Blog Entry

Winners & Losers: Avs, Stars, Cats with big wins

Posted on: March 4, 2012 9:37 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 10:13 pm
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By Brian Stubits

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Jamie McGinn, Colorado Avalanche: So they got this guy from the Sharks for scoring, right?

Whether the Avalanche did or didn't (the answer is not really) he's giving it to them anyway. Or at least he did on Sunday.

The Avs, needing to keep pace in the Western race, got two early goals from McGinn and hung on to shut out the Minnesota Wild in Minnesota. It not only kept them squarely in the conversation, it pretty much cemented the fate of the Wild as they drop seven points out of a playoff spot. That's just a little tough to make up at this point.

The Avs have been on one of their patented upswings in an up-and-down season and now join the Kings just one point back of the Sharks in the Western Conference, tied with the Los Angeles Kings.

It was a nice showing for Semyon Varlamov too to stop all 30 shots he faced from the Wild. For a goalie that has struggled for much of the season, to string together some wins like that will go a long way in turning around a young goalie's psyche.

[Related: Avalanche 2, Wild 0]

Florida Panthers: Some team has to win the Southeast Division and in recent days you got the feeling that this team wasn't going to be able to hold on. They still might not, but they have to feel a lot better after Sunday's comeback win.

For the sixth time in the last nine games, the Panthers fell in a 2-0 hole. This time, though, they crawled out of it with four unanswered goals, including a somewhat shocking breakaway score from Krys Barch. Really, you don't see that often.

It brought an end to Ottawa's reign over the Panthers as well. The Sens had won nine in a row -- NINE! -- against Florida including five straight in Sunrise. It looked like they were on their way to making it a perfect 10 until the comeback came.

What the end result is besides the confidence boost for Florida to get over that Senators hump is that the Panthers move four points up on the Jets, five on the Capitals and six up on the Lightning in the Southeast. Keeping that cushion is important.

[Related: Panthers 4, Senators 2]

Dallas Stars: Don't look now, but the Stars have jumped the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division and are now tied with the Phoenix Coyotes for the division lead (but lose out on the tie-breakers at this point). They also bumped the Sharks down to eighth in the West while taking the seventh spot themselves.

That's the result of them marching into Calgary and prevailing in the shootout thanks to their scoring stars of Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.

The Stars are playing as well now as they were at the beginning of the season when they ran out to one of the best starts in the league. There's still a good ways to go, but they have shown they're a serious threat and maybe even a good bet at this point to make the postseason.

The Flames, meanwhile, do get one point and move to within three of the Sharks but remain in 11th place.

[Related: Stars 3, Flames 2 (SO)]

Anders Nilsson, New York Islanders: There was a time this season that people were laughing at the Islanders for carrying three active goalies on the roster each night. Then they called on the fourth man in the rotation, Nilsson, on Sunday and he delivered.

Not only did Nilsson pick up his first NHL victory, it was a shutout. And it had to be as the Islanders only scored once against the Devils, a Kyle Okposo goal in the second period.

If they even dare to dream on the Island, there is still a glimmer of hope that they can get into the playoffs. A glimmer, I said. The win brought them within five points of eighth-place Winnipeg when they finished up. With the way the bottom of the East has been dropping like a rock allowing some of the other cellar dwellers to climb back in (see: Lightning, Sabres) what's to say the Islanders can't? Any kind of winning streak at this point puts you into contention.

Of course they might need a few more goals but points are points no matter how they come.

[Related: Islanders 1, Devils 0]

Losers

Washington Capitals, Alex Ovechkin: The Capitals were shut out for the second consecutive game at home, being blanked by the Flyers 1-0. Ilya Bryzgalov, who has had his well-chronicled struggles this season, was sharp, very sharp. Obviously, he held the Caps off the board completely despite some of the Flyers' best defensemen (Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros) being out.

Ovechkin, meanwhile, appeared to be benched in the second period by Capitals coach Dale Hunter after his role on the one and only goal, a deflection from Eric Wellwood that beat Michal Neuvirth. His turnover and then pretty poor attempt at stopping the pass to the crease appeared to earn him a seat for the rest of the second.

"My mistake cost us two points and it cost us the game," Ovechkin said.

Now we're left once again wondering if the Caps are dead in the water. With back-to-back home losses, they have fallen five points behind the Panthers in the Southeast and remain out of the playoff picture in the East. If the Sabres -- Buffalo! -- is able to beat the Jets on Monday, the Caps will fall into 10th in the conference.

[Related: Flyers 1, Capitals 0]

Detroit Red Wings: I elected to put the Wings in the losers section instead of the Chicago Blackhawks in the winner section tonight because of the collateral damage that came along with their 2-1 loss at the Joe on Sunday afternoon.

The second period curiously began with Joey MacDonald in the net instead of Jimmy Howard, who had been on for the first 20 minutes. It wasn't immediately clear why. Remember, Howard just missed a couple of weeks with a broken finger.

Eventually Howard was back on the bench and it was revealed that he suffered a lower-body injury and is day to day. That was worthy of a sigh of relief. Of course it's not like MacDonald has been bad in his spot duties so far this season. He gave up the only goal that was scored in the final two periods and took the loss on Sunday, but that dropped his record to just 7-2-1.

The Wings also saw defenseman Jakub Kindl leave the game with an upper-body injury. Add that to the already absent Pavel Datsyuk and the Wings are starting to take some wear and tear.

Oh, and by the tie-breakers, they lost the Central Division lead to the Blues. Not that that means too much right now.

[Related: Blackhawks 2, Red Wings 1]

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