Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun debate the East and West playoff races:
Burnside: Good day, my friend. I will stop short of calling the Toronto Maple Leafs the cardiac kids, but their huge 4-3 win over Buffalo on Tuesday was their second pivotal victory against their longtime divisional nemesis in less than a month and adds some intrigue to the Eastern Conference playoff race.
With Toronto winning and Carolina stealing an extra point in a shootout win against Washington, the Sabres' eighth-place cushion is just three points over the Hurricanes and five over the Leafs. Buffalo and Carolina are back at it tonight, with the Sabres having to rebound quickly for a visit by the red-hot New York Rangers. Carolina, meanwhile, will entertain Montreal and could, in theory, be just a point back of Buffalo. Interesting stuff.
Glad to see a little drama in the East. Of course, drama is pretty much a nightly staple in your Western Conference, no?
LeBrun: One loss and you're off the Sabres bandwagon? Shame on you, Mr. Burnside. I did have a tweet or two from Sabres fans claiming I jinxed their team with my blog on the "playoff-bound Sabres" on Tuesday. Buffalo will have its hands full Wednesday night against the Rangers. Still, I can't see the Sabres not making it -- book it, Scotty.
The Leafs did prevail Tuesday night, and what a scene it was at Air Canada Centre. The 10th-place team in the East got treated to a standing ovation in the final minute. The Leafs are the second-youngest team in the NHL right now, and I think what you're seeing is a starved market showing its appreciation for a team that finally appears to have serious upside moving forward to next season. Seven years and counting without playoff hockey in this town, so, yes, Tuesday night was as close to a playoff game as they're going to get this season.
You mentioned the West; that's where we should have started our conversation today, but I've long ago learned to accept your Eastern bias. The story of the night was the Dallas Stars extending their winless streak to four games with a 2-1 shootout loss to Phoenix (Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 44 shots for the Coyotes). A single point isn't going to cut it for the suddenly fading Stars, who are three points back of No. 8 Chicago, albeit with a game in hand. The Stars have lost the opening two games of a critical five-game trek that includes stops in San Jose on Thursday, Los Angeles on Saturday and Anaheim on Sunday. They need at least four points in that stretch to keep their hopes alive.
Burnside: Maybe the Sabres are a lock to make the playoffs, but I point you to this weekend, when they are in Washington on Saturday and visit Carolina on Sunday. If Buffalo loses to the Rangers on Wednesday night, those two games could suddenly decide the Sabres’ season. But I can tell you're already bored of talking about the Eastern Conference.
Yes, the Stars couldn't get it done Tuesday night, although Chicago's loss in Boston means Dallas is just three back of eighth with a game in hand. But you've got to win; that's the bottom line for the Stars. You have to wonder if there isn't a little seller's remorse going on for GM Joe Nieuwendyk, who could have added some valuable assets for Brad Richards at the trade deadline but opted to try to make a postseason run. The Stars better put up some wins or that decision may come back to haunt the franchise come July 1 when Richards will likely sign in New York or Toronto or Atlanta (OK, just kidding; wanted to make sure you were still with me).
LeBrun: I can't fault Nieuwendyk, and I won't even if his team misses out. He was in a lose-lose situation. He decided to believe in his team at the trade deadline. I know 23 players on that roster who were likely happy he made that decision. Looking back, though, while the Rangers were pushing the hardest for Richards, the Kings were also interested. Imagine, depending on the price, how relieved the Kings would have been to have Richards in their lineup now, with Anze Kopitar out for six weeks. In their first game without their star center on Tuesday night, L.A. responded with a 2-0 win at Edmonton. OK, it's the 30th-place Oilers, but a win is a win in this league.
The real test comes Thursday night, when the Kings are at Vancouver. The NHL-leading Canucks ended Nashville's six-game winning streak Tuesday night in the Music City in a terrific game. Alex Burrows did the damage with two third-period goals. Can anyone can stop Vancouver?
Burnside: Let's not start planning the Vancouver Cup parade just yet, my friend. You know how Presidents' Trophy winners have fared since the lockout -- it hasn't necessarily been a path to glory. I will be watching closely Wednesday night in what will be a must-win for the Calgary Flames. They are running out of games and need to beat Anaheim in regulation to stay in the hunt. But the Ducks -- led by Teemu Selanne, Hart Trophy-worthy Corey Perry and comeback man Ray Emery -- are on quite a roll. This is the game of the night and, when we convene tomorrow, we may be writing the Flames' obit. I predict, however, that the Flames will come up with two big points. Look for Jarome Iginla to score the winner. I know ... gutsy pick.
LeBrun: I believe you picked Pittsburgh on Tuesday night and I picked Philadelphia, so you can send the money in the mail on that one. And I'll take the Ducks with a one-goal regulation victory on Wednesday night, all but ending Calgary's terrific playoff chase. Looking back, I think it's safe to say Brendan Morrison's knee injury really depleted the Flames. Hard to believe a player who needed a training-camp invite to camp became such a critical part of Calgary's fortunes this season after the Flames picked him off the scrap heap. Until tomorrow, my friend.