Frozen Four Postscript And Nhl Crunch Time Has Arrived On A Jet Rocket!

Marc Elliott

STONY POINT… The NCAA Men’s Frozen Four is complete, and Eastern upstart Yale has won it all by besting the overall number-one team, Quinnipiac, by a 4-0 whitewash in the title tilt. In the regionals, of course, the Bulldogs beat out perennial WCHA combatants Minnesota and then North Dakota. In the national semifinals they beat out big and tough U-Mass Lowell 3-2 in a hard-fought game that went to OT. And that was their path to their first championship in the school’s history.

In observing the Yalies’ run to the top,  I thought they had very strong play between the pipes and then defensively appeared to be playing hockey’s version of the old “flex” defense. They would bend a little bit, absorbing what was being thrown at them, but not break or give up any goals that would really hurt them. Then when they needed a score to change the complexion of the game, they got it. As far as taking what Quinnipiac was dishing and surviving, Yale had to kill off two penalties in the first period, followed by two in the second period, the second of which served up a 5 on 3 situation for 1:03. Yale stood up to it and scored the game winner right at the end of the second frame with 3.5 seconds left on the clock.

This set up a “bombs away” third period, with Quinnipiac desperately trying to get the equalizer. But one power play and 10 Bobcat shots on goal later, it was Yale on top 4-0. The perseverance of Yale to never appear up or down and to just keep playing their game, exhibiting uncanny patience and smart play, got them through each contest and eventually helped them win the title. My hat is off to them—they were the best team of the past three weeks and the win is well deserved. Minnesota hockey was well represented in the Frozen Four, with 20 rostered players at the tourney. The 2014 Men’s F4 will be held in Philadelphia on April 10th and 12th. Can’t wait!

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A couple of weeks can make to an NHL team. On March 27th the Minnesota Wild beat Phoenix 4-3. It was the club’s seventh victory in a row. They were leading the Northwest division and in the driver’s seat for the Stanley Cup tourney. Since then the team has gone 2-6 (2-5-1), dropping from the division lead down to a tie for 7th place with Detroit with a game in hand. To top it off, the NorthStars and Columbus are within two points and Phoenix is within four points of pulling alongside of the Wild in the race for a playoff ticket.

I thought it would be a tight race and that any standings separation would not occur until the last couple of weeks of the shortened season. That is kind of what has occurred now. In my estimation, there are four teams from each conference that appear to be long shots for a playoff spot, including perennial playoff entrants Philadelphia and Nashville.

In the East the clubs still scrapping it out for the last couple of places are the Islanders, Rangers, Winnipeg, and long shots Buffalo and New Jersey. My guess is that the Isles and Rangers probably get in. As far as the West goes with the battle on to see who gets the 7th and 8th spots and the chance to go up against the Blackhawks and Ducks respectively, and thus most likely hit the golf course afterward, let’s break it down.

If the Wild can break out of their slump, they could control their own destiny. And honestly, outside of a late March loss to the NorthStars (after pasting them earlier in the same week), this club has lost some close, hard-fought games to some very good teams. I can’t really panic under the circumstances. Anyway, the Wild are currently in 7th with 41GP and 47 points. I look for them to get seven points in their last seven games to finish with 54. Detroit has 42 GP with 47 points. In their final six tilts, I look for them to obtain seven points for a 54 point finish. The NorthStars are at 41 GP and 45 points; I look for them to get three points in their last seven. Please note that I could be totally wrong on this club. They have beaten the Ducks and San Jose (twice) in the past two weeks. They have the toughest remaining schedule in my opinion, though.  

For Columbus, they are at 42 GP and 45 points. I see Columbus gaining six points in their last six to finish with 51 points. And for Phoenix? Man, I really admire this team. With all of the sideshow going on with the potential sale/non-sale of the club dominating all team news stories, they just keep plugging away. They are at 41 GP and 43 points and they have got a tough road ahead to try to gain a spot. I only see them getting seven points in their last seven for a 50 point finish.  

So, if the Wild and the Wings are the clubs that get the last two spots, what’s the upside? Well, the teams will get a couple more dates at the Gate before engaging in the hockey equivalent of the Bataan Death March. OK, that’s harsh, but considering that a 7th or 8th place finish gets you a date with either the Blackhawks or Ducks, neither the Wild nor Wings would be favored in any way, shape, or form. But upsets can and do happen. That’s why they play the games, right? But in typical MFAN fashion, I’m going to enjoy the “journey to the tourney” no matter what. Heck, I have seen 12 games this week alone! Let’s play Hockey! PEACE

Marc Elliott is a freelance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.