What we learned from the past week in the NHL:
San Jose is winning without Erik Karlsson
The Sharks became favorites to win the Pacific Division and contend for the Stanley Cup when they acquired the two-time Norris Trophy winner from Ottawa in September. But Karlsson’s adjustment hasn’t been smooth, and the Sharks’ recent success has come while he has been sidelined by groin issues. Through Saturday’s game they had won four straight and seven of 10 and had inched ahead of Calgary to take first place; the Flames knocked them out Sunday but the two teams figure to be close the rest of the way. The difference between finishing first and second is significant: The division winner will face a beatable wild-card team — likely Dallas or Minnesota — and the second-place team will face the strong Vegas Golden Knights. Karlsson isn’t expected to return until late in the regular season but told reporters last week he definitely will be ready for the playoffs. He was injured in mid-January and missed nine games, then aggravated the injury in late February.
Tampa Bay is good. Very, very good
That has been obvious for a while, but the extent of their excellence was underscored twice in the past week. First: The Lightning became the first team to clinch a playoff berth, locking up a spot Friday. Second: the Boston Bruins earned standings points in 19 straight games (15-0-4) before losing in regulation at Pittsburgh on Sunday but gained only two points on the Lightning during that streak because Tampa Bay was 15-3-2 in the same time period. Lightning winger and NHL scoring leader Nikita Kucherov broke Vincent Lecavalier’s franchise record of 108 points, set in the 2006-07 season, when he scored twice against Detroit last Saturday. Kucherov had 110 points through 69 games, more points than anyone since Henrik Sedin scored 112 points for Vancouver in 2009-10. The Bruins’ streak, incidentally, was second-best in franchise history to a 23-game streak in the 1940-41 season. Worth noting as the Bruins try to fend off Toronto and stay second in the Atlantic Division: Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk injured his arm Sunday and might be out for a while. The Bruins’ depth has already been tested by injuries to David Pastrnak (thumb surgery), Jake DeBrusk (lower-body), Kevan Miller (upper-body) and Marcus Johansson (lung bruise).
Dallas coach Jim Montgomery, whose team is scrambling to reach the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, made a big statement when he benched high-scoring forward Alexander Radulov on Tuesday for being late to a game-day skate. Montgomery dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen against the New York Rangers and the Stars rode a 28-save performance from goaltender Ben Bishop to a 1-0 victory. “No one’s above the team,” Montgomery said. Radulov responded well when he was reinstated: He had a hat trick in a 4-0 victory over Colorado on Thursday and scored another goal Saturday in a loss to Chicago. Montgomery drew some criticism for holding one of his best players out of the lineup while in a playoff chase, but he put the team first and set the right tone.
Some Golden Knights will have golden paydays
Vegas signed recently acquired forward Mark Stone to an extension that will pay him $76 million over eight years (an average annual value of $9.5 million). That forces general manager George McPhee to be creative this summer to get under a salary cap that’s projected to be about $83 million in 2019-20. Big raises for Max Pacioretty, Alex Tuch, Nate Schmidt and Marc-Andre Fleury are scheduled to kick in next season, and McPhee must re-sign William Karlsson, who can become a restricted free agent. Capfriendly.com has Vegas already committed to paying more than $90 million in salaries next season, so McPhee will have to make some moves.
Ted Lindsay, Harry Howell will be missed
Lindsay, who died on March 4 at 93, was remembered during a public viewing Friday at Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena for being as generous off the ice as he was tough during his 17-season career. Lindsay, a four-time Stanley Cup winner, bravely fought to establish a union that would improve players’ pay and benefits though Red Wings executives tried to discredit him and ultimately traded him. He also refused to attend his Hall of Fame induction in 1966 because wives and children were excluded, a policy that changed the next year. He was a familiar figure around the Red Wings and at fundraisers for autism research and education programs.
Howell, who died Sunday at 86, was a steady and classy defenseman in the NHL and the rebel World Hockey Assn. Also a Hall of Famer, Howell played until he was 43 and was universally respected. Like Lindsay, his was a life well-lived.