Teams that refuse to fade away. Scoreboard watching in between shifts. Every goal a potential dagger for the hopes of some, a life preserver for others. The last lap of this NHL season in the eastern conference is looking more and more likely to produce a photo finish among at least five different teams for who will be in or out of the playoffs. The Boston Bruins are trying to make it there for the first time in three years and helped themselves out last night by shutting out the Dallas Stars 2-0 in Boston for the their third straight victory following a four game losing skid.
Brad Marchand scored his 38th goal of the season in the first period, and that's a career high in single season goals for Marchand, who's having an MVP conversation kind of year. Torey Krug scored on the power play in the second and that was all Tuukka Rask needed in posting his seventh shut out of the season in a 27-save performance.
The win gives the Bruins 88 points, good for sole possession of that last available wild card, but they were hoping to get the pesky Tampa Bay Lightning to recede from sight in the rear view mirror, and that didn't happen. The Lightning remain just three points behind Boston after beating the Detroit Red Wings 5-3, and Tampa Bay does have a game in hand on the Bruins, plus one more head to head contest against them before the season ends, so they're not going away just yet. A quick word about then Red Wings. Detroit will miss the playoffs this year for the first time in 26 years, a remarkable run of success for the original six franchise, and it's also goodbye to one of the great hockey venues of all time, the Joe Louis Arena. The Wings and Detroit Pistons will be playing in a fancy new downtown building next year that won't carry the consistent wafting smell of stale beer, but it won't have quite the same hardscrabble charm, either. The Joe also had some of the best sight lines of any NHL arena, and it will be missed by the devotees of Hockeytown.
One place that is decidedly not known as Hockeytown is Raleigh, North Carolina. But don't tell that to Hurricanes fans, who have watched their team go unbeaten now in thirteen straight games, including last night's 2-1 overtime win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. All that winning over the past few weeks has lifted the 'Canes into the playoff conversation, lurking just four points behind the Bruins for that last playoff spot. Carolina looked like a lock for hitting the golf course come April but they're sizzling right now and much to the dismay of teams like the Islanders, Lightning, and Bruins, are starting to resemble Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction in the sense that they will not be ignored.
The Islanders, meanwhile, have slipped two points behind Carolina, and into a tie with the Philadelphia Flyers, who pummeled the Brooklynites 6-3 last night, putting the game away early with a five-goal first period.
And what about those Toronto Maple Leafs, the team of mostly youngsters like MVP candidate Auston Matthews who were supposed to still be in rebuilding mode this year? Well, the Leafs keep winning, too, and beat the Nashville Predators 3-1 last night, making it four wins in their last five games, and fending off Boston for that safer third place spot in the Atlantic. The Leafs maintain a one point lead over Boston for that spot, with a game in hand on the Bruins, as fans in Toronto dream of making the playoffs and ending a long championship drought that stretches all the way back to 1967.
And I suppose I should mention those Montreal Canadiens, winners of more Stanley Cups by far than any other NHL franchise, 24 of them to be exact, but they've been without one since 1993, which for Habs fans feels like ancient history. The Canadiens beat the Florida Panthers 6-2 last night to clinch a playoff berth and are still ensconced in first place in the Atlantic. As long as the Habs have the planet's best goalie in Carey Price in between the pipes, they have as good a chance as any team to bring Lord Stanley's trophy back home.
Finally, coming off their America East championship season, the University of Vermont men's basketball team has even more reason to look forward to next year. The Burlington Free Press reports that highly rated shooting guard Skylar Nash has committed to joining the Catamounts next year, which offsets to some extent the loss of junior Josh Hearlihy, who's transferring from UVM. Nash is a six foot six Chicagoan who reportedly turned down scholarship offers from several other schools, including UVM rival Albany, to opt for the Catamounts instead.