Since we're down to the final moments of postseason life for teams in contention, Puck Daddy solemnly begins a daily countdown to annihilation.

Two big developments on the playoff bubble on Saturday.

In the East, the Boston Bruins snuck ahead of the Ottawa Senators thanks to their regulation win over the Rangers and the Senators’ embarrassing overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, blowing a third-period lead.

Boston (87 points) is at Carolina on Sunday; Ottawa (86 points) hosts the Florida Panthers, whose season is on the line in the next two games. The Panthers have 83 points and visit the Sens and Boston. Ottawa has a game in-hand on both teams.

The Capitals’ loss to the Predators left them with 90 points and seven games left. That’s four in front of the Senators, who have a game with the Caps on the schedule and a game in-hand. But the Caps have the ROW tiebreaker, 36-32.

Over in the West, the Minnesota Wild moved into third place in the Central, as the Chicago Blackhawks dropped to the first wild card. It’s likely a temporary inconvenience for the Hawks, who have two games in-hand on the Wild. But Minnesota has a significant ROW advantage (40-35) and a game against Chicago left on the schedule.

Here are the current standings. The Death Watch tracks the final Wild Card spot and the teams that are chasing it. Their “tragic number” is the number of points gained by the final wild card team or lost by the team chasing it.

All playoff percentages are from Sports Club Stats; tragic numbers and other figures via the NHL. A team is eliminated from play-offs when their "Tragic Number" hits 0.

Here’s the Eastern Conference picture:

The Capitals face the Rangers on Sunday, with both teams looking for a bounce back from disappointing Saturdays.

Pittsburgh hosts the San Jose Sharks while the Islanders host the Red Wings. The teams are tied with 93 points for second in the Metro, with Pittsburgh holding he tie-breaker and a game in-hand.

The Devils can be eliminated on Sunday with a combination of one point lost vs. Anaheim or gained by the Bruins. 

Meanwhile, in the West …

Newly minted bubble team Chicago travels to play their wild card mates the Winnipeg Jets.

The Calgary Flames have a chance to leap back over the Kings into third place with a win over Nashville. The Kings would have a game in-hand; the two teams meet in the second-to-last game of the season.

In the President’s Trophy race, the Ducks (103 points, 40 ROW) lead the Predators (102, 41) and Canadiens (102, 41); the Rangers (101, 43) are the other team over 100 points. 

If The Playoff Started Today

Potential Bracket Grade: C-plus. Yes, we get Montreal/Boston and the Yzerman Cup, but we don't get Chicago and St. Louis in Round 1 and we get the 10,000th edition of Caps/Rangers. 

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 29, 2015, 2:13 pm

The iconic Iron Throne from the HBO series “Game of Thrones” has been much parodied, using materials like carrots

The Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League created their own Iron Throne on “Game of Thrones Night” … and took the “Throne” part quite seriously.

Via USHL

We guess actually having this as King Joffery’s throne would have been way too appropriate, given what a little … king he was.

“Game of Thrones” Night was held on Saturday, before the junior league team’s game against rival Cedar Rapids. The team said that there was a local tie to the fantasy book series, as creator George R.R. Martin used to live in Dubuque and has said “the harsh winters in Iowa were part of the inspiration for the fringed temperatures the books and show are set in,” according to KWWL.

The gimmick for the night, as you can see: “The Throne.” Fans could get pictures with this Porcelain Throne. The team asked fans to bring rolls of toilet paper to the game, which was then donated to local area shelters.

So good news, local shelters of Dubuque: Wiping is coming …

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 29, 2015, 1:00 pm

In which we recap the day’s events in the NCAA tournament.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Let’s put it this way: If BU has even the remotest chance of coming back in a game, its almost inhuman ability to dominate the third period all but assures that it will. 

Their game against Minnesota-Duluth was tied at two goals apiece through two periods, but BU made a little switch or two — mixing up the depth lines, changing up the forecheck, the standard stuff it usually does at this point in the game to disquiet opponents — and really stepped into the game in a way it has so many times before.

The top line, indomitable as it so often is at this point of games, crushed UMD in possession, drew a late penalty, and underrated senior Evan Rodrigues scored a wonderful individual goal at 17:36 of the third on the ensuing power play. BU won 3-2 and punched its ticket to the Frozen Four. Because of course it did. It was always going to.

“I thought we did what we do best,” BU coach David Quinn said. “I thought we had a great third period. We were relentless, we we smart, and we just did the things we needed to do to win an incredibly important hockey game and extend our season.”

The Terriers are now 21-0-2 when leading or tied through two periods. They’re also just 6-7-3 when trailing after 40. If they're within striking distance, it’s almost impossible to put them down and keep them there.

But with that ability to basically take over a game occasionally comes a fallowness that leads to some nervy situations in the early going. That’s what happened today. When the top line of Jack Eichel, Evan Rodrigues, and Danny O’Regan were off the ice, BU was getting thoroughly pushed around. And while that line carried play more often than not, this was once again a game where little was happening for them in the offensive zone apart from shuffling the puck along the perimeter.

Rodrigues did have the first of his two goals 7:17 into the first period, as a puck batted high in the air at the attacking blue line on a bad clearing attempt came within a six-foot radius. He swatted at it like a batter trying to foul off an 0-2 pitch high and outside, and to the surprise of basically everybody in the building, it not only got on net, but beat UMD goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo.

Still the problems persisted, and the second period was far more eventful than the first. Three times in the first 7:31, someone scored, with UMD doing so first, just 37 seconds after the break. BU answered 2:55 later to regain the lead, and UMD got back even 3:59 after that. Then the Bulldogs started to exert their influence. BU had to dig deep.

“It was kind of like a heavyweight fight,” Quinn said. “We controlled the first few rounds, almost had a couple of opportunities to deliver the knockout punch. Then they come back and dominate for about 10 or 12 minutes, and we come back and dominate for 10 or 12 minutes.”

The motivated Eichel, the one who explodes off the bench menacingly pitched forward, is a player that exudes confidence. When he does that, and gets a head of steam, all involved — whether playing, coaching, or watching — know something is bound to happen. That Eichel was rarely in evidence through 40 minutes, and the Terriers’ numbers showed it. Possession was in UMD’s favor, goals were even, and the season had as little as 20 minutes left.

Those who watched BU a lot this year could tell that something was off; the game in the eastern marches of college hockey is one built on finesse and the transition. Teams out west tend to be bigger, more physical, and games are often determined by moments of individual skill. Neither is better or worse than the other, and certainly teams out east can dictate a more violent game, while some in the west are more than happy to play faster. But the difference can be jarring, and BU — a smaller team overall — hasn’t played a western team since mid-October when it swept Michigan State and Michigan (not exactly outstanding practitioners of the sport this season) at its own Agganis Arena.

For the second game in a row, the transition game just wasn’t there for the Terriers. UMD was, in fact, doing a better job at stifling them than Yale — its Bulldog compatriots — in terms of limiting chances. BU’s goals came, instead, on a series of failed clearing attempts and a bout of extended possession in the attacking zone.

But where BU, and the Eichel line specifically, has really made its hay this season is that third period. For whatever reason, the Terriers’ style tends to trend more toward that of a powerful heavyweight content lean on opponents, pushing them against the ropes again and again, in hopes of tiring and perhaps provoking them into mistakes. That wasn’t how the opening 40 had gone, of course — it was Duluth doling out most of the punishment — but there was, as always, a kind of expectation that, okay, now they’re going to do something here. The BU goal differential in the third period entering tonight’s game was an astonishing plus-42 in just 38 games, on 67 for and just 25 against.

But if you’re waiting until the later rounds to really try to put your opponent on the canvas, you run the risk of getting KO’ed yourself. It doesn’t happen often, especially if that’s your game plan and you’re well-conditioned, but it certainly can.

“We talked about the same thing,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “Obviously they came out and probably had a little more jump. I mean, obviously it’s tough to generate anything. They were winning races and getting pucks to the net, which is what they do very well.”

The adjustment Quinn made led to the Terriers once again getting the puck deeper into the attacking zone and keeping it there. And while the middle of the ice was still very much the domain of Minnesota-Duluth, the opportunities were certainly starting to come a little more rapid-fire. Shot attempts at 5-on-5 in the third period were 23-7 to BU. Something had to give soon, and of course the top line made it happen.

Late in the game, Rodrigues got the puck in the right wing corner and, in part of a physical battle, was dragged to the ice. Was it a penalty? No surprise here, but Sandelin didn’t think so, and with less than five minutes to go in a tied regional final, few in the building would have begrudged the lack of a call. But called it was, and with just one second to go in the power play, Rodrigues scored his second and staked BU to a lead it would, obviously, never relinquish.

One hesitates to call what BU does “clutch,” because the way they play the game is what engenders late winners and helps them strangle the life out of just about every game. It isn’t so much that someone always steps up as the opponent is nearly always too exhausted to protest. Skill wins games pretty reliably at this level, and the Terrier top line has loads of it. What reply could any Bulldog have had tonight?

How do you not count the lights if you’re lucky enough to survive that long? 

RIT 2, Minnesota State 1

A rather controversial goal got the No. 1 team in the country bounced in just its first game.

An RIT forechecker appeared to shove a defenseman into goaltender Stephon Williams just as linemate Josh Mitchell let a shot go. Puck, defender and goalie all ended up lying in the net, and initially the referee signaled no-goal. But a decently long review overturned the initial call, and RIT held on the rest of the way. (It was ruled that the MSU defenseman initiated contact.)

For much of the game, it seemed as though RIT was going to keep pace with Mankato. The Tigers scored the first goal just 4:30 into the game and didn’t concede until nearly 27 minutes later. Shots were relatively even through two periods too, at 18-14 to the top-seeded Mavericks.

Then it was as though RIT just hit a wall. That whole “best possession team in the country” thing seemed to occur to everyone all at once. Shots ended up being 34-19. But inevitability of possession disparity aside, this was a game RIT had no business winning. And yet here we are.

The romance of the tournament, one supposes.

Denver 5, Boston College 2

Things looked like they were going OK for the Eagles, playing relatively close to home in Providence, R.I., for most of the first period. They weren’t down more than one goal against a very intimidating Pioneer side, and in fact Michael Matheson leveled inside of five minutes to go. If they could get to the intermission tied, things might not have seemed so bad.

But instead Trevor Moore scored with seven seconds to go before the interval, and as it turned out that just about sealed it. The game appeared even for a while longer, then Denver struck twice more in 1:01 midway through the third to really salt the earth. Tanner Jaillet stopped 22 of 24 to pick up the win, 11 of which came in the third when the result was more or less assured.

The win bumped the NCHC to 4-0 in the tournament to that point.

Providence College 7, Miami 5

This game was, in a word, insane. Providence scored seven times, which was odd because in the Hockey East quarterfinals it scored just four goals across three games. Miami scored five times despite missing both its 20-goal scorers to suspension in one case, and injury in another. Providence also has one of the best goalies and defenses in the country.

And how they scored: Providence led 6-2 entering the third period, and Miami couldn’t get much going in attack to answer. So with about 13 — THIRTEEN!!!! — minutes left, Miami coach Rico Blasi pulled his goalie in search of four goals.

And he almost got them. Matthew Caito scored at 11:26, then Devin Loe at 14:14, then Sean Kuraly at 18:27. At that point, it was 6-5 and things were getting awful nerve-wracking.

It wasn’t until Brandon Tanev scored into an empty net with just seven seconds left that the Friars could breathe easy. And not that it ended up mattering, but look at this desperation save from defenseman Louie Belpedio:

Nebraska-Omaha 4, Harvard 1

This one was closer than the scoreline suggests, as Omaha scored two into an empty net. But still, there was very little chance that Harvard was ever going to win it.

Grant Gallo scored just 1:59 into the game, then Avery Peterson scored with less than two seconds left in the first on a 5-on-3. A two-goal deficit is tough for anyone, but particularly so for a team so essentially one-line as the Crimson. Not that the Mavericks could keep that one line silent, as Jimmy Vesey cut the lead in half early in the third with his nation-leading 32nd of the season. But a late penalty from Luke Esposito with 2:30 left assured the Harvard comeback would end before it began. 

North Dakota 4, St. Cloud 1

St. Cloud jumped out to a lead 1:29 in, but then North Dakota figured out that they are much better than the Huskies. They scored the next three goals relatively early in each period (8:59 of the first, 6:49 of the second, 2:53 of the third). This was basically the only possible result here.

Three Stars

1. Jordan Ruby, RIT

Ruby only played 21 games for RIT this season, but he turned in a .923 save percentage across them, and improved that today, stopping 33 of 34 against a much better team. This is the reason the Tigers won: They got pushed around, especially late, and Ruby didn't crack.

2. Evan Rodrigues, BU

Two goals and a massive performance in all three zones. This kid thinks the game at a very high level.

3. Grant Arnold, Denver

Arnold, the Pioneers' captain this year, entered the game with zero goals on the season. He scored the fourth and fifth goals for Denver. I guess you call that leadership.

Author: Ryan Lambert
Posted: March 29, 2015, 5:25 am

No. 1 Star: Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs 

Oh, you know, just a Tyler Bozak four-point night against a team in desperate need of points on the playoff bubble. Bozak scored a third-period hat trick and had the primary helper on Eric Brewer’s overtime game-winner in the Leafs’ 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. No wonder Connor McDavid wants to be him!

No. 2 Star: Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings goalie made things interesting between the pipes as Detroit pushes towards the playoffs, shutting out the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-0. He made 23 saves.

No. 3 Star: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Crosby, who is totally having an off year, increased his hold on the Art Ross by scoring a goal and assisting on two others in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Honorable Mention: Filip Forsberg trolled the Washington Capitals with a goal and two assists as the Nashville Predators clinched a playoff spot with a 4-3 win. Troy Brouwer had two goals for the Caps. … Milan Lucic scored two first-period goals, one of them controversial, as the Boston Bruins earned a 4-2 win over Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. … Kyle Palmieri and Andrew Cogliano scored second-period goals as the Anaheim Ducks defeated the New York Islanders, 3-2. Frederik Andersen made 29 saves. … Melker Karlsson and Brent Burns had power-play goals in the San Jose Sharks’ 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Joe Pavelski scored goal No. 36. … Max Pacioretty’s overtime goal gave the Montreal Canadiens a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers, clinching a playoff spot. … Aleksander Barkov scored two goals. … Rookie John Klingberg scored in OT to give the Dallas Stars a 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks, who earned a charity point with a late Radim Vrbata goal.

The Carolina Hurricanes topped the New Jersey Devils, 3-1, as Justin Faulk and Eric Staal had goals. … The Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the St. Louis Blues, 4-2, thanks to a Boone Jenner second-period goal. … Nino Niederreiter scored two goals and Devan Dubnyk made 31 saves to improve to 35-11-3 on the season as the Minnesota Wild defeated the LA Kings, 4-1. … Matt Duchene had a goal and two assists and Jarome Iginla had three assists in the Colorado Avalanche’s 5-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Andrej Meszaros had two goals. Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk had three assists each. …   

Did You Know? Iginla had three assists, giving him 1,222 NHL points to pass Jean Beliveau into 40th place all time.

Dishonorable Mention: On the Bruin’s first goal, the rebound of a Patrice Bergeron shot went off Lucic's skate and past Lundqvist. No goal on the ice, good goal in video review. … Tuukka Rask left the Bruins’ game with dehydration 10 seconds into the second period. … Victor Hedman was a minus-3. … The Lightning lost defenseman Jason Garrison with an upper-body injury, and center Cedric Paquette was helped off the after sliding into the goal post. … Andy Greene was a minus-3. … Jonathan Quick was pulled at the start of the second period. … Kris Letang was taken to the hospital because “Shane Doan was running around like an idiot.”

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 29, 2015, 5:10 am

Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson made his first start since March 10, and just his third appearance since Jan. 21, on Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a start he had to make, with sensation Andrew “Hamburglar” Hammond unable to go due to a “lower body injury.” 

As usual, Anderson did some things that boggle the mind, like on this sequence above. Guess that blocker hand is feeling better …

But Anderson also did something Hammond hasn’t done much of during his time as the starter: He lost a game, and gave up four goals in the process. Eric Brewer’s overtime goal for the Leafs gave them the 4-3 win; the Senators dropped a point behind the Boston Bruins, who defeated the New York Rangers earlier in the day.

A check of social media found some Senators fans less than enthused with Anderson, who stopped 27 of 31 shots for a .871 save percentage. (Three of the goals came at even strength.)

It continued a rather putrid run for Anderson, who has given up three or more goals in his last six appearances.

But can you really blame the guy for this one?

The Sens had a 3-1 lead as of 9:30 of the third period. They allowed a Tyler Bozak power play goal and another goal by Bozak at 18:36 of the third to complete his hat trick (!).

The Leafs out­-possessed all game, skating to a 55.56 percent team Corsi at even strength and an insanely good 61.90 percent Fenwick-for in the third period as Ottawa ceded possession after going up 3-1.

Said Anderson, via the Ottawa Sun:

"They got the one to 2-1 and they got some momentum. Anything can happen. They start playing with more confidence. The energy starts coming and they are snapping it around. Before you know it, we're fishing the puck out of our net. We had the opportunity and we let it slip.”

Anderson, meanwhile, stopped 21 shots in the first two periods and a Joakim Lindstrom penalty shot in the first.

The bottom line is that the Senators couldn’t close the deal against a team completely playing out the string, getting unjustifiably sloppy in their own end in front of Anderson.

If you think this is on Anderson, think again; and then consider the fact that the guy getting hamburgers tossed on the ice in his honor has given up three or more goals in three of his last four starts. 

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 29, 2015, 3:57 am

Goalie goals are always fun. Announcers who wildly call goals are also incredibly fun. On Saturday, the Finnish second-tier Mestis league playoff game between TUTO and KooKoo — amazing team names, eh? — provided us with both.

As TUTO held a 2-0 lead in the third period, KooKoo pulled their goaltender to try and get back into the game. KooKoo won the center ice face-off and their defenseman dumped the puck in. Minnesota Wild goalie prospect Kaapo Kahkonen corralled it behind his net and saw he had all the time in the world. 

That’s when the play-by-play man realized what was about to happen: 

Now, goalie goals are pretty rare, and we usually see a wilder celebration than what Kahkonen and his teammates did; but the call of the goal was definitely on the level of Reto Berra’s celebration when he scored one himself in the AHL in January.

TUTO would hold on for a 3-0 win and now lead the series three games to one.

"Clean Sheet and a goal, so it wasn't that bad," Kahkonen joked afterward.

The goal wasn't a first for Kahkonen. He actually scored one in junior, but as he revealed postgame, there is no video, so we'll just take his word for it.

Stick-tap Eye on Hockey

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: March 28, 2015, 10:30 pm

This has been the year of the emergency backup goaltender – because starters seem to always get injured and forced these 40-something dudes into awkward bench photo ops.

From Robb Tallas to Arturs Irbe, to Dwayne Roloson … it has happened too many times. But has been equally hilarious in every situation. Behold the above glory of Bruins goaltending coach Bob Essensa on the bench in a game against the New York Rangers.

And another great, and closer, shot of Essensa (s/t Jeff Paterson)

Photo via Jeff Paterson on Twitter

He’s 50 years old, and started 67 games for the Winnipeg Jets in 1992-93. His last NHL action came in 2001-02 when he played nine games with the Buffalo Sabres and notched a 2.91 goals against average and .850 save percentage. Tuukka Rask left the game in the second period due to dehydration and could not return.

Boston won 4-2, backup Niklas Svedberg stopped 16 of 18 shots on goal in relief of Rask. And most importantly, didn't get hurt.

Said Essensa to Matt Kalman of The Bruins Blog:

"They barely got me under the [salary] cap. We were negotiating for half a period."

While this whole situation is obviously hilarious, it is something that needs to be addressed, especially after Tallas was almost thrust into action with Florida earlier in the season. But until then, let us continue to mock and enjoy ...

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 28, 2015, 9:18 pm

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was taken to the hospital after a collision with Shane Doan in Pittsburgh’s Saturday game against the Arizona Coyotes. This came after the below late hit by Arizona forward Shane Doan in a 3-2 Pittsburgh win.

The video:

Said Penguins defenseman Ian Cole to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Josh Yohe in the locker room after the game.

"Doan was running around like an idiot today."

Letang has a history of concussions and also has come back from a stroke. The look on his face after the play was just scary. And Doan ... what's the point of finishing that check? He didn't have the puck, and it was clear and obvious that he didn't. He was not given a penalty on the play.

Doan is one of those players who ‘plays the game hard’ but really has had some moments where he has made some dirty plays in his career. Though he often expresses a great amount of remorse afterwards as he did Saturday.

Said Doan to the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan:

"That’s awful. When it happened, I could tell the way he went into the boards was awkward."

"I just went to make sure I got a piece of him so he couldn't jump by me. ... We have to finish our check on him."

"You never ever want to see anybody like that, especially a guy of his caliber and obviously everything he's went through."

Still, rules are rules. The hit was late. It was forceful, and it was unnecessary. Is this Department of Player Safety worthy … sure seems so.

According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, Letang will stay overnight at the hospital for observation. Between Olli Maatta (out for the season with shoulder surgery following thyroid cancer), Christan Ehrhoff (upper body injury) and now Letang, the Pens are looking thin on the blueline. But again, most importantly in this situation is Letang's health, just because that looked pretty scary.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 28, 2015, 8:55 pm

Since we're down to the final moments of postseason life for teams in contention, Puck Daddy solemnly begins a daily countdown to annihilation.

Huge night of action in the playoffs races on Saturday night, and there are a few teams that can end any uncertainty about their participation in the postseason.

* The Canadiens would clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Panthers in any fashion ORif the Rangers defeat the Bruins in any fashion OR if they get one point against the Panthers AND the Bruins defeat the Rangers in a shootout.
 
* The Ducks would clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Islanders in any fashion OR if they lose to the Islanders in overtime or a shootout.
 
* The Lightning would clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Red Wings in any fashionOR if they get one point against the Red Wings AND the Rangers defeat the Bruins in any fashion OR if the Rangers defeat the Bruins in regulation.
 
* The Predators would clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Capitals in any fashion.

The St. Louis Blues can clinch with a win over the Blue Jackets.

UPDATE: The NHL lists the Blues' magic number as two, but apparently it's three, as they can't clinch tonight. 

Here are the current standings. The Death Watch tracks the final Wild Card spot and the teams that are chasing it. Their “tragic number” is the number of points gained by the final wild card team or lost by the team chasing it.

