Each Monday, we’ll wrap up three of the biggest stories from the weekend and how they’ll play into the coming week.
With apologies to Roberto Luongo and Martin St. Louis, no deadline trade is likely to have a bigger impact on the playoffs than the Blues’ acquisition of goaltender Ryan Miller in a blockbuster deal with the Sabres. The move signaled a clear “going for it” mentality in St. Louis and improved the team at a key position where it was already fairly strong.
Miller didn’t come cheap — the price seemed high when the deal was announced on February 28, and even higher once the asking prices for rentals came crashing down on deadline day. But none of that will matter if Miller turns out to be the final piece that pushes the Blues from “perennial contender” to “outright Cup favorite.”
And while that’s the sort of judgment we won’t be able to make until the playoffs, the early returns have been encouraging, as Miller immediately led St. Louis to a four-win week. After his first seven days as a Blue, Miller’s record was a tidy 4-0-0 with 1.50 GAA and .933 save percentage, the best debut by a goalie in franchise history.
And yes, small sample size, every goalie has hot steaks, etc. But it was a good week to be a Blues fan, and an even better week to be a fan of seeing teams who aren’t afraid to be aggressive on the trade market being rewarded, so let’s go with it.
The latest example came on Saturday, when the Blues traveled to Denver for a Central Division showdown with the Avalanche. It ended up being a tense defensive battle that stayed tied at zero well into the second, until Blues forward David Backes opened the scoring. Patrik Berglund added an insurance goal in the third, before Colorado’s P.A. Parenteau stuffed in a rebound to make it 2-1. Miller shut the door the rest of the way, making 26 saves and earning the game’s second star.
That win left the Blues five points up on the Avs for first place in the Central, and within one point of the Ducks for first place overall. They moved into sole possession of the league’s top spot Sunday night, with a 3-2 shootout win over the Wild. This time it was backup Brian Elliott getting the start, and he played well enough to spoil Ilya Bryzgalov’s Minnesota debut.
So with 18 games left to play, the Blues are now in position to earn just the second Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history. The first came in 2000. We, uh, won’t talk about how the goaltending turned out on that club.
The Boston Shoo-ins
A little over two months ago, we asked whether “the East is shaping up as Boston’s to lose.” The jury’s still out on that one — the Penguins are sitting just one point back for the conference lead — but we can probably go ahead and call for the bell in the battle for the Atlantic Division. The Bruins have opened up a 12-point lead over the Canadiens and seem set to coast to their fourth division title in six years.
After stumbling slightly coming out of the Olympic break with losses to the Sabres and Capitals, the Bruins have now won five straight, including a pair of weekend wins in Florida. The first of those came on Saturday, when Boston rallied from a 2-0 deficit to earn a 4-3 shootout win in Tampa Bay. The Bruins followed that up with a 5-2 win over the Panthers on Sunday, continuing their ongoing domination of the state.
This latest win streak comes on the heels of a disappointing trade deadline week that saw the Bruins pick up some blueline help in the form of Andrej Meszaros but miss out on a bigger deal that reportedly could have involved Vancouver’s Alex Edler. The veteran Meszaros has had a shaky season, and it’s hard to see his addition being enough to offset the loss of Dennis Seidenberg, who paired with Zdeno Chara during last year’s playoffs, but tore his ACL and MCL earlier this year.
That could come back to haunt the Bruins in the playoffs, but for now they should be set to cruise through the season’s final 18 games. By wrapping up the division title, they’ll face a wild-card team in the first round. That will likely be one of the weaker Metro teams, or an Atlantic foe like the Wings or Lightning. (Or, if the hockey gods have an especially cruel sense of humor, a rematch with the Maple Leafs.) Barring a blizzard of late-season injuries, the Bruins would be a heavy favorite in any of those matchups.
All of that is probably already looking too far ahead, so we won’t even mention the looming rematch with the Penguins in the conference finals, and maybe even a repeat encounter with the Hawks in the final. Or heck, maybe they’ll face off with Miller and the Blues. After all, those Boston/St. Louis finals have a history of being remembered as a really fun trip.
Return of the Kings
Remember back before the Olympics, when the L.A. Kings forgot how to score and couldn’t beat anyone, at one point losing nine out of 10? That slump was enough to downgrade their Cup contender status from “downright terrifying” all the way to just “vaguely frightening.” Well, it may be time to nudge them back up.
The Kings are the NHL’s hottest team since the break, heading into Sunday night’s game against the Oilers riding a five-game win streak. And after an uncharacteristically wild 6-4 win over the Avalanche in the first game back, they’ve reverted to their standard winning methods: stifling defense and excellent goaltending. Goalie Jonathan Quick allowed just three goals over a four-game stretch.
So how do you stop a red-hot L.A. Kings goaltender? Maybe with a red-hot Kings goaltender of your own, or at least a former one. That’s what the Oilers were hoping on Sunday night, as Ben Scrivens faced his old team for the first time since the January trade that sent him from Los Angeles to Edmonton. Since then, Scrivens has been joined by ex-Duck Viktor Fasth to form a new platoon in the Oilers’ crease. And he’s been even better than he’d shown in L.A., recording a .941 save percentage in nine games heading into Sunday night’s game.
Alas, there was no dramatic vengeance for Scrivens, as the Kings easily handled the Oilers en route to a 4-2 win. The score flattered Edmonton, who were outshot 50-27. Say what you want about the Oilers’ leaky defense, but at least they’re making sure Scrivens doesn’t get bored.
As for the Kings, their win streak isn’t likely to end tonight, as they close off their road trip with a game in Calgary against a Flames team without much left to play for. After that it’s back to Los Angeles for a five-game homestand that will be highlighted by Saturday’s showdown with the division-leading Ducks.
• Rough week for Rostislav Klesla. The 31-year-old defenseman was traded twice in 24 hours, going from Phoenix to Washington and then on to Buffalo. It now appears that he’s on the move again — this time back home to Europe, and out of the NHL altogether. He’s reportedly decided he won’t report to the Sabres organization and will instead at least temporarily retire.
• The Flames and Canucks met for the first time since the wild January 18 brawl that earned Vancouver coach John Tortorella a 15-day suspension. This time, the two teams mostly behaved themselves, and the Canucks earned a much-needed two points in a 2-1 win. Goaltender Eddie Lack made 22 saves to earn the first star, despite giving up this embarrassing Hail Mary to noted sniper Brian McGrattan.
• Lack’s former Canucks’ creasemate Roberto Luongo got off to a good start in Miami, posting a 2-0 shutout win over the Sabres in his Panthers re-debut on Friday.
• Yet another goalie making a post-trade debut was Washington’s Jaroslav Halak, who made 31 saves as the Caps rallied with three third-period goals in a 3-2 win over the Coyotes on Saturday.
• The Maple Leafs were at their Leafiest on Saturday against the Flyers, blowing a pair of third-period leads — their league-leading 21st and 22nd of the season — but still emerging with a win. Joffrey Lupul scored the overtime winner for Toronto, which moved to within a point of Montreal for second place in the Atlantic.
• But hey, at least the weekend wasn’t a total write-off for the Flyers.
• The Predators have looked awful in March, losing four straight home games while scoring just three goals. They dropped a 1-0 decision to the Blue Jackets on Saturday.
• The acquisition of Tuomo Ruutu paid off immediately for the Devils, as his third-period goal held up as the winner in a 5-4 victory over his former team, the Hurricanes.
• The Stars retired Mike Modano’s number Saturday, then earned a 4-3 win over the Wild. That victory snapped a five-game Minnesota win streak, and moved the Stars to within three points of the Wild for a wild-card spot. But it came at a cost, as goalie Kari Lehtonen suffered an apparent concussion in the third period. He’s day-to-day, but early reports don’t sound good.
• Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers shut out the Red Wings on Sunday afternoon, coming away with a 3-0 win. It was Lundqvist’s 300th career win, and it moved the Rangers back ahead of the Flyers for second place in the Metro.
• Finally, this happened. We probably don’t want to talk about it.