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Fischler Report: Reflecting on the Homestretch

Stan Fischler looks at the NHL's playoff race, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Bossy, Sidney Crosby, Donald Fehr, Alexis Lafreniere, the Edmonton Oilers, Pat Lafontaine, and much much more.

Homestretch games have big-time playoff meaning. Here are a few headlines -- with thoughts -- to save for the postseason:

1. Alexis Lafreniere Finds His Game: Rangers are getting stronger pre-playoffs.

2. Colorado over Carolina. Very best beats Not-So-Best. And Ben Meyers is scoring.

3. Pitt Loses Again: It's getting to be a habit with the Penn Six.

4. Oilers Flexing their muscles. They might even win a round. Smitty is the man.

5. The Real Sleeper: Blues win eighth straight. And nobody talks about them.


So much has been written about the late Mike Bossy -- yet not enough. Thumbing through Bossy's autobiography, I found a wonderful tribute which went as follows:

"He wanted to become the best offensive right wing in the league. He did. He wanted to become the first player in 36 years to score 50 goals in 50 games. He did. He wanted to speak out against fighting in the NHL.He did.

"He thought he should have been the NHL's first team All-Star right wing over Guy Lafleur in 1978-79. He criticized the hockey writers for their sentimental selection. Each time he left himself vulnerable to criticism, but each time he stood firmly behind his beliefs."

The words belonged to Bryan Trottier and even though they were written 34 years ago, they remain fresh to this day.



My sage Hockey News colleagues -- in THN's Annual -- picked Colorado to finish first in the Central Division. Kudos to our Wise Men. The Avs not only are a Central sure thing for the top but, for now at least, are the best in the West.

But unlike the playoff-sewed-up-east, the Western Conference homestretch gallop is a dilly. Or as my advisor-on-things-West-of-the Mississippi, Mike Augello, puts it, "The race may come down to the final days of the regular season."

Calgary, Minnesota and St.Louis have impressed me with their staying power. And speaking of power, the McDavid-Draisaitl machine has Edmonton thriving. Even

Ed's goaltending has improved.

Overachieving L.A. looked good until Drew Doughty went down for the season, but the Kings are still alive. Battling for the Wild Card spots is as unpredictable as next November's weather. I like Nashville and Dallas but Vegas is not dead, yet. Ergo: It looks like the final night will produce a photo finish.



Our righteous -- because he's rarely wrong -- Gus Vic fires some fantastic shots. To wit:

"While many see the Kings as the team in the biggest trouble -- and rightfully so -- all of their remaining games come against Non-playoff clubs. On the other hand, Nashville has a much tougher run from here.

"The cut-off to make the postseason in the West is 98.6. It's a bit bold but I say Vegas gets third in the Pacific."



Correct me if I'm wrong, but I strongly believe that Sidney Crosby is being taken for granted -- and too often.

Okay, let me put it another way; the Pittsburgh Penguins once again are a playoff team because of their captain and the influence he's had on a club that really shouldn't be nearly as high in the standings as it is now.

Call it what you will but I call it The Crosby Effect. Sid creates an aura that refuses to allow mediocrity envelop his team.

And what's so astonishing to me is the fact that most of us have forgotten that we once were about to give up on Sidney's career because of severe concussions.

Don't ask me how; but he not only bounced back but is presently achieving milestone after milestone.

My solid guy in Pittsburgh, Vince Comunale, has studied Crosby for years. Try Vince's view and lemme know what you think:



The good news is that Pitt will be in the playoffs for the 16th straight season. Now for the worse news, courtesy of The Venerable Vince:

"Perhaps the biggest issue the Penguins face is one they cannot control -- their likely first-round foe -- the Rangers. Pittsburgh lost three of four meetings with the Rangers including the last three in a row. The match-up is tough because the Rangers play the Penguins style and are slightly better at it.

"The Penguins' game is speed but the Rangers are quicker and have better goaltending. But in each area that the Rangers are better, they're only slightly better and that's where the Penguins playoff experience might be the great equalizer against New York's young and inexperienced core."


WHO SAID IT? "I see a big difference -- year to year -- in Auston Matthews' 200-foot game. A huge credit to him." (Answer Below.)



The headline on Pierre LeBrun's piece in The Athletic says it all: "Time For Fehr To Orchestrate His Exit From The NHLPA. " So, you start with the fact that the ever-reliable LeBrun is rarely wrong. It tells me that the skids are being greased for The Donald's exit. More than likely a long succession of interviews will inspire a leadership change. The difference at the top is clear; the NHL has stability; the NHLPA -- who knows?



The Blue Jackets won't make the playoffs but there's hope for the future. My man in Columbus, Coby Maeir, is enthused about newcomers Kent Johnson and Nick Blankenburg. Forward Johnson was the club's 2021 No. 5 overall pick while Nick was a college free agent signing.

"Both players look like they belong," chirps Maeir, "and then some. Neither is afraid to get physical. Although Blankenburg stands only 5-9 he plays much bigger; reminds me of the time Chicago got Patrick Kane and some said he was 'too small.'

"Rookie Cole Sillinger, Jack Roslovic and Patrik Laine all are playing well. They're all under the age of 25 which tells me that the future is bright in Columbus."



* Imagine, if you will, the possibilities of an Oilers-Leafs Final.

* Could happen.

* Among the many reasons why Auston Matthews has reached superstar status, start with the fact that he's worked on improving different aspects of his game every year.

* He's upped his face-off ability, improved his defensive game and is a better stickhandler. Plus, his shot release is quicker than ever.

* A teenager to watch: Stephen Halliday. The kid is having a career year with the USHL's Dubuque Fighting Saints.

* Halliday set a new USHL Tier I record for most career points in the regular season, becoming the first player to surpass 200 points.

* The weird thing that I find when I see the very trim and youthful-looking Wayne Gretzky these days is that I still can't figure out how he did all those marvelous things for so long.

* Former NHL toughie Tyson Nash is an analyst on Coyotes broadcasts. Nash is making it abundantly clear he does not like Trevor Zingras' "Michigan" and TZ's other cute movies.

* I bet Nash would just love them if Zingras skated for the Yotes and not the Ducks.

* Rapid Rob Del Mundo's Argus eyes produced this gem: "Auston Matthews has found an extra gear - his will and determination. He reminds me of Mike Bossy and Alex Ovechkin."

* I'm gonna miss Ryan Getzlaf, the captain's captain. It's been a most commendable 17 seasons for the Big Guy.

* You have to figure that this will be Keith Yandle's sayonara season.

* "Keith was loved wherever he played -- as a player and as a person," says Al Greenberg who reported plenty on the D-man.



Few notable retired hockey players have invested as much time in a charitable outfit than Pat LaFontaine. I speak firsthand having watched his "Companions In Courage" grow from a mere idea to an organization that is one of the most revered on the continent for its superior work.

But what inspired LaFontaine to become so involved in the first place?

"It