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Down the Stretch they Come

After Friday night games the Southeast Division Standings are as follows:
ATL 91
TBL 88
CAR 84

Each team has just four games remaining. Each team has two "expect to win" games on their schedule. Atlanta (BOS, WAS) TBL (WAS, FLA) CAR (FLA, FLA). Then the three teams fighting for the playoffs play each other once apiece. Obvious the Hurricanes are on life support after losing to Tampa Bay and would need to swept their final four games to have any chance of getting into the playoffs.

For Atlanta, if they can simply take care of business against Boston and Washington that would give them 95 points on the season. If the Thrashers reach 95 points that would mean that Tampa would need to earn 7 of 8 possible points in the games left on their schedule just to tie Atlanta. A win Saturday would be a big step toward locking up the division prior to that final game of the year against Tampa at home. If either Carolina or Florida beat Tampa in the next week and the Thrashers beat their two "easy" opponents the division title will go to Atlanta.

Toronto Game

  • Few things are sweeter than beating the Leafs and watching their fans leave the building quite (OK beating the Sabres is pretty close to that considering what jerks their fans are).
  • The Thrashers played perhaps their most physical game of the year which is a good tuneup for the war that is the Stanley Cup playoffs.
  • Hedberg picked up off where he left off against the NY Rangers and absolutely robbed robbed them a couple of times when the team really needed some big saves.
  • Sutton had perhaps his best game in the months with a nice quick point shot that led to a goal, a big hit and a key defensive play. I've given the man plenty of grief, but we need everyone playing well at this time of the year.

  • Mellanby really looks like he can't keep up with the play or is no longer strong enough to win physical battles at times.
  • The power play scored twice in spite of itself. Both PP goals came of off broken plays--not off a perfect shot and a perfect pass. Note to the players: you scored after the initial shot was taken--passing the puck around 8 or 9 times simply helps the other team kill the penalty because it delays the shot and attempts to crash the net. Take a shot after 4 passes. It might just work better than after 9 passes!
  • The Thrashers dumped the puck right to Toronto players in the neutral zone. I realize that you must clear the zone to relieve the pressure in your end, but the lack of a breakout is disturbing. More attention must be given to getting the puck out of the zone and down the ice into the other end.
  • Players repeated passed up chances to shoot and passed or turned over the puck instead. Kovalchuk--who has a great shot--chose to circle behind the other team's net and got zero scoring opportunities on one shift instead of simply taking an open shot.
The boards have been making a big deal about Mats Sundin's comments about the Southeast Division and the playoff seeding format. I have to say that I agree with him about not liking the six divisions and the automatic seedings. The main reason the NHL has 6 divisions instead of 4 is marketing--it allows more teams to sell their product as a "first place team" or "division winner". If the Thrashers hang on to win the division they will hang a banner next fall, but what does that mean when you only have the 5th or 6th best record in the East? Personally I think their ought to be just four divisions in the NHL and home ice should go to the teams with the best record.

Sundin complained that the Southeast is a soft division. As much as I might not like to admit it, the Southeast is the weakest division if you look at their points-per-game percentage. The division did not fare well when they played the West or other divisions in the East. Those are the facts.
1.18 Northeast
1.16 Northwest
1.11 Pacific
1.10 Atlantic
1.09 Central
1.05 Southeast

On the other hand I found his comment about the last two Stanley Cup winners coming from the division to be out of line. "The last two Stanley Cup champions came from that division," Sundin said. "Try to figure that out." We have and we can't. Wow. That's some nerve on the part of a player and a reporter. You can't figure it out? Here let me help you. The Lightning and Hurricane players busted their butts sacrificed their bodies and made huge saves to win their respective Cups. Is that because you've never seen that sort of play in Toronto in your memory? The last two Stanley Cup Champs won just like everybody else does, they played four best of seven series and they beat all four of their opponents. That's pretty straightforward, but then again the Leafs haven't been about to do that for over forty years.