It was Super Tuesday in the Western Conference playoff race, a quirky scheduling day in which all six teams competing for the final three playoff spots played against each other. Once upon a time, teams would routinely describe games of this magnitude as four-pointers, or by noting that two important points up were for grabs.
Now, of course, that terminology is flawed and hopelessly outdated. In the era of shootout wins and overtime losses and ROWs – regulation and overtime wins, the first tie-breaker when it comes to deciding playoff positions – every result is far more nuanced than that.
Me? I miss the days when it all about the two points, instead of the three.
The games that mattered Tuesday night involved Los Angeles Kings-San Jose Sharks; Dallas Stars-Phoenix Coyotes; and Colorado Avalanche-Calgary Flames. Ultimately, in this new-age way of keeping everybody alive to play another day, five of the six teams playing earned points - which made for one big identifiable loser, the Sharks, the only club that came up empty.
But even within the context of those results, some wins were worth more than others. For example, Dallas needed to go to a shootout to win; and since shootout victories do not count when breaking a tie for playoff position, Colorado's ability to win in overtime – on a goal by David Jones, after Anton Babchuk allowed Paul Stastny to turn him into a pretzel – counted for slightly more. Calgary's loss, on the other hand, was worth the same as Phoenix's loss, unless the Coyotes further lose team captain Shane Doan to a suspension. Doan elbowed the Stars' Jamie Benn in the head; and got into a scrap with Stars' captain Brendan Morrow as a result.
Doan has been suspended once before for a blow to the head; it is possible, even likely, that he will be dinged again here; and his loss could be devastating for Phoenix, given that Doan's play in the latter stages of Tuesday's game helped the Coyotes rally from a two-goal deficit and earn a single loser point in the standings.
When the dust eventually settled, the two-point gap that separated the teams 24 hours previously was now a three-point gap, Dallas and Colorado leading the way at 85, L.A. and Phoenix at 84, San Jose and Calgary trailing the pack at 82. The Stars, the Avalanche and the Kings were holding down playoff spots; the Coyotes, the Sharks and the Flames were out. San Jose had the most to lament and coach Todd McLellan noted the effort against the Kings was a little better than the effort the previous night, at home, against a tired Anaheim Ducks team starting a little-used back-up goaltender (Jeff Deslauriers), where the Sharks still found a way to lose.
Post-game Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle put it this way: "I'm not saying that we aren't trying; I just want to be clear on that. They were probably trying harder." Boyle went on to say that at this time of year, "you need everybody. I think when we have guys going and others aren't that isn't going to work at this time of year. We need everybody—six D men, our goalie, all four lines; no matter if you play five minutes or 25 minutes you have to show up."
All in all, just another crazy day in the Western Conference playoff race. Stay tuned. Super Thursday is on the horizon.