It's a Great Day for Hockey
Whether or not an American citizen was a hockey fan 35 years ago, he or she became one the night of 22 February 1980.
As they celebrate that victory this weekend in Lake Placid, it's also Hockey Weekend Across America, which included this season's sole Stadium Series game, in San José, where the defending champion Los Angeles Kings defeated the Sharks, 2-1, before over 70,000 fans in the San Francisco 49ers' Levi's Stadium.
WIth that win, the Kings reclaimed a playoff position in a back-and-forth Western Conference battle for spots.
Both NHL conference races are guitar-string tight, with one victory moving teams in and out of the playoffs each night. Los Angeles -- whom no one ever wants to meet in the spring -- is now tied with San José and suprising Calgary for third place in the Pacific Division but would get the nod on a tiebreaker. They are right behind Vancouver but 'way off Anaheim's pace. The Ducks lead the division with 81 points, and nothing less than a conference final will be good enough for them this year.
Nashville continues to be the league's best team right now after not making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. The Predators, St Louis, and always-tough Chicago are the top three in the loaded Central Division with suprising WInnipeg and Minnesota making some noise. With James Neal's offensive injection this season and franchise goalie Pekka Rinne back from his knee injury, the Preds will be hard to catch in the regular season.
The Brooklyn-bound New York Islanders continue to stay atop the East's Metropolitan Division, ahead of the rival Rangers, Penguins, and surging Washington Capitals. Even with star right wing Kyle Okposo on the injured list, the Isles have maintained their lead due to the stellar play from John Tavares, Travis Hamonic, and Jaroslav Halák.
The Isles, Rangers, Pens, and Caps have been within five points of each other for weeks as they battle for playoff seeding. The Rangers thought they were in trouble two weeks ago when Henrik Lundqvist went on the injured list, but they've gone 6-1-2 without him led by backup goalie Cam Talbot and rookie MacKenzie Skapski.
Montréal, Tampa Bay, and Detroit lead the Atlantic Division. Lost in the mix is the Boston Bruins; if they don't wake up, they may fall out of the playoffs. Boston sits eighth in the conference with Florida on its heels. With Ottawa, Philadelphia, and New Jersey playing better, the Bruins need to go on a roll to hold them off and sneak into the playoffs.
And ultimately, reinforcements are on the way.