All playoff percentages are from Sports Club Stats; tragic numbers and other figures via the NHL. A team is eliminated from play-offs when their "Tragic Number" hits 0.

Here’s the Eastern Conference picture:

We added the Penguins to the Death Watch. Not because there’s a chance they’ll miss the dance, but because there’s a chance they could tumble to the Wild Card. They host Arizona tonight.

The Ottawa Senators lick their wounds after a thumping by the Rangers and travel to that empty husk known as the Toronto Maple Leafs. They lead the Bruins … well, by a game in-hand at this point. The B’s host the already-clinched Rangers, with a returning Henrik Lundqvist.

The Panthers are hanging on and face the Canadiens at Bell Centre, with the Senators waiting for them on Sunday.

Meanwhile, in the West …

The Wild’s win over the Flames on Friday solidified their standing for the playoffs; tonight, they face the LA Kings with a chance to pass the Chicago Blackhawks for third in the Central – but Chicago will have two games in-hand.

(How hilarious would it be if the Blues finish first in the Central to avoid Chicago and then end up playing Chicago in the wild card matchup? D’oh.)

The best the Kings can do tonight is tie the Canucks in points tonight, as Vancouver has the ROW advantage. Vancouver hosts Dallas in a critical game before hitting the road for four tough games.

Both Winnipeg and Calgary are off tonight.

The President’s Trophy race has the Rangers leading with 101 points and 43 ROW; Anaheim is next at 101 and 39, and both Nashville and Montreal have 100 points and 40 ROW. St. Louis (99 and 37) and Tampa Bay (99 and 44) are right there too. 

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 28, 2015, 2:14 pm

In which we recap the day’s events in the NCAA tournament.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — The danger was clear: Yale might shut down the BU top line.

The danger was also remote, sure, but you’re talking about Yale, the No. 1 defensive team in the country. And yeah, you’re also talking about BU, the No. 1 offensive team in the country, and a top line centered by Jack Eichel, which entered the game having outscored opponents by 39 at even strength this season, and which carried a possession share in excess of 60 percent when it was on the ice.

An unfortunate tendency toward slow starts in the first period appeared to have long since been vanquished, too.

Yale, meanwhile, was a strong possession team in their own right (53.1 percent corsi, 19th in the country) with a lights-out goaltending and a clear disposition toward … well, not necessarily stifling attempts per se, but certainly limiting second- and third-chance opportunities. Alex Lyon, as good a goalie as there was in the country this season, was the national save percentage leader for a reason. For 35 minutes or so, things seemed to be working Yale’s favor.

Then, the inevitable: BU possession started piling up, and midway through overtime, Eichel facilitated the game-winner on a shot from the right point that deflected right to Danny O’Regan, who deposited it into a wide open net. BU advanced to the regional final, 3-2, on their 42nd shot of the game.

“The way the game was going I thought I could have threw it over the net maybe,” O’Regan said.

Indeed, for much of the game, that acknowledged danger was both clear and present. The things the Terriers — and Eichel specifically — did especially well to generate the largest goal total in the nation were nowhere in evidence even as they generated all those shots. The transition was fractured time and again, and BU often struggled with even simple decision-making. Attacking-zone time was non-existent, as Lyon was either smothering the first attempts made, or the team in front of him cleared them out with relative aplomb. The puck movement on the power play was lacking. Again, the Terriers looked discombobulated.

“Well, they were playing quicker than we were, they were more physical than we were and they were winning more battles,” Quinn said. “I know that may be simplistic, but that’s the truth.”

Overall, the Terriers mostly carried play, but never a lead. Shot attempts through 60 minutes were 71-31 for BU (and 27-8 when Eichel was on the ice). Yale had to be happy with the effort to limit the Terriers’ chances, but not the fact that they squandered some early scoring chances — they hit two posts in the first period alone — and didn’t really heap on much consistent pressure of their own.

“Well, exactly where I wanted to be was up 4-0 after two,” said Yale coach Keith Allain. “But it was the kind of game we thought it would be.”

But what happened after Yale opened the scoring with defenseman Nate Repensky beating Matt O’Connor (who stopped 21 of 23 this afternoon) on a well-placed shot from the point at 13:19 of the second period appeared to have been one of those “You made me bleed my own blood” situations. 

BU has a habit of counterpunching really well (that’s what happens when you can throw Eichel over the boards every second or third shift if you have to); the Terriers conceded first in two of their last four games, and trailed for a combined 3:36 before winning both of those games in laughers. This comes in part from their tendency to lean on teams and wear them down, but still, despite the higher-seeded team rampaging out of the corner with a series of impressive attempts and — for once — sustained zone time, Lyon and the Yale defense held together admirably.

“It was funny, once they went up 1-0, I thought we just started playing better. It was almost like the pressure was off,” said BU coach David Quinn. “We’re a lot more comfortable being down than we are ahead for some reason and I just thought after that, we started playing.”

But it wasn’t until 9:21 of the third period that BU junior winger Ahti Oksanen finally equalized out of a goal-mouth scramble, one of the very few BU created in the game to that point. Then 3:59 later on a 3-on-2, Evan Rodrigues got the puck on the left wing while Danny O’Regan and Matt Grzelcyk drove the net, and his hard shot from the circle just flat out beat Lyon low.

At that point the game felt, y’know, familiar, at least as far as the Terriers were concerned. They’ve now scored 67 in the third period, more than five teams across the country scored all season (that’s a real stat which is not made up). For Yale, not so much; they’d allowed just 13 goals in the third all season coming into the game, so this added a healthy 15 percent to that total.

And then, just as BU’s obvious desperation brought the game back into its grasp, an unscreened Yale shot from the slot on a nice setup levels 1:48 after that brought the game back even again. Three goals in 5:09 for two of the best third-period teams in the country came as a bit of a surprise.

“At this time of year, you’re not going to spend 60 minutes in the offensive zone,” Quinn said. “You’re playing good hockey teams and you’re gonna have to weather a storm, you’re gonna have to fight through a difficult shift. I thought we did a good job of that.”

But the Terrier onslaught continued, led by Eichel’s line. Rodrigues drew a penalty with just 11 seconds to go in the third, and Yale killed it off (BU was a rare 0 for 7 on the night), but it didn’t really generate much afterward; at that point, though, the game very much felt as though it was fully in BU’s control. Lyon fought admirably, with 39 saves in the game, but one can only resist the irresistible so long. The Eichel line netting the game-tying and -winning goals was a fitting fait accompli.

“To be able to turn it on like we did,” Quinn said with the snap of his fingers, “says an awful lot about our mental toughness."

And overwhelming talent, for that matter.

St. Cloud 3, Michigan Tech 2 (OT)

A confluence of very strange events led to St. Cloud pulling out the ‘W’ in a game they trailed 2-1 with 38 seconds remaining in regulation.

First, the referees called a pair of penalties with 2:18 left in the third period, creating a 4-on-4 situation on which St. Cloud eventually scored through Jonny Brodzinski. But the goal itself was goofy too, because Jamie Phillips came way out of his crease in an attempt to cover a puck he should have left alone, but never gained control. The puck was then wrapped around and drilled into a wide-open net.

Then in overtime, defenseman Riley Sweeney fell at his own blue line during a decent attacking-zone shift, opening the door for Joe Rehkamp and Judd Peterson to go the other way on a 2-on-1. Peterson’s first shot was blocked, pulling Phillips out of position, and Peterson slid it past him in stride to ice the game. It was two awful bounces in the space of five seconds.

Just a brutal way for Tech to lose, especially because they had a 38-21 edge in shots for the game. Sometimes they just don’t go your way.

Minnesota-Duluth 4, Minnesota 1

Let’s not sugarcoat things: The Gophers got annihilated. The scoreline you see above flatters their performance.

The requisite information is that four different guys — Tony Cameranesi, Justin Crandall, Willie Raskob, and Carson Soucy — had the goals. Raskob also made a gorgeous pass to Cameranesi to open the Bulldogs’ account.

At the other end of the ice, the hope among most attendees was that Kasimir Kaskisuo brought his phone, because he had plenty of time to rip through a dozen levels of Candy Crush. He was only asked to stop 31 of 32 shots (the majority of which came in the third period, when the game had already long since been decided) in a 60-minute game that must have felt to Don Lucia as though it lasted a lifetime.

“We didn’t have enough offensive zone time and we didn’t generate enough from an offensive standpoint,” Lucia said. “When we had our chances, whether we blew it, misfired, missed one-timers....it just wasn’t our night tonight.”

Seth Ambroz scored for Minnesota at 15:06 to make sure his team was completely humiliated. Didn’t help much but there ya go.

North Dakota 4, Quinnipiac 1

Speaking of teams getting annihilated.

Tucker Poolman scored a power play goal for NoDak at 12:59 of the first but at that point this was still anyone's game; shots were 9-9 for a while there.

Then Quinnipiac goalie Michael Gartieg gave up two absolutely awful gut-punch goals in the space of 2:46 in the second period. Sure, you gotta score goals, but the difference between being within a goal against Zane McIntyre and down three is basically the difference between being in a knee-deep hole and looking up from the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Quinnipiac really didn't do much even at that point, though, except to score a 6-on-4 power play goal late to make the game seem closer than it was. Such is McIntyre's power. He ended with 24 saves.

Three stars

1. Charlie Lindgren, St. Cloud

Well when your team gets outshot 38-21, and you win the game anyway, you would think the goalie had a lot to do with that. Lindgren has been a bit above the NCAA average for save percentage this year, but this was a prime performance at a time his team needed it.

2. Danny O'Regan, BU

Talked about him a little bit above, but he scored BU's game-winner and assisted on the tying goal. Plus, his line was 75.6 percent corsi (31-10). So, y'know, dominant game.

3. Drake Caggiula, North Dakota

The undrafted junior had goal and an assist for NoDak, but it was the former that plunged a knife into Quinnipiac's heart. With the Q down a pair, they drew a penalty and had a decent look or two on the power play. A reason for hope might have seemed to be springing. But then Troy Stecher and Caggiula went on a shorthanded 2-on-1 and Gartieg couldn't seal his equipment shut. This was Bane breaking Bruce Wayne's back. Just ruthless.

Author: Ryan Lambert
Posted: March 28, 2015, 12:11 pm

No. 1 Star: Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild

Both Minnesota and Calgary are hanging on to playoff positions by their finger tips. Minnesota moved within 1-point of Chicago for the final spot in the Central in their 4-2 win over Calgary. As has been the norm since the trade, Dubnyk backstopped the Wild to victory against an always dangerous Flames team.

No. 2 Star: Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets

Against Chicago, Atkinson netted his second career hat trick. The Jackets may be out of it, and did their best to play spoiler on the Blackhawks after putting up 4 goals in the first period, and finally winning the game 5-2. Of Atkinson's 3 goals, one was a breakaway while shorthanded, and resulted in Corey Crawford being pulled:

No. 3 Star: Richard Bachman, Edmonton Oilers

If the Oilers are supposed to be tanking, no one relayed that message to goaltender Richard Bachman. (You'd think they'd know how to do it correctly by now...) The backup-to-the-backup netminder stopped all 29 shots from Dallas, and delivered a serious blow to the Stars already slim playoff chances with the 4-0 win.

Honorable Mention: Jonas Brodin was a plus-3 against Calgary. Matt Dumba converted on the Wild's only power play opportunity. Zack Parise on a breakaway lives in the nightmares of goalies:

... Sergei Bobrovsky looked shaky early giving up 2 goals in the first to Chicago, but held on the rest of the way getting the win with 31 saves. Johnny Oduya assisted on both Blackhawks goals. For the Jackets, Cody Goloubef and Ryan Johansen recorded 2-points each. Another nightmare of goaltenders is Johansen on the breakaway:

... Jordan Eberle, Benoit Pouliot, Derek Roy, and Andrew Miller were your goal scorers for Edmonton. Now Andrew Miller, not to be confused with Drew Miller of Detroit, was playing in his fifth ever NHL game on Friday night. He had yet to score a goal until he was gifted a penalty shot in the third period. He made the most of it; top shelf, where all the booze is kept:

Did You Know?

#CBJ now with three 25-goal scorers for first time in franchise history.

— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) March 28, 2015

Dishonorable Mention: After giving up a fourth Minnesota goal on 35 shots, and with less than 10 minutes to go in the game, Kari Ramo was given the hook in favor of Jonas Hiller ... Brent Seabrook was minus-4 and Duncan Keith was minus-3. Corey Crawford exited the game after giving up 4 goals on 13 shots in 15:46 of the first period ... Dallas was within striking distance of Edmonton until 9:24 of the third period when the score went from 1-0 to 4-0 in a matter of seven-ish minutes.

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Jen Neale is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow her on Twitter! Follow @MsJenNeale_PD.

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Author: Jen Neale
Posted: March 28, 2015, 4:20 am

Phil Kessel angry. Phil Kessel doesn’t like getting hit by David Booth in practice. KESSEL SMASH!

Yes, Phil Kessel went from Bruce Banner to Hulk in a Maple Leafs practice Friday in the above video. He appeared to not like some sort of puck battle drill with Booth and the two came to blows.

Tweeted the one and only Chris Johnston, who was on the scene for Sportsnet:

There weren't any big punches thrown in the Kessel-Booth dustup, but tempers were running hot and #leafs teammates had to separate them.

— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) March 27, 2015

Let us dissect Kessel’s form, shall we? Notice the bear hug around Booth’s head. It seems as if Kessel has learned from his dust up with John Scott in which he tried to counter Scott by Kessel swinging his own stick. Boxing lessons perhaps for Kessel? Probably not. Scott is enormous and is a little more intimidating than the 6-foot, 212-pound Booth. Kessel is 6-foot and listed at 202 pounds, though he may pack a few more lbs officially. 

Fights do happen from time to time in practice. We know this. But regardless of how bad the team is … you DO NOT take a swing at its best player. However, this is the Maple Leafs in 2014-15 and it’s Kessel who is well … Kessel. Poor Peter Horachek. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 27, 2015, 11:12 pm
Photo via davidarrigo.com

Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford clearly has strong emotions for armed forces, USA Warriors ice hockey and former Blackhawks equipment manager Clint Reif, who died earlier this year.

Crawford’s new mask supports all. Check out the photo above, and below:

Photo via davidarrigo.com

Per designer David Arrigo:

The theme represents all 4 branches of the US military which I designed to mimic as a patches.

Our friends at the USAW also wanted to give notice to their military brethren north of the border with a shout out to Soldier On which I proudly displayed on the backplate.

The mask, which is designed to look similar to these USA Warriors jerseys, will be worn Friday night’s game against Columbus. It is the only night it will be worn. It will then be auctioned off to the Clint Reif memorial fund.

Per Arrigo again:

Clint Reif of the Chicago Blackhawks, who passed away earlier this season, was a major supporter of the Warriors program. He helped increase awareness throughout the hockey community. His dedication and efforts had an immeasurable impact on the program and many veterans. This is our opportunity to give back to the Reif family.

Stick taps for everyone involved with this one. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 27, 2015, 9:22 pm

Make sure you feign shock and awe when Patrick Kane inevitably makes his return to the ice earlier than anticipated during the Chicago Blackhawks’ playoff run.

We all know that’s how it’s going down, right? Kane had surgery on Feb. 25, one day after the then-leading goal scorer in the NHL broke his collarbone. The recovery prognosis was 12 weeks, which means the Blackhawks would have him back for a potential conference final series against the LA Kings a Western Conference foe.

Coach Joel Quenneville said on Friday that the timetable for Kane remains the same, but that he “always hoped” his recovery could be expedited. 

From ESPN Chicago, as Patrick Kane begins skating again:

“I think it’s still the same timetable, but how well he’s skating and how well he’s doing, I think he feels real good about where he’s at,” Quenneville said.

“It’s just a matter of when he gets that green light is probably going to be the hurdle. But we like his approach, and he’s doing a lot of things out there that he wants to do or is able to do. That’s a good sign.”

The Hawks have gone 8-3-1 without Kane, which probably doesn’t help those Hart Trophy chances. 

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 27, 2015, 8:34 pm

In the words of Kenny Loggins “This is it” for the Calgary Flames on their upcoming roadtrip.

There are just eight games left for the advanced stat non-darlings and six come away from the friendly Scotiabank Saddledome confines.

And there is some pressure on the guys with the flaming Cs on their unis to get a ‘W’ in regulation against the Minnesota Wild and Iron Man goaltender Devan Dubnyk on Friday. 

The Los Angeles Kings swept a tri-state area three game stretch as part of what was considered to be their five-game roadtrip of death. At very least this means the defending Stanley Cup champs will finish this trip with an over .500 record – which is more than we expected for Los Angeles, who has had a ‘meh’ road record all year.

Currently, the Flames have 87 points to the Kings’ 88 in 74 games played, but Calgary has one more regulation and overtime win, which could potentially help in the end heading toward the final Pacific Division playoff spot. 

According to Sports Club Stats, with a regulation loss to Minnesota, Calgary’s playoff chances will drop 12.6 percent off 58.9 percent.

Now it’s Calgary’s turn to be road warriors.

Per the Calgary Herald:

The Calgary Flames have eight games remaining, six in enemy territory. They now embark on a ticklish tour, which opens Friday against the vindaloo-hot Minnesota Wild. The itinerary also includes stops in Nashville, Dallas, St. Louis, Edmonton. When the Flames get back home — April 7 versus Arizona — will their playoff picture be any more clear?

Yes and no. The game April 9 against the Kings looms large for the Flames. And the Flames have that potential mega contest at home. But there’s still a lot of time between now and then. 

And for Calgary to make it an important contest, the Flames need to keep up their winning ways, in spite of statistical skeptics.

Per the NHL’s enhanced stats site, Calgary as a team is a minus-713 in regards to shot attempts differential. This ranks them 28th in the NHL. Granted, the Montreal Canadiens rank 23rd and the Rangers 19th, so this isn’t an end-all, be-all. But it’s a tool to help show us a teams overall puck possession dominance. 

The Kings rank first at plus-620. Out of the teams in the top-10 in this category only Carolina is currently not in the playoffs. Out of the NHL’s bottom 10 in this puck possession notion, only the Canadiens own a playoff spot. 

Regardless of the fancy stats, it’s all about wins, and the Flames have somehow figured out how to ‘get the two points’ in spite of a season-ending injury to Mark Giordano and basically being called out for being an advanced stat outlier all year. It’s almost like it has become a rallying cry for them. To quote Phil Collins, another 80s softish rock icon, they're winning "against all odds."

When a guy like Deryk Engelland, whose summer three-year contract was rightfully panned, scores two goals to give Calgary a point against Dallas in a come-from-behind shootout loss, there has to be some voodoo going on here.

Said coach Bob Hartley per the Calgary Sun: 

“We always say that two points in October is the same value as two points at this time of the year, which is true and this is why we're in our situation. But now, to get two points, especially in the Western Conference, you need to invest a little bit more. Invest a little bit more on the physical side, on the mental side. But that's part of our business.”

But how long can it continue. And is it enough to keep Los Angeles away? Every time they get doubted, they win. So at least expect this column to lead to some sort of victory over Minnesota on Friday.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 27, 2015, 8:04 pm

You’d figure if a player on the Washington Capitals was fined for diving/embellishment, it would be Alex Ovechkin. Nope, in this case it’s tough guy Tom Wilson, who got nailed for his second offense for a game March 19 against Minnesota.

Check out the video of the second such play which led to the $2,000 fine...

The release from the NHL please …

Wilson was issued a Warning following an incident flagged by NHL Hockey Operations during NHL Game No. 936 against Toronto on March 1. His second Citation, which triggered the $2,000 fine, was issued for an incident during NHL Game No. 1057 at Minnesota on March 19. Wilson received a minor penalty for embellishment on the play, at 14:45 of the second period. 

So another fine by a player on the Caps, and they’re one away from coach Barry Trotz being clammed with a $2,000 fine as part of the NHL’s more public crackdown on diving/embellishment. Now we will truly see if Ovi and Barry Trotz truly do get along as well as they say...

Montreal’s Michel Therrien is already on notice for two P.K. Subban diving/embellishment fines. What a fun little twist for games played and coached by people with 6-7-8 figure contracts. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 27, 2015, 6:25 pm

Here are your Puck Headlines: A glorious collection of news and views collected from the greatest blogosphere in sports and the few, the proud, the mainstream hockey media. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com.

Jaromír Jagr and Paul Coffey after 25 years:))))))) pic.twitter.com/zgWADsVHy2

— Jaromir Jagr (@68Jagr) March 27, 2015

• Paul Coffey and Jaromir Jagr reunite for a photo-op after 25 years. Coffey's flow back in the day was SICK, and that's saying something in comparison to Jagr. [Jaromir Jagr]

• Jagr, meanwhile, thinks he can play seven (7!!) more years. We wouldn't put it past the 43-year old. [Sportsnet]

• Dreger: Vegas owners confident in move towards NHL franchise. (It would be more concerning if they weren't.) [TSN]

• "The issue of the [salary cap] growth factor, commonly referred to as the "inflator" or "escalator," has become a hot topic of conversation amongst players with growing concerns about increasing escrow rates and the potential implications on revenue with the falling Canadian dollar ... there is a divide between two camps of players: those who are already under contract for next season and those who are pending unrestricted free agents." [ESPN]

• "Why Flyers' Vincent Lecavalier is tradable, and why Predators, Panthers owners vetoed deals in summer." [NJ.com]

• Flyers vs. Penguins outdoor game in Happy Valley could happen for the 50th anniversary season for both teams in 2017. [Broadstreet Hockey]

• "The National Women's Hockey League is brand new, and there's already a heightened interest in a US-based league that will pay its players. However, there is also some skepticism about how the league will work. While more will likely be revealed in the coming weeks, Dani Rylan is beginning to address these concerns." [Stanley Cup of Chowder]

• Nick Cotsonika's Three Periods: The tanking paradox; dramatic drop in power plays; NHL notes. [Yahoo Sports]

• Numbers some teams would die for: "Over 96 percent of Jets season ticket holders have renewed their terms." [Winnipeg Free Press]

• A man and his hockey team Based on the title of the article, guess which one, "To The Victor Goes No Spoils." [What's Going On In Buffalo]

• Deconstruction of a Canadian custom, or, Coyotes 4, Sabres 3. News Art Critic Colin Dabkowski tweeted a different kind of coverage of Thursday's nights hockey game. [Buffalo News Storify]

• The NCAA men's hockey tournament begins today. The coaches and players react to the pairings. [College Hockey News]

• Chicago adds to their depth by signing collegiate players: forward Kyle Baun (Colgate) and defenseman Michael Paliotta (Vermont). [Daily Herald]

• Dave Lozo on why NHL fans should curb their enthusiasm on undrafted NCAA players. [Bleacher Report]

• The Rangers are facing a metaphorical goaltending fork in the road for the playoffs: Henrik Lundqvist or Cam Talbot? Here's some analysis. [Medium]

• Max Pacioretty gave Team USA some unfounded advice ahead of the Olympic meeting with Canada and facing teammate Carey Price. [Habs Eyes on the Prize]

• Devan Dubnyk has been the key piece in the Wild's resurgence, but he's not the only one providing the defense. [Star Tribune]

• Looking at the fantasy hockey implications of Vancouver's Chris Tanev and his new contract of $22.5-million over five years. [Dobber Hockey]

• With or without Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot: How do Senators centers fare? [The 6th Sens]

• Ottawa 67's outscore Niagara IceDogs, Sarnia stuns Erie: OHL post-game questions. [Buzzing the Net]

• Top five NY Islanders logo concepts. [Hockey By Design]

• Please donate what you can to 'The Alex Dritsas Support Fund'. Dritsas, a veteran, was injured while playing hockey, and suffered a spinalcord injury that could leave him paralized from the chest down. Every dollar helps. [Go Fund Me]

• Remembering the 1915 Vancouver Millionaires. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Finally, a PSA from the Senators for all you would-be hamburger tossers out there. (P.S. Burger tossing: hilarious the first time; funny the second; okay, we get it, the third.) [Ottawa Senators]

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Jen Neale is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow her on Twitter! Follow @MsJenNeale_PD.

