March 30, 2009
Plenty of teams hoping to play spoiler
By LANCE HORNBY
Remember that "bring out yer dead" scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where the supposed stiff insists he's fine and objects to being thrown on the corpse cart?
That has been replayed often the past six weeks in the NHL playoff race with the majority of 14 teams staring elimination in the face refusing to blink. With April 1 almost here, five teams outside of eighth spot in the East and West have legitimate shots and before last night and six others retained a mathematical chance.
Those teams eliminated long ago are also making life difficult:
- Rather than quietly sew up the John Tavares pick, the 30th-place Islanders walked into Joe Louis Arena on Friday with the Red Wings set to celebrate their 50th win at home, and shut out the champs 2-0. A night later, they took the Flyers to overtime. That should take care of overconfidence on the part of the Habs going into Uniondale on Thursday.
- Tampa Bay forced the Canadiens to extra time last week and then spotted the Capitals a pair of two-goal leads before Alex Ovechkin finally interceded for the win.
- Atlanta has turned it on to win eight of its past 11, including slowing down Ottawa on Saturday after the Sens had won eight of 10. The Thrashers have three more games against the 9th-place Panthers and 10th-place Sabres.
- Montreal's playoff life flashed before its eyes before taking five of a possible six points, while being pursued by Florida and Buffalo, which both won on Saturday.
- In the West, there was nine points separating six teams on either side of the line before last night. The Blue Jackets have had a franchise best season, yet haven't clinched a spot, thanks to the remarkably strong finishes of St. Louis, Anaheim, Edmonton and Nashville.
"This time of year, it's all about hunger," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "You see it in Atlanta, Anaheim, Nashville and in us. Teams on the outside have young players (trying to win jobs) and it's made for some unbelievable games.
"What are the most uncomfortable things you are willing to do? You see players making sacrifices and you're getting every nickel's worth (as a fan)."
Droppin' the 'bows
Fighting enthusiasts might have a new problem on their hands -- namely, elbows.
The use of Gordie Howe's most lethal weapons in scraps was raised in a recent battle when Brad Staubitz of the Sharks shocked Jordan Tootoo of Nashville at the start of their bout with about five mixed martial-arts style flying elbows, then dazed and bloodied the Predator with uppercuts.
The Tennessean newspaper looked closely at the rule book, checked with Colin Campbell and found no specific rule that addresses or forbids Staubitz's tactics. Campbell said if a glove can be kept on in a fight, so can an elbow pad.
Preds general manager David Poile said he expects the unorthodox fighting style to be reviewed by both his peers and the league's competition committee.
"We're all aware of the latest rage, which is the (Ultimate Fighting Championship)," Poile said. "In my limited viewing of that, it's all elbows and knees. There's no question that there are players that are probably training under a UFC-type of regimen.
"What's worse: A punch or an elbow? I tend to think based on UFC and what they're doing, and the fact that it's a padded protection area, an elbow can be a whole lot worse."
Campbell not in hot soup
Some nasty play in Saturday's Panthers-Stars game involving Dallas pest Steve Ott and Florida's Gregory Campbell will not be drawing in Greg's father Colin, the NHL senior vice-president, even if supplementary discipline were discussed.
Ott received a five-minute charging penalty for what many thought was a head shot on Campbell, but stayed in the game. When Ott returned near the buzzer, Campbell stalked him, cross-checked him high and tried to start a fight. He received a high-sticking minor and both players received unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
The obvious question is what if Ott played for the Sabres or Canadiens, teams battling Florida as it seeks its first playoff spot in nine years. Or what if a Florida player such as Jay Bouwmeester came before Campbell?
"(Colin) has not been involved in discipline for games involving the Panthers since Gregory joined the League (in 2005)," NHL deputy commisioner Bill Daly said yesterday in an e-mail. "This year, we have broadened it to supplementary discipline that may impact the Panthers' chase for a playoff spot."
VP of hockey operations Mike Murphy will handle any cases involving Eastern teams.
Around the league
With all these new teams in the playoff picture, something had to give. Traditional powers Colorado and Dallas will each miss the dance for only the second time in the past 10 years. Not since the Avs moved from Quebec City in 1995 have both teams been out in the same year ... Ryan Kesler had a friendly call from the NHLPA when he and Alex Burrows started to talk about taking pay cuts via hometown discounts to keep the contending Canucks together next season.
The week ahead
Brad May of the Leafs is scheduled to play his 1,000th NHL game Saturday against the Habs ... Steve Mason, the Calder favourite, meets leading rookie scorer Kris Versteeg of the Hawks in back-to-back games starting Sunday.