Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun debate and break down the Western Conference playoff picture:
Burnside: Good day, my friend. Well, the situation doesn't get any clearer in the Western Conference, does it? The Los Angeles Kings continue to pull rabbits out their collective hats, as they beat San Jose 4-3 in the shootout at home Thursday night to edge closer to home-ice advantage in the first round. They are three points back of red-hot Phoenix (the Coyotes shut out Columbus 3-0), but the Kings have two games in hand.
The issue for the Kings may be that they have four fewer regulation/overtime wins, which is the first tiebreaker. I guess if you keep getting two points, though, it really doesn't matter what the tiebreaker is, right?
LeBrun: That was a wild affair Thursday night at the Staples Center. A 2-1 Kings lead late in the game suddenly became a 3-3 overtime affair after Patrick Marleau scored twice in the third period, the latter coming with just 4.1 seconds left in regulation. Terrific stuff. But the Kings prevailed for their league-leading ninth shootout win, not a category you want to dominate with the new tiebreaking rules. But as you pointed out, Scott, without those extra nine points earned in the shootout, the Kings would be 11th in the West and six points out. At this point, it's just about getting in and worrying about the tiebreaker later. It might cost them home ice in the first round, but so be it.
Burnside: Let's stay with a California theme today, as I know you have been imagining the possibilities if both Anaheim and L.A. make the playoffs, which would be a first. The Ducks didn't help their cause Thursday night. Goalie Jonas Hiller was chased by Nashville after allowing three goals on just nine shots in a little more than half a period of play. It was his first game back from a bout with vertigo that has hampered him since the All-Star break.
The Ducks fell short 5-4 in a furious rally (I know you talked to Preds coach Barry Trotz on Friday, and he wasn't happy with the team's play), but the loss was crucial for Anaheim. The big question after the loss is whether coach Randy Carlyle can afford to go back to Hiller or whether he has to put all his playoff eggs in the Ray Emery basket. The Ducks have a big test in Chicago on Saturday, and I would be shocked if we don't see Emery between the pipes. The Ducks need to keep gathering points to keep Dallas and Calgary at bay.
LeBrun: I totally disagree. Although I admire what Emery has done for the Ducks since his inspiring comeback to the NHL, you dance with the girl you brought. (Not sure I got that saying right, but you know what I mean.) Hiller is the reason Anaheim was still alive in the first half with the team finding its way, especially on defense, and the Swiss All-Star stood on his head. Yes, he looked rusty Thursday night, but he's earned the right to start Saturday. We'll see what Carlyle does, but if it were me, I'd give Hiller a shot at redemption.
Speaking of redemption, the Flames caught a huge break with Anaheim's loss Thursday night. Calgary plays rival Edmonton on Saturday night before hosting the Ducks on Wednesday in the game of the year for the Flames.
Burnside: In reference to the Ducks' goalies, at this stage of the season, sentimentality is something coaches can't afford to bring to the table. I'd go with Emery in a heartbeat.
Before saying adieu for the weekend, I wanted to touch on the Red Wings. They have been involved in a couple of compelling games this past week against Pittsburgh and Vancouver. They lost both and are winless in three. Worse, the Wings are again nicked up with Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen, among others, out of the lineup. The Wings can afford to be cautious with those players and give them all the time they need to get healthy before the playoffs, but I thought it was interesting that Osgood was back on the shelf and Joey MacDonald is now the Plan B after assuming Osgood would be healthy enough to back up Jimmy Howard.
No slight to MacDonald, who has put up decent numbers in relief this season (4-4-2 record and .926 save percentage); but I'm pretty sure this isn't how GM Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock envisioned the goaltending situation to be heading into the postseason.
LeBrun: Two seasons in a row now, health has been an issue for the Red Wings. Of equal concern is their defensive play. They rank 17th in goals against in the league; that's not normally Red Wings territory. (They were seventh last season.) The focus right now is on tightening things up before the puck drops in mid-April.
The Wings have an interesting test Saturday night at home against Original Six rival Toronto on "Hockey Night in Canada" as the Maple Leafs try to extend their surprising playoff quest. I'll be taking my regular spot on Hot Stove during the second-period intermission, if you're interested. Enjoy the weekend, Scotty!