The NHL playoff stretch run is upon us, and everyone has decided to go streaking.
Well, not everyone. But three red-hot teams continued impressive and (in the case of two of them) franchise record-setting runs that have catapulted them back into major contender status as the playoffs near.
The most noteworthy one belongs to the Anaheim Ducks, who've been on everyone's radar for the past two weeks as they re-emerged as one of the Western Conference's superpowers. At their lowest point this season, the Ducks owned the fourth-worst record in the NHL and looked ready to blow up the ship and start anew. And on Saturday, they walked into Los Angeles (who've owned the Pacific Division all season), beat them for their 11th-straight win and claimed the Pacific for themselves.
It's no wonder they've owned all the attention. But Tampa Bay has quietly mounted a resurgence of its own in the Atlantic Division. The Lightning remained outside of the playoff picture for most of the season. Many of us here at SB Nation (myself included) picked them to win the Stanley Cup. Not until recently have they looked like that team. On Saturday, they won a franchise-record ninth straight game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Tampa Bay now leads the Atlantic Division over the Florida Panthers and is tied for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.
The third streaking team may not lead its division, but Nashville's run is perhaps just as strong as either the Ducks or the Lightning. The Predators took the Colorado Avalanche to task with a 5-2 win on Saturday, the 12th straight game the Preds have earned at least a point. It was an important win; the two points gives Nashville an eight-point advantage over their Wild Card rivals in Denver. More importantly, it means Nashville is just seven points back of both the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues in the Central. If they keep this push up they have a real chance of greatly improving their playoff position.
A few weeks ago, it seemed like the league's best teams were well clear of the competition. The Ducks, Lightning and Predators have come along at the tensest part of the season to raise the stakes as the playoffs close in. The league is all the better for it.
Wild 3, Sabres 2 (SO)
Predators 5, Avalanche 2
Ducks 3, Kings 2
Lightning 4, Hurricanes 3 (OT)
Coyotes 5, Panthers 1
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3 things we learned
1. Even a terrific goalie performance can't keep the Capitals down
Boston had to feel good about their chances heading into a massive game against Washington on home ice. Tuukka Rask (and the rest of the team) have been playing some of their best hockey of the year lately. If they were ever going to beat the league's best team, it was Saturday. And they gave Washington a run for their money; led by Rask's 30 saves, the Bruins held their own into overtime. But the Capitals are not like the rest of the league; they merely bend, while they eventually broke Boston with a Matt Niskanen goal in overtime.
2. Either Radko Gudas has some hidden offensive wizardry or the Blue Jackets are worse than we thought
It's one or the other. You knew things were going to get weird when Gudas ripped his first goal of the season from 100 feet away:
He wasn't done! He scored one more and assisted two others for the most unlikely four-point night of the NHL season. Considering his career average points per game is 0.23, it's safe to say this will never happen again.
3. Montreal's doldrums are starting to affect P.K. Subban
Mark Scheifele got his first career hat trick on Saturday against the Canadiens, and he can thank Subban for two of his tallies. Subban had one of the worst nights of his season, best exemplified by whatever he was trying to do here on Scheifele's second goal:
The 2015-16 Montreal Canadiens: forever spinning and spinning and chasing and falling to their own demise.
Impact Moment #1
Alex Ovechkin sent Kevan Miller to the hospital with this boarding penalty. He wasn't ejected, but the league will likely look into suspending him.
Here’s Ovechkin boarding (and injuring) Kevan Miller pic.twitter.com/uQMWkJIoWm— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) March 6, 2016
Impact Moment #2
Dion Phaneuf got emotional as Maple Leafs fans saluted him in his return to Toronto.
Stat of the Night