Teams on playoff bubble refuse to give up hope

LANCE HORNBY

, Last Updated: 6:12 AM ET

Remember that "bring out yer dead" scene in Monty Python's 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, 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 Friday with the Red Wings set to celebrate their milestone 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 Thursday.

- Tampa Bay forced the Canadiens to extra time last week and then spotted the Capitals a pair of two-goal leads before MVP 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 come alive to win 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 the past possible six points, while being pursued by Florida and Buffalo, which both won Saturday.

- And even Leafs bashers would have to give them props for getting close to April with a faint playoff pulse after their already-thin roster was decimated by injuries and trades.

- In the West, there were 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 finish of St. Louis, Anaheim, Edmonton and Nashville.

Can't count on dad

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 supplemary 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 the Eastern teams.

Around the rink

Fighting enthusiasts might have a new problem on their hands -- namely, elbows.

The use of Gordie Howe's most lethal weapons in scrap 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 spiced that with some uppercuts that dazed and bloodied the Predator.

Preds' GM David Poile said he expects the unorthodox fighting style to be reviewed by both his peers and the league's competition committee.

LANCE HORNBY IS A SUN MEDIA COLUMNIST


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