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Author: Jen Neale
Posted: March 27, 2015, 6:11 pm

The U.S. women’s national team wrapped up their pre-World Championships camp on Wednesday at Twin Rinks on Long Island, not far from Nassau Coliseum. There wasn’t much time, however, to catch an Islanders game or hop on the Long Island Rail Road and check out New York City. It was a business trip, as captain Meghan Duggan described it. Aside from a team dinner one night, the focus was on their two practices a day and the challenge that lay ahead in Malmo, Sweden. 

Beginning Saturday, the U.S. women look to defend their 2013 gold medal at the Women's World Championships. There was no top division competition involved last year due to the Sochi Olympics, so the Americans are hoping to continue their run of taking home gold, which they’ve done in five of the last seven tournaments. 

Even with the vast experience on the roster, there are a number of first-timers involved for the 2015 tournament. 

“The second we step on the ice everyone’s equal,” Duggan said Wednesday night as the team waited for its flight to Sweden. “We’re out there trying to work together towards a common goal. We’re just motivating each other in the right ways and making sure everyone’s on track all the time, and hopefully we come home with what we want.” 

What they want is, of course, gold, and the first step toward that goal begins Saturday against rival Canada.  

We chatted with Duggan about the upcoming Worlds, the CWHL’s future and playing outdoors.

Enjoy.

Q. Has the new blood on this year’s roster rejuvenated the rest of the group?

DUGGAN: “Yeah, for sure. Any time you can add some young studs to your roster it really brings the energy up and gets everyone going. It’s exciting, the younger players that have joined our roster this time around are phenomenal athletes. They work hard for our team. They earned the right to be here. We’re just excited for them to have their first experience with the world championships.” 

The first game of the tournament is versus Canada. Is it good to get that game off the top, knowing how emotional and intense it likely will be?

“Yeah, obviously it’s no secret us and Canada are huge rivals, and anytime we get a chance to play them it’s a fantastic hockey game. We’re excited whether it’s in the round robin, whether it’s in the final, we get jacked up. That’s not to say we don’t get jacked up for other games, I think there’s great contenders in the tournament every year. The Swedes and the Finns always bring a tough game. You look at Switzerland winning the bronze medal at the Olympics last year. You can’t overlook any game, and we certainly won’t, but it’s definitely exciting to kick the tournament off against Canada on Saturday night.”

The Montreal Canadiens recently announced a partnership with the CWHL’s Montreal Stars. A few other NHL teams have partnerships with CWHL clubs. Is that what the league needs to survive long-term? Support from the NHL and/or its teams?

“I think support from the NHL helps and it was obviously fantastic to see that the Canadiens signed on with the Montreal Stars. It obviously provides funding, but it also gets the word out there about the league, and people that follow the NHL can learn more about women’s hockey and what it has to offer. That’s just something we strive to do every day. We’re trying to grow the game and get it out there. The girls that I’ve been around on teams that I’ve played on have done a great job at that and I can only hope it’s going to go further in the future.”

Where would you like to see the CWHL in five years?

“I think five years would be great to expand the league, have some more teams in the U.S. and Canada because right now the league only has five teams in it. It’d be great to double that. And then get to a point where the league can pay the players and the coaches and all the support staff, the people that work so hard to help the league survive.”

Do the players sense the growing attention and coverage placed on the women’s game? 

“You look at the gold medal final in Sochi between the U.S. and Canada and I think over 10 million people watched that game. You’d like to think people would like to follow it in a non-Olympic year. Every month that passes, every year that passes women’s hockey is gaining more notoriety. That’s something that we take pride in. That’s something that’s definitely exciting for us. We make it kind of a point to help grow the game and I can only hope it just continues to grow every year.” 

I don’t know if you’ve heard about this but there’s a great idea that was expressed recently about having the CWHL involved in next year’s NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park, with perhaps your Boston Blades facing off against the Montreal Stars. You didn’t play in Wisconsin's 2010 outdoor game at Camp Randall due to national team participation. Do you see all these outdoor games and champ at the bit to participate in one yourself?

“It’s certainly exciting. I’ve had the great opportunity to skate out at Fenway Park a couple times with the U.S. team, both on the 2010 and most recent tour before 2014. It’s a great feeling to skate outside there and just practice, and it’s exciting. For me being a Bostonian, it was certainly something special to skate out on Fenway. I would never turn down an outdoor game. I’ve been to a couple of them. We were at the Winter Classic last year at the Big House when the announcement was made, so it’s very exciting. I think it’s an awesome trend that started in hockey and anytime I have a chance to be part of one I would love that.” 

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: March 27, 2015, 4:28 pm

Craig Custance had a terribly interesting piece on Wednesday about the slowly bubbling idea among some general managers, and certainly emanating from the the NHL itself, that would fundamentally change the sport.

The idea is a simple one: Raise the draft age from 18 to 20. 

Today, only about 1 in 5 players who get drafted end up playing more than 200 NHL games, and it's thought that the 20 percent success rate comes in large part from the ability to project what a 17-year-old kid will be as a player five, eight, or 10 years later. If you tack on two more years for the evaluation process, you reduce your chances of missing on a pick substantially, at least in theory.

The thing is, that's probably true, just in terms of the number of players who are NHL-ready at the age of 20 versus 18. You know that implicitly; there are far more guys in the NHL at 20 than 18, and those who do make it at 18 tend to have notable impacts. However, some are clearly more-ready than others at that age. To illustrate this, let's take the last nine seasons — from 2005-06 to present — and examine how good those players were.

In all, 38 players got at least 500 minutes at even-strength for a season they started as 18-year-olds (i.e., it doesn't matter whether they turned 18 on Oct. 1, or the were 18 years and 364 days old). These are guys we could consider to have been NHL regulars at that age. For the most part, they're guys who'd expect to see on this list: Stamkos, Crosby, Kessel, Skinner, Landeskog, MacKinnon, Duchene, Hedman, Doughty, etc. In all, 27 were forwards, 11 were defensemen, and none were goalies.

In general, that makes a lot of sense as well. As Brian Campbell recently told Katie Baker when discussing how good Aaron Ekblad has been this season, it's relatively easy to stash a struggling 18-year-old forward somewhere deep in your lineup. It's very difficult to do so with a defenseman. It comes as no surprise, then, that the top-10 TOI-per-game seasons among 18-year-olds were all by defensemen, and none got fewer than 14 minutes at 5-on-5 per night. By contrast, only three forwards got more than 14 minutes per game (Taylor Hall, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nathan MacKinnon: extreme talents on bad teams).

What this basically tells us is that GMs only bring aboard defensemen at that age when they're reasonably certain that those players are ready to compete meaningfully at the NHL level, and very few are. By contrast, Phil Kessel and Jordan Staal got into 67 and 78 games at the same age, respectively, but basically received only third-line minutes (fewer than 10 per game each).

By the time players are just one year older, they are significantly more “ready” for the NHL. At that point, GMs seem to have a much better idea of what they can do at this level, and are confident that they can be contributors. To wit, the number of 19-year-olds to get 500-plus minutes at 5-on-5 more than doubles to 88 (one of which was a goalie: Robin Lehner). That includes the 38 previously mentioned, so we can say that 50 more players were judged to be NHLers one calendar year later.

What's interesting is that these players generally seem to be less “ready” than the 18-year-olds. Averages for everything at evens (except CF%, interestingly) drop off at least a little bit, and you might be able to attribute some of that to their slightly more difficult usage in terms of where they start their shifts.

That trend continued for players who were 20 years old. There were 145 regulars — that means only new 62 players who weren't in the league as 18- or 19-year-olds — at that age. And the numbers were still pretty representative of the overall trends toward defensemen maturing into NHL-level capability: 93 forwards, 44 defensemen, eight goalies. (Defensemen went from making up 29 percent of players at 18, to 35 percent at 19, to 47 percent at 20.)

As these still-young players come into the league at age 19 and 20, their average quality tends to drop, only to have the slack in terms of scoring rates, possession, etc., picked up by the elite players in the group. At age 20, only 27 players had more than 2.0 points per 60 at evens, and only three (Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal, and Taylor Hall) were north of 3.0. That's up from 13 and one (no surprise: still Crosby) at age 19, and eight and zero at 18.

Another notable issue here is that, counter to what Campbell said of Ekblad, forwards actually get more difficult usage from their coaches than do defensemen at any of these ages; blueliners are far more likely to start in the attacking zone than their own. Which makes sense, because it takes a lot of time to learn the defense position, certainly a lot more than any of those up front (perhaps with the exception of center, though I'd tend to doubt it). So while you can't hide defensemen in the lineup, you can certainly give them an easier ride. 

Here is all that data (from War on Ice, of course):

As far as the goaltenders go, there's really not enough of a sample, or enough data, on their appearances to say much, except that the fact that only eight guys have gotten any time at all at age 20 probably tells you plenty about how little goalies are trusted before they're into the 23-to-24 range. The eight goalies who made it before they were legally able to drink in the U.S. were mostly guys you'd think of as either being elite or at least highly regarded at the time (though a few were clearly just “last best options” for awful teams): Robin Lehner, Ondrej Pavelec, Braden Holtby, Carey Price, Steve Mason, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Kevin Poulin, and Marc-Andre Fleury.

The league has seen 12 extra goalies get at least some time at 21, the vast majority are still mostly replacement players, rather than regular backups. Another 18 by 22 years old, and only two more get added in by the time a goalie turns 23, and two on top of that for 24-year-olds. This comes with the obvious caveat that there are really only 60 goaltending jobs in the league at any time — 30 starters and 30 backups — compared with roughly 360-400 jobs for forwards and about 180-200 defensemen (depending upon how many extra skaters teams carry).

Now, Fleury obviously got time as an 18-year-old as well prior to the Second Bettman Lockout. There are a few other guys who might have gotten a chance in the NHL at 18 or 19 had the lockout not scuttled plans (Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin being the most obvious). But for the most part this feels like a reasonable representation of how difficult it is for young players to break into the league.

So I think this answers the question of why general managers would be in favor of bringing in players for the first time ever at age 20, rather than age 18. The average player coming into the league at age 20 is fairly comparable to the stars at 18 in terms of goal and point generation but appear to be trusted with a little more defensive responsibility. Which explains why, in Custance's piece, some GMs say they would make dispensations for elite guys in the same way the CHL does with “exceptional player” status.

Right now, it seems that a “minority” of GMs would prefer to keep the draft age at 18, and that makes sense, because a minority of those guys are actually good at getting players via the draft. Waiting two more years levels the playing field so that the general managers who are more likely to miss at age 18 can have a little more job security. It would become much harder to fan on, say, the No. 12 or 23 picks in the draft with two extra years of evaluation time, because players will be coming to you much more fully formed — both in their games and physically — at that time.

This also makes business sense for the league: Fewer players coming in at age 18 means fewer players getting to unrestricted free agency at 25, means less money being paid to elite players over the course of their careers. At least in theory. And that's probably why the NHLPA is so staunchly opposed to the idea. It doesn't benefit the current rank and file in the league to fight this (they're already in and making the big bucks, after all) but it benefits future stars. If just 83 guys are being denied entry to the league over a nine-year span, that's a relative drop in the bucket for the NHLPA, but a healthy portion of those guys command big-money deals basically the second their entry-level contracts expire, and those can drive up prices for everyone.

So this isn't something that's going to happen any time soon, and probably never will. But the reasons why the league and GMs would want it to are pretty clear.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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Author: Ryan Lambert
Posted: March 27, 2015, 2:43 pm

(Ed. Note: The Buffalo Sabres hosted the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night in one of the most surreal games in NHL history, as the home fans cheered for the opposition so that the Sabres’ maintained last place and their draft lottery odds. Ryan Nagelhout is a freelance writer and Buffalo blogger at The Roost. He was there for Tank Night, and filed this for Puck Daddy. Enjoy!)

By Ryan Nagelhout 

BUFFALO, NY – Mike Weber had heard enough. 

The Buffalo Sabres defenseman heard the cheers for Arizona Coyotes goals against his team. Everyone did. Sabres goaltender Matt Hackett made 38 saves in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes at First Niagara Center on Thursday, but said "I don't want to talk about it" when asked about the home crowd cheering for the visiting team.

Sabres captain Brian Gionta said it was "real tough" but didn't elaborate. Sabres forward Cody Hodgson simply insisted the team wanted to "win as bad as anybody." Even Sabres coach Ted Nolan claimed he wasn't paying attention to the crowd on Thursday night.

That's OK. Weber said enough for all of them.

"I've always spoken extremely highly of our fans," Weber said after Sabres fans cheered the loss. "I don't even know if disappointed is the word."

Few people at First Niagara Center were dressed in brick red and desert sand, but the cheers that came with Coyotes goals were unmistakable. It became more pronounced with each Arizona goal. Some fans even taped Coyotes logos to the front of their Sabres jerseys, and the roar that accompanied Sam Gagner's overtime winner left no doubt.

Welcome to Tanktown, a city trapped in the abyss of bad hockey and hoping Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel can save them.

Some in Buffalo had the tilt against Arizona marked on the calendar for months. The two teams jettisoning talent at the trade deadline made the race for the bottom clear. Buffalo wore its awful third jerseys (50 percent off at the team store!) for the occasion. The local media even took sides: WGR550 AM radio hosts are pro-tank, while Thursday's Buffalo News ran a story about the ethics of tanking as its 1A centerpiece.

But how would the fans react? Last Friday's crowd cheered for a disallowed Sabres goal in a 3-0 Devils win. Would Arizona really find applause on the shores of Lake Erie?

Most of the game was highlighted by polite, almost awkward silence. The din of the crowd during play made it feel more like a sparsely-attended gallery opening than an allegedly sold out hockey game. Fittingly enough, Buffalo News art critic Colin Dabkowski brilliantly live-tweeted the game as if he were reviewing an absurdist art installation. It was by far the most entertaining part of the evening.

(Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Then came the goals. Sabres leading scorer Tyler Ennis got a bigger cheer for tying the game at 1-1 than Arizona's Jordan Szwarz got for opening the scoring. But the mood swung as the game progressed, and by the time Arizona took a 3-2 lead into the third period it was clear Tank Nation controlled the volume knob inside the building. Brian Gionta tied the score at 3-3 off an atrocious Shane Doan giveaway with 3:37 left in regulation.

The goal announcement drew boos, as did the horn signaling the end of regulation.

Sabres fans once hung signs inside First Niagara Center counting the population of Pominville or imploring the team to "Awinagenov.

Now they ask fans to "#PRAYFORMCDAVID."

"I've loved the Sabres forever," Adam Berman said as he hung his banner with a friend above Section 312 before Thursday's game. "But this late in the season, with our record what it is and with a superstar like McDavid on the line, it's better to lose to get a better chance at first overall."

Berman said he's hung the banner about a dozen times this year. At first he was "a little nervous" about the public display but said he's only encountered a few "dirty looks" from other Sabres fans. Honestly, he's more worried about what Sabres players might think.

"I didn't want them to think I hate the team or I'm disrespecting them," he said. "But it is what it is."

Berman said he would be among the Sabres faithful cheering Coyotes goals on Thursday. For Weber, that's where fans have crossed the line.

"The minute they score that first one our fans are cheering. Late penalty, they cheer. They cheer when they score to win the game," Weber said. "I don't even know what to say. This is extremely frustrating for us."

The choice for some Sabres fans is clear: lose now for the chance to be better later. It's a twisted logic that seems reasonable to those tired of mediocre hockey and valiant races to 9th place. Many feel Buffalo has played by the rules and come away empty-handed in the past. Why not try something different?

After all, no one will care how they got their superstars when they start winning again.

Try explaining that to human beings tasked with winning on a hockey team built to lose.

"We don't want to be here," Weber said of the basement-dwelling Sabres. "We understand what this team is doing, what the organization is doing. The place we've put ourselves in. But I've never been a part of something like that where the away team comes into a home building and they're cheering for them."

The long grind has clearly worn on the players and even some fans. Many in Buffalo are sick of tank talk, and have tuned out altogether. Some have even discussed hoping the team plays well enough to finish 28th and potentially miss out on McDavid and Eichel unless they win the draft lottery.

That now seems unlikely for Buffalo after Thursday's overtime loss, but the journey to consecutive last place finishes has clearly taken its toll in the Queen City.

"This is two years in a row now," Weber said. "Physically... mentally... [Laughs] This sucks.

"Obviously what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," he added. "But this is a whole new low right now."

A new low, maybe, but the gap between the Sabres and Coyotes is just six points. With eight games to go and four left on the home schedule, there's no telling how deep the abyss can go in downtown Buffalo.

Ryan Nagelhout is a freelance writer and Buffalo blogger at The Roost. Follow him on Twitter.

Lead photo via Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News; here's a full gallery of images from Tank Night.

***

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Author: Yahoo Sports Staff
Posted: March 27, 2015, 1:00 pm

Since we're down to the final moments of postseason life for teams in contention, Puck Daddy solemnly begins a daily countdown to annihilation.

Strap in … we’ve got a lot to unpack after Thursday night.

Here’s what happened during a full slate of awesome games involving playoff teams:

* The Los Angeles Kings are now the No. 3 seed in the Pacific, defeating the Islanders and leap-frogging the idle Flames. They’re also now just two points in back of Vancouver for second in the division after the Canucks lost at home.

The Flames are now in ninth place, trailing the Kings by a point and the Jets by three points for the last wild card. Oh, yeah: They finish the season with the Kings and Jets.

The New York Rangers became the first team to clinch a playoff spot with their win over the Ottawa Senators, moving to 101 points and the conference lead.

The Senators saw the Hamburglar get flamed broiled in that loss, and are now tied in points with the Boston Bruins (85) after their overtime loss to the Ducks. The Bruins have 33 ROW to Ottawa’s 32, but the Sens have a game in-hand.

Oh hai Florida: The Panthers’ regulation win moved them to 82 points with eight games left … two of them against Boston and one of them against Ottawa.

Finally, the left-for-dead Nashville Predators are now in first place in the Central again, meaning we could still be headed for Blues/Blackhawks in the first round … unless the Wild catch Chicago, trailing them by three points and leading in ROW (38-35). The Hawks have a game in-hand, and they face each other one more time.

Here are the current standings. The Death Watch tracks the final Wild Card spot and the teams that are chasing it. Their “tragic number” is the number of points gained by the final wild card team or lost by the team chasing it.

All playoff percentages are from Sports Club Stats; tragic numbers and other figures via the NHL. A team is eliminated from play-offs when their "Tragic Number" hits 0.

Here’s the Eastern Conference picture:

The Penguins’ loss to the Hurricanes and the Capitals’ win over the Devils moved Washington to within a point of third place in the Metro with eight games left. Pick your poison: The Islanders in Round 1 or the Habs or Rangers?

All the bubble teams in the East are off on Friday. Columbus tries to prolong the inevitable at Chicago.

Meanwhile, in the West …

Obviously the game of the night on Friday is the Flames visiting the Wild, suddenly on the outside looking in. But true to form for this wacky race, the Flames can be back in third place in the Pacific with at least a point (although the Kings will have a game in-hand).

They’d also close to within a point of the Jets and two points of the Wild.

The Dallas Stars try to keep their hopes alive at Edmonton, slim as they are. 

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 27, 2015, 11:06 am

No. 1 Star: Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets stayed in the playoff hunt with a 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Pavelec was excellent again, stopping 39 shots for his sixth straight victory. Mark Scheifele and Jim Slater each had a goal and an assist. The win puts Winnipeg three points up on the Calgary Flames for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. 

No. 2 Star: Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks

Three third period goals helped the Sharks upend the Detroit Red Wings 6-4. Marleau scored twice and assisted on another as San Jose won for the first time in three games. Chris Tierny had a pair of points and Antti Niemi made 30 stops.

No. 3 Star: Reto Berra, Colorado Avalanche

Colorado scored three goals in the opening 12:56 of the second period and coasted to a 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Reto Berra made 33 stops, while Ryan O'Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Alex Tanguay each recorded two points. The win was Berra's first in a game he started since Nov. 25.

Honorable Mention: Ryan Getzlaf’s goal 3:09 into overtime helped give the Anaheim Ducks a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins. Frederik Andersen made 27 saves and Cam Fowler, back from being a healthy scratch, assisted on a pair of goals, including Getzlaf’s winner:

David Krejci had a pair of assists for the Bruins in his first game back from a knee injury … Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored his 21st goal of the season, breaking Nicklas Lidstrom’s record for goals in a season by a Swedish defenseman, and Sam Gagner put home the overtime winner as the Arizona Coyotes got by the Buffalo Sabres 4-3:

Anze Kopitar slipped one by Jaroslav Halak with 4:23 left in the third period as the Los Angeles Kings edged the New York Islanders 3-2. Nick Shore scored his first career NHL goal to open the scoring for the Kings. Tyler Toffoli now leads the league in shorthanded goals with five. The third straight win helps move LA into a playoff spot in the Western Conference … Chris Kreider scored twice and Tanner Glass added his first of the the year as the New York Rangers chased Andrew Hammond and routed the Ottawa Senatos 5-1 to clinch a playoff spot.. Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, Kevin Hayes and Dan Boyle all recorded two points. Cam Talbot stopped 22 shots for his 20th win ... Matt Niskanen put home the winner 1:13 into overtime as the Washington Capitals beat the New Jersey Devils 3-2:

Pekka Rinne made 28 saves and earned his 40th win as the Nashville Predators edged the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 … Brandon Pirri tallied two more goals and Roberto Luongo made 24 saves as the Florida Panthers kept their playoff hopes alive with a 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pirri now has 20 goals and 2 assists on the season .. Sam Carrick of the Maple Leafs scored his first career goal in the loss … Eric Staal led the Carolin Hurricanes with a goal and two assists as they dispatched the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2. The goal was Staal’s 20th of the season, the ninth time he’s reached the mark in 11 seasons. Cam Ward made 27 stops, including this robbery on David Perron, while Brad Malone recorded a pair of helpers … John Tavares couldn’t get by Drew Doughty, so he stole his stick: 

Did You Know? 

