that a Canadian team was playing in each conference final since the Leafs and Canadiens in 1993.

Almost as importantly, having both the Oilers and Senators advance would avoid the dreaded "one Canadian franchise left" scenario, which inevitably results in a) every media outlet trotting out the same clich├ęd "Canada's team" stories, and b) every neutral hockey fan in the country immediately turning on that team because we all secretly don't want anyone else to win a Cup before our team does. The longer we can hold off on all of that, the better.

But that's getting a little ahead of ourselves. On to this week's power rankings...

Top Five

Celebrating the players, teams, storylines and themes that have had the best week.

5. The Hurricanes' goaltending: They may have finally solved their longstanding goaltending problems, thanks to a weekend trade that saw them acquire Scott Darling from the Blackhawks for a third-round pick.

With only 64 career starts under his belt, Darling's not a sure thing. And he'll be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, so in theory Carolina could lose him for nothing if they can't get him signed. But given how glaring a need the position had become, the deal is worth the risk. You'd have to imagine that the Hurricanes get an extension done quickly and hand over the starting duties to Darling, who should be a major upgrade over the Cam Ward/Eddie Lack combo that struggled through the last two seasons.

4. The Predators' blue line: Nashville took a 2–1 series lead over the Blues with yesterday's 3–1 win. The game featured goals from Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi, tying them for the team lead with Filip Forsberg. Ellis has been especially hot, riding a six-game point streak. Mix in P.K. Subban's tour de force in Game 1, and Nashville's blue line looks scary good right now. And it might get them to the conference final.

In related news, the Predators apparently have Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott on the bandwagon now, presumably because he's not used to watching a team's defence get the job done in the post-season.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet