Just A Thought
@ESPN_Burnside: A tip of the cap this morning to Columbus coach Todd Richards, the entire management team and, of course, the guys who pull on the Blue Jackets' jersey. The team qualified for the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history with a 3-1 win Wednesday against the Stars in Dallas. The Blue Jackets have been one of the feel-good stories of the season, with fans rallying around the beleaguered franchise as Richards imposed a system that takes advantage of this hard-working, blue-collar roster. On Wednesday, the Blue Jackets completed the March 10 game that was halted when Dallas Stars forward Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench in a cardiac incident. Columbus, playing for the second time in as many nights, took advantage of the league-mandated 1-0 lead (the score at the time of Peverley's collapse) to win its third in a row. The Blue Jackets also jumped ahead of Detroit for the first wild-card berth in the race to avoid top-seeded Boston in the first round. Next order of business: Win a playoff game, something that has never happened.
@CraigCustance: After the Detroit Red Wings clinched their 23rd consecutive playoff berth Wednesday night, Detroit sports business reporter Bill Shea pointed out that Mike Ilitch bought the team from the Norris family in 1982 for $8 million. That's roughly what the Red Wings will earn with a few home playoff games this year. It's meant a handsome profit for the Ilitch family, but also three decades of stability for the franchise. When you look around the league and see the New York Islanders struggling year after year under an owner looking to sell, or Vancouver, where ownership is believed to be part of the problem during a regime change, it's a reminder of what the best owners look like. Those are the ones in for the long haul, willing to invest in their team and who know how to pick the right people to run it. Then they get out of the way and let the people do their jobs. Credit general manager Ken Holland, coach Mike Babcock and his young group for finding a way this season, but look a little higher up the food chain in Detroit to find the true reason for the long-term success.
@Real_ESPNLeBrun: If the Ducks and Kings are going to play each other in a postseason series for the first time, it's going to have to wait until the second round, and the Sharks will have a say in whether it actually happens. Anaheim clinched the Pacific Division title Wednesday night with a 5-2 win over San Jose, and in doing so, avoided the dreaded first-round matchup with Los Angeles. That unappealing task will now fall to the Sharks, who were given ample opportunities by the up-and-down Ducks to claim the Pacific but couldn't find any consistency themselves. So now they get the Kings in the opening round, a repeat of last spring's second-round beauty that went seven games and saw the home team win every one. The Kings took that series, but this time the Sharks will have home-ice advantage. The Sharks and Kings are among the group of six or seven elite contenders this season and it's incredible to think one of those two will be going home so early. It should be a dandy of a series and I look forward to chronicling it for ESPN.com. In the meantime, the Ducks passed the Blues for the top seed in the West, although St. Louis has a game in hand. If the playoffs started today, the Ducks would play Dallas in the opening round, but Anaheim also could end up facing Minnesota or Phoenix. There is no such thing as an easy playoff matchup in the salary-cap era, but Anaheim dodged a bullet by skipping the Kings at least for Round 1. There's no arguing that.
@KatieStrangESPN: Amid all of the frightening and unusual injuries this season, it was nice to see Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang's return to action Wednesday night. Letang, who suffered a stroke earlier this season, played his first game in more than two months, recording an assist and logging 22:30 in ice time in the Penguins' 4-3 shootout win over Detroit. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma assessed the former Norris Trophy finalist's performance as "pretty darn good," though Letang said he still has to work on some things before his game is back to where he'd like it to be. Either way, it's just great to see him back on the ice after what must have been a harrowing ordeal for the 26-year-old.
Quote Me On That
"I had a lot of fun. It wasn't perfect for me, but I was just happy to be on the ice. Obviously it's something I missed a lot."
-- Penguins D Kris Letang on his return from a stroke
"It's fun right now to say we clinched, but we can't be satisfied with just getting in. We want to get there and make a splash."
-- Blue Jackets F Jared Boll on getting into the postseason
• Blackhawks: Won four straight games
• Blue Jackets: 42nd win of season sets franchise record
• Red Wings: 23rd straight playoff appearance is longest active streak in NHL and fifth-longest all-time
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