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

Top five goalies to be absolutely petrified of in the NHL playoffs

Devan Dubnyk has helped turn things around for the Minnesota Wild since being acquired on Jan. 14. (Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images)

One of the things that keeps NHL GMs awake at night is the prospect of facing a white-hot goaltender in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Your team could be a President’s Trophy winner, but if you follow up regular-season domination with a showdown against a netminder who gets in your players’ heads via consistently outstanding performances, the only thing you can do is sit by helplessly and wish you had a goalie who had as much impact on the outcome of games.

This season, there are five (or so) of those type of performers quite capable of giving opponents nightmares in the playoffs. Here are the top five goaltenders to be absolutely petrified of (unless they play for your favorite team) in the 2015 post-season:

5. Andrew Hammond, Ottawa Senators. The man known as “The Hamburglar” has the city of Ottawa in the palm of his hand thanks to his unreal 14-0-1 record – and if he can lead the Sens to a Wild Card post-season berth, there’s every chance his magic continues and he plays an instrumental role with a special playoff run. People are going to be waiting for his Cinderella start to go full pumpkin, but the 27-year-old Hammond is playing with house money in this first chapter of his NHL career. As a soon-to-be restricted free agent, he’s also got a clear financial incentive to stay hungry and capitalize on the opportunity the fates have provided him.

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Why bother winning a lot of games in the Western Conference?

Mark Scheifele and Tyler Myers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong has done a lot of roster building over the past few years and if the franchise is going to win its first-ever Stanley Cup, the window is open. Of course, the Blues could also get knocked out in the first round again and no one would bat an eye – the West is just that competitive.

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Thomas Vanek says Isles’ move to Brooklyn was factor in his departure; Isles fans should thank him

Adam Proteau
Thomas Vanek (Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

In a new interview with NHL.com, Wild winger Thomas Vanek says the New York Islanders’ pending move to Brooklyn played a part in his decision to leave that franchise as an unrestricted free agent and sign with Minnesota.

“It was close in February [2014] and I thought about it long and hard,” Vanek said. “There was two factors; I made a choice that I really wanted to go to free agency. But after being here for a while I loved it here. The one thing I didn’t like was the move to Brooklyn. I think if the rink would have been built here, it should be here on the island. There was probably a good chance I still would be here.”

There are Islanders fans who no doubt read those words and began stretching their hate muscles in preparation for booing Vanek at Nassau Coliseum when the Wild come to visit. But given the way things have turned out, that’s the wrong approach. Isles fans should be thankful the team moved to Brooklyn, because if Vanek had stuck around and accepted the reported seven-year, $49-million contract offer GM Garth Snow put before him last season (before dealing the then-30-year-old to Montreal last March), the organization would have come to rue the decision. Read more

The 10 most surprising struggles of 2014-15

Joe Pavelski (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

As much as a story like the resurgent New York Islanders or the Andrew Hammond-led Ottawa Senators pleases us, there will always be teams or players that fail to meet expectations.

Be it simply a down year or a minor – or major, when it comes to a team – injury, no NHL season goes by without teams and players facing their fair share of difficulties. If they respond positively, they’re heralded for their efforts. But, if things go sideways in a hurry, we’re left wondering how exactly our predictions could have been so wrong.

And these are the predictions that were the farthest off — the teams and players still making us wonder how prognostications could have been so misguided. These are the 10 most surprising struggles of 2014-15:

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How Devan Dubnyk became the Minnesota Wild’s savior

Ken Campbell
Devan Dubnyk has helped turn things around for the Minnesota Wild since being acquired on Jan. 14. (Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images)

What everyone in the hockey world wants to know is how a goalie can go from having an .893 save percentage in the American League less than a year ago to being the toast of the NHL. That was the question of the day for the Devan Dubnyk Road Show™. So how has Devan Dubnyk gone from being an afterthought on the Montreal Canadiens roster in last year’s playoffs to getting himself at least into the conversation for the Hart Trophy with the Minnesota Wild?

As it turns out, it was all in his head, both literally and figuratively. Dubnyk excused himself from the Canadiens last spring after a season that had taken an enormous mental toll on him. After the Canadiens dispatched the Boston Bruins in the second round of the playoffs, Dubnyk asked the team if he could go back to Edmonton to be with his family. Even though Carey Price went down in the next round, he was still stuck behind Peter Budaj and Dustin Tokarski on the Canadiens depth chart. Had he thought there would be any chance he would play, Dubnyk would have stuck around.

“I thought I just had to go and be a dad,” Dubnyk said. “And after the season I had had last year, I wanted to just hit the reset button.” 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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Top five feel-good goalie stories this NHL season

Devan Dubnyk

The NHL spotlight shines hotter for goaltenders than it does any other position player in the league, and while that pressure can be a burden, it can also produce some incredible feel-good stories.

Setting aside the typical injuries and starter/backup drama we see every season, there’ve been some pretty amazing goalie stories this year. Here are five goalies who you can’t help but feel happy for.
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