Last #Caps player to score OT GWG vs NJ? Adam Oates.

— Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) March 27, 2015

Dishonorable Mention: The Penguins and Islanders are 1-5-1 in their last seven games … Boston has lost six in a row, while Toronto has dropped seven straight …Jimmy Howard allowed three goals on 10 shots before being pulled. He also lost his starting gig for the time being, according to Mike Babcock … Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond allowed five goals on 22 shots and suffered his first loss in regulation … Tampa’s power play failed on all five opportunities … Richard Panik was given a 10-minute misconduct for chucking Pirri’s stick into the Air Canada Centre crowd:

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: March 27, 2015, 4:41 am

The Coyotes were victorious in Part I of the Connor McDavid Bowl Series Thursday night in Buffalo. Sam Gagner was the hero for both Arizona and Sabres fans with his overtime goal in the 4-3 victory.

After all four Coyotes goals, there were noticeable cheers inside First Niagara Center, where the Sabres call home. With both Arizona and Buffalo in the hunt to finish last overall in the NHL and earn the best draft lottery odds to take McDavid first overall in June, it was quite the scene, especially after Gagner’s winner:

Sounds a bit like a Coyotes home game.

While executives of both teams might not be shedding tears after losses this season, the players and coaching staffs are still playing the games with full effort. Jobs are on the line for many. So when Sabres defenseman Mike Weber heard the cheers for each Coyotes goal, he took exception and voice his frustration after the game.

Via the Sabres:

For the video-impaired:

“I’ve always spoken extremely high of our fans. I don’t even know if disappointed is the word. They score that first one and our fans are cheering. Late penalty, they cheer. They cheer when they score to win the game.
I don’t even know what to say. This is extremely frustrating for us. We don’t want to be here. We understand where we are. We understand what this team’s doing, what the organization’s doing, the place we’ve put ourselves in. I’ve never been a part of something like that, where the away team comes into a home building and they’re cheering for them. Again, I respect our fans. I love our fans. I show up to work everyday to whatever I can for them, and to play hard for them and my teammates… Again, I’ve never seen that before. I don’t know what else to say.”
...
“This is two years in a row now. Physically, mentally, this sucks. To compound things, you have your home fans cheering against you. Again, I’ve never been a part of that. Obviously, what doesn’t kill ya makes you stronger, I guess. But this is a whole new low right now.”

Again, the players are still playing for pride. Some are playing for contracts or to stay with their respective teams next season. They're not worrying about some superstar prospect who may or may not save their franchise.

Obviously, Sabres fans see McDavid or Jack Eichel as a cornerstone piece in turning around their team's fortunes, but this what the you get when you incentivize losing. 

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: March 27, 2015, 3:04 am

The KHL’s Gagarin Cup playoffs have reached the conference finals and in the West it’s SKA versus CSKA, which you could describe as Ilya Kovalchuk against Alex Radulov. 

Radulov and CSKA took Game 1 on Thursday 3-0, but it wasn’t without a bit of controversy involving the former NHLers.

Late in the third period, Kovalchuk and Radulov tangled in what appeared to be a little harmless contact as CSKA exited the SKA zone. As the puck was turned over in the neutral zone, Radulov collected it, skated it back and dropped it off to a teammate. That’s when Kovachuk gave him a chop to the back of the leg:

Radulov, who scored the game’s opening goal, is expected to play in Game 2 on Saturday. Kovalchuk was given two minutes for slashing and didn’t have time for questions afterward:

Via Pavel Lysenkov

Said Radulov, via (translated) sport.ru: “With me everything is fine, I will play. Kovalchuk act? Sometimes, people are psycho. What can you do?"

Indeed, Alex. Indeed.

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: March 27, 2015, 2:06 am

Cam Ward has shown over his career that he’s pretty good with the glove. On Thursday night, during Carolina’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, David Perron was his latest victim. 

With the Canes holding a 2-1 first period lead, Sidney Crosby found Perron, who slipped behind the Carolina defense. The Penguins forward took the pass while on one knee and had the entire net open as Ward was moving across the crease. But, no, the Penguins would not tie the game right then and there.

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: March 27, 2015, 12:10 am

The Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes meet in Buffalo on Thursday night, in what is somehow simultaneously the most important and least important game of the season. 

The Sabres are last in the NHL at 47 points in 73 games; the Coyotes have 52 points in 74 games and are second-to-last. The one who finishes in the basement is assured of getting super prospects Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. The other one … not so much.

These crazy kids meet again on Monday in Glendale, too. So in honor of this unprecedented mini-series between the two draft lottery darlings, we present The 10 Things We Want To See At The Sabres vs. Coyotes Tank-a-palooza, because everything sounds fun when you add “palooza” to it. Shameless written in the style of a Buzzfeed listicle! 

And here … we … go.

10. Instead of the national anthem, have the singer belt out Tom Petty’s “Even The Losers Get Lucky Sometimes.”

9. Play a prerecorded message from Connor McDavid explaining how honored he is that both teams would sacrifice so much to have him join their team, and how both franchises are unique snowflakes and how they’re both beautiful in their own way.

Via The Sports Junkies

8. Play a prerecorded message from Jack Eichel in which he says “BUFFALO I’M COMMIN’ FOR YOU” before pounding a Bud Light.

7. Two words: Tank Zamboni.

6. The arena plays the home team’s goal song when the visiting team scores, allowing fans to celebrate their team getting pushed closer to defeat.

5. The arena plays the Debbie Downer sad trombone when the home team scores, matching the emotions of the fans. We’ll also accept the music they play when a contestant loses on “The Price Is Right.”

4. Iso-cams on Tim Murray and Don Maloney at all times, so we can watch them react when their best-laid plans for abject failure are scuttled by someone with the nerve to “try their best.”

3. During the home team’s power play, they just pass the puck around for two minutes without firing anything at the net, creating the first documented instance in which fans scream “DON’T SHOOOOOOOOOOOOT!” during a man advantage.

2. A Patrick Kaleta own goal or a Mike Smith butt-goal.

Or …

1. Pull both goalies in the first minute and keep both nets empty the entire game. The NHL record for combined goals in a game is only 21! Hey, if you’re playing a game no one wants to win, might has well make it worthwhile...  

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 26, 2015, 9:33 pm

(Welcome to the NHL Draft Tank Powerless Rankings, a weekly look at the race to the bottom in the League for the right to draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.)

The Sabres are back! At least as the team with the most powerful tank in the NHL. This comes right before the Buffalo/Arizona "Tank Wars" week, where they will play twice -- once on Thursday night in Buffalo and the other in Glendale, Arizona the following Tuesday. Hopefully Tim Peel can ref one of those games. 

All draft odds are via the NHL Draft Simulator. 

What does the current race for McEichel look like? Here are this week’s Powerless Rankings…

14. Los Angeles Kings (86 points)

Current Draft Lottery Odds: 1.0 percent

Chances of making the playoffs: 68.8 percent

The Kings still have three road games left on this trip (where they've gone 2-0-0) and an April 9 game against Calgary to help determine whether they make the playoffs. We think they will, but they're not in there right now. So in that case ... think of that 1-2 Kopitar, McDavid punch. 

13. Boston Bruins (84 points)

Current Draft Lottery Odds: 2.0 percent

Chances of making the playoffs: 34.3 percent

Congrats to the Bruins for making the rankings. There's no chance at all the NHL will fix the lottery to appease owner Jeremy Jacobs. Ha! Of course there's a possibility. We put that percentage at about 20 ... 30 if Jacobs indeed has suggestive photos of commissioner Gary Bettman somewhere, as we all truly believe he does.  

Bruins lottery

... oh that is horrifying

12. Dallas Stars (82 points)

Current Draft Lottery Odds: 2.5 percent

Chances of making the playoffs: 1.9 percent, (Projected 10th in the Western Conference at 44 percent)

Dallas has won nine of 11 games. They are not tanking, and in their crosshairs is the Winnipeg Jets who have a 65.2 percent chance of making the playoffs and sit six points clear of the streaking stars. To quote Samuel L. Jackson in "Jurassic Park" hold onto your butts. 

11. Florida Panthers (80 points)

Current Draft Lottery Odds: 3.0 percent

Chances of making playoffs: 1.7 percent (Projected 10th in Eastern Conference at 76 percent)

Florida's actually five points back of Ottawa. Their 1.7 percent odds will increase if fans start throwing alligator burgers on the ice and give their players food poisoning. 

10. San Jose Sharks (78 points)

Current Draft Lottery Odds: 3.5 percent

Current projected finish: 10th in the Western Conference (44 percent)

The Sharks tank brigade got a late start in its offensive, but thanks to Doug Wilson's locker room subterfuge, San Jose is in full dive mode. The Sharks have won just one of their last five games. 

9. Colorado Avalanche (78 points)

Current Draft Lottery Odds: 5 percent

Current projected finish: 12th in the Western Conference (54 percent)

They lost to Edmonton in regulation. It's on like Donkey Kong ... 

8. Philadelphia Flyers (76 points)

Current Draft Lottery Odds: 6 percent

Current Projected Finish: 11th in Eastern Conference (49 percent)

Why in the world did the Flyers beat the Chicago Blackhawks in regulation Wednesday? Is it because they know they're playing with house money ... thanks to Ed Snider's strangely close relationship with Bettman (see Jacobs, Jeremy for a comparison). 

7. New Jersey Devils (73 points)

Current Draft Lottery Odds: 6.5 percent

Current Projected Finish: 13th in Eastern Conference (40 percent)

It's a big weekend for the Devils with a game against the Hurricanes on Saturday. If the tank was really on, Cory Schneider would not start that game. 

6. Columbus Blue Jackets (72 points)

Current Draft Lottery Odds: 7.5 percent

Current Projected Finish: 13th in Eastern Conference (44 percent)

The Blue Jackets have won seven of their last eight games. But why??? Most of your big-named players are locked up to long-term deals and can have the fruits of this lack of labor. Just think ... Johansen and McEichel as a 1-2 center punch for a dynastic eternity. 

5. Carolina Hurricanes (62 points)

Current Draft Lottery Odds: 8.5 percent

Current Projected Finish: 14th in Eastern Conference  (82 percent)

One point in the last week? Take that everyone who thought the Hurricanes hadn't totally thrown in the towel. With games against the Sabres, Panthers and Flyers left on the schedule there's plenty of time for the Hurricanes to move up in our powerless rankings. 

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (60 points)

Current Draft Lottery Odds: 9.5 percent

Current Projected Finish: 15th in Eastern Conference (82 percent)

Phil Kessel may not score 30 goals for the first time in a full season since 2007-08. Toronto's attendance keeps dropping. You know what can help with this? A first line generational center. 

3. Edmonton Oilers (55 pts.)

Current Draft Lottery Odds: 11.5 percent

Current Projected Finish: 15th in Western Conference (74 percent)

Again, why did you beat Colorado? Taylor Hall coming back may sabotage this tank and thankfully prevent one of these two awesome players from ending up in Hoth. 

2. Arizona Coyotes (52 pts.)

Current Draft Lottery Odds: 13.5 percent

Current Projected Finish: 14th in the Western Conference (74 percent)

That win against the Red Wings really hurt the Coyotes' tanking situation. Even two regulation wins by the Sabres against Arizona this week won't do enough for Buffalo to jump the Coyotes. 

1. Buffalo Sabres (47 pts.)

Current Draft Lottery Odds: 20 percent

Current Projected Finish: 16th in Eastern Conference (100 percent)

Buffalo coach Ted Nolan finally spouted off about the losing. Good for him. It probably sucks as a coach ... if you're trying to win and management gives you no tools to succeed. Regardless, his impassioned pleas may be too little too late. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 26, 2015, 9:15 pm

Here are your Puck Headlines: A glorious collection of news and views collected from the greatest blogosphere in sports and the few, the proud, the mainstream hockey media. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com.

Photo via Edmonton Oilers on Twitter

• This is a good way to divy up a first NHL something puck. [Oilers]

• The Buffalo Sabres tanking creates a bizarre situation for fans.  [Die by the Blade]

• According to Arizona head coach Dave Tippett, Coyotes coaches and players are not playing for draft picks. [Fox Sports Arizona]

• Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is about to return Saturday. This will give St. Louis even more defensive depth for the playoffs. Yikes. [Fansided]

• Memories of Luc Robitaille’s first hat trick at the Nassau Coliseum in advance of the Kings’ last game there. [Mayors Manor]

• Can the Kings defend their championship? I mean, can you really bet against the Kings in a seven-game series?  [The Hockey Writers]

• Let’s take a break to look at Alex Ovechkin and all his numbers over his career from an advanced stat perspective: [Japers Rink]

• A vasectomy couldn’t keep this Rangers fan from 1,000 straight home games. Read this story as much for the sweet old photo of Alexei Kovalev as anything else. [New York Post]

• Lanny McDonald and his mustache are the new Hockey Hall of Fame chairmen of the boards … or Lanny McDonald is the chairman of the board. [HHOF]

• And what is the task ahead for McDonald. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

The Bruins raised a record $130,000 at the eighth annual Cuts for a Cause. Proceeds go to a pediatric cancer fund [Bruins]

The Calgary Flames look at advanced stats … and they laugh, and keep winning regardless of how so-so they are in these categories. [Grantland]

• Former Red Wing, Canuck and RangerMikael Samuelsson has officially retired from hockey. [Kuklas Korner]

• The Red Wings are sliding this month, and goaltending and scoring slumps have been a major contributor. [MLive]

• Injuries will play a big role in the upcoming NCAA hockey tournament for the University of North Dakota. [Grand Forks Herald]

• Nineteen-year-old Tristen Johnson was accused of striking UND player Lisa Marvin while she was trying to fill her stalled pickup with gas on a Grand Forks street last November. Marvin, of Warroad, Minnesota, suffered injuries that prevented her from playing and have put her hockey future in doubt.”[Kare 11]

• Two men accused of ripping off hockey players for $15 million face prison terms. Players include Mike Peca and Bryan Berard. [Daily News]

• Check out the schedule for the DC Analytics Conference. [Georgetown]

• Who is this Dylan Strome character and why is he causing such incredible buzz right now for the NHL draft? He's not Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, but he is a scoring machine. [The Hockey Writers]

• Hockey in Chattanooga is actually looking quite solid … in spite of the whole lack of ice thing. [Nooga.com]

• A QMJHL first round playoff preview! [Buzzing the Net]

•  Hockey’s hottest lines? Of course one has to include Johnny Gaudreau, who is constantly on fire. [Dobber Hockey]

• The Islanders’ offense has slowed down to a snail’s pace. But why? Many a factors at play here. [Islanders Insight]

• So there are some age gaps with the Calgary Flames. How much does this really matter? It appears this rebuild is officially over. [Flames Nation] 

• Zbynek Michalek is adjusting to life with the Blues. An all-encompassing q&a with the former Penguins defenseman. [Empty Netters

•  Some pretty neat stuff and happenings at the Ford Ice Center in Nashville.  [Golden Girls Hockey]

• You may not want to be the top seed in the Western Conference. Thanks Kings! [Pro Hockey News]

• Finally, Stinger goes a little bonkers with the hat trick bin.

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 26, 2015, 7:01 pm

LISTEN HERE! [And if that doesn't work, try here.]

It's a Thursday edition of Marek vs. Wyshynski beginning at 2:00 p.m. ET/11:00 a.m. PT, and we're talking about the following and more:

Special Guest Star: Jamie Baker on the Sharks!

• Wysh goes to the MAURY Show.

• Huge night in the East.

• The Boll suspension. 

• Marek on OHL.

Question of the Day: GOING POSTAL! Ask us anything! Email puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or hit us on Twitter with the hashtag #MvsW to @wyshynski or @jeffmarekClick here for the Sportsnet live stream or click the play button above!

Click here to download podcasts from the show each day. Subscribe to the podcast viaiTunes or Feedburner.

***

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 26, 2015, 5:57 pm

UPDATE: The Buffalo News has given us more details of the Boynton case. They are below:

After being cut off at the bar early Thursday morning, Nick Boynton, a former defenseman with the Boston Bruins, went on a drunken rampage at the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, pushing patrons, calling women vulgar names and fighting with officers, police sources said.

When it was over, Boynton, who was in town as a radio announcer for the Arizona Coyotes, landed in the city jail, facing several charges.

Boynton was so drunk, police sources said, they decided to wait until the Thursday afternoon session of Buffalo City Court to take him there for arraignment.

Casino personnel cut Boynton off from the bar at about 1:45 a.m. because of his intoxicated behavior, police sources said. That prompted him to yell and swear at workers, with his anger especially directed at women employees, calling them vulgar names, police sources said.

According to the story, Boynton is a diabtetic and was taken to the hospital for treatment. It says Boynton was going to address the incident Thursday night at the Coyotes/Sabres game, but instead was placed on a leave of absence by the Coyotes. 

--

Arizona Coyotes radio analyst Nick Boynton was accused of biting a police officer during a disturbance at a Buffalo area casino a report in the Buffalo News said.  Per the report, Boynton was arrested and will be charged with assault, criminal mischief and harassment.

From the story:

Boynton is accused of causing a disturbance at the Buffalo Creek Casino on Wednesday night and fighting with Buffalo police officers assigned there to provide security.

“He was abusive to the staff at the casino, and when officers tried to take him into custody, he bit one of them on the finger,” a police source said.

The Coyotes released a statement of their own:

"Early this morning, Coyotes radio color analyst Nick Boynton was involved in a situation at a Buffalo casino. A police investigation is underway. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and until the continuing legal process is completed, we will have no further comment. Mr. Boynton has been placed on a leave of absence."

Boynton is an 11-year veteran, his last season coming in 2010-11 when he played 51 games between Chicago and Philadelphia. This comes before Thursday's "Tank Wars" match up between the Coyotes and Sabres. 

- - - - - - -

Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 26, 2015, 5:46 pm

Columbus forward Jared Boll, you cannot check someone in the head. It’s just not allowed. And by doing this to Patrick Maroon of the Anaheim Ducks, you have been served three games by the Department of Player Safety.

Patrick Burke, tell us how it is …

The crux of the matter is this per the video:

“Boll elevates into the hit, driving his right shoulder directly into the side of Maroon’s head, making it the main point of contact, making it an illegal check to the head. “

Nope, you can't do that, which I always find amazing, because Scott Stevens made a living by driving his shoulder upwards for checks that were then-legal. 

Plus, as the league notes “head contact on this play is avoidable." Also the video says Boll has been fined twice for head shots. And because of this … three games for Boll and $27,419.34 lighter in the wallet.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 26, 2015, 5:23 pm

Dobber launched his fantasy hockey website DobberHockey back in 2005 and has been Puck Daddy's resident fantasy hockey 'expert' since 2009.

Two weeks left in the season and head-to-head leagues are knee deep in playoff matchups. Now is the time to make some hard decisions. To make decisions that feel wrong, but are actually right. Like the decision the Leafs made in late December to start losing every game.

Some pretty big stars are sidelined with injury right now and fantasy owners are handcuffed because these guys are undroppable. But are they really? If they're hogging a roster spot and you're only keeping them because "maybe" they'll be back in a couple of games, reconsider your stance. Let's take a look at a few. 

Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins - Hamilton will be "re-evaluated in a few days". No thanks. If a few days is only bringing us an evaluation, then you have to factor in a couple of practices after that and then a return. The Bruins have nine games left and he's missing three of them before he's even evaluated. So let's call it four games, and he's back for the last five. Is there another defenseman on the wire playing  nine or even 10 games? Then cut Hamilton loose. It will feel awkward clicking that 'release' button. And then the dreaded 'okay' prompt on the "are you sure?" pop up. But it's not a keeper league, so hit the kill switch.

Brandon Dubinsky, Columbus Blue Jackets - Dubinsky is "day to day" right now, but he's been day to day for a couple of weeks. So we're in that fun position of trying to guess how long the wait will last - could be zero more games, or he could be "day to day" until the season ends. For this decision, it depends on your league categories and the quality of players available on the waiver wire.  While my gut tells me he'll be back next game (Friday and Saturday, back-to-back), I wouldn't hesitate to drop him if a player reasonably close to him in fantasy production is on the wire. Just to be safe.

Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings - The dreaded day-to-day tag is back and it's attached to the veteran Swede. In this case we can be fairly comfortable that Kronwall is returning, given that he missed the last game as a precaution. Hang onto him.

James Neal, Nashville Predators - Neal has already missed five games and he's missing the next two for sure. The other six? That's up in the air but if I were to guess, it would be to get into two or three games before the playoffs. Either way, you have to drop him as there are too many similar forwards out there who can produce in nine games what he'd do in three to six.

Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins - Hornqvist has missed four games and will miss Thursday's contest as well. Prior to the injury, he was producing very well. His status for the weekend is unclear so if you can wait on your decision until you hear about Saturday than do so. If he misses Saturday, then he'll probably miss Sunday and then he's looking at six games. At that point, let him go if there's a reasonable replacement.

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins - Never let him go, ever. Worth keeping active even if he's looking at one game in the coming week. Because we all know what he can do. But Malkin is expected back this weekend.

Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets - I get the sense that Thursday's game will be a last-minute decision on his return. And the Jets, of course, are in a dogfight for the playoffs which would obviously push an earlier return. But then they don't play until Sunday, so I feel pretty comfortable with the idea that he'll be back for that one.

Anyway, since some of you will be dropping some big names, I'll expand my usual Waiver Wire section and skip right to them…

The Wire...

Mostly short-term grabs here, but as always some potential steals... and besides - "short-term" is all we have left now.

