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Friday, March 4, 2011
Daily Debate: Taylor Hall pays price for fighting, East matchups still in question

By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun discuss Taylor Hall dropping the gloves and the many playoff possibilities in the East.

Burnside: Well, my friend, another action-packed night in the NHL with playoff dreams rising and sinking like a toy boat on an angry sea. (Do you like that analogy?) Let's start with the Edmonton Oilers, one of the NHL's weak sisters that has adopted the role of giant killer in recent days. The youthful Oil have long given up thoughts of the playoffs but have won six of nine and have knocked off a number of playoff-hopeful teams during that stretch, including a 4-2 victory over Columbus on Thursday that, in my books, pretty much buries the Blue Jackets. One side note out of that game: Taylor Hall, the No. 1 pick in the draft in June who has recently pushed himself into Calder Trophy discussion, left the game with an apparent ankle injury after fighting Derek Dorsett. Duh. Ask the Colorado Avalanche what they think of top talent dropping the gloves. It's not a stretch to suggest that the Avs' season went up in smoke when Chris Stewart fought in a game against Minnesota, a game the Avs were winning comfortably, and broke his hand. But the Oilers aren't the only ones determined to play havoc with the playoff field. Ottawa is likewise playing well of late and threw another shovel of dirt on the Atlanta Thrashers' fading playoff hopes with a 3-1 win over the struggling Thrashers.

LeBrun: My stomach churned when I saw Hall drop the gloves, Scotty. What in the world? The kid says he wants to defend himself and not have to depend on teammates for that.

"It's not a good feeling when you're the guy who keeps getting rescued," Hall told Edmonton media Thursday night.

But he's still a teenager, and Dorsett pound-for-pound is one of the toughest players in the NHL.

"I probably shouldn't have had my first one against him," Hall said. "I know how he plays. He did hit me with a good punch."

Dorsett looks to play the role of the villain, but what's he going to do?

"I saw his gloves come off, and he punched me. Game on," Dorsett said. "I know who I'm fighting, but I'm not going to just let a guy punch me."

Yikes. If Hall's season is ended by this fight, that's just sad. We should know more on his condition later Friday.

But yes, excellent points, Scotty, on the Oilers and Senators doling out some pain in the standings Thursday night. The Jackets, in particular, could not afford to lose that one. They're now six points out with three teams between them and the promised land.

Burnside: Speaking of injuries, I noticed that Vincent Lecavalier sat out Thursday's 2-1 loss to Boston with a "midbody" injury, and Marc-Andre Bergeron, the useful power-play specialist picked up by GM Steve Yzerman, was out again with back spasms. Steve Downie, who plays mostly with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, left the game in the second period. The loss, which came on a late Milan Lucic goal, dropped the Bolts into third place in the Eastern Conference behind Boston, which has won seven straight. More troubling for the Lightning, perhaps, is that with Washington's newest center, Jason Arnott, scoring late to edge St. Louis, the Lightning are now looking over their shoulders at the Caps for top spot in the Southeast Division. Washington, a winner of three in a row, is just a point behind Tampa. For Boston, the second seed is a lot more attractive, as that likely would mean avoiding Washington, Pittsburgh, Tampa and Montreal in the first round of the playoffs.

LeBrun: Book it: The B's will finish second in the East. The Habs won again Thursday night, a 4-0 shutout by Vezina Trophy candidate Carey Price in Florida, and suddenly they're only four points behind injury-riddled Pittsburgh. Montreal will play in Tampa on Saturday night, and a regulation win there would put the Canadiens just two points behind the Bolts. All of this is a long way of saying that the Canadiens have a shot at the No. 4 spot in the East and home-ice advantage in the first round. Montreal's 20-8-6 home record is second-best in the East and third-best overall in the NHL. That's no small factor if it can somehow pull in Pittsburgh and either Tampa or Washington.

Burnside: It's become fashionable to be dismissive of the Capitals, in part because they rank 22nd in goals per game after blowing the competition away during the 2009-10 regular season. Their power play is a mystery, ranking 25th after being tops in the league, but know this: The Capitals are going to be a lot harder to play against come April than a year ago. They have won six of eight, and it would not surprise me at all if they surged to the top of the Southeast Division before the dust clears in early April, perhaps setting up a rematch of last spring's shocking upset at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. I will be tuning in to the Bolts-Caps clash on Monday, that's for sure.

LeBrun: The playoff possibilities are mouth-watering. How about Tampa-Montreal in the first round? A Quebec media dream with Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Simon Gagne, Marc-Andre Bergeron and head coach Guy Boucher on the Bolts. Or do you fancy a little L.A.-Chicago in the first round in the 4-5 matchup? Oh my, count me in for that. How about a No. 2 Boston playing a No. 7 seed Toronto? Tomas Kaberle and Phil Kessel against their old teams? Are we talking Leafs and playoffs? Cue Jim Mora. They're only three points back after Thursday night's gigantic win in Philadelphia. Another tough one comes Saturday night at home against the red-hot Blackhawks, a "Hockey Night in Canada" special. So many storylines to play out over the final five weeks, Scotty. Hold on tight. Enjoy your weekend.