Wild-card primer: who makes it and who misses in the East and West?

Loui Eriksson (Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)

When the NHL changed the playoff format to include wild-card teams last season, it’s unlikely even they could have imagined a scenario in which the races for the final playoff berths in each conference would be this tight.

With less than 10 games remaining on the schedules of all playoff hopefuls, only six points separate teams in the Western Conference, while a three-team race separated by five points in the Eastern Conference could come down to the final night.

What’s on the horizon for each of the teams, and who stands the best shot at making it in? Read more

Mark your calendars – the date has been set for the NHL’s most anticipated draft lottery in years

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly announces the Buffalo Sabres as holders of the second pick in the 2014 entry draft. (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

For months now, hockey fans have slowly built their anticipation for one of the most highly-consequential NHL draft lotteries since the process was introduced in 1995. And now it appears the league has settled on a date people can circle on their calendars.

According to a Sportsnet.ca report, the league has decided to hold this year’s draft lottery Apr. 18, as part of a Hockey Night In Canada playoff broadcast. That leaves a little more than three weeks for fans of sad-sack teams to firm up viewing party plans and binge on lottery simulation websites – and when you look at some of the teams with a decent chance of drafting nascent superstars Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel (and the stakes involved if they fail to win the lottery), you’ve got near-perfect conditions to deliver what could very well be hockey’s most drama-packed off-ice night in history.

For one thing, the increasingly-improving chance the Maple Leafs have at McDavid is going to push TV ratings to record levels. Like them or not, the Leafs have millions of fans, and after their brutal free-fall through the NHL standings this season those fans are going to try every superstitious trick in the book in the hope it allows fortune to smile on their beloved Buds. If that does happen, the city of Toronto is going to instantly explode in the biggest hockey-related celebration since a Stanley Cup was won here in 1967.

And for as dramatic as that result would be for the Leafs franchise – it would almost certainly tempt team management to fast-track their rebuild – think of the ripple effect it would have on the rest of the league, and on Toronto rivals in particular: Read more

NCAA Frozen Four: Players to watch from every team in the tournament

Minnesota State goalie Stephon Williams (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

College hockey’s Frozen Four kicks off this week with 16 teams gunning for a spot in Boston, where the semifinal and final will be held in April. Regionals spread the squads across four cities and there is a lot of firepower at this year’s installment. But who are the players to watch for? Here’s a primer for every school, with an admitted bias towards NHL prospects.

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Rask robs Bolland to secure point for Bruins in pivotal matchup against Panthers

Jared Clinton
Tuukka Rask (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

The wild-card race in the Eastern Conference is about as tight things can get. In Saturday night’s matchup between Boston and Florida, Tuukka Rask made a game-saving stop on Dave Bolland to keep the Bruins ahead of the hard-charging Panthers.

With little more than five minutes remaining in the third, Bolland snuck towards the side of the Bruins’ net and the puck ended up right on his tape. With Rask entirely out of position, he reached back, put his paddle down and stopped a Bolland shot for a game — and possibly season — saving save: Read more

Florida’s ‘Goal of a Lifetime’ ends in tie, both goaltenders win practice spot with Panthers

Jared Clinton
Bill Ruggiero makes a save on Radek Dvorak. (via Florida Panthers/NHL)

The Florida Panthers “Goal of a Lifetime” contest was supposed to land them an extra practice goalie for March 18. Instead, it landed them two.

After stopping Florida Panthers alumni Radek Dvorak and Marco Sturm three times each, Bill Ruggiero and Dustin Smith have both landed spots to skate with the Panthers in practice. The competition, which began Monday and ended during a first intermission shootout Tuesday, crowned two winners after the shootout ended in a tie.

A big first round – one in which he stopped both Dvorak and Sturm – put Ruggiero ahead early, but the second round was Smith’s time to shine as he brought the score back even with a pair of stops. You can check out the full competition here: Read more

Panthers name Ruggiero, Smith finalists for backup goaltender competition

Jared Clinton
Bill Ruggiero, left, and Dustin Smith, right, are the finalists in the Panthers' "Goal of a Lifetime" competition. (via Florida Panthers)

Thanks to the Florida Panthers, Bill Ruggiero and Dustin Smith are going to get their shot at the NHL. Well, sort of.

Ruggiero, 34, and Smith, 27, have been selected as the finalists in the Panthers’ “Goal of a Lifetime” competition that will allow the winner to take part in practice as a backup goaltender for a day. The two hopefuls became finalists by beating out 63 other participants that were selected from more than 1,500 applications. Read more

The inside story of the oddity that is the “Emergency Backup” goalie – and why it could soon change

Stu Hackel
Robb Tallas (Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

Among hockey’s great quirks – and there are a few — is that it’s the only pro sport with the potential for someone not on the roster to come out of the stands and actually play in the game. It takes a very rare set of circumstances to open that door and it hasn’t actually happened in the NHL for over 50 years. But the rules permit it.

If both the starting and backup goalies cannot continue, the next in line, according to the rules, can be anyone deemed “qualified” by the league. He could be the team’s goalie coach (and most of them are retired netminders) or virtually anyone who has sufficient experience at the position. It could also be a skater in the game who is brave enough or crazy enough to face enemy fire. Read more

Can the Florida Panthers ride their defense to a playoff spot?

Ryan Kennedy
Erik Gudbranson (left) and Willie Mitchell (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

Willie Mitchell laughs when he’s out in public with Aaron Ekblad and strangers ask if they’re brothers. Technically, the soon-to-be 38-year-old veteran could be the rookie’s father – but actually he’s just his teammate and landlord.

And if the Florida Panthers are going to make the playoffs, both rearguards will play a big role in the team’s success.

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