Brett Connolly, Boston Bruins - Connolly hopes to get into a few regular season games and I think he'll surprise. I was a big fan of Boston's deadline acquisition of him and pretty disappointed when he suffered a broken finger right away. This is a better pickup a week from now, so stick him in the back of your mind.

Mathieu Perreault, Winnipeg Jets - Perreault was enjoying a breakout season when in mid-February he suffered a serious lower-body injury that was to keep him out for six or seven weeks. It's been a shade over five weeks now and he's been practicing this week.

Patrick Eaves, Dallas Stars (3-2-2-4, plus-4, 3 Hits, 9 SOG) - Eaves enjoyed success on the top line before getting injured. He's back there now, though not for the playoffs. But that should still mean a decent groin injury output over the final eight games. 

Kevin Hayes, New York Rangers (8-2-5-7, plus-5, 4 PIM, 15 SOG) - Hayes has given the Rangers some excellent scoring depth from the third line and his production has slowly improved as the season progresses.

Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators (9-2-4-6, plus-1, 10 Hits, 9 BLKS, 19 SOG) - There's a small risk of a healthy scratch risk here thanks to the unnecessary acquisition of Cody Franson. But in a way, that threat looming over his head is pushing Ellis to do more.

Drew Stafford, Winnipeg Jets (9-5-6-11, plus-6, 4 PIM, 19 SOG) - It's hard to believe that he's still available in 84% of leagues out there given this lengthy hot streak. He's flying right now, playing with the big line, and seeing a ton of power-play time.

Benoit Pouliot, Edmonton Oilers (7-3-5-8, plus-3, 2 PIM, 17 SOG, 3 PPPts) - If Pouliot can stay healthy next year I think he can be a 50-point player. Maybe more if he can stick on this red-hot line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. The chemistry he has with those two frees up Taylor Hall to work some magic with Connor McDavid other skilled forwards on the team.

Brian Gionta, Buffalo Sabres (5-2-3-5, minus-2, 20 SOG, 4 PPPts) - Gionta hasn't posted a points-per-game average below 0.49 since the first lockout. This latest streak is pushing him back up towards that threshold (currently 0.40). A must-own in these final days in leagues that count shots on goal.

Charlie Coyle, Minnesota Wild (6-3-3-6, plus-5, 17 Hits, 7 SOG) - The line of Coyle, Thomas Vanek and Justin Fontaine is flying right now, though this fact may have been lost in all the wonderful Dubie goodness.

Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets (8-3-4-7, plus-1, 10 PIM, 15 SOG, 4 PPPts) - Atkinson may have been disappointing offensively this year, but he's taking a ton of shots and lately he's been more aggressive. He's posted nearly half of his season-to-date PIM total in just these eight games.

For more fantasy hockey tips, take a gander at DobberHockey. And while you’re at it, follow Dobber’s fantasy hockey musings on Twitter. 

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Author: Dobber Hockey
Posted: March 26, 2015, 5:12 pm

It's not really fun or interesting to say “Any team could win this thing” — and it's also not true — but almost any team could win this thing.

There are so many teams in the field of 16 this season that can absolutely steal a game from a higher seed or fend off tough competition from a lower one just as easily as they could lose. While a 16-team field obviously produces eight “favorites,” you probably wouldn't be too wise to bet on the chalk in this one.

Let's first consider the No. 1 overall team Minnesota State Mavericks. They reigned supreme this year with the best record in college hockey (29-7-3) behind the best possession game in the country. Now, would they win 29 games if their conference didn't feature three teams from the bottom eight on a national basis? Obviously not. They played Alabama-Huntsville, Lake Superior State, and Alaska Anchorage a combined eight times this season, and predictably won them all (34-7 on aggregate in fact), so that helps pad out the ol' winning percentage. But this is a good team that would have competed in any conference.

But the Mavs have some concerns. Stephon Williams has a .926 save percentage this season, which is very good and certainly more than enough for his team to win most nights given how much they dominate — he only faces about 22 shots a night — but then again how hard is it to beat the dregs of the WCHA every night? This statement can, in point of fact, be applied to the larger group. There really shouldn't be a problem with lowly RIT in the first game of the tournament, but beyond that it's hard to believe that even, say, a middling Nebraska-Omaha

Then there's No. 2 North Dakota, which I've written about before. I don't think they're that great, and that was borne out in their conference tournament. They have a very good goalie, but the rest of the team — especially sans Mark MacMillan — seems rather pedestrian, which is why they lost both the semifinal and consolation game in the NCHC by a combined score of 8-2. Can they win this tournament? Absolutely, because Zane McIntyre is good enough to steal four games in a row more or less by himself. Can they also flame out in the regional? Oh my, yes.

BU is another very good team. Solid defense, good goaltending, best offense in the country. But the fact that they went from 10 wins last season to 25 so far this year is wholly dependent upon Jack Eichel. When he's on — which includes the vast, vast majority of games he's played this year — he can literally just decide that he's going to make three great individual plays, and BU will win behind it. That's what happened in the Hockey East final, where a good but not great Lowell team gave the Terriers a fight (in theory) but Eichel had a goal and a nice assist in the first 15 minutes, and the game was over for all intents and purposes. This is the kind of game-changing talent he has, and he can use it to great effect. But if you can keep Eichel off the scoresheet — and look, it's no small task — then BU becomes very, very beatable. Will it happen? Probably not. Can it? Sure.

Meanwhile, No. 4 Miami is in a tough spot. They won the NCHC, which was unquestionably the best conference in the country this year (six of its eight teams made the tournament on strength of schedule), but what they'll be in this tournament is anyone's guess. That's because while they're very much cut from the same cloth as Mankato — great possession, but only good-ish goaltending — they're also missing two key players. Riley Barber got hurt in the NCHC title game and will almost certainly not play, and Blake Coleman picked up a one-game ban for taking too many game misconducts this season (that after he scored a hat trick in 35 minutes in said league championship). 

What does Miami look like without Barber and Coleman? It's tough to say, but the answer can't be a good one for the RedHawks. Add in the fact that they're playing a tough-to-score-on Providence College club, in Providence, and things get tougher. Add in that Miami coach Rico Blasi has seen his team eliminated by Hockey East schools in every NCAA tournament trip its made, and that's not a recipe for optimism.

There are other great teams sprinkled throughout the field. Harvard, for example, was briefly the No. 1 team in the country this season before injuries and PDO regression caused them to drop a bunch around midseason. But since Patrick McNally came back from the bang-up that cost him 16 games, Harvard is 4-1-0, outscoring opponents 15-10. Without him in the lineup, the Crimson were just 7-8-1. With him, it was 14-4-2. They'll be a tough out, and they're the No. 9 seed.

Other teams that have a very legitimate shot to at least make the Frozen Four include Denver, Duluth, Minnesota, BC, Yale, Providence, and Quinnipiac. Any of them making it through the regionals would come as no surprise to me. This is because most of the teams in this field are very good but also very flawed in a few ways (which we'll explore below).

So as I said it last week in the conference tournament previews, and I'll say it again here: I'm sorry. You want to hear that so-and-so is The Clear Favorite, and that just isn't the case again this year. I guess that's good for college hockey as a whole. It's certainly good for the entertainment factor in this tournament. What it isn't good for is “writing interesting previews.” My apologies.

Meet the field...

No. 1 Minnesota State Mavericks (29-7-3)

Key stat: They had a 57.7 percent corsi-for at even strength this season, which was No. 1 in the country by more than a full percentage point. They attempted the 11th-most shots in the country, and allowed the fifth-fewest. Hell of a system by Mike Hastings.

Top player: It's probably Bryce Gervais, who finished second in the nation in goals at 27. Sure, it was on just 120 shots (tied for 41st) and he only had nine assists, but it's hard to argue with 27 goals. That's a lot.

NHL draft picks: 5 (Pittsburgh's Teddy Blueger; Winnipeg's C.J. Franklin; Nashville's Zach Stepan; San Jose's Max Gaede; and the New York Islanders' Stephon Williams)

Quick fact: Stephon Williams' .927 save percentage is up 65 points from last year's .862. That's a nice little turnaround.

No. 2 North Dakota (27-9-3)

Key stat: They've lost three of their last five games (and their two wins over Colorado College should barely count because CC was downright awful this year). That's after starting the season 25-6-3. Is it regression?

Top player: Zane McIntyre is where the “North Dakota for national champion” argument begins and ends. He had a .932 save percentage heading into last weekend before his team imploded in front of him, but .857 in the last two might strike some as a point of concern. Is that regression too?

NHL draft picks: 14 (Chicago's Nick Schmaltz, Luke Johnson, and Nick Mattson; St. Louis's Jordan Schmaltz and Austin Poganski; Philadelphia's Michael Parks; Montreal's Mark MacMillan; Los Angeles's Paul LaDue; Tampa's Brendan O'Donnell; Winnipeg's Tucker Poolman; Anaheim's Keaton Thompson; San Jose's Gage Ausmus; Nashville's Wade Murphy; Boston's Zane McIntyre)

Quick fact: If you allege, as I have, that North Dakota isn't the odds-on favorite, their fans will rend their clothes and find a moon at which to howl for your blood. This ignores the fact that they aren't and shouldn't be the odds-on favorite.

No. 3 Boston University Terriers (25-7-5)

Key stat: When Jack Eichel was killing penalties this year, BU allowed just seven power play goals. They scored six shorties. Pretty good goal differential there.

Top player: That Eichel kid. First in points (66) and points per game (1.83), first in assists (42) and assists per game (1.17). Only fifth in goals (24) and fourth in goals per game (0.67), though. So he's not even that good, if you ask me.

NHL draft picks: 7 (San Jose's Danny O'Regan; Boston's Matt Grzelcyk; Calgary's Brandon Hickey; Ottawa's Robbie Baillargeon; Tampa's John MacLeod; New York Islanders' Doyle Somerby; Toronto's J.J. Piccinich)

Quick fact: A lot has been made of BU's depth in recent weeks but it's not that great. A few guys are very good and Matt O'Connor's having a nice season, but they're not even in the NCAA tournament conversation without Eichel. Pretty simple, really. He's that good. The good news for BU is he's still on their team until Buffalo (or whoever) signs him this summer, which they will. He could win them a national title more or less by himself. The odds that anyone shuts him down seem low.

No. 4 Miami University RedHawks (25-13-1)

Key stat: Their 54.1 percent corsi number was the best among NCHC teams, and their systems are a big reason why they won the postseason tournament. They have a lot of talent, and those players do exactly what Blasi wants. It's terrifying when it all works well.

Top player: Austin Czarnik somehow only had nine goals this season — probably because he was too busy setting up Riley Barber's 20 — but his 34 points speaks to just how much of a difference-maker he can be. Mega-skilled, and he almost never comes off the ice.

NHL draft picks: 6 (Washington's Riley Barber; New Jersey's Blake Coleman; Chicago's Anthony Louis; San Jose's Sean Kuraly; Minnesota's Louie Belpedio; Montreal's Colin Sullivan)

Quick fact: Blasi, for some reason, almost never settles on a goaltender until late in the season, and this year it's Jay Williams (.922), which is smart because Ryan McKay's .899 is awful. That indecision probably cost Miami a few key games. But now things are much harder to predict with both Barber and Coleman, who both scored 20 goals this season, out for at least the opening game.

No. 5 University of Denver Pioneers (23-13-2)

Key stat: The top two scorers on this team are Danton Heinen and Trevor Moore, a freshman and sophomore, respectively. No. 3 is senior defenseman Joey LaLeggia. They're one of only four teams in the tournament without a junior or senior forward in their top three in scoring (BC, Omaha, and Yale are the others).

Top player: It's LaLeggia. He has 13 goals and 38 points in 35 games, good for the second-best points-per-game in the nation among defensemen. His goals per game was also second in the country. In short, he is good.

NHL draft picks: 7 (Boston's Danton Heinen; Edmonton's Joey LaLeggia; Ottawa's Quentin Shore; Arizona's Zac Larraza; Colorado's Wil Butcher; Montreal's Josiah Didier; Florida's Evan Cowley)

Quick fact: If Denver can get a lead on you, the game is basically over: They're 15-3 when scoring the first goal, 11-1 when leading after the first period, and a stunning 19-0 when leading through two.

No. 6 University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (20-15-3)

Key stat: None of Duluth's players scored more than 28 points this season, but six had at least 20. Seven more had at least 13. Despite those unimpressive numbers, they still managed the 22nd-best offense in the country. So I guess you could say that's a pretty balanced attack.

Top player: By default I guess you have to say it's Kasimir Kaskisuo, who played all but four games this season and posted a respectable .915 save percentage. He didn't need to be great; he faced just 910 shots in nearly 2,000 minutes.

NHL draft picks: 4 (Toronto's Tony Cameranesi and Dominic Toninato; Anaheim's Andy Welinski; Minnesota's Carson Soucy)

Quick fact: Duluth went 14-12-2 against teams in the tournament this season, which means they only played 11 games against non-tournament teams. That's a crazy number, even for an NCHC team this season, because it includes eight OOC dates with tournament teams.

No. 7 Michigan Tech University Huskies (29-9-2)

Key stat: Michigan Tech started the year 10-0, meaning that it went 19-9-2 the rest of the way. Four of those losses and one of those ties were against Minnesota State, the only other WCHA team in the tournament.

Top player: Goaltender Jamie Phillips went .935 in 2,349 minutes this season, and has been one of the best goalies in the country for much of the season. In furtherance of the above point about their record versus Mankato: 15 of the 67 goals he allowed all season came in those five games.

NHL draft picks: 3 (Winnipeg's Jamie Phillips; New Jersey's Blake Pietila; San Jose's Cliff Watson)

Quick fact: Senior forward Tanner Kero (19 goals, 26 assists) was in on 31.6 percent of all Tech goals this season. He also committed just five minor penalties all season.

No. 8 University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (18-12-6)

Key stat: Omaha is another NCHC team that rode poor possession numbers (48.4 percent corsi) and a big PDO (101.8) to a winning record.

Top player: Ryan Massa is the big reason that PDO is so high: His even-strength save percentage was .943. Last year he was .899 overall, so I guess you could say he figured out how to improve his save percentage by like 40 points last summer. Definitely sustainable.

NHL draft picks: 7 (Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel; Edmonton's Tyler Vesel; Minnesota's Avery Peterson; Anaheim's Brian Cooper; Chicago's Luc Snuggerud; Detroit's David Pope; Winnipeg's Tanner Lane)

Quick fact: The Mavericks will get senior two-way forward Dominic Zombo back this weekend after he missed 10 games with an injury. His numbers (5-9-14 in 26 games) don't jump off the page, but he's another "glue guy" that people who see UNO often say was sorely missed. Their 2-5-3 record without him might be a good indicator of that.

No. 9 Harvard Crimson (21-12-3)

Key stat: I don't want to say No. 1 defenseman Patrick McNally (who had 21 points in 20 games) is critical to Harvard's game plan, but they lost four of 20 when he was in the lineup, and eight of 16 without him.

Top player: Jimmy Vesey leads the nation in goals with 30 in 36 games, but here's a crazy stat: 23 of them were at even strength. No one else had more than 19 at evens.

NHL draft picks: 10 (Nashville's Jimmy Vesey; New Jersey's Alexander Kerfoot; Vancouver's Patrick McNally; Buffalo's Sean Malone; Tampa's Brian Hart; San Jose's Colin Blackwell; Toronto's Max Everson; Boston's Wiley Sherman; Minnesota's Steve Michalek; Philadelphia's Merrick Madsen)

Quick fact: Can college players suppress shot quality? Let's ask Steve Michalek, who went .937 before the McNally injury, .906 during it, and .935 after. Haha, that's alright.

Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images
No. 10 University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (23-12-3)

Key stat: People act like Minnesota is bad but they're maybe one of the most talented teams in the country. If Adam Wilcox was a little better this season (only .913 after being .932 last year), they probably win at least three more games and we're not talking about how disappointing the Gophers are.

Top player: Mike Reilly has 42 points in 38 games from the blue line, which is good for the 22nd-best points per game of any player nationwide. He's also the only defenseman to lead an NCAA tournament team in scoring this season, which I guess isn't a surprise.

NHL draft picks: 15 (Columbus's Mike Reilly, Seth Ambroz, and Ryan Collins; New York Islanders' Taylor Cammarata and Jake Bischoff; Buffalo's Hudson Fasching and Christian Isackson; Florida's Kyle Rau; Washington's Travis Boyd; San Jose's Michael Brodzinski; Detroit's Ben Marshall; New York Rangers' Brady Skjei; Winnipeg's Jack Glover; Tampa's Adam Wilcox; Los Angeles's Steve Johnson)

Quick fact: Did you read that thing earlier this week about, “How many points would Jonathan Toews score if he wasn't so focused on defense?” Kyle Rau is one of those guys, just amazing in his own zone and unstoppable at the dot (56-percent against top competition). And he still had 20 goals and 41 points this season.

No. 11 Boston College Eagles (21-13-3)

Key stat: Johnny Gaudreau had more points last year than the team's top three scorers (Alex Tuch, Adam Gilmour, and Ryan Fitzgerald) put up this season, combined: 80-78.

Top player: I'm gonna go with draft-eligible defenseman Noah Hanifin. He had 5-18-23 this season but that's not his true contribution to the club: He's an elite puck-moving defenseman at this level, as beautiful a skater as you're ever going to see. And the way he uses his stick to break up plays is second-to-none. And he's the second-youngest player in the country.

NHL draft picks: 9 (Minnesota's Alex Tuch and Adam Gilmour; Florida's Michael Matheson and Ian McCoshen; Boston's Ryan Fitzgerald; Washington's Zach Sanford; Chicago's Chris Calnan; New Jersey's Steve Santini; Vancouver's Thatcher Demko)

Quick fact: Tin terms of pure talent, the back end for the Eagles is probably the best in the nation. Four defensemen who are drafted in the first 42 picks or will be, plus a goalie who went 36th overall last summer.

No. 12 St. Cloud State University Huskies (19-18-1)

Key stat: The Huskies have the fifth-best power play in the country, with 36 of their 105 goals overall coming on the man advantage. Their 68 even-strength goals is only tied for 34th in the nation.

Top player: Jonny Brodzinski I guess. He had 20 goals, but 11 of those were on the power play. A power-play shooting percentage of 28.2 is sustainable, right?

NHL draft picks: 4 (Los Angeles's Jonny Brodzinski; Buffalo's Judd Peterson; Nashville's Nick Oliver; Colorado's Ben Storm)

Quick fact: They let a team that was one game over .500 into the NCAA tournament because their conference was really good. But no the PWR isn't stupid at all, no sir.

No. 13 Yale Bulldogs (18-9-5)

Key stat: No one on this team has more than 21 points. That seems impossible but it's true.

Top player: Alex Lyon is the reason the above stat almost doesn't matter: .939 overall (the best in the country), .943 at evens. Now, he's only faced 807 shots this year — might as well bring some homework out to the crease most nights — but his 49 goals conceded is the fewest of anyone who played at least two-thirds of their team's minutes.

NHL draft picks: 3 (Boston's Rob O'Gara; Chicago's John Hayden; Vancouver's Matthew Beattie)

Quick fact: No stiffer test for Yale based on their credentials than the first-round matchup. They have the best defense in the country, and BU has the best offense. Immovable object, irresistible force, etc. 

No. 14 Quinnipiac University Bobcats (23-11-4)

Key stat: The Bobcats are a nearly perfect possession team. They allow just under 37 attempts per game at evens, and take close to 48. Their corsi-for of 56.3 percent is consequently the second-best in the country.

Top player: Let's say it's Matthew Peca (even though it's not). He's a dominant possession forward, and basically everything he does should create some concerns for opponents. But at the same time, he only has seven goals on 102 shots this year, down from 12 on 112. That is, shall we say, less imposing.

NHL draft picks: 3 (Tampa's Matthew Peca; New York Islanders' Devon Toews; Arizona's Connor Clifton)

Quick fact: The big issue is that there's almost no chance Sam Anas plays this weekend. Anas is the team's actual best player, with 23 goals and 16 assists in 37 games, but got injured in the first period of Quinnipiac's critical Game 3 against Union two weeks ago. He didn't dress for the ECAC title game against Harvard, either, which is a big reason the Bobcats got an at-large instead of an autobid.

No. 15 Providence College Friars (22-13-2)

Key stat: Providence's 104 goals in 31 games were 28th in the country, but their 74 goals against was fourth. As a team, the Friars shot just 6.5 percent at 5-on-5 in score-close situations this year. The team save percentage of .941 at evens helped.

Top player: Jon Gillies and it's not close. He played almost 91 percent of the team's minutes and posted an even-strength save percentage of .942. In terms of pure ability, he's probably the best goalie in the country.

NHL draft picks: 7 (Calgary's Mark Jankowski, John Gilmour, and John Gillies; Washington's Brian Pinho; Buffalo's Anthony Florentino; St. Louis's Jake Walman; Buffalo's Mark Adams)

Quick fact: Two defensemen — Walman and Tom Parisi — lead the team in shot attempts with a combined 269. Providence is the only team in the tournament for which two defensemen generate the most corsi events. Only two others (BC and Minnesota) even had a defenseman in the team lead.

No. 16 Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers (19-14-5)

Key stat: RIT had a 54.3 percent corsi rating this season. In six non-conference games, though, they were out-attempted 307-245 (44.4 percent). That means they went 56.8 percent against Atlantic Hockey teams.

Top player: Senior Matt Grabowsky is this year's “guy from Atlantic Hockey who has a gaudy point total that would impress you if it were in any other conference.” Almost a third of his games were multiple-point nights. Out-of-conference scoring: 1-1-2 in six games.

NHL draft picks: None

Quick fact: They're playing the best possession team in the country. This could get ugly.

Schedule (all times Eastern)

Friday

2 p.m.: No. 2 Boston University vs. No. 13 Yale; Manchester, N.H.; ESPNU

4:30 p.m.: No. 7 Michigan Tech vs. No. 12 St. Cloud State; Fargo, N.D.; ESPN3

5 p.m.: No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth vs. No. 10 Minnesota; Manchester; ESPNU

8 p.m.: No. 2 North Dakota vs. No. 14 Quinnipiac; Fargo; ESPNU

Saturday

3 p.m.: No. 5 Denver vs. No. 11 Boston College; Providence, R.I.; ESPN2

4 p.m.: No. 1 Minnesota State vs. No. 16 RIT; South Bend, Indiana; ESPNU

5:30 p.m.: Northeast regional final; Manchester; ESPN2

6:30 p.m.: No. 4 Miami vs. No 15 Providence College; Providence; ESPNU

7:30 p.m.: No. 8 Nebraska-Omaha vs. No. 9 Harvard; South Bend; ESPN3

9 p.m.: West regional final; Fargo; ESPNU

Sunday
5 p.m.: East regional final; Providence; ESPNU

7:30 p.m.: Midwest regional final; South Bend; ESPNU 

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist and also covers the NCAA for College Hockey News. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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Author: Ryan Lambert
Posted: March 26, 2015, 4:49 pm

NWHL

Congratulations, you’ve graduated college! With your degree in hand, you’ve got years of memories and a bag of hockey gear that’s seen its full potential as an NCAA student-athlete. You were a good collegiate hockey player but not, like, national program good. 

