NHL’s SnapChamp Era begins: Flames, Jets make playoffs; defending-champ Kings – & maybe, Bruins or Pens – are out

Flames players celebrate a 3-1 home win over L.A. – and making the playoffs this year – in front of a raucous home crowd in Calgary. (Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

Watching the NHL’s action play out Thursday night was kind of like covering a political election and seeing the polls come in and herald a new leader for a new era. In one polling station, you had the Boston Bruins – the league’s top regular-season team last year – falling to the Florida Panthers and putting their playoff fate in the hands of the surging Ottawa Senators and wobbly Pittsburgh Penguins (who, like the Bruins, won a Stanley Cup not too long ago); In another station, you saw the Calgary Flames hold off the desperate Los Angeles Kings and register a 3-1 win, eliminating the defending Cup champions from the post-season and securing a playoff berth for the Winnipeg Jets.

Change was everywhere, and more change could be coming. Depending on what happens Friday and Saturday, the Eastern Conference playoff picture could have three teams (the Sens, Capitals and Islanders) who weren’t in the 2014 post-season, and the Western Conference will have four teams (Vancouver, Nashville, Calgary and Winnipeg) in this year’s playoffs who weren’t there last year. A 43.75 percent playoff turnover rate is one thing, but it’s not just the fact there are potentially seven new post-season teams this year that’s so intriguing; it’s the great distance teams are falling that has NHL executives clenching their teeth and always worrying about what’s ahead. Read more

Bruins pushed to the brink of elimination after falling to Florida; are big changes coming in Boston?

Boston's Milan Lucic (center) chases down Alex Petrovic  of the Panthers (Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

With a 54-19-9 record, the Boston Bruins were the best regular-season team in the NHL last season. But one year later, and with one game to go in the 2014-15 campaign, they’re on the brink of elimination: if they win their final game in Tampa Bay Saturday, the Bruins still need the Senators to lose in regulation or the Penguins to lose their final two games (against the Islanders on the road Friday and in Buffalo Saturday) to avoid the ignominy of being eliminated from the post-season tournament.

If the Bruins fail to make the playoffs, there’s an overwhelming sense a good deal of change will take place within the organization, and not just in terms of the roster. There have been persistent rumors all season that the job security of GM Peter Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien would be jeopardized, with current team president Cam Neely perhaps replacing the former and choosing a new face to take over for the latter. And given that star defenseman Zdeno Chara just turned 38 years old, it’s difficult to not conclude the window with this current group of players is in the midst of closing.

But is widespread change the best move in this particular situation? It’s not as if we haven’t seen strong NHL teams fall off the map one season, and rebound the next. The Philadelphia Flyers made it to the second round in 2011-12, missed the playoffs by a hair in 2012-13, and were right back in the post-season mix last season. The New Jersey Devils made the playoffs 13 straight years, missed out on them in 2010-11, and then went to the Stanley Cup Final the following year. There’s not always a need to tear things down when you don’t have this minimal level of success as an organization.

However, the more you put this team under a microscope, the more it’s clear: cosmetic changes aren’t going to cut it. It doesn’t have to be a full-on rebuild involving every facet of the franchise, but in an Atlantic Division that now includes the up-and-coming Florida Panthers, the newly-energized Senators, and the already formidable Canadiens and Lightning, Boston cannot afford complacency and second chances for everyone. Read more

Another Senators game, and you know what that means: another Hamburglar heist

Ottawa's Andrew Hammond makes a save on Kevin Hayes of the Rangers. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Senators goalie Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond strikes again.

In Ottawa’s crucial road game against the powerful New York Rangers Thursday, Hammond was out of position when the puck got to Blueshirts right winger Kevin Hayes’ stick with a wide-open net, but the Hamburglar somehow battled through and managed to keep Hayes from scoring: Read more

Playoff scenarios: who makes it, who misses and why the Kings still have a chance

Raphael Diaz celebrates his wraparound goal (Glenn James/Getty Images)

With only two games remaining in the season for every team save the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets, one would have expected playoff matchups to be set and the post-season-bound teams separated from those who are heading towards early summers.

