Updated: April 8, 2014, 8:52 PM ET

Just A Thought


Scott Burnside@ESPN_Burnside: So maybe we've been just a bit hasty in ceding first place in the Central Division to the St. Louis Blues. The Colorado Avalanche continue to exceed even the wildest preseason expectations, moving to within two points of the division-leading Blues with a 4-1 win over the sad-sack Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night. Both Colorado and St. Louis have three games remaining, and the Avs have three more regulation/overtime victories, giving them the advantage in a tiebreaker. What does this mean? Well, for weeks we've been talking about an assumed first-round matchup between Chicago and Colorado. But with the Blues slumping badly -- three straight losses, including a disappointing 4-1 loss to Washington at home on Tuesday -- we could be seeing a Blues/Blackhawks matchup earlier than anticipated, with the Avs looking to secure home ice through at least the first two rounds. What's more impressive is that the Avs continue to pile up wins without top center Matt Duchene. Tuesday's win also came with rarely called upon backup J.S. Giguere in goal. Oh yeah, the Avs are also just a point behind Anaheim in case you're thinking about the top seed in the conference.

Craig Custance@CraigCustance: It's the best marketing in the world. Go watch the celebration of the crowd in Columbus after James Wisniewski makes a great pass to a streaking Ryan Johansen, who beat Thomas Greiss for the overtime winner for the Blue Jackets over the Coyotes on Tuesday night. The energy in the building and on the Columbus bench as the coaches celebrate down the tunnel can't be artificially duplicated. Same thing in Dallas after Tyler Seguin scored in the shootout to beat the Predators. These teams are fighting for their playoff lives and the fans are completely on board. Dallas and Columbus are markets that needed a boost this season, and the teams are delivering. There aren't many cities in the NHL that can survive long playoff droughts, and the scenes we're seeing right now in those cities prove once again that winning hockey sells almost anywhere. There's no promotion that beats it.

Pierre LeBrun@Real_ESPNLeBrun: On the night of March 13, I was at my brother-in-law's favorite restaurant in Toronto, and he was a happy man after the Maple Leafs dispatched the Los Angeles Kings 3-2, winning two of three on a daunting California swing. The win helped Toronto rest comfortably in second place of the Atlantic Division ahead of both Montreal and Tampa Bay. My brother-in-law, much like the rest of his compatriots in Leaf Nation, were tickled pink after their team seemingly proved a lot during that California trek. If only that were really the case. Somehow, the Leafs left their mojo out west before departing for a game back east in Washington. Or perhaps the Corsi hockey gods decided it was time to be heard. Toronto would go on to lose its next eight games in regulation, then get two home wins last week before losses to Winnipeg on Saturday and to Tampa Bay on Tuesday sealed the Leafs' fate. There will be no playoffs for the eighth time in the last nine seasons following a spectacular collapse over the final month. They had masked their defensive deficiencies for most of the season, largely on the shoulders of their top line and power play, and the excellent goaltending of Jonathan Bernier. But beneath that facade was an ugly truth: This is a team that can't play defense, whose blue line underachieved, whose forwards didn't apply enough back pressure, and as a result, a team that gave up way too many shots and scoring chances. It's over. The 3-0 loss at Tampa, coupled with the victory by Columbus at home over Phoenix, officially eliminated the NHL's most valuable franchise from the postseason. "Obviously, I'm disappointed -- disappointed for Leafs Nation," star forward Phil Kessel told the Toronto media. "Obviously it's not good enough. I haven't been good enough for the last 15 games. I need to be better." Credit Kessel for stepping up in the blame game, but his 37 goals and 80 points led the team, and while he could have been better during this horrid past four weeks, the defensive problems of this team are where the real issues begin and end. Until next season, Leafs fans.

Picture This

SeguinGlenn James/NHLI/Getty ImagesA Star among stars: Tyler Seguin earned special recognition after his shootout winner.


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