What’s next for you? The NHL? NOPE. Overseas? Too complicated. Southern Professional Hockey League? Unlikely, but not impossible.

Oh, forgot to mention: You’re a women’s hockey player.

How about the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL)? That’s an option, but you’re not sure if you can afford it, time and money wise. They don’t pay their players. You’ll have to provide most of your own gear, among other expenses, and somehow work in a full-time job in order to support yourself just to play the game you love.

Looks like your hockey glory days are coming to a beer-league-only end…

At least they were, until now.

Dani Rylan set out to bring a CWHL franchise to her home in New York, but she didn’t stick with that plan. After Rylan, a former Northeastern hockey player, met and had several discussions with retired USA Hockey legend Angela Ruggiero, the two considered creating a paid professional league for women in the U.S.

And thus, the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) was born, and set to debut for 2015-16. 

This isn’t an altruistic, fly by the seat of your hockey pants idea. It’s a fully formed business model, similar to the men’s professional leagues, just on a smaller scale.

The league operates as a dual-entity. Part of the business are the league operations, with income coming from sponsors; and the other side is the NWHL Foundation, a charitable wing meant for spreading women’s hockey through grassroots efforts.

All donations to the Foundation are tax deductible.

But the big question, considering the controversies born from the CWHL:

How will the players be paid?

Each of the league’s four teams are given an operating budget for which all players, team staff (coaches, GM, etc.), and other expenses will be paid. The NWHL sets a salary cap for each team at $270,000. Spread evenly across all 18 roster players, it comes to about $15,000 per player; however, like the men’s pro leagues, GM’s are not required to give the same contract to every player. The player is responsible for her own contract negotiations.

Players are treated like employees, where taxes will be withdrawn from their paychecks just like everyone else. It’s meant to be a part-time job, and with this association, the NWHL will be able to work with international players to secure work visas, something the CWHL cannot do.

Something else it’ll do that the CWHL struggles with: Not have their players pay for their own gear.

“Nope, this a professional league. The women will have their equipment provided to them. The equipment, tape, sticks, the necessities to play will be given to them,” said Rylan.

(Rylan, incidentally, sees the NWHL co-existing with the CWHL.)

Starting in May 2015, free agency will begin. Free agents are considered college seniors and any player no longer in college, be it actively playing or not, it’s up to them to find a team and negotiate their contract terms. In June comes the draft for college juniors. The drafted players are given a year to finish their NCAA eligibility while their rights are retained by the team that drafted them, just like the guys. Once they’re done with their NCAA obligations, the women are free to then sign a contract with their team.

Per the NWHL, there are verbal commitments by 20-plus relatively known players; however, the league will announce those who will be joining in the near future.

As for the teams, after pouring over research and identifying the Northeast as the current hotbed for female hockey players, four teams were strategically placed in the areas with the most potential for further growth.

- The Buffalo Beauts

- Boston Pride

- New York Riveters

- Connecticut Whale

Yes, you’re reading that correctly, the Connecticut Whale. Rylan secured the blessing of the Howard Baldwin Jr., head of the Baldwin Sports and Entertainment Group, to use the name and a similar logo to the Hartford Whalers of yore.

The NWHL season stretches from October to March, including preseason and playoffs. Each team plays nine home games and nine away games. The time commitment from the players is two practices a week plus a game when it’s their team’s weekend.

For each market, the home game will be themed (think: military appreciation, cancer awareness, etc.) and heavily marketed to draw as much interest as possible. This keeps the operating costs low, and increases the likelihood of getting more butts in the seats for each game. By ending the season in March, national team players will be able to join their respective squads for tournaments like World Championships. 

Sponsors of the league are going to be key to the early success of the NWHL. Rylan and her compatriots are targeting national sponsors to fund the league as a whole, and local sponsors for the individual teams. The hope is for a larger influx of donations and sponsorships once the players are revealed. She said the league is at about 20 percent through their financial goal.

Rylan isn’t messing around. Aside from the work being done to obtain marquee players, she’s working the phones and boardrooms getting meetings with those who can further the league’s objectives. This includes TV and/or media streaming through major providers, and approaching the NHL about a partnership.

It would be ideal to have those in place by the time the puck drops in October, but Rylan, the future commissioner of the league, is realistic, and is setting a five year plan with goals and objectives for each year of growth.

Money is one of the primary dividing lines that keep women’s sports leagues in the shadows compared to their male counterparts. The NWHL’s goal is simple: showcase the women who are the best at what they do, and pay them for it.

It may not be David Clarkson money, but it’s something, and that’s the start we need. 

Jen Neale is an editor for Puck Daddy. Follower her on Twitter.

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Author: Jen Neale
Posted: March 26, 2015, 2:50 pm

Since we're down to the final moments of postseason life for teams in contention, Puck Daddy solemnly begins a daily countdown to annihilation.

The top 10 teams in the Eastern Conference are all in action on Thursday night, as are two teams right on the Western Conference bubble.

We mention this fully knowing that the attention of the hockey world will be on the two worst teams in the NHL facing off in a competition to see which one is worster.

But while you watch the Coyotes and the Sabres play a game of hot potato, here’s the rest of the awesome on Thursday night:

Montreal at Winnipeg: The only 100-point team in the NHL battles a Jets team that’s holding onto the last wild card in the West.

Nashville at Tampa Bay: Two teams battling for the top seed in their divisions and the NHL overall. The Preds could move into first in the West with a win and some help; ditto the Lightning in the East.

San Jose at Detroit: Eh, not the most important game, considering the plight of the Sharks, but the Wings need to find their footing before the playoffs.

NY Rangers at Ottawa: Oh, just a team on a miracle run to the playoffs against one of the top teams in the NHL. Henrik Lundqvist returns, but will ride the pine.

LA Kings at NY Islanders: The streaking Kings can be in third in the Pacific with a win; the Islanders are trying to maintain home ice in the first round.

Pittsburgh at Carolina: The Penguins are trying to catch the Islanders and keep ahead of the Capitals.

New Jersey at Washington: The Caps are an equal number of points behind the Penguins for third in the Metro and ahead of the Sens on the playoff bubble. They’re not out of the woods yet.

Anaheim at Boston: The Bruins face a reeling Ducks team, trailing the Sens by a point for the final wild card.

Florida at Toronto: The Cats try to put a huge loss to the Lightning behind them and try to catch the Sens and Bruins.

Annnnd exhale…

Here are the current standings. The Death Watch tracks the final Wild Card spot and the teams that are chasing it. Their “tragic number” is the number of points gained by the final wild card team or lost by the team chasing it.

All playoff percentages are from Sports Club Stats; tragic numbers and other figures via the NHL. A team is eliminated from play-offs when their "Tragic Number" hits 0.

Here’s the Eastern Conference picture:

The Sens still have a game in-hand on the Bruins and the Capitals, and have a game against the Caps on the schedule.

We’re not pessimistic about the Caps, we really aren’t … but after this Devils game, they have seven of eight games against playoff teams. Ottawa’s last 10 has four games against non-playoff teams; ditto Boston’s last nine.

Meanwhile, in the West …

Wacky times in the West. The Kings win, and they leapfrog over the Flames into the third seed in the Pacific; the Flames would then be on the outside looking in, no matter what the Jets did.

But it would be advisable that the Jets start winning again, because the Flames are still picking up points and the Dallas Stars won’t seen to go away. Even if they have just a 1.9 percent chance of making the playoffs. 

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Yahoo Sports' Greg Wyshynski whips around the NHL talking all things hockey, including 3-on-3 overtime and the scariest playoff bracket

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 26, 2015, 2:10 pm

The Dallas Stars were going to be the spoiler for the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night. The Stars had a 2-0 lead, blew it to the Calgary Flames, went up 3-2 late in the second period and then … let Deryk Engelland tie the game in the final 10 minutes of the third period to send the game to OT in a 4-3 shootout loss to Dallas. 

Said Engelland per NHL.com

"Every point is going to count at the end."

"It's a tight battle with a lot of teams, so we'll take every point we can get. We're trying for two every night, but if you get one, we'll take it and go."

 If the Kings miss the postseason by one point, they will be cursing the Stars and Deryk ‘freaking’ Engelland and his first two goals of the season up and down Southern California … until Orange County where they will rejoice. Even Kings celebrity super-fan Wil Wheaton was pissed: 

You had one job, Dallas Stars.

— Wil Wheaton (@wilw) March 26, 2015

Well, not really but it’s always fun to see Sheldon Cooper's arch nemesis go bonkers over his Kings. Also, there’s a lot of hockey left to be played in the race for the postseason.

Technically, the Stars didn’t really owe the Kings anything. They’re putting on their own playoff push – though they’re still six points back of Winnipeg for the Wild Card with eight games left.

And there’s hope in Big D … from Tyler Seguin in the same story. 

"We were saying right before overtime, 'We're here for two points; we're not here for one.' It was a playoff-type game. They had momentum at times. We had momentum. I think both teams made some mistakes and both teams made some great plays. Obviously we're happy to walk away with both points."

Calgary players were jazzed for Engelland, a blueliner who had done practically zilch from an offensive statistic for them after (or before) signing a three-year $8.7 million contract for them last summer. But heroes come in all shapes and sizes. 

From the Calgary Sun:

“(Engelland) was awesome,” said Flames left-winger Lance Bouma. “He got two huge goals for us, and that's a big point.

“I think everyone on the bench was really happy for him. He's such a good guy in the locker-room. He doesn't get a lot of credit for what he does out there, he always sticks up for his teammates, and it's just huge to see him get two goals like that.”

The Flames still got a point … but it seemed like a bit of a paper point for Calgary. Yes, they all count in the bank, but a Kings win at the Islanders on Thursday would put Los Angeles one ahead of Calgary.

That is Los Angeles’ game in hand. Also, a regulation victory would put the Kings one behind the Flames in regards to the regulation and overtime victory tiebreaker.

And, The Great Engelland continued:

"No matter if you score one or two or none, two points is what we need and coming down the stretch," Engelland said. "We'll take one but we needed that other one too."

The biggest 'two points' could come Thursday, April 9 against the Kings when they play at Los Angeles.

So really in some ways, Wesley Crusher, the Stars did their job. The Flames didn't win and the Kings could still pass them Thursday. This is turning into one pretty solid race when a guy like Engelland is turning into a quotable hero. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 26, 2015, 6:16 am

No. 1. Star: Steve Mason, Philadelphia Flyers

Stopped 34 of 35 Blackhawks shots on goal in a 4-1 victory. Mason improved to a 2.25 goals against average and .926 save percentage on the season. The win broke a two-game losing skid for Mason. The Flyers are nine points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, and lost Wayne Simmonds for the season with a lower body injury.  

No. 2. Star: Ales Hemsky, Dallas Stars

The underachieving forward kept Dallas’ slim playoff hopes alive with two goals. The Stars are six points back of the Winnipeg Jets for the last Wild Card spot following their 4-3 shootout win over Calgary. Though the Stars are still six points back of the Los Angeles Kings.

No. 3 Star: Deryk Engelland, Calgary Flames

Scored two goals to keep the Flames one point ahead in the playoff race with the Los Angeles Kings. Unfortunately for the Flames, Los Angeles still has a game in hand.

Honorable Mention: Flyers defenseman Michael Del Zotto notched two assists as did forward Matt Read … Forward Claude Giroux scored a goal …  Colorado forward Ryan O’Reilly scored a goal and added two assists in a 4-3 loss to Edmonton … Oilers forward Derek Roy scored the game-winner midway through the third period … Colorado’s Jarome Iginla notched his 25th goal of the season …Edmonton’s Taylor Hall scored his first goal since coming back from an injury two games ago … Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau scored a goal … Dallas center Tyler Seguin notched two assists.

Did You Know?: The Flyers recorded their 11th straight home regular season win over Chicago, dating back to 1998.

Dishonorable Mention: The Blackhawks have scored five goals in their last four games … Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford stopped 29 of 33 Philadelphia shots on goal … Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov was yanked after allowing three goals on seven Edmonton shots on goal .. 

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 26, 2015, 5:12 am

Maybe Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will finally give up his quest to make the playoffs – even though the Flyers are not officially eliminated. 

In a 4-1 #rivalrynight win over the Blackhawks, Philadelphia suffered what would be a crippling blow to a team with playoff aspirations, losing Wayne Simmonds for the rest of the season per the Flyers. Simmonds blocked a shot in his lower body region late in the game. Defenseman Andrew MacDonald was also hurt, in the upper body area, and is also out for the remainder of the year according to the team.

Simmonds finishes with 28 goals in 75 games. This leads the Flyers. MacDonald had 12 points in 58 games played. The Flyers are nine points out of a postseason spot with seven games left to play. So under Hextall’s thinking, they’re not done because they’re not officially eliminated. Oh well. 

Simmonds was one of Philly’s bright spots at forward along with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. But again, secondary scoring doomed the Flyers this year… 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 26, 2015, 4:36 am

Kimmo Timonen has left a legacy in two of his longer stops. In Nashville he was the captain of the organization’s first good playoff threats. In Philadelphia, he was a guy who played through all sorts of ailments and injuries, and provided a steady presence on the Flyers’ blueline.

Timonen was honored with a video tribute in Wednesday’s #rivalrynight game between the Flyers, his former team, and his new team the Blackhawks. 

The @NHLFlyers faithful thank Kimmo Timonen for his years of dedication. https://t.co/a9Y30eiHU1

— NHL (@NHL) March 26, 2015

As the video shows, in 519 games with Philly, he had 956 blocked shots. Ouch.

Timonen has not been his usual minute-crunching self with Chicago, following a midseason trade after he came back from offseason blood clots. Going into Wednesday’s contest he has played 12:27 and not notched a point in nine games.

Said Timonen to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

"If you look at two or three months back, I wasn't even supposed to play, so every second I get on the ice, I'm happy with it." 

But he doesn’t need to be ‘the’ guy for the loaded Hawks, just someone who adds defensive depth. Either way, that was a nice tribute for one of the game’s good dudes.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 26, 2015, 2:10 am

The NHL’s attempt to remove a concussion lawsuit brought on by some of the league’s former players has been denied by a US district court in Minnesota.

According to ESPN.com’s Katie Strang, the NHL tried to get the case stopped, “by arguing both time-sensitivity and jurisdictional issues. The league also claimed the suit was not “‘adequately pled.’”

Said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly in a statement sent to Puck Daddy:

"While we would have hoped for a different result on this motion, we understand that the case is at a relatively early stage, and there will be ample opportunity for us to establish our defenses as the discovery process progresses. "

Here is the reason for dismissal in its plain legal wording (s/t @travisyost for the entire decision document

The NHL seeks dismissal of Plaintiffs’ Master Complaint, or certain claims therein, on three grounds. First, the NHL argues that the Master Complaint must be dismissed as time-barred. Second, the NHL asserts that Plaintiffs’ fraud-based claims must be dismissed because they are not pled with particularity. Third, the NHL argues that Plaintiffs’ medical monitoring claim must be dismissed because none of the relevant jurisdictions, as determined by choice-of-law rules, recognizes medical monitoring as a stand-alone cause of action. The Court finds each of these arguments insufficient to warrant dismissal because: (1) it is not clear from the face of the Master Complaint that Plaintiffs’ claims are untimely; (2) Plaintiffs’ claims are adequately pled; and (3) it is not possible on the present record to determine which jurisdictions’ laws apply to Plaintiffs’ medical monitoring claim. 

Below is a statement on the ruling from the co-lead counsel for the Plaintiffs in the case, sent via email release:

“We are pleased the Court has confirmed the validity of our claims and found the NHL’s arguments insufficient to warrant dismissal of this case. It is time for the NHL to be held accountable for deliberately ignoring and concealing the risks of repeated head impacts, and finally provide security and care to retired players whom the League has depended on for its success.”

The lawsuit was put forth by the Plaintiffs, “Who allege that Defendant National Hockey League (the “NHL”) is responsible for “the pathological and debilitating effects of brain injuries caused by concussive and sub-concussive impacts sustained . . . during their professional careers.”

Plaintiffs listed are former players Dan LaCouture, Michael Peluso, Gary Leeman, Bernie Nicholls, David Christian, and Reed Larson.

There is another legal lever the league can use again per ESPN.com, which has yet to be ruled on:

“(U.S. District Judge Susan Richard) Nelson has yet to issue a ruling on the league's other motion for dismissal, which is based on labor law pre-emption.”

So as of now, it moves forward, the one final attempt for the league to get the suit thrown out doesn’t go. There are differences between this suit and the one with the NFL as we pointed out in a prior blog.

How do you identify known risks in the sport, vs. financial reward in the league vs. specific National Hockey League culpability vs. hockey culture. It’s all rather tough to sift through. The NFL’s has a well-documented timeline and specific issues regarding the league itself. 

Either way, this will all be played out still, and is a constantly evolving measure and question in various league meetings.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 25, 2015, 9:44 pm

Before last season, Patrick Kane stickhandled his way into viral immortality with a video showcasing his tremendous hands. Dangling through a sea of pucks to promote Bauer’s Vapor stick, the Chicago Blackhawks star needed only about 20 minutes to complete it flawlessly. "At first I didn't think I was going to be able to do it with all the pucks in there,” he told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune.

The trick was later mimicked (poorly) by former Blackhawk Brandon Bollig and (fantastically) by 9-year old Tommy Murray.

Now Kane is back, showing off his rare strain of Dangleitis with a GoPro camera strapped to his helmet. Seeing his skills from this vantage point really emphasizes the point that we will never be Patrick Kane and our hands will only be good enough to (slowly) dangle around beer leaguers.

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: March 25, 2015, 7:56 pm

[Author's note: Power rankings are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever really doesn't tell you anything you didn't know. Who's hot, who's not, who cares? For this reason, we're doing a power ranking of things that are usually not teams. You'll see what I mean.] 

7. “Fans don't care about CapGeek.”

Just make salary information publicly available, you dopes. Everyone wants it.

6. The Bruins

Just when you thought things couldn't possibly get any worse, the David Krejci-less Boston Bruins, losers of their last five and surrenderers of the final playoff spot in the East, announce that Dougie Hamilton is out “indefinitely.”

In effect, that probably means “until next season,” because the Bruins without their Nos. 2 center and defenseman are dead in the water, and that's if Andrew Hammond starts playing to his career average starting tomorrow.

Hell, even having one of them out for an extended is going to be cause for concern, and Krejci's not showing his hand as to whether he'll be good to go against Anaheim — just what any team fighting for a playoff spot having lost six straight needs: A game against the Ducks — on Thursday.

You can say what you want about Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg, mainly that they're no Krejci, but the dropoff in quality overall isn't as stark as it is from Hamilton to, say, Dennis Seidenberg. The Bruins have blue line problems to begin with; center depth not so much. Adding in any sort of extensive injury to Hamilton, who in addition to being very good also has an extraordinarily high ceiling, and you're asking for trouble, especially at this late stage.

The thing is that if the Bruins are going to trade back-and-forth shots with the Sens over the next two weeks, they at least have the talent level to go punch for punch and see where they're at when the season ends. Without Hamilton, it's a lot more difficult to see that being a possibility.

Which means that we have to at least think about the reality that the Bruins' window is now effectively closed, because if they don't make the playoffs, big changes are coming. We've been talking for a while now about the possibility that either or both of Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli could find themselves canned, and it wouldn't be a good idea. But it's what might (probably will?) happen.

The Bruins are a team with flaws but which has a very good skeleton. Hamilton looks like he could be a No. 1 defenseman, they have an elite one-two punch down the middle, and one of the best goaltenders alive (i.e. in an “off year” his .921 save percentage is something most NHL goalies could only dream of).

If they were run a little better maybe they're in the playoffs this year — not having all that dead cap money left over from last year probably killed them — but you once again have to look at everything that's happened this year through the lens of: “Chiarelli pushed all-in on last season, and lost with a pair of pocket aces.”

They had to know this season could have turned out like this, but man the end is shaping up to be torturous.

5. College hockey awards

I love college hockey more than anyone living or dead. I'm going to five games in three days this weekend, and I will probably see about 80 live before the season is over. I write about it for two outlets, and so on. And believe me when I tell you that nothing in the sport is dumber than the people who vote for awards.

For instance, Jack Eichel should win the Hobey Baker this year in a runaway, because he has 66 points in 36 games and that's 1.83 points per game and no one else is north of 1.57. He's also doing this as the fourth-youngest player in the country. But the Hobey is awarded not to the best player in the country, but the great player who is also the nicest (seriously: “Strength of character, on and off the ice” is the No. 1 criteria, which is so dumb as to boggle the mind.)

But this is really only done selectively; sometimes the nicest guy wins but mostly it's the best player. It's only when there's enough reason to complain about the best player — Eichel drank beer can you believe an 18-year-old would do such a thing!!!!! — that this is up for debate. If Eichel doesn't get caught on Snapchat or whatever, we're not having a discussion about Jimmy Vesey winning the Walter Brown award, because he doesn't win it.

(The Walter Brown award is given to the best American-born college player in New England. Vesey had a great year but Eichel's was better by a significant margin.)

The people who vote on these things didn't even give Johnny Gaudreau, who put up 80 points in 40 games, the Hobey unanimously last year. A guy who finished with fewer points on the year than Gaudreau had assists was in the final three because he is A Nice Boy.

Eichel's going to fall into the same category. And it's not really decided that he's going to even win the Hobey. Which I can't believe I have to say, but I do believe that college hockey awards voters are that demonstrably dumb.

And would it shock you to learn balloting for most of these awards is kept secret? Oh yeah, buddy.

4. Ilya Kovalchuk's return

Wow, you mean the NHL might be able to lure Kovalchuk, who's not even really dominating the KHL to any great extent, back when he's just 34 years old? Where do I sign up?!

3. Weirdly valuable players

You will never ever in your entire life hear someone refer to Chris Tanev as any kind of great defenseman. But Chris Tanev is kind of a great defenseman.

