Party time in Opry-ville

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

If the worst team in the NHL beats the defending champs on the last day, the Lightning miss the playoffs.

A week ago it was only the media that wanted to open the playoffs in Nashville, the best party town in the NHL.

Now their opponents have jumped on board, too, and it's not because of open mic night at the country bars.

With Tomas Vokoun and his .919 save percentage done for the season, Nashville looks like the only easy mark of the first round (give or take the Oilers).

Backup-turned-playoff starter Chris Mason, who'd never played five NHL games in a row till the starter got hurt, has never been in a playoff game.

The Sharks celebrated like they'd won the Cup after leapfrogging Anaheim into fifth, which would mean opening against Mason and the Preds instead of Miikka Kiprusoff and the Flames. And the Ducks were down in the beak after falling to sixth.

"Everybody was focused on what this meant to Edmonton,'' said Todd Marchant. "But this was a big game for us, too.''

All of it serves to light a fire under the Preds, who never got any respect even when Vokoun was healthy.

"In reading the clips,'' said Preds coach Barry Trotz. "It seems like all of a sudden we're the team that everyone wants to face. That's a little slap in the face because we're a pretty good hockey team. When people don't think you can do things, that can be a great motivating factor.''

Takin' one for the Tuomo

Quiet little story that says a lot about Chicago centre Tuomo Ruutu: He misses 25 games with a back injury, comes back for four games and severs the tendon in his right ankle. He was supposed to be out for the season, which, given the way his season went, would have probably been for the best. He could have written off the year and nobody would have thought twice.

Instead, he steps up his rehabilitation, working through the pain and busting his hump in the gym, in order to make it back for the final week of the season on a team that's been out of playoff contention since Christmas.

Not a lot of guys would have fought that hard to make it back for Game 80 on a bottom feeder.

If you need something done right ...

If you're looking for a dark horse coach of the year candidate, why not Lou Lamoriello? The Devils - four games under .500 - were barely treading water when Larry Robinson wilted under the stress. Since then, Lamoriello went 29-14-4 and has his resurgent club on a nine-game winning streak.

"If there is any team we've had that deserves to get into the playoffs, and we've had some great ones, this team deserves it,'' said the interim bench boss. "Because of the way they responded during the whole second half of the season and overcame so many little things.''

This and that ...

It would appear that Joe Thornton wasn't the problem in Boston. The Sharks were 13th in the West at 8-12-4 when they acquired Thornton from the Bruins on Nov. 30. They're 43-26-11 and in fifth place now. The 13th-place Bruins have lost 17 of their last 21 games and lead the NHL in one-goal losses (30) ... A race to watch down the stretch: Ethan Moreau, with seven shorthanded points this season, is one off the NHL lead. Marian Hossa and Matt Stajan have eight. Ryan Malone in Pittsburgh has seven as well ... Funny, it's been 13 years since the movie came out and Mighty Ducks still sounds stupid.

Pens fans from Moscow love losers

There are good road trips, and there's the road trip that Evgeni Mikheyev, 33, and Yaroslav Tretiakov, 27, took last week. The charter members of the Pittsburgh Penguins fan club (Moscow Chapter), flew to the rust belt for three games in Pittsburgh's magnificent Igloo. If that wasn't enough to flutter the heart, they watched an AHL game in fabulous Wilkes-Barre.

They loved the experience, by all accounts, and don't even care that their fan club is dedicated to a loser.

"The bad thing is,'' Mikheyev told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We got used to it.''

Ex-Oiler gets dream start vs. Bruins

Former Oiler netminder Mike Morrison hasn't had many breaks this season - other than being rescued by a Stanley Cup contender after the Oilers dumped him - but he enjoyed the highlight of his career last Tuesday. His first start as a Senator came against the Bruins, the team he grew up idolizing. As a kid, he lived about a mile from the Old Boston Garden.

"I used to go there all the time,'' he told Ottawa reporters. "It was a good old rink. There were holes everywhere - it was easy to sneak in.''

Morrison stopped 18 shots in an OT win.

Right back at you

Great exchange between L.A. Times columnist T.J. Simers and Jeremy Roenick: Tired of being probed about his lack of scoring, JR joked to TJ: "I've scored about 1,300 points and you haven't gotten one. I know I'm better than you.''

To which Simers replied, "How would you know since we've both scored the same amount of goals (none) in the last six games?''

All Pronger all the time

Midway through the first period Thursday the Oilers handed out their Defenceman of the Year ballots to the media, meaning a tree somewhere has died for nothing ... Would anyone who voted, in the scoreboard text message poll last game, for The Mighty Ducks over Slapshot as the best hockey movie of all time please hand in your season tickets. Forever ... Crowds in LA aren't great, but give the people who do show up a lot of credit - in the 13 years since their 1993 Stanley Cup Finals run, the Kings have won just one playoff series.

Lightning years behind

From champs to near chumps. All season long Tampa Bay hasn't looked anything like a team that has any hope of defending its title. The leaders haven't led, the goalies haven't been good and the coach hasn't kept the necessary even keel.

And now, with Atlanta threatening to bump them out of eighth, they might not even get the chance to prove that their 2004 run was no fluke.

"Someone needs to make a statement here,'' said coach John Tortorella, challenging the likes of Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. "And say, 'Hop on my back. I'm going to pull you through.' "

As their season approaches the 11th hour, they're drawing on everything their Stanley Cup run taught them about pressure games.

"We've been through a lot tougher situations than this in our past,'' said Tortorella. "We will get it done.''


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