Hockey fans were in for a real treat Saturday, with all 30 NHL teams in action and many playoff match-ups yet to be decided.
The Eastern Conference wild-card race was particularly intriguing. Headed into Saturday, three teams were competing for two playoff spots: the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers. Here’s an overview of how everything played out.
Bruins eliminated from playoff contention
The Bruins had some control over their playoff fate heading into Saturday’s contest against the Ottawa Senators. Unfortunately, it was not the Bruins’ day, as things went from bad to worse starting with the warm-ups. Goaltender Tuukka Rask took warm-ups before the game but was unable to play due to an illness. Backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson was thrust into the crease, and while he played admirably in the first period, he and his teammates had a devastating eight-minute stretch in the second period that saw the Senators score four unanswered goals. In the end, the Bruins lost this do-or-die contest in crushing fashion by a final score of 6-1. Losing 6-1 on home ice to a non-playoff team was certainly not what the Bruins had in mind. But even without Rask, there is no excuse for today’s poor effort.
Boston missed the playoffs by two points last season, missing the postseason for the first time in eight years. Today marks the second consecutive collapse by the Boston Bruins, as the team ended up missing the playoffs this season by only one point. To be fair, this team was lucky to be in this position at this point in the season. The Bruins were considered a bubble team for most of the season, and while Boston making the playoffs looked like a sure thing only a few weeks ago, the team went 3-8-1 in the past 12 games. Unfortunately, Bruins fans have been forced to endure another epic collapse. The Bruins had a strong chance to secure a playoff berth today and simply failed to execute. It isn’t hard to imagine that nobody will be happy with this result in a championship-driven town. I expect major changes will be made in the offseason.
Red Wings clinch playoff spot for 25th straight season
One fanbase was certainly extremely excited that the Ottawa Senators embarrassed the Boston Bruins on Saturday. Thanks to the Senators, fans of the Detroit Red Wings will be able to witness playoff hockey for a remarkable 25th straight season. The Red Wings lost 3-2 to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden but secured third place in the Atlantic Division when the Bruins lost 6-1 to the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden. The Red Wings will face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs.
Twenty-five straight playoff appearances remains the longest active playoff streak in North American sports. To put it in perspective, I am 28 years old and don’t remember a time when the Red Wings were not competing for the Stanley Cup. It has been a quarter of a century… Simply incredible.
Flyers clinch final Eastern Conference playoff spot in epic fashion
The Philadelphia Flyers have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL for months but had lost three straight games headed into Saturday’s game. For whatever reason, the Flyers had been unable to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in three previous match-ups this season. The Flyers have dominated the rivalry over the past several seasons, but Pittsburgh was on the verge of sweeping the season series for the first time in the existence of the franchises.
However, a playoff spot was on the line for Philadelphia. Leave it to Wayne Simmonds to take care of business. Simmonds has scored some of the most important goals for the Flyers all season. As a result, he was able to eclipse the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career the other night against Toronto. Saturday was no different.
Simmonds’ goal with 1:03 remaining in the first period tied the game 1-1 shortly after Flyers goalie Steve Mason made an enormously clutch glove save at the other end of the ice. Claude Giroux intercepted a Brian Dumoulin clearing pass just outside the Penguins’ blue line and dished it to Jake Voracek. Voracek then centered the puck to Simmonds, who stretched to tip it past Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff. It was the first shot Zatkoff faced after replacing Matt Murray, who left with an injury earlier in the period.
The Flyers took a 2-1 lead with 3:02 left in the second period on Simmonds’ second goal of the day. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who is quickly becoming a household name due to his incredible rookie campaign, came up big once again, blasting a shot that deflected off Simmonds’ arm into the back of the net. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare sealed the deal with an empty-netter with just under a minute remaining on the game clock.
Locking down the final playoff spot against a hated rival in this fashion was thrilling for everybody involved, especially as many of the players have dedicated their recent playoff push to Flyers’ owner Ed Snider, who is ill and has been unable to attend any games this season. It will be interesting to see if this momentum will help the Flyers conquer the Washington Capitals, the best team in the NHL, in round one of the playoffs.
Featured Image Credit: Yong Kim-Philly.com