He just re-upped with Vancouver for five years, with a cap hit of $4.45 million, which has to be the largest cap hit for a player most hardcore hockey fans couldn't pick out of a lineup. But here's the thing: Tanev has the best CF% on the Canucks, ahead of even Alex Edler, and he just recently turned 25. He doesn't pile up points, but if he'd hit the open market there would have been a feeding frenzy of smart teams.

Among defensemen with more than 1,000 minutes at evens this season, Tanev's possession numbers are tied for 27th out of 92, putting him well into the class of “No.1 defenseman” even if the points per 60 is eighth from the bottom. Which is why Vancouver was able to get him so cheap. If those numbers were even somewhat near the league average for those 92 defensemen, some of whom are still on their entry-level deals, the cost would have gone up a lot.

Locking down a defenseman of that quality, regardless of the lack of offense, for basically the entirety of his prime (that is: until he's almost 31) is almost certainly going to look like a smart bet. We generally find that high-corsi players can keep up that skill as they age, but not so much with the offense.

And what's Tanev gonna do if his game is diminished four years from now? Score less?

2. The Calder race

A month or two ago this probably didn't seem that interesting.

“Filip Forsberg's getting his name on the trophy unless something horrible happens,” was the general discussion point around Calder voting. And something horrible happened: Forsberg stopped scoring.

That opened the door for Johnny Gaudreau, who has 51 points in 61 games since October (about a 69-point pace), to state his case. And look, Gaudreau is basically one of three reasons the Flames are still alive at this point (the other two are Sean Monahan, who's having a brilliant sophomore season, and Jiri Hudler, who continues to dazzle as he did last season). So you have to ask yourself whether that should be enough.

The fact that we're even having the conversation at this point shows how sharply Forsberg has dropped off, but what it doesn't mention is the fact that Aaron Ekblad is having an historically great rookie season. And that's beyond the very respectable 35 points he's compiled in his first 71 games. He's actually getting more difficult minutes than you might expect (but not as difficult as some make them out to be), and his CF% is north of 53. Add in the 21 points at evens — his 1.03 per 60 is tied for 34th in the NHL with Johnny Boychuk and only a shade behind Alex Goligoski, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Shea Weber — and you're talking about a guy who's a very legitimate candidate.

But defensemen don't win awards that are typically won by forwards, so this is basically Gaudreau's to lose at this point. We're talking 0-fer down the stretch. Or, put another way, “pulling a Forsberg.”

1. Partnership

Well done to the Canadiens. There's no reason on earth that the NHL shouldn't have a partnership with the CWHL, but if it's not going to, the local clubs really ought to pick up the slack. Boston, Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal all have clubs (there's a fifth in Brampton) and the fact that the Boston Blades and Brampton Thunder don't have an NHL team supporting them is sad.

Okay, fine, Brampton might need the Sabres to step up or something, but the Bruins not helping out is weak.

Really ought to change, y'know?

(Not ranked this week: Your team's “playoff push.”

If you're like five or six points out with nine games to go, you're not making up the ground. It's not gonna happen. It just isn't. Sorry to the Stars and Sharks and Panthers but this is over for you. Start booking your summer getaways.)

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Author: Ryan Lambert
Posted: March 25, 2015, 7:28 pm

Here are your Puck Headlines: A glorious collection of news and views collected from the greatest blogosphere in sports and the few, the proud, the mainstream hockey media. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com.

Skates on a plane!!! Sweden bound for The World Championships! #gocanada @AirCanada @pou29 @RJohnst6 @KTerr10 pic.twitter.com/sy6Tn37iMM

— Natalie Spooner (@natspooner5) March 24, 2015

• That's one way to fight for extra leg room on a long flight.

• Here’s a look at Team USA’s entry that looks to win gold again at the Women's World Championships this weekend. [Hockey Wilderness]

• Kimmo Timonen returns to Philadelphia tonight, where Flyers fans will welcome him back warmly. [Broadstreet Hockey]

• Meanwhile, Flyers owner Ed Snider firmly believes his team can compete for the Stanley Cup next season. [Daily News

• Henrik Lundqvist will backup Cam Talbot on Thursday night when the Rangers visit Ottawa. [NY Daily News]

• Claude Noel has parted ways with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants to pursue pro opportunities. [Buzzing the Net]

• Brandon Pirri of the Florida Panthers has the season’s oddest stat line — 18 goals, 2 assists, 40 games played. He's in line for this season's Cy Young Award. [Eye on Hockey]

• The Vancouver Canucks scored their 20th empty-net goal of the season, which might just be an NHL record. [PiTB]

• The summer coaching carousel could be much more intriguing than what might happen in free agency. [ESPN.com]

• The Eastern Conference has a number of contenders this season. Can they steal back the Stanley Cup from the West? [Bleacher Report]

• Red Berenson has announced he will return behind the University of Michigan bench for his 32nd season. [Michigan Daily]

• Here's solid interview with Dave Gunnarsson, the goalie mask artists whose work has been featured here numerous times. [Hockey by Design]

• Shockingly, Hockey Night in Canada has not been destroyed during a dismal season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. [Yahoo]

• Shannon Szabados has been named SPHL player of the week after posting a 2-0-0 record, 1.00 GAA and .970 save-percentage. [SPHL]

• Alex Ovechkin skated with 35 kids from the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club on Monday. [Color of Hockey]

• The NHL Network picking up games is bad for selling the sport. [Winging It In Motown

• No, your favorite college hockey team did not get screwed by the Pairwise. [College Hockey News]

• Happy Greek Independence Day! Here’s the backtory of hockey in Greece, including a sweet, sweet national team jersey from 1992. [Third String Goalie]

• Finally, if you missed it last night, Malektronic had their spaceman in attendance during the Bolts-Panthers contest:

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: March 25, 2015, 6:15 pm

The first thing you see when you log onto the Ottawa Senators’ official site is an image of Andrew Hammond’s “Hamburglar” mask, celebrating the goaltending sensation that’s led the team to a playoff spot. Last week, the Senators gave away 10,000 Hamburglar masks at a game.

It’s understandable fans would want to play their role in this sensation, and they started tossing hamburgers on the ice after goals and at the end of the contest in celebration. It was an organic, wonderful instant tradition for a fan base with too few of them; a sense of identity for a team that could use one. 

So, naturally, everyone involved in the burger tossing is now made to feel like a heartless scrooge, shamelessly tossing $2 McDonald’s singles on the ice rather than donating them to a local food bank.

It was a sentiment shared by hockey’s shrillest moralist and by Sportnet’s Nick Kypreos on the radio, where Ottawa Senators coach Dave Cameron heard the call to arms. On Wednesday, at the end of media availability, he echoed the sentiment and called for fans to make donations rather than throw burgers on the ice:

“I heard something on the way in today on the radio. I think there was a comment made on the radio that instead of throwing hamburgers on the ice, you make a donation to a food bank. I thought that was a great idea. Sometimes you appreciate the support and the enthusiasm of your fans too, but sometimes it can be channeled in a better way. And I certainly would back that up.”

We’ll go ahead and assume that Cameron’s sincere here and that this isn’t a preemptive strike against possible delay of game penalties – c’mon, like the thought didn’t cross your mind. 

Heeding this clarion call, we’d also like Ottawa fans to consider the following charitable options:

- No longer purchasing concessions at Senators games. It’s all overpriced and you never finish the popcorn anyway, so stop being wasteful and smuggle in some trail mix.

- No longer purchasing game tickets. The average ticket price for a Senators regular-season game is $109.29, according to Team Marketing Report. That’s a lot of soup!

- No longer purchasing extra Senators gear. Look, we know you like Andrew Hammond and all, but that $150 is better left to charity. Wear your old Patrick Lalime jersey with pride.

We kid.

The idea that throwing a hamburger is mutually exclusive from donating to a food bank is as nonsensical as the scenarios we presented above. Ottawa fans can do both. And if the issue is truly being wasteful … it’s a hamburger. It’s not a vial of penicillin.

But the Sens have take a hard line here. The Ottawa Citizen reports that the team will try and remind fans that throwing items during play will not be tolerated: 

“We will continue to abide by both our own and the NHL’s policy to work in the best interests of the safety of our fans and the players — which does not permit items being thrown on the ice during play. There will be zero tolerance for any items thrown onto the ice during play,” said the teams director of communications Brian Morris.

“We are treating this seriously enough that we had Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot tape a bilingual message after practice today that will play in tomorrow’s game — the message will support the above asking fans not to toss anything on the ice during the game."

The bottom line, as echoed by many: The Sens should have recognized this trend, purchased a ton of foam hamburger dog toys, charged fans money to buy them, given that money to charity, and then recycled the burgers after they were tossed on the ice for resale.

And then hope that a bunch of devious visiting fans don’t frame you by tossing them during play …

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 25, 2015, 6:03 pm

Buffalo coach Ted Nolan wants to win. He doesn’t want to lose out the rest of the season, which may sound horrifying for a team whose management seems to be all in on giving it the best chance to get the No. 1 pick in the draft.

And this sounds worse on the eve of Buffalo’s "Tank Wars" week with two games against the Arizona Coyotes. The Sabres have the fewest amount of points in the NHL, and hence the highest chance to land the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft. The Coyotes have the second-fewest. 

Per the Buffalo News:

"I can’t control what other people think and what other people do," Nolan said Wednesday afternoon after the team practice at First Niagara Center. "I know what I feel. I’m not speaking for anybody else. I’m speaking for myself. Who wants to finish last? I never went into anything my entire life wanting to finish last. You go into it with the right intentions and it’s the integrity of the game. That’s the line for me. You just go out and do what you have to do and feel the way you feel and  some people want to finish last, well then good for them."

Ah yes, “Tank Wars” … I feel like this needs a song sung by Bill Murray.

 

Back to seriousness, even more surprising that during these comments, general manager Tim Murray did not come down from his perch with a chloroform washcloth to snuff out Nolan and take him upstairs for brainwashing. But if anything, Nolan’s words show the disconnect between coaches, management and players on this whole situation with the Sabres.

Coaches hardly ever want to lose. It’s not in their DNA. Most are laser focused on getting wins, or at least using losses as teaching points for future games where their teams can win. Players sometimes want to win for each other, sometimes want to win for themselves.

A player like Sabres goaltender Anders Lindback who is fighting for another NHL contract for example. He’s not alone on the Sabres who per NHL Numbers have 12 unrestricted free agents or restricted free agents. 

Management has its own agenda. And fans, it’s understandable why they want the Sabres to lose out. Connor McDavid is a generational talent with the possible No. 1 pick. So is second-ranked prospect Jack Eichel. While it’s not a foregone conclusion the team with the worst record gets the No. 1 pick, it helps. This is not the first time a team has done this. Pittsburgh basically tanked for Mario Lemieux in 1983-84. 

Look at this Washington/Pitt roster for the final regular season game in 2004 before the Alex Ovechkin draft.

Said Nolan per Buffalo Hockey Beat:

“But for the vast majority, I don’t think people come here to watch you lose or to want you to lose,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s in the feelings of this city. I never felt it. That’s why I don’t think it’s there.”

Oh, it’ll be there, again according to Buffalo Hockey Beat:

The coach likely understands the Sabres’ rabid fan base will root against them throughout Thursday’s highly anticipated tilt against the Arizona Coyotes.

Nolan is not a coach for a massive rebuild. He’s a guy who has won in the past, and clearly wants to win. What does this all mean for the future for him? 

Who knows … but it’s clear he’s tired of losing, which means he and GM Tim Murray are probably not on the same page.

And you know what, good for him for saying what’s on his mind. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 25, 2015, 5:31 pm

It’s been a surreal Buffalo Sabres season for the Amherst Pizza & Ale House, as it would be for any sports bar hosting local fans that are actively hoping their team will fail.

“Lots of awkward cheering,” said John Bona III, owner of the suburban Buffalo restaurant. “The lottery thing is pretty big here in the Buffalo area. We play the games of other teams near the bottom, too.”

The Sabres are currently last in the NHL, guaranteeing them at least the second overall pick in the 2015 Draft and giving them the best odds to get the first. The prizes at the end: Once-in-a-lifetime prospect Connor McDavid and instant franchise savior Jack Eichel. The Sabres aren’t sure which one they’ll end up with if they finish at the bottom ... which gave Bona a devious idea for a new drink promotion.

Via Reddit

A customer asked if the Ale House was going to create a Connor McDavid drink special for St. Patrick’s Day. Bona liked the idea, and commissioned his “mad scientists behind the bar” to come up with a green beverage.

Then he decided perhaps they’d create two drinks: a green drink with orange vodka, named for McDavid, honoring his No. 97 in the price; and a red drink with cherry vodka, honoring Eichel, with his No. 9 in the price.

Since the Sabres are unsure which player they’ll get a chance to draft, Bona decided his customers should experience their own mystery: “Why don’t we put a disclaimer on this and have bartenders choose which drink you receive?”

So there’s an 80-percent chance that if you order the McDavid, you’ll get an Eichel instead, at the bartender’s discretion. “I didn’t go out and buy a [lottery] wheel. But that was a thought,” admitted Bona.

Genius … but not the first time Bona’s bar has gotten major publicity for a sports-related promotion.

There was the Super Bowl ad. There were the bans on Jon Bon Jovi and Jerry Jones for their designs on relocating the Bills. And you might best remember Bona’s bar from its ban on Canadian beer during the Sochi Olympic semifinal between the U.S. and Canada.

“We were serving Labatt at the time and I remember (Canada) slipping one past our boy Ryan Miller. So I thought I’d be on the superstitious side and shut the taps off for the game,” Bona said at the time.

As for McDavid and Eichel, Bona admits to being conflicted. His bar has offered half-priced items during Sabres games “until they win the Stanley Cup,” so he has an active rooting interest in seeing them win. But he’s fully prepared to see more fans cheering on losses for the Sabres this week, and they take on fellow basement dweller Arizona in two games.

“I’m not sure if we’ll see jerseys inside out or what,” he said.

As for which drink he prefers?

“They’re both good. They’re suitable for everyone,” he said. “My preference is the McDavid. But I ordered it three times only got it once.”

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 25, 2015, 4:28 pm

GIF: Another angle of Boll hit on Maroon pic.twitter.com/dLcOhwNKfS

— Steph (@myregularface) March 25, 2015

Forward Jared Boll of the Columbus Blue Jackets is going to have a conversation with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Thursday after he made contact with the head of Anaheim Ducks forward Patrick Maroon in their game Tuesday night.

Maroon was hit by Boll at 4:02 of the second period in the Blue Jackets' 5-3 win. No penalty was assessed on the play and Maroon remained in the game.

A reminder on Rule 48:

48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted. 

In determining whether contact with an opponent's head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered:

- Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not "picked" as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward.

- Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.

- Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.

Here’s an alternate view of the hit:

GIF: here is the hit to the head that Boll is having a hearing for tomorrow pic.twitter.com/7oamiGUn9l

— Steph (@myregularface) March 25, 2015

That second view makes this a bit closer to a legal hit than previously considered. It appears Boll is trying to go shoulder-to-shoulder with Maroon, who is looking down at the puck. But ultimately it appears the head remains the main point of contact, which is how we imagine the Department of Player Safety saw it too.

Boll’s last run-in with DoPS was Jan. 31, 2012, when he was fined $2,500 for an illegal check to the head of Joe Thornton. His last suspension was in 2008, and that was for instigating a fight in the last five minutes of a game.

So there might be some NHL discipline that followed frontier justice. Boll “answered the bell” later in the game against the Ducks’ Clayton Stoner:

Huh … quite the switcheroo: First time we’ve seen a Boll smoke a Stoner.

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 25, 2015, 2:59 pm

Since we're down to the final moments of postseason life for teams in contention, Puck Daddy solemnly begins a daily countdown to annihilation.

We’re a little worried about the Jets, you guys.

The Winnipeg Jets (88 points) currently hold the final Wild Card in the West, having lost to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night. But with the Los Angeles Kings’ (86 points) win over the Rangers and the fact they have a game in-hand, the Kings (67.7) now have a better chance of making the playoffs than do the Jets (63.9).

That said, the Jets still have a better chance of finishing in the last wild card (49) than do the Kings (19). What the what? Well, the Kings have designs on the No. 3 seed in the Pacific, as do the Calgary Flames (86 points), who also have a game in-hand over the Jets.

The bottom line: The Jets have a math problem. They lead both the Flames and Kings, but don’t control their own destiny because their ROW (31) won’t top that of the Flames (36) and Kings (34).

Oh, and their schedule the rest of the way? There’s one non-playoff team on there: At the Colorado Avalanche, in Game No. 81. The Kings have at least four, including two against the tanking Oilers. The Flames have three, including the Oilers and the Coyotes.

So we’re a little worried about the Jets, you guys…

Here are the current standings. The Death Watch tracks the final Wild Card spot and the teams that are chasing it. Their “tragic number” is the number of points gained by the final wild card team or lost by the team chasing it.

All playoff percentages are from Sports Club Stats; tragic numbers and other figures via the NHL. A team is eliminated from play-offs when their "Tragic Number" hits 0.

Here’s the Eastern Conference picture:

Montreal’s overtime loss to the Preds made them the first 100-point team in the NHL. Habs vs. Sens in the first round? Yes, please. 

Oh, the poor Panthers. They roared back against the Lightning, only to fall short and lose in regulation. They’re now five points out of the wild card, and Ottawa has a game in-hand. Again, they still have two left with Boston and one left with the Sens. But the Cats really needed that one last night.

The Islanders (93 points) and Penguins (91) both earned a charity point, but the Pens have a game in-hand with home ice in Round 1 on the line. The Capitals are three back and don’t have a game against the Penguins left.

Quiet night in the East as the Flyers host the Blackhawks.

Meanwhile, in the West …

Don’t write off Nashville yet! The Preds (98 points) trail the Blues (99) and the Ducks (99) by a single point for the top spot in the conference, holding the tie-breaker over both teams. Which means they could avoid the Blackhawks in the first round. Which is advisable.

The Flames host the Dallas Stars, who are clinging to playoff life. It’s a huge one for Calgary, as it’s their last home game until Game No. 80, with five games on the road. And the Flames are 21-13-4 at home.

The Avs play Edmonton, because someone has to. 

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 25, 2015, 1:41 pm

No. 1 Star: Scott Hartnell, Columbus Blue Jackets 

Hartnell tallied his eighth career NHL hat trick as the Blue Jackets dispatched the Anaheim Ducks 5-3. Hartnell’s goals came at even strength, on the power play and finally, into an empty net to give the Blue Jackets their fourth win in a row. 

No. 2 Star: Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild

In his 32nd consecutive start, Dubnyk made 37 saves in regulation and overtime and another two in the shootout as the Wild edged the New York Islanders 2-1. The win was Minnesota’s 10th straight away from Xcel Energy Center. Zach Parise tied the game in the second period with his 29th of the season and scored his 39th career shootout goal to earn the bonus point.

No. 3 Star: Mark Arcobello, Arizona Coyotes

David Moss scored twice and Mike Smith made 33 saves as the Arizona Coyotes beat the Detroit Red Wings 5-4. Arcobello was the hero, potting his second goal of the night 3:08 into overtime. The win snapped an eight-game losing streak and gave the Coyotes their first non-shootout victory since Feb. 3.

Honorable Mention: Alex Steen’s goal 35 seconds into overtime completed a St. Louis Blues comeback for a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Former Penguins Robert Bortuzzo and Marcel Goc scored second period goals 2:32 apart as St. Louis fought back from a 2-0 deficit. Another ex-Penguin, Zbynek Michalek, assisted on Steen’s winner as the Blues snapped a three-game losing streak:

Jonathan Quick made 34 saves and Marian Gaborik broke a 1-1 deadlock in the second period as the Los Angeles Kings beat the New York Rangers 4-2. Anze Kopitar recorded a pair of assists and now has seven points in four games. The playoff hungry Kings have now taken 16 points out of a possible 22 in their last 11 games … One of Sergei Bobrovsky’s 36 stops was this lovely save:

After allowing the Florida Panthers to score three times in a span of 1:58 in the second period, the Tampa Bay Lightning rallied in the third period with two of their own for a 4-3 victory. Tampa has now won four in a row and eight of their last 10. The Lightning also improved to 18-3-3 against Atlantic Division opponents … A three-goal second period helped power the Vancouver Canucks over the Winnipeg Jets 5-2. Radim Vrbata had a pair of goals and an assist, while the Sedins combined for five points. Eddie Lack made 25 saves for his sixth win in eight starts.   ... Filip Forsberg’s power play goal 1:54 into overtime gave the Nashville Predators a 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Pekka Rinne stopped 37 shots for his 39th win of the season. Mattias Ekholm opened the scoring with this pretty goal from his knees in the first period:

Then Forsberg, who drew the tripping penalty in OT on P.K. Subban, put home the winner later in the game:

The Habs, meanwhile, became the first NHL team to reach 100 points this season. And Carey Price was Carey Price with this nice skate save to rob rookie Kevin Fiala of his first NHL goal: 

Andrew Cogliano scored this nifty goal during Anaheim’s loss to Columbus:

Did You Know? Via the AP: “It was the first hat trick by a Blue Jackets player since Cam Atkinson had three goals at Colorado on April 5, 2012. It had been three years and one day since the last Columbus player - R.J. Umberger - did it at home against Carolina.” 

Dishonorable Mention: The loss was the first time in 10 appearances that Cam Talbot had allowed more than two goals … Detroit has now lost seven of their last 10 games … Christian Ehrhoff exited the game after this hit by Vladimir Tarasenko early in the first period:

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: March 25, 2015, 4:49 am

Kevin Fiala of the Nashville Predators made his NHL debut Tuesday night, an evening that was made almost even more memorable in the second period..

Early in the second frame, Fiala nearly scored his first career goal after a fortunate bounce behind the Montreal Canadiens net, but Carey Price did a Carey Price thing with a fantastic stop:

Notice how in true Carey Price fashion there was no panic as he cooly slid across the crease to made the skate save.

The Predators would get the last laugh, however, winning 3-2 in overtime after Filip Forsberg's winner 1:54 into the extra frame. Despite the loss, the charity point makes Montreal the first team to reach 100 points this season.

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: March 25, 2015, 2:53 am

The ugly side of social media showed its face on Tuesday, and now New York Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy is working with NHL security after a public threat. 

A Twitter user named ‘NoorsSlut’ posted an image of Leddy’s Minnesota driver’s license and a MasterCard debit card with “Nicholas Leddy” on it. The user also posted images of an unidentified woman posing with Leddy, with derogatory words written over her face and body in Photoshop. The same woman appeared as the avatar on user’s account.

