Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun discuss the Maple Leafs' and the Wilds' fading playoff hopes, the Flyers' recent struggles and the matchup between the Kings and Predators.
Burnside: Well my friend, an eventful day at the GMs meetings followed by a hard lesson in reality for a couple of playoff hopefuls Monday night. This is the time of the season, when teams have about a dozen games left, that playoff dreams start to die. If the Toronto Maple Leafs' playoff hopes weren't given a chalk outline with Monday's 6-2 beating at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, they were certainly put on life support. James Reimer gave up five of the six Tampa goals, and he looked more like an AHL call-up than the team's playoff savior, a role he's enjoyed the last month or so with the Leafs. Toronto is six points back of eighth with 12 games to go. The Leafs will watch tonight as a couple of other teams try and keep their dreams alive. Atlanta is in New Jersey for the second matchup with the red-hot Devils in less than a week and it's pretty much a must-win for both teams. Meanwhile, the slumping Carolina Hurricanes are in Buffalo for a game that the Canes absolutely need to win to stay in the hunt in the Eastern Conference.
LeBrun: Scotty, great job at the GMs meetings as always. Yes, I was on hand last night for the Leafs' woeful effort at Air Canada Centre. The home dressing room felt like a morgue after the game. Just 48 hours removed from what was like a playoff win over Buffalo, and perhaps the loudest crowd of the season, last night felt like the end, like the bubble had burst.
"It's not a good feeling," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said when I asked him to compare Monday night to Saturday night. "We expected more out of ourselves. But the biggest thing is, now we move forward. You can't dwell on games, especially at this time of the year. You got to park both the good and the bad ones and this one's no different."
Toronto, which lost winger Colby Armstrong likely for the season to a broken foot last night, needs 20 from a possible 24 points to get to 90 points. To make matters worse, the Leafs play eight of their final 12 games on the road. In the meantime, as you pointed out, Reimer looks mortal now after a great run. Lately, opposing teams have been focusing on beating him high to the glove side and succeeding with that. Making his 12th straight start last night, I asked Reimer after the game if perhaps fatigue had entered the picture for him.
"No, I don't think so," Reimer said. "I mean, I could probably use that as an excuse, I probably could. But no. Even if that was the case, I'm a professional athlete, I have to find ways to stay focused and keep your head in the game and keep your body at a competitive level. I think I've been doing that. I don't think I can use that as an excuse."
I have to say, Reimer is a terrific kid. His disappointment last night after the game was visible, like a 12-year-old whose lunch was stolen. He's got a bright future ahead of him but it appears this season's wonderful tale is coming to a close.
Burnside: You are too kind, my friend. Another team that looks like the playoffs are becoming more and more of a mirage is the Minnesota Wild. They lost their third straight Monday night, dropping a 4-2 decision to Vancouver on Harold Snepsts night at GM Place. The Wild have scored just twice over that three-game stretch and are four points back of eighth in 11th place in the Western Conference. Disappointing for GM Chuck Fletcher, whose team had scratched and clawed its way back into the hunt. But how about the Philadelphia Flyers? They of course are locked into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but with Chris Pronger out with a fractured bone in his hand for the next three to four weeks, the Flyers' position atop the conference is definitely in jeopardy. Pronger is one of the strong voices in the dressing room, and he has been critical of the team's efforts in recent days. It will be interesting to see if the Flyers can return to their previous level of play without the former Norris and Hart Trophy winner or whether they settled down into the middle of the playoff bracket.
LeBrun: The Wild got star captain Mikko Koivu back after he missed 11 games with a broken finger, but it appears it's too little, too late. Minnesota has won only five of its past 15 games (5-8-2). The Wild need 18 points out of a possible 24 left on the table to get to 95 points, which may or may not get you in in the tough Western Conference. Don't like their chances. The Flyers don't have to worry about making the playoffs, but the concern, as you pointed out, is their stud blueliner. Is Pronger at risk of missing the start of the playoffs?
"I don't think so," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told Philly media yesterday. "Right now we think three to four weeks, we feel we're in the right frame of mind there. I'll probably know a little bit more tomorrow on how things go, but based on the information we're getting from the doctors and what they see and what they think is going to take place during the surgery, that timeframe is accurate."
Burnside: Another game I'll be keeping an eye on tonight will be the Los Angeles Kings in Nashville. The Kings are on another upswing, having won three in a row and allowed just five goals over that stretch. They are making a bid to slide into the fourth seed in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage in the first round. That would be a nice bonus for a Kings team that has been up and down. The Predators have won two in a row and are still on the outside of the playoff bubble, although a win over the Kings would vault them back into the top eight. Typical night in the Western Conference. There's been a bit of buzz about Preds netminder Pekka Rinne being in the hunt for the Vezina Trophy. Most of the talk has focused on Tim Thomas and Carey Price, but Rinne's numbers are outstanding and the Preds aren't anywhere near the playoffs without the big netminder.
LeBrun: Rinne absolutely deserves to be one of the three Vezina nominees. That's up to the NHL's 30 GMs to figure out as they are the official voters on that award. But a player I want to highlight in that game tonight is Kings leading scorer Anze Kopitar. Much like Jonathan Toews has spurred Chicago's second-half surge, Kopitar has done much the same for Los Angeles. He's got 15 points (7-8) in his last 10 games, absolutely red-hot as the Kings roll on. He sits eighth overall in league scoring with 70 points (24-46) in 69 games, just one point behind Toews.
Well my friend, enjoy what should be another fascinating day at the GMs meeting. Look forward to your coverage. We'll chat again tomorrow.