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THN.com Blog: Bubble teams so close, but so far

The Panthers tied for the eighth spot in the East last season, but missed out by the tiebreaker. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

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The Panthers tied for the eighth spot in the East last season, but missed out by the tiebreaker. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s a common point to rally around whence wallowing over a season unfulfilled: We were sooo close to making the playoffs…

And for teams such as Florida, Buffalo and Minnesota last season, mathematically that may have been true. Realistically, of course, they were not.

Looking back at the 2008-09 standings, you will observe the Montreal Canadiens gave several teams in the East hope by dropping their four final games, garnering a single point thanks to an OT loss at Boston. Florida, which technically tied the Habs at the end with 93 points, had its chance to wrest the eighth spot away from Montreal, but failed.

The death knell? A 3-1 loss on home ice to lowly Atlanta on April 3, a game that meant little to the Thrashers, other than a chance to exhibit a little pride. The fact the Panthers were able to steamroll a similarly detached Washington team (Caps were cemented in the playoffs already) in the final game of the season by a tally of 7-4 really meant nothing in the grand scheme of things.

The Sabres, who lost the services of star goaltender Ryan Miller at the end of February, may point to that fact as the reason for missing the post-season by two points, but I can find those points for you pretty quickly. Buffalo lost to Atlanta twice in extra time and to Ottawa twice in regulation in March and early April. Meanwhile, the Sabres made themselves look a bit better by marching over a fetid Maple Leafs team and two other less-than-engaged squads (playoff-bound Carolina and Boston) to end the season.

Minnesota may be the only team that can bleat a little about its fate. The Wild failed to catch Anaheim for the eighth spot in the West, but you have to go back to early March to find any bad losses. Minnesota fell to Los Angeles in regulation and non-playoff teams Colorado and Dallas in extra time; those four extra points would have vaulted Minny past the Ducks. Nevertheless, the Wild didn’t gather wins when the prey was weak and the result was an Anaheim first round shocker over San Jose.

COLLEGE EXPANSION
We all have our pet projects at THN; one of mine is NCAA Div. 1 expansion. 

Unfortunately, the summer has brought me another red tide. Alabama-Huntsville, alma mater of Philly’s Jared Ross, was denied entry to the CCHA, one of four major conferences in the U.S., and home to teams such as Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State.

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UAH was trying to find a more stable home than College Hockey America, its current conference and host to just two other teams right now, Niagara and Robert Morris. This denial means bad things for the Chargers.

So once again, I’m going to put this out there: grassroots hockey is thriving everywhere in America, regardless of geography. Texas could have a team. St. Louis University could head back to Div. 1, as they were in the 1970s. Syracuse already has a women’s team and Navy’s arch-rival (Army) already plays, so let’s get this rolling, people.

CZECHING ON PROSPECTS
At the criminally underpublicized Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Slovakia this weekend, Canada’s under-18s drubbed the Russians 9-2 for the gold. Once again I’ll be Hot Listing some of the participants this week, but in terms of players who really did big things for Canada, watch for the following names in major junior this year: Brandon Gormley (Moncton), John MacFarland (Sudbury) and Tyler Seguin (Plymouth).

Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly throughout the off-season, his column - The Straight Edge - on Fridays, and his prospect feature - The Hot List - on Tuesdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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