While the Tweets were later deleted, there were also reports of death threats towards Leddy originating from the account. Two of the tweets:

That account was shut down.

Sydney Esiason, a host on NHL.com and the girlfriend of the Islanders’ Matt Martin, was featured in one of the tweeted photos. She was also sent harassing messages from a different account that’s still active, including:  

“Ding ding the whore is back.. Can't keep off don't worry I know where you live and working on where your slut friend lives.”

Islanders fans alerted both Twitter and the Nassau County police about the tweets.

According to Gino Reda of TSN, “The Islanders say Nick Leddy and his family are fine and that the team is working with NHL security in addition to local and state authorities to track down the person involved.”

According to a source, Leddy had been getting harassing messages for several months. The woman pictured in the images isn't romantically involved with Leddy, and yet the Twitter stalker found her name and information to create a fake account based from an Instagram photo. Which is about as creepy as it gets. 

Hopefully they’re able to locate the person or people behind this, and ensure that this kind of harassment doesn’t go unchecked. 

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 24, 2015, 11:59 pm
Photo via MLive.com, courtesy of Darren Helm per the website 

Sometimes scenes from movies get played out in real life … by hockey players. 

For example, remember the beginning of “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” when Will Ferrell’s mother, played by Jane Lynch, gives birth to him in a car as she and the father rush to the hospital? Red Wings forward Darren Helm experienced this same joy in similar fashion.

From MLive.com:

Helm and girlfriend, Devon, welcomed the birth of their second child, Rylee Klaire (six pounds, 10 ounces). But the amazing way she came into this world left Helm shaken - but relieved and ecstatic that baby and mother are just fine.

Devon gave birth in the car on the way to the hospital at 2:15 a.m. Monday.

But it gets even crazier. According to the story, Devon delivered Rylee herself, as if we haven't said "wow" enough in our collective brains at this story. According to The Detroit Free Press, the blessed event occurred on Interstate 96.

Per Helm from MLive: 

"It was quite the experience, quite the ordeal," Helm said. "But everything is good now."

Helm said the baby arrived about seven days and five minutes too early. They were five minutes away from Providence Park Hospital when Devon delivered in the back seat, which Helm called "very remarkable and incredible."

First off, Devon is a keeper. That’s incredible. Second, even tough as nails Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was impressed.

"Is that awesome or what?" coach Mike Babcock said. "It's unbelievable that could still happen. I just think back to many moons ago when we had ours, I can just imagine the urgency and the tension right there. But his [girlfriend] is obviously a trooper. That would have been quite a visual, to say the least.

Quite the visual indeed. In case anyone was wondering, Helm is in the lineup for Tuesday night's game between Detroit and Arizona. He's tough, he's a hockey player. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 24, 2015, 11:20 pm

Is there truly a Vezina Trophy battle Tuesday night between the Nashville Predators and Montreal Canadiens? No, not really. 

In absence of a major meltdown, Carey Price is going to win the award – which is chosen by the NHL’s general managers. Pekka Rinne has been lights out most of the year, but unless say Price gives up six goals Tuesday and Rinne has a 50-save shutout against Montreal, this award has basically been decided.

In case there are some GMs who haven’t thought long and hard on the award yet, it’s at least a good spot for Rinne to restart his candidacy and mount a charge on Price.

Said Rinne to the Montreal Gazette:

“It’s two points for either team,” Nashville’s star goaltender said with a grin, knowing that wasn’t what a small gathering of notebooks and microphones had come to record.

“It’s going to be a fun game,” Rinne continued. “Obviously, Price is one of the better goalies in the league. He’s a great goalie, a guy I like a lot and have a lot of respect for. It’s always fun to face one of the top guys.”

Rinne has a 2.09 goals against average. His .927 save percentage ranks fifth in the NHL. His 38 wins rank second – in spite of him missing time with a knee injury. In most years, Rinne would be the obvious choice. A majority of us chose him as our Vezina and Hart Trophy guy at the midpoint of the season. But since then a bit of a Predators malaise combined with Price’s play (and his on-ice personality) have pushed the award toward the pride of Anahim Lake, British Columbia.

From Feb. 19 through March 5, Rinne allowed on average 3.29 goals per-game. During that time he went 1-5-1. During that same stretch, Price allowed 1.86 goals per-game and went 4-1-2. 

And recently he has bolstered his chances with some sweet on-ice PR with maybe the greatest NHL in-game selfie ever taken. Rinne countered with an astronaut/space jersey thing – which was still cool, but not quite the same. At very least we’ve been able to determine both goalies are good dudes.

There are still some games left this year, but at this point of the season, GMs minds are made up, or not since they seem to ask for major sweeping rule changes every year. Is there a more crazy ‘Stonecutterish’ group in sports when they show up for their annual meetings?

OK, regardless, Nashville’s hopes do live and die with the 6-foot-5 Finnish netminder. If offense makes a mistake and there’s an odd-man rush, he makes a stop at the other end.

Again from The Gazette: 

He is a vital part of the Predators’ portrait, a popular, marketable star in the realm of captain and Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber, leading scorer Filip Forsberg and, to a lesser degree, erstwhile enfant terrible Mike Ribeiro, who’s enjoying a fine season on the tracks off of which he has often derailed himself. 

Not that Price is any different with Montreal, but if Rinne wants a shot at hardware, Tuesday’s his chance to get back in the race.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 24, 2015, 8:51 pm

The first step is admitting you have a problem.

My problem, earlier this season, was that I felt Shea Weber deserved the Norris Trophy because (a) he’s an incredible defenseman and (b) he hadn’t been given one yet because of Nicklas Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara and Duncan Keith and general apathy toward anything Nashville related by the voting populace. (See Also: Trotz, Barry and Adams, Jack).

It’s a widespread problem. The latest USA Today power rankings reveal that Weber is the leading vote-getter for the Norris from a panel of 12 NHL voters (yours truly included), six of whom voted him first overall.

But here’s the thing: Voting for Shea Weber to win the 2014-15 Norris Trophy makes him Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman.”

Pacino was nominated for the following roles but didn’t win an Oscar: “The Godfather,” “Serpico,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “… And Justice For All,” “Dick Tracy,” and “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Some of these losses were the result of being bettered by a greater performance – due respect to Pacino in “Dog Day” but Jack Nicholson was a fairly decent R.P. McMurphy – and some of them were simply a lack of appreciation for his efforts.

So the Academy did what it does and gave Pacino an Oscar in 1992 for a performance that carried a film but that doesn’t belong in the same pantheon as his previous classics; nor did it trump the performances of some of his fellow nominees (two words and a letter: Denzel, “Malcolm X”).

Like Pacino, Weber's been better.

The support for Weber this season isn’t grounded in stats, nor is it linked to impact. His 45 points in 73 games currently have him 10th in scoring by a defenseman, 14 points off of Erik Karlsson’s pace. More importantly, it’s six points off the pace of Roman Josi, Weber’s defensive partner with the Nashville Predators.

Any discussion of Weber’s candidacy has to start with explaining how Josi isn’t just as deserving, or more so. The tale of the tape:

 

Weber

Josi

Points

45

51

TOI

26:24

26:28

SH TOI/GAME

2:31

2:33

Corsi 5v5 Close

50.0

49.5

OFF/DEF Zone Starts

30.9/33.4

30.6/33.7

Zone Adj. Corsi% w/o the other

55.5 (97:55)

52.7 (99:58)

PIMs

22

68

Corsi Relative to Quality of Competition

1.446

1.401

So Weber’s not exactly running away with his thing when it comes to his own teammate, let alone the rest of the Norris field.

As Rob Vollman pointed out on ESPN.com earlier this month, after Mark Giordano’s injury shook up the field (click here for the chart referenced): 

As for Nashville's Weber and Josi, the white circles indicate that they join Carlson as the only defensemen under consideration who actually put their teams at a shot-based disadvantage. That is, the Predators actually have a larger share of the team's attempted shots when those two are on the bench, which generally means that they have the puck more frequently, too. Their fans could argue that this is because Weber and Josi play the tough minutes against top opponents in the defensive zone, but even alternate forms of this statistic that adjust for playing conditions -- such as Steve Burtch's dCorsi -- suggest that they are not good possession-driving players no matter where or against whom they play.

So if it’s not Shea Weber for Norris, who gets it?

Absent Giordano – the best defenseman in the NHL two years running, but felled by injuries in both seasons – and with a stick-tap to Victor Hedman – who just won’t have the same body of work – it’s a field of three:

P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens

As Elliotte Friedman noted, Subban’s playing better this season than when he won the Norris in 2013:

Subban’s great improvement is in using his stick to break up plays, and knowing when to carry the puck up ice as opposed to supporting the rush. The Canadiens prefer their defencemen to support it, because, if a defender is doing so, it usually means forwards have to stop or slow down to accommodate a later arrival. 

Subban’s gifts give him more carries than others, but he’s more judicious about it. He’s also played more 30-minute games than anyone else, and gritted through a sore foot two weeks ago when the Canadiens desperately needed it.

He’s fourth in the NHL in scoring for defensemen at 52 points, has a 53.6 5v5 corsi close to lead the Habs. He’s somewhat zone start protected (31 percent of his starts in the defensive zone) but that’s how Michel Therrien chooses to use him.

Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

Speaking of protected, Letang starts 37.7 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. He’s second in the league to Erik Karlsson in points at 54. Like Karlsson, there are those that are never going to see Letang as a complete defenseman, or acknowledge the year he’s had: 55.2 percent corsi close 5v5 for Letang, and the possession numbers for Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin fall off a cliff when they’re not with him.

(Also interesting: 57 giveaways to his credit, less than one per game. Quite low for a puck-mover.)

He skates 25:39 per night in all situations, and is having a better all-around year than he had when he was a Norris finalist in 2012-13.

But the guy that has my vote, at the moment:

Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

The same “Scent of a Woman” case can be made for Doughty as it’s been made for Weber: Here’s a Norris bridesmaid that’s had better seasons than the current one, but that is just as “due” a postseason honor as Weber. Perhaps even more so this season.

The Kings lost Willie Mitchell to free agency. Slava Voynov was suspended. The result? Doughty’s ice time spiked from 25:43 per game last season to 29:17 per game this season.

He plays in all situations and starts 40 percent of his shifts in the neutral zone. As usual, he’s a possession monster: 55.8 percent corsi-for in 5v5 close. He’s having his best offensive season since 2009-10 with a points per game average of 0.57, and that’s with a career-low shooting percentage of 2.6 percent (i.e. bad puck luck).

Like I said: Doughty is very much liek Weber this season. He’s had better years. His defense partner – Jake Muzzin – contributes plenty to his success. A vote for Doughty is not only a vote for this season but the cumulative efforts of previous seasons.

If you want to cast your vote based on that criteria, it shouldn’t go to Shea Weber. It should go to Drew Doughty, whose heavy lifting this season on the blueline hasn’t affected his stellar play for the Kings.

Make him your Pacino. Hoo-wah!

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 24, 2015, 8:24 pm

When Thomas Vanek signed a three-year, $19.5 million deal with the Minnesota Wild last summer, it put an end to hockey’s worst-kept secret that the forward would end up in the “State of Hockey.”

But New York Islanders GM Garth Snow felt he could sell Vanek on Long Island after trading for him last October. It was a long-shot, but worth it for a franchise desperate to turn around their fortunes. 

Vanek developed chemistry with John Tavares on the top line, scoring 17 times and registering 44 points, but the wins didn’t pile up and the playoffs soon became out of reach. Despite the lost season, Snow hoped that Vanek’s time with the team could lead to a contract. He tried; reportedly offering him seven years and $49 million. That didn’t work. But maybe if Snow had spoken with some Nassau Country politicians ahead of time, no. 26 would currently be worn by someone other than Tyler Kennedy.

With Vanek and the Wild visiting the Islanders Tuesday night, the question of ‘What happened?” was asked:

From NHL.com:

"It was close in February [2014] and I thought about it long and hard," Vanek said at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday. "There was two factors; I made a choice that I really wanted to go to free agency. But after being here for a while I loved it here.
"The one thing I didn't like was the move to Brooklyn. I think if the rink would have been built here, it should be here on the island. There was probably a good chance I still would be here.”

Charles Wang announced the deal with Barclays Center a little over a year before the Islanders acquired Vanek, so he was basically already out the door once they traded for him.

But it’s also interesting to hear a player state the new digs at Barclays played a role in not re-signing. Vanek did cite that having his wife and kids travel to Brooklyn on gamedays factored into his decision.

Despite Vanek's nice words about his short stay on Long Island, he'll probably hear some boo-birds every time he touches the puck Tuesday night. The decibels might even rise a bit if he can extend his NHL-best eight-game point streak and help lead the Wild to a third-straight win. 

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: March 24, 2015, 7:58 pm

The last few weeks have been a strange, slow countdown to some sort of inevitable end for Coyotes forward Shane Doan.

He’s 38 years old. He’s going to be 39 at the start of next season. He has just 13 goals in 71 games played this year. So there are essentially two options for Doan.

Either he retires, realizes that in his last deal, he probably made a bad decision (from a hockey perspective, not personally) and moves on to not burden himself in Arizona next year. Or requests a trade. Either way, per the language we’ve seen from Doan of late, the Coyotes legend seemingly won’t be back as his team’s management tanks/rebuilds for the future.

Said Doan to The Province

“I know owners and management, they’ve got long-term goals for everything,” said Doan. “That’s their job. My job as a player is to win. Obviously, that doesn’t jibe with what’s left in my career. It was not my idea and not my ideal situation.”

It’s almost like we don’t even need a trade request from Doan, since he has been critical of the Arizona situation for the last week and called it “embarrassing.

When Doan signed with the Coyotes in the summer of 2012, his loyalty for the organization won out. He wanted certain assurances that ownership was moving in the right direction. He needed to know the Coyotes would be competitive. His family was comfortable there. He had embraced the city and its people and they loved him as a guy who stayed in spite of all the ownership issues. He was, is and always will be Mr. Coyote. 

But since then they haven’t made the playoffs.

Mike Smith has fallen off, in spite of how he has played the last month. The Coyotes are in seller mode. Doan is as proud an athlete as they come, and he is seeing his career finish in disappointing fashion in the desert without a Stanley Cup in his past, and likely not next year with Arizona. 

Should he retire?

According to Arizona Sports, as of about a month ago, Doan scoffed at the idea. 

"No, I haven't," he told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday. "I signed a contract and my contract, I've got another year on my contract and that's pretty important to me. 

And if Doan doesn’t want to retire (there is that pesky final contract year at over $4.55 million according to NHL Numbers, which is a lot of change), then what could be his situation in Arizona?

Again, per the Sun

“There’s no one that’s 38 years old that thinks it’s a good idea to say, ‘Let’s rebuild.’ But again, that’s not my job,” said Doan.

So this summer, a Doan trade seems to make the most sense for all parties. Even if the ‘Desert Dogs’ get Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid in the 2015 Draft, Doan just doesn't fit in Arizona's current situation. Doan is an emotional guy, but judging by these qutoes it sounds like he has basically already requested a trade.

So now what? Would a team want a player with a $5.3 million salary cap hit who will score under 15 goals next season? 

Probably not. But all good things must come to an end. He had a good run in Arizona. He helped save the franchise in the greater Phoenix area, and now may be the time for this long ride for Doan, that started in Winnipeg and ended in Glendale, to finish. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 24, 2015, 7:18 pm

Here are your Puck Headlines: A glorious collection of news and views collected from the greatest blogosphere in sports and the few, the proud, the mainstream hockey media.

ST PAUL, MN - MARCH 21: Michigan Tech fans react to a call during the third period of the 2015 WCHA Final Five hockey championship game against Minnesota State on March 21, 2015 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. Minnesota State defeated Michigan Tech 5-2. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

• Michigan Tech fans are not happy on a call in this photo ... [Getty]

• How about Noah Hanifin for the Coyotes? It’s really not a bad idea to be honest. [Five for Howling]

• The Hurricanes are trending upwards for the future, in spite of having a bad year. [Fansided]

• Predators prospect Jimmy Vesey won the  Walter Brown Award, given to the best college hockey player in New England. Yeah, so about that Eichel guy.  [SB Nation College Hockey]

• Jack Eichel’s decision to play college hockey rather than junior was a pretty big deal for him … and college hockey. [College Hockey News]

• Darren Helm’s daughter was born in the car on the way to the hospital. This sounds like Talladega Nights.  [MLive]

• Valeri Nichushkin will have a three game AHL rehab stint as he comes back from hip surgery.  [Dallas Stars]

• Hockey Night in Canada’s Bob Cole gets an app featuring all his famous play calls. [National Post]

•The Bark Madness Final Four from our friends at Royal Half! Pick your favorite Kings dog! [Royal Half]

• With a goaltender controversy brewing in Ottawa, how do you go about trading netminders? [Welcome to your Karlsson Years]

• Dave Lowry will be the head coach for Team Canada at the 2016 World Junior Championship.  [Buzzing the Net]

• Noah Hanifin is the next great American defenseman. Still wondering about that Seth Jones dude though … [The Hockey Writers]

• Pat LaFontaine has been invited to say goodbye to Nassau Coliseum, which is interesting considering his recent relationship with the Isles. [New York Times]

• Colorado’s Tyson Barrie has provided quite the brght spot in what has been an otherwise dull year for the Avs. [Dobber Hockey]

•  What is Joe Thornton’s legacy in the NHL? [NHL Numbers]

• And also how has Barrie become an elite defenseman for Colorado. [Bleacher Report]

• Why in the world is Rob Scuderi still in the lineup for the Pittsburgh Penguins? [Pensburgh]

• This is pretty cool in regards to Lauren Bennett of Latin School of Chicago… “As she skated off the United Center ice after Latin's 4-3 victory over Loyola in Sunday's state finals, Bennett saw a cardboard poster held by her best friend, Aidan McClain, that read: "Prom with you is my goal." [DNA Info]

• Five years after a freak accident, Mackenzie Skapski is relishing his backup role with the Rangers as Henrik Lundqvist heals from his vascular issue. [The Guardian]

• Caps players visit Benston Schone, a 6-year-old who had a serious sledding accident two months ago. [Russian Machine Never Breaks]

• How are the Oilers using their defensemen of late under coach Todd Nelson. [Lowetide]

• Noora Raty will miss the IIHF Women’s World Championship per a report. [InGoal]

•  The Gilmour Sabres 14U tier II team is a neat story: This isn’t your average girls’ team either. They are headed off to the national championship in Lansing, Michigan after winning the 2014-15 Mid- American tournament over the weekend.. [NewsNet5]

•  The curious case of Jack Combs. What happened to the man who was dominating the ECHL earlier this season? [FOHS Farm Report]

• How will the upcoming rules changes be reflected in NHL16 by EA Sports? [Operation Sports

• Darren Helm’s daughter was born in the car on the way to the hospital. This sounds like Talladega Nights.  [MLive]

• Former Caps player Stephen Peat was charged in an arson case. [The Province]

• Finally, Diving paddle saves are the best types of saves. 

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 24, 2015, 6:26 pm

The Vancouver Canucks locked up 25-year-old defenseman Chris Tanev to a five-year contract extension. And while his numbers may not look fantastic (two goals, 16 points in 60 games) there’s more to him being signed to a reported AAV of $4.45 million.

For one from an advanced stat perspective, he’s quite good. According to Behind The Net, his Corsi 5-on-5 is plus-5.44, which ranks third in regards to Canucks players who have played a full season – just behind the Sedin twins.

Also, beyond the advanced numbers, he has been quite good. From The Province: 

Tanev, signed as a free agent out of U.S. college Rochester Institute of Technology by the Canucks in 2010, has become a key part of their defence, partnering on the No. 1 unit with Alex Edler and, at 25, will be an important piece of their young core going forward.

Tanev, a late-bloomer who’s still getting better, is already one of the better shut-down Ds in the league and is the Canucks’ best puck-mover from the back end.

This is also reflected in Behind the Net, which lists Tanev’s quality of competition as third-best on Vancouver. So he’s able to keep these positive puck possession stats regardless of how tough his match ups have been. 

Signing young defensemen to long-term contracts have been quite the rage since the Nashville Predators locked up Roman Josi for seven years two summers ago. But if you get a good one – like Josi for example – then said defenseman will come cheaply in his prime years … again like Josi who is having a Norris Trophy worthy campaign at just $4 million this year. And young players like this because it gives them financial security at a young age, even if it goes into their potential unrestricted free agency seasons. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: March 24, 2015, 6:09 pm

LISTEN HERE! [And if that doesn't work, try here.]

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Special Guest Star: Jim Fox on LA Kings; Joe Haggerty on the Bruins; Josh Cooper on being Josh Cooper.

• The Sens win. Again. 

• The end of the San Jose Sharks as we know them. 

• Wild Card races. 

Question of the Day: What's the first thing the San Jose Sharks should do this offseason? Email puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or hit us on Twitter with the hashtag #MvsW to @wyshynski or @jeffmarekClick here for the Sportsnet live stream or click the play button above!

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: March 24, 2015, 5:51 pm

Dougie Hamilton has been the Boston Bruins’ best defenseman this season. He’s their second-leading scorer with 10 goals and 41 points and is the best possession player among their defense corps.

So that’s why when Claude Julien revealed Tuesday that Hamilton would be out “indefinitely” with what’s believed to be a shoulder injury, the Bruins’ already teetering playoff hopes took a shot to the gut. Zach Trotman, who partnered with Matt Bartkowski during practice, will draw into the lineup. 

According to D.J. Bean of WEEI, a source tells him that Hamilton's injury "is a weeks thing, and not a months thing," and a postseason return, should they get there, isn't out of the question.

But all signs appear to be pointing toward “no” on the Bruins’ magic playoff 8-ball. As Lambert pointed out on Monday, things are going Ottawa’s way right now, and have been for some time, while Boston is trending in the opposite direction. Their possession numbers are down and 34 even strength goals allowed in 22 games is nothing to be proud of. And when you factor in Hamilton's absence and take a look at the Bruins’ WOWY (with or without you) stats, the mountain to climb just got bigger. 

The Bruins currently sit one point behind the red-hot Senators for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa holds a game in-hand, along with the mystical winning powers of the Hamburglar. And let's not forget those pesky Florida Panthers are lurking.

While Hamilton exits the lineup (he'll be re-evaluated later this week), David Krejci may getting back soon after skating again on Tuesday. "Once I feel good enough and I feel like I can help the team, then I'll be back," he said, via ESPN Boston

The Bruins play again Thursday night when they host the Anaheim Ducks.

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: March 24, 2015, 5:13 pm

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