However, the Western Conference still boasts three teams who have yet to formally lock up their ticket to the dance, with Los Angeles on the brink of elimination. And in the Eastern Conference, there are five teams within three points of each other and it appears that no one’s playoff berth is safe just yet due to the never-say-die attitude of the Ottawa Senators.

The frantic finish of the regular season will include teams scoreboard watching and clinching playoff berths with opposition losses, playoff atmospheres in final-day tilts and a couple of fan bases devastated because they came this close to their shot at playoff glory. Read more

Dear Hockey Gods: please give us an all-Canadian team Stanley Cup Final this year

Calgary Flames fans. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Before I say what I’m about to say, let me be clear: I’m not, in any way shape or form, a jingoistic Canadian hockey fan who thinks it’s a tragedy when one of my country’s teams fails to win at the elite international level, or who believes the number of Canadians on any NHL roster is an accurate metric for their capability to win. Good hockey is good hockey, and hockey fans ought to be happy with any display of the sport that is highly-skilled and passionately-contested.

With that out of the way, this is a plea to the Hockey Gods: it’s been 26 years since the last Cup Final between two Canadian teams. We’re long past due for another. And this year would be as great a year as any for it to come to pass. Read more

Senators have spunk to spare, erase 3-0 deficit to beat Penguins in OT, make playoff race even tighter

Adam Proteau
The Senators celebrate beating Pittsburgh in overtime as Pens winger Patric Hornqvist skates away. (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Ten seconds into their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night, the Ottawa Senators had begun digging themselves a hole. Five minutes after that, they’d made that hole even deeper. And by the end of the opening frame, things looked bleak for them. But in a game that was a near-perfect microcosm of their 2014-15 season, the Sens got stronger as the game went on, got a late-third-period goal to send the contest to extra time, then won it on another goal from star rookie Mark Stone.

At a time when one of Canada’s sitting senators, Mike Duffy, is on trial and refusing to go away quietly from a political scandal, the NHL’s Senators are doing the same thing (minus the legal proceedings, of course). And although there’s still no guarantee Ottawa will secure a post-season berth in their remaining two games, the inspirational play of the Sens since mid-February is a positive harbinger for that franchise’s future. Read more

Sidney Crosby is having fun – and showing his otherworldly talents – at the Senators’ expense

Adam Proteau
Sidney Crosby (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The showdown between the Pittsburgh Penguins and host Ottawa Senators Tuesday was essentially a must-win game for the playoff hopes of both sides – particularly Ottawa, who could have pulled into a tie with the Pens with a win at Canadian Tire Centre. But it only took 10 seconds for superstar Sidney Crosby to put Ottawa behind the eight-ball – and another 14 minutes or so to demonstrate why his backhand shot is very probably better than your forehand shot.

The opening faceoff had just taken place in Ottawa when the Sens suffered a defensive breakdown and the Pens broke in on a 3-on-2; Pittsburgh winger Patric Hornqvist passed No. 87 the puck, and Crosby proceeded to blast a slapshot through the legs of Ottawa goalie Andrew Hammond to give the Penguins a 1-0 advantage: Read more

Bernier denies MacArthur with huge glove save, puts damper on Senators’ playoff hopes

Jared Clinton
Jonathan-Bernier-TOR

In a lost season for the Maple Leafs, Toronto fans can at least take solace in the fact that at the most important time of the year for the provincial rival Ottawa Senators, the Leafs have put up two victories and hurt the Sens’ playoff chances.

Ottawa went into Sunday night’s game in a must-win situation. With the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins both three points up on the Senators, a victory would have pulled them within a single point and made for a furious fight to the finish. Instead, the Leafs came together to pull off a shootout win, aided in the first period by one of the best stops Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier has made all season.

With Toronto up 1-0 less than four minutes into the game, Ottawa broke down ice with Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur driving toward the net. Rookie Mark Stone stopped up at the top of the Toronto zone, spun and fired a puck on net, which ended up on the tape of MacArthur following a Bernier rebound. With Bernier down, MacArthur simply had to elevate the puck to tie the game for the Senators, but Bernier reached back with his trapper and pulled the puck out of harm’s way: Read more