The NHL's pre-Olympic schedule ended as you might expect: with varying degrees of highs and lows.
For the Vancouver Canucks, the low was just the latest low point in what has been the worst stretch of their season. Ever since John Tortorella tried to attack the entire Calgary Flames locker room two weeks ago, the Canucks have dropped seven consecutive games and fallen back into the Western Conference playoff dogfight.
It just so happens that the biggest beneficiaries of Vancouver's free-fall are the Dallas Stars. Not so long ago, the Stars had lost 11 of 15 games in January and looked like they had played their way out of the playoff race. Now, after two huge wins against Phoenix in the last week (including a 2-1 win on Saturday) the Stars are sitting in the playoff picture looking down at the Canucks.
There's a lot of hockey left, and the Western Conference race looks murkier than ever thanks to the Stars and Canucks. It almost makes one wish the Olympics would just get over with already. (Not really.)
All the NHL Scores
Flyers 2, Flames 1
Maple Leafs 3, Canucks 1
Canadiens 4, Hurricanes 1
Lightning 4, Red Wings 2
Stars 2, Coyotes 1
On Saturday we asked you five burning questions about the day's games. These are the cool, soothing answers.
1. It's the final round of games before the Olympic break. Will any more Olympic players get injured before heading to Sochi?
Only one. Montreal Canadiens and USA forward Max Pacioretty was injured early during a game against the Carolina Hurricanes and didn't return to the ice for the remainder of the contest. The Canadiens called it a "lower-body injury," and for awhile Twitter declared his Olympic hopes dead and debated whether Bobby Ryan or Kyle Okposo should replace him. Fortunately for the U.S., it looks like he's healthy enough to play in Sochi.
2. Can the Vancouver Canucks right the ship before the break?
There will be no positives for Vancouver to carry into the next two weeks after a 3-1 loss in Toronto. Everything went wrong (again) for John Tortorella's crew, to the point that pucks were going in off Canucks' faces.
3. Will Dallas enter the Olympic break deadlocked with Phoenix?
The Stars actually did one better, leapfrogging the Coyotes to claim the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a 2-1 win against Phoenix. They needed some major contributions from their Sochi-bound players on Saturday. Behind Kari Lehtonen's magnificent goaltending and Valeri Nichushkin's game-winning goal, the Stars head into the break on perhaps the highest note they've been on in years.
4. Can Detroit take advantage of a depleted Lightning lineup?
We should've known the Red Wings wouldn't have much for the Lightning this year, empty lineup or not. Tampa Bay scored three unanswered goals after Tomas Jurco gave Detroit the lead in the second period. The Lightning swept the season series against Detroit this year after going 5-24-2-1 against the Wings before the season.
5. Will Claude Giroux prove the doubters wrong?
A few days after getting snubbed for the second time by Team Canada, Giroux had the primary assist on Scott Hartnell's dagger goal in the third period. Not a bad showing for someone who will get the first call if the Canadians suffer any injuries in Sochi.
The one play or moment from Saturday that is going to be making headlines over the next couple of days.
It'll be talked about more as the Olympics progress than it will on Saturday, but it bears restating: 2014 could be the last time the NHL plays in the Winter Olympics for a long time.
Stat of the Night
If you haven't heard of Connor McDavid yet, then you better start paying attention. The 16-year-old center for the Erie Otters is widely expected to be the first overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and talented enough that he's been on teams' radars for years.
McDavid is on a 1.78 points per game pace in his career after a five assist night for Erie on Saturday. That's an incredibly impressive stat once you compare it to previous first overall picks.
5 Assist night for McDavid over London. 1.78 points per game. Crosby at 16 had a 2.29 PPG.— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) February 9, 2014
Stamkos at 16 had a 1.46 PPG, Tavares was a 2.0 PPG, MacKinnon a 1.35, RNH was 0.97.— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) February 9, 2014
Post to Post
- Sean Bergenheim turned down Finland when they asked him to replace Mikko Koivu. What a jerk! (Not really.)
- Slovakia is less than pleased with Islanders GM Garth Snow for refusing to let Lubomir Visnovsky play in Sochi.
- Finally, P.K. Subban's hat preferences are strange.