They earned points in 24 straight games this season, setting a new NHL record. They lost only six times in regulation all year. According to a practically panting Sports Illustrated cover, The Franchise "brought hockey back" in the process. And with a 4-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night, the Chicago Blackhawks wrapped up the top prize of the regular season: the Presidents' Trophy. Now, they'll spend their last two games before the playoffs trying desperately to downplay their own success.
Winning the Presidents' Trophy, awarded to the team with the best record in the regular season, is typically a self-conscious affair. It's like the popular kid in high school who tries to keep quiet about excellent grades. Sure, he's totally earned it, but he neither wants to get made fun of nor have people constantly trying to get help with homework. Recognition is nice until you realize all eyes are on you. With apologies to Ryan Adams, everybody wants to see you fall; that's why they always love to get you high.
That's partially because it's tough to really celebrate when you haven't — in the singular focus of NHL athletes — actually won yet. (And when you're a team that hoisted the Stanley Cup just three seasons back, you've got a ways to go just to reach your own high-water mark.) But another part of it is that many often view the Presidents' Trophy as a detriment. This isn't really true, of course: As Jonathan Willis points out, the alleged Presidents' Trophy "curse" doesn't exactly hold up to scrutiny.
That doesn't stop anyone from talking about it, though. After the Blackhawks' win, reporters began bringing up the downsides of dominating the regular season, even if they tried to frame it in a positive light. Do you relish the challenge of having a target on your back? — that sort of thing. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville answered diplomatically.
"Somebody's got to be the top team," he said. "We don't mind having home ice. We don't mind playing at the United Center; it's a special place."
The Blackhawks were to a degree willing to reflect on their accomplishments; players and Quenneville spoke, though not boastfully, about how their regular-season record reflected their confidence and consistency throughout the season.
"We're proud of the fact we're the top team in the regular season," said Patrick Sharp. "But that's over with now and we're focusing on Game 1 of the playoffs."
His comments reminded me of what Dwyane Wade had said after the Miami Heat, another team that went on a highly publicized streak this winter, had finally lost a game to break the spell. "Now that it's over, I'm glad that it's over," he said of their unbeaten run. "See you all in the playoffs."
Maybe Wade is a T.S. Eliot fan. Not to get too postcoital on you, but the whole thing is like a scene from "The Waste Land."
She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover;
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
"Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over."
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.
Something tells me that the Blackhawks won't want to talk much more about the Presidents' Trophy — though, in some particular cases, it may be less out of humility and more because they're too busy bar-gargling. They have two more regular-season games to get through, and then they'll be glad it's over: The playoffs begin Tuesday. Let's put on a record and dance.
With just four days left in the regular season, all but two playoff spots in each conference have been wrapped up. Here's a look at who's battling to slip into the postseason and what they'll have to do to get there.
Already in: Pittsburgh Penguins (clinched top seed in the East); Washington Capitals (won Southeast Division and will be the no. 3 seed); Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens (both teams battling for the no. 2 seed, with Boston in the driver's seat); Toronto Maple Leafs (!!!!!!!!!!); and New York Islanders (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
Still fighting: Ottawa Senators; New York Rangers; Winnipeg Jets
Current position: 7th place, 52 points
Current playoff probability: (all probabilities via Sports Club Stats) 94.4 percent
Games remaining: Thursday at Washington; Saturday vs. Philadelphia; Sunday at Boston
How they'll make it: Coming off an injury-riddled season, a playoff berth for Ottawa would be an impressive feat, indeed. The Senators have the great luxury of three games remaining, and they only need two points across them to make the postseason. Win and they're in; tie in regulation twice and they are too.
What could go wrong: Those three games aren't going to be easy ones. If the Senators were to go 0-3-0 or 0-2-1, they'd lose control of their own destiny, since both New York and Winnipeg have won more games in regulation or overtime (as opposed to a shootout), which is the first tiebreak. Worst-case scenario for the Sens? Losing out, Winnipeg falling to Montreal in overtime but advancing on a tiebreak, and Erik Karlsson's stunningly quick return from a severed Achilles turning out to be a terrible idea.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Current position: 8th place, 52 points
Current playoff probability: 93.4 percent
Games remaining: Thursday at Carolina; Saturday vs. New Jersey
How they'll make it: The Rangers need two points to lose pesky Winnipeg for good. Win (or lose twice in overtime) and they're in. If the Jets lose to Montreal on Thursday, the Rangers will also advance.
What could go wrong: I can see it now. If the Rangers fall to the Staaltron-strong Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday and the Jets win, it would set up a high-pressure Saturday game against the eager-for-revenge Devils on NBC. And while New Jersey is already eliminated, misery loves company.
Current position: 9th place, 51 points
Current playoff probability: 12.1 percent
Games remaining: A POEM: Thursday versus Montreal / that is it and that is all.
How they'll make it: The Jets have to beat Montreal or tie the Canadiens in regulation tonight to have a shot; lose and they're done. Since they have the tiebreak over both New York and Ottawa, there's the potential for this fun scenario: If the Senators and Rangers lose out and the Jets fall in overtime or a shootout tonight, the three teams would end up tied with 52 points, Winnipeg would vault into the seventh seed, and Ottawa would be on the outside looking in.
What could go wrong: If they lose, season's over. Even if they win tonight, they'll need help to make the postseason.
Already in: Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, and Vancouver Canucks (have won their divisions and clinched the 1, 2, and 3 seeds, respectively); Los Angeles Kings; St. Louis Blues; San Jose Sharks
Still fighting: Minnesota Wild; Detroit Red Wings; Columbus Blue Jackets; Dallas Stars
Current position: 7th place, 53 points
Current playoff probability: 96.0 percent
Games remaining: Friday vs. Edmonton; Saturday at Colorado
How they'll make it: Things are looking up since the team held an "air-everything-out meeting" Monday, after which coach Mike Yeo pulled a Jimmy Dugan and said: "It's supposed to be hard for us." The Wild beat the Kings 2-1 the next day, putting them in control of their postseason hopes: win one of their remaining two games — both of which are against lottery teams with a vested interest in losing — and they're in.
What could go wrong: If the Wild were to lose their last two games, it would open the door for a team like Columbus to sneak up on them.
DETROIT RED WINGS
Current position: 8th place, 52 points
Current playoff probability: 78 percent
Games remaining: Thursday vs. Nashville; Saturday at Dallas
How they'll make it: This was a big week for the Red Wings, who beat Phoenix 4-0 on Monday, then held off L.A. on Wednesday night in a 3-1 game that greatly increased their odds of making the playoffs and put them back in eighth place. Two wins or a 1-0-1 finish means the Red Wings would clinch a berth for the 22nd consecutive time, though they can also make the playoffs (with help) even if they pick up only one or two points in their last two games.
What could go wrong: If the Red Wings lose their last two games, they'll definitely be out: Either Columbus would leapfrog them in the standings with a win over Dallas, or the Stars would end up tied with them in points and win the head-to-head.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Current position: 9th place, 51 points
Current playoff probability: 24.1 percent
Games remaining: Thursday at Dallas; Saturday vs. Nashville
How they'll make it: If they win out, they'd either need the Red Wings to lose one of their last two games in regulation, or the Wild to go no better than 0-2-0 or 0-1-1. (If they can pick up even one point tonight over Dallas they'll also have a shot to unseat the Wild, though they'd also have to win on Saturday and have Minnesota lose outright twice.) They could also tie twice and hope the Red Wings go 0-2-0. Got all that?
What could go wrong: There's no scenario in which the Blue Jackets fully control their own fate, in part because they wouldn't take any tiebreakers. (PS: You know, for all the supposed love the L.A. Kings have for #Lumbus, they've really done them no favors this week, losing 2-1 to Minnesota and 3-1 to Detroit on Wednesday night. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, I guess.)
Current position: 10th place, 48 points
Current playoff probability: 2 percent
Games remaining: Thursday vs. Columbus; Saturday vs. Detroit
How they'll make it: First of all, after being active trade-deadline sellers, it's surprising that Dallas is even in this position. But even though the Stars are four points out of eighth place with just two games to play, they've still got the slimmest of chances. To get into the playoffs, they would need to beat both Columbus and Detroit in regulation and get more help from there: If the Red Wings earned even one point against Nashville on Thursday, for example, Dallas would be out.
What could go wrong: Oh, it already did. On Tuesday, the Stars were in a position to qualify for the playoffs by winning their last three games — until an absolutely devastating loss to the Sharks all but eliminated them. (More on that below.)
Lighting the Lamp: The Week's Sickest Snipes
OK, I'll be big enough to admit it: Until a couple of days ago, I definitely hadn't realized that Marty St. Louis, the 5-foot-8, 37-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning veteran, was creeping up so quickly on the NHL scoring title. It was silly of me in hindsight; in the last 10 years, St. Louis has turned up as a top-10 NHL scorer five times. (As recently as 2010-11, he finished second in the league with 99 points.) If you look at total points over the last decade, he's second only to Joe Thornton; even if you narrow it to the more recent five years, he's third overall. But with the Tampa Bay Lightning wandering through another disappointing season, I had sort of lost track of St. Louis — until earlier this week, when I realized he was within spitting distance of winning the Art Ross.
The bulk of St. Louis's points this season have come from assists; going into Wednesday's game against Toronto, he had scored 13 goals and added 42 helpers. Against the Leafs, though, he wasn't just setting up plays, he was finishing them. He converted on a long transition play that he had also initiated; later he swarmed around the net eating up a loose puck; and finally, off a great look from Vincent Lecavalier, he buried a surprisingly exciting empty-netter. Hat trick, and the new NHL scoring-race leader. Backhand Shelf's Daniel Wagner has three reasons why this is particularly nuts.
With 58 points, St. Louis is just ahead of Sidney Crosby and his teammate Steven Stamkos, who each have 56. (Crosby has done this in 10 fewer games, by the way; had he not taken a puck to the mouth there's little question who would currently be leading the league.) If St. Louis manages to pull off the scoring lead, he'll be the oldest player in NHL history to win it — Gordie Howe, the next oldest, was 34 — and he would also have the longest spread between two Art Ross titles. With ith 94 points he also won it in 2003-04, the year his Tampa Bay Lightning won the Cup. Unfortunately, that won't be happening this time around.
Piling on the Pylons: The Week's Worst Performers
In one of the more brutal losses suffered by anyone this season, the Dallas Stars were up 2-1 over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night with 5:37 left in the third when Joe Pavelski tipped in a Brad Stuart snap shot on a delayed penalty to tie the game. Thirty seconds later, Logan Couture added another San Jose goal, giving the Sharks the lead and just crushing the Stars' spirits.
The loss was Dallas's third in a row and came two days after a game against the Kings in which the Stars clawed their way to a 3-2 third-period lead, only to fall in overtime. Even with that loss, Dallas could have made the postseason had it won its last three. But after losing to San Jose, the Stars have only one tiny and circuitous route into the postseason.
When the Stars squandered a two-goal third-period lead to the Calgary Flames back in February, it snapped a 71-0-8 streak when leading after two periods. Things haven't gone well since then, though: The loss against the Sharks Tuesday night was the fifth time in 46 games that the Stars had given up a lead after two periods, and the third time in regulation.
Now they're reduced to "desperation, do or die," according to Jamie Benn. "There are still four [points] out there that we can get, and you never know what can happen," he said.
Taking It Coast-to-Coast: A Lap Around the League
• Wednesday was a big day for hockey prospect Seth Jones. NHL Central Scouting released its final rankings of players eligible to be drafted in Newark this June, and Jones was tops on the list. Hey, no wonder "Page Six" reported that Jay-Z is trying to sign the 18-year-old defenseman to his new venture, Roc Nation Sports. (Jones is already represented by Pat Brisson, agent to Crosby and Jonathan Toews [among others], but Jay-Z hopes to take on the marketing and branding side.) Jones's junior team, the Portland Winterhawks, is currently a win away from reaching the WHL finals.
• I'm genuinely so glad these two found one another. Pierre McGuire is going to steal the "Oh I do" line for sure.
• Hobey Baker winner Drew LeBlanc, who signed with the Blackhawks after the Frozen Four, isn't eligible to play with Chicago in the playoffs because he joined the team after the deadline. But he made his regular-season debut Wednesday night and was as smiley and wonderful as ever about it. Asked about winning the team's championship belt, given out in the locker room to a player deemed to have had a great game, LeBlanc laughed and said: "I don't really know what that means, Duncan gave it to me. It's a cool accomplishment hopefully I'm in the lineup next time so I can pass it off to somebody else." I dare you to watch his giddy interview and not smile.
• Everything about this Alex Ovechkin blog post is the best, but if I had to pick my top three favorite things, they would be:
3. His facetious answer when asked how he celebrated Washington's Southeast Division title: "Yeah, like, we went to the bar. I got home at seven in the morning. I get hammered. That's kind of Russian celebration."
2. Ovi, on his critics: "They just can close their mouths and all that kind of stuff."
1. THAT PHOTO.
• Great news for New Yorkers: The city announced that KNIC Partners LLC will spend $275 million to convert the old Kingsbridge Armory into the largest indoor ice facility in the world. Suck it, Schwan!
• Great piece on Jim Corsi: the man behind the fancy stat.
• I thought Cathal Kelly's Toronto Star column regarding Duncan Keith's pissy comments to a reporter Monday night made some really interesting points, and I particularly loved the ending: "The Keiths of the world may think they've stung Thomson by letting her know she isn't one of them. To which the genderless fraternity who do this work would say, 'Exactly. She's one of us.'"
And a Beauty! The Week's Nicest in Net
It's often said that many of the most exciting saves are the result of a goalie being out of position or sloppy in the first place, and this inner-leg side-scorpion save on Slava Voynov by the Minnesota Wild's Niklas Backstrom probably qualifies. But whatever: The Wild were madly working to protect a 2-1 lead (and, perhaps, their postseason slot) as the third period wound down Tuesday, and this was just awesome. "I don't know if that's a specialty from a goalie book," Backstrom later said to the Star-Tribune's Mike Russo. "Maybe a Tim Thomas book." (If he starts writing lengthy Facebook posts, then we'll know.)
Chirping Like a Champ: The Worst Mouthing Off
Sooo, this sure was a highly strange week when it came to topics of sex and gender in the National Hockey League! On Monday, the Ottawa Sun's Don Brennan wrote a truly bizarre column about Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke, who stepped (intentionally, if you're to believe Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, who still claims to be investigating the matter with "forensics"; accidentally, if you ask just about anyone else) on and severed Karlsson's Achilles back in February.
Cooke has since been engaged by Senators agitator Chris Neil and declined to fight both times. Brennan has railed against him for this. Naturally, all this led to the following headline in a national newspaper: Why is Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Cooke so interested in Don Brennan's package? It wasn't just the headline, either. According to Brennan, Cooke "was focused on my package" because:
He wanted to tell me I have no balls. At first I think he said "small balls." But by the time he had finished, and knew Penguins GM Ray Shero was listening, he had decided I had none. Oh, and I believe he also mumbled something about me having no penis before disappearing into the players-only room, which I found interesting.
I will not take this opportunity to, ahem, brag about my manhood.
My god, why is hockey the weirdest? The playoffs haven't even started yet. If Ottawa gets the 8-seed and plays Pittsburgh, where will we possibly go from here? Actually, please don't answer that, 'cause I don't even want to know.
No happier place
Than Nassau Coliseum
Who woulda thunk it?