Burnside: Good day, my friend. So, just wondering if you are now a bona fide believer in the miracle of the Anaheim Ducks? The mighty Ducks (thought I’d throw that retro reference in for fun) knocked off a very good Pittsburgh team by a 2-1 count on the road Wednesday night and moved to within six points of the final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
Who else but the incomparable Teemu Selanne to provide the winner for the Ducks with his 656th career goal? He is tied with Brendan Shanahan for 12th all time on the goals list and, perhaps more remarkably, is tied for 18th in NHL scoring this season with 52 points. If he keeps it up -- and the Ducks keep winning -- we’ll have to start mentioning Selanne in Hart Trophy discussions.
Still, the road ahead of the Ducks doesn’t get any easier, as they'll face New Jersey, Florida, Tampa Bay and Carolina on their current eight-game road trip, and any prolonged sideways motion from Anaheim would quickly quash their playoff dreams. But kudos to Bruce Boudreau for keeping his team believing that it could get back in the hunt. He told my colleague Pierre LeBrun before this monster road trip that if they could pull to within six points of eighth place by the end of the trip, he thought they’d have a good shot at pulling off their improbable run to the postseason.
Well, they’re six points back of Phoenix after Wednesday’s win. They were 20 points behind eighth-place Nashville on Jan. 6 but have gone 14-2-3 in their past 19 games. Guess that fire sale GM Bob Murray was going to hold by the trade deadline is on hold. Thoughts?
Custance: The game against the Penguins was the big test to me. They were coming off a close win over the Wild in Minnesota, then had to travel to Pittsburgh and play back-to-back, arriving in Pittsburgh in the middle of the night. Then they got down early against the Penguins thanks to a goal from Jordan Staal. They showed a lot of guts in this one. You have to credit Boudreau, who guided the Capitals to their remarkable run just to make the playoffs during his first year there. I asked Bobby Ryan recently what the difference has been during the turnaround.
"There was a feeling-out process when Bruce came in. You had to learn some new things and adjust on the fly," Ryan said. "He's always preaching that [a run to the playoffs] can happen. He hasn't tooted his own horn, but he's said it's happened to him before."
It changes the dynamic of the West a bit if Anaheim streaks into that No. 8 spot for the playoffs. Instead of playing a team like the Coyotes, Stars or Wild, the No. 1 seed would face the red-hot Ducks, who are loaded with talent and have playoff experience. I'd want no part of Anaheim in the first round.
"The morale is high," Ryan said. "We're all realizing there could be something special that happens here for us this year."
You could argue that Toronto's win over the Oilers was just as big for that team. Can we forget about the Maple Leafs' four-game losing streak now?
Burnside: I’d be more prepared to cut the Leafs some slack had they come up with a win over an opponent that didn’t have the second-lowest point total in the league and wasn’t in the running for its third straight No. 1 overall draft pick -- with all due respect to the perpetually rebuilding Oilers. So, let’s see what happens when the Leafs visit Vancouver on Saturday. The Canucks have quietly moved to within two points of Detroit for first overall in the conference with their workmanlike victory over Colorado on Wednesday. A Leafs win there, and Leaf Nation could breathe a little easier. But I don’t see it happening.
Then Toronto heads home for dates with New Jersey, San Jose and Washington before the trade deadline. So, the Buds could easily be riding another four-game slide by the time the clock ticks down to 3 p.m. ET on Feb. 27. You know Brian Burke wants to add a big piece up front for his Leafs, but can he get it done?
I know you’re writing on the Los Angeles Kings, and they’re a team I’m curious about, especially given their home date Thursday with the Phoenix Coyotes. The Yotes, led by Mike Smith, have climbed back into the top eight in the West, and a regulation win would leapfrog them over the Kings and into seventh place. More interesting is that a regulation loss would move the Kings into eighth, and if Calgary defeats Dallas on Thursday, the Kings could be just a point out of ninth. I know, woulda, coulda, shoulda, but the Kings’ precarious position reinforces the pressure on GM Dean Lombardi to improve his offensively challenged team. Think he’s got Columbus GM Scott Howson on speed dial?
Custance: Yeah, it's safe to say Lombardi is burning up the phone lines between Los Angeles and Columbus. I think we agree that the Kings would probably benefit from a Rick Nash trade more than any other team in the mix. Los Angeles is last in the league in scoring per game, and that has to be mentally draining on that group of guys. What a relief it would be if Lombardi were able to pull off a deal to land Nash -- even if it meant sending the ultratalented Jack Johnson the other way. The Kings got a boost in their win over the Stars from recently called up Jordan Nolan and Dwight King, who both scored their first career goals. But when I spoke with Lombardi, it didn't sound like he was going to count on only the contributions of youth moving forward.
"Young kids come up at this stage, and they're juiced," Lombardi said about their excitement level. It's hard to maintain during the stretch run.
If it's not Nash, I think the Kings have to look hard at Jeff Carter, who is actually a better salary cap fit. It would be fitting, since Los Angeles has become Philadelphia West. But yeah, Thursday's game against the Coyotes is a big one. I'm looking forward to watching. The first game of my viewing doubleheader will be the Blackhawks-Rangers tilt. You've seen a lot of the Blackhawks lately; is this the night they finally break the losing streak?
Burnside: Weird vibe inside the Chicago locker room, that’s for sure. They’ve gone nine in a row without a win (0-8-1), and it’s hard to imagine a tougher place to end that slide than in New York against the Rangers, who just continue to impress.
I know you see the Red Wings a lot, and of course their record-setting turn on home ice has been a great story, but for me, the Rangers remain the most impressive of the 30 NHL clubs. They boast the best winning percentage of any team and come to play every night led by Henrik Lundqvist, who seems en route to his first Vezina Trophy and maybe a Hart Trophy thrown in for good measure. They need a little more offensive juice, I think (they’re a respectable 10th in goals per game) but seem to find ways to win.
Going back to your original query, finding ways to win is something the Blackhawks used to be able to do. Now the Blackhawks just find ways to lose. Corey Crawford will get the nod in goal for Chicago, and the goaltending, although not the lone reason for the team’s slide, needs to be more consistent if this suddenly fragile team is to get its swagger back. I’ll go out on a limb, though, and say this is the night the Blackhawks get it done. It may take overtime, maybe even a shootout, but I think the streak ends in Manhattan. What say you?
Custance: Sorry, I'm going with the Rangers. I'm with you; that's an impressive team, and I'm ready to give Lundqvist the Vezina right now. To me, that's why I find their pursuit of Nash so puzzling. It's going to take a major package that would no doubt dip into a couple of core players to make it happen. And then things would become extremely tight against the cap for the foreseeable future. To me, it's an unnecessary risk for a team I already really like and one that has great chemistry.
Maybe my view is skewed because every time I go to a game at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings win, but I'd put Detroit slightly ahead of New York at this point. But we're splitting hairs. Those are two really good teams, and neither needs wholesale changes at the deadline.
All right, Scotty, it's been fun. Enjoy Hockey Weekend Across America!