Shock on the Left Coast
Joyous pandemonium in Edmonton.
Shock and despair in Vancouver.
Another reason to believe in an impossible dream in Toronto.
Hockey fans in those three Canadian burgs experienced the peaks and the valleys of NHL competition Thursday night.
But while the Oilers can now plan for the Stanley Cup playoffs next week and the Maple Leafs bought at least one more day of hope, the Canucks concluded their late season collapse in Silicon Valley by losing to the San Jose Sharks and eliminating themselves from post-season play.
Coming out of the lockout, no one would have imagined this premature end for the Vancouverites. They were viewed as a Stanley Cup contender as late as December, right there with Ottawa and Detroit, but instead couldn't even make the playoffs.
They were done in officially by a winning shot off the stick of Hobey Baker Award winner Matt Carle in the second half of the third period last night, blowing a 3-2 lead in the final frame to drop a 5-3 decision.
But it was Vancouver's lack of commitment to detail, discipline and defence that did them in. Too many penalties and not enough determination to shut down San Jose pivot Joe Thornton were the secondary story lines, as Thornton ran wild in back-to-back games against the Canucks, setting up seven of 10 goals.
Thornton played like a man possessed in both games, refuting, at least for the time being, the criticism of him in Boston before he was traded to the Sharks that he was a limp leader who didn't come through in the crunch.
His three assists, combined with Jaromir Jagr's one-goal evening against Pittsburgh, left the two men tied atop the NHL scoring race with 122 points. Jagr is technically the leader, however, because of his 54 goals.
Still, the Czech star might lose the Art Ross Trophy to Thornton, and he's also being pressed hard in the Rocket Richard Trophy race by Jonathan Cheechoo of the Sharks, who scored his 52nd and 53rd goals last night. Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 52nd last night, while Alexander Ovechkin became the fourth 50-goal man this season in Washington's loss to the Thrashers.
It's hard to believe, meanwhile, that the stunning end to Vancouver's playoff hopes won't mark the end of Marc Crawford's coaching rein in Vancouver and the conclusion to Todd Bertuzzi's career as a Canuck. If that's the case, it will be fitting, for the inability of those two men to control themselves led to the horrible Steve Moore incident of two years ago, and the Canucks have failed to be a team of substance ever since.
GM Dave Nonis will be heavily scrutinized as well, for none of the players he acquired at the trade deadline - goalie Mika Norenen and defencemen Eric Weinrich, Sean Brown and Keith Carney - made a decisive difference to a team that couldn't keep the puck out of its net when it mattered.
The Oilers, on Ales Hemsky's last second seeing eye goal night through the legs of Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, became the 14th NHL team to clinch a playoff berth, leaving four eastern teams - Montreal, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and the Leafs - to fight for the final two positions.
The Leafs stayed alive when Matt Stajan continued his revitalization in the post-Jason Allison era by scoring a second-effort OT winner on Long Island, and now have a possible chance for redemption for two of the club's biggest failures this season.
Having lost to the Senators seven straight times this season, including defeats of 8-0, 8-2 and 7-0, the Leafs will be out at the very least to salvage a shred of pride against their provincial rivals.
They may be catching the Sens at the right time. Ottawa lost 5-4 in overtime to Florida last night with Mike Morrison in net, and have now dropped five of the last six games.
As long as the Lightning get no more than two points in their home-and-home series with Carolina tonight and Saturday, the Leafs can also go into Sunday afternoon's game in Buffalo still alive in the playoff race if they first defeat Ottawa on Saturday night.
Should that scenario emerge, the Leafs will at least have had the chance against the Sens and Sabres to atone for their disastrous three-day stay in Montreal three weeks ago in which consecutive one-sided losses to the Habs made it appear the club simply couldn't cope with the pressure of seriously vying for a post-season position.
No matter what happens between the Bolts and Canes in Raleigh, N.C. tonight, the Leafs will start Saturday night's game scoreboard watching, silently cheering on the Hurricanes against the Lightning far away in the Sunshine State.
It's not much. But it's better than being in the shoes of the Canucks, for whom out-of-town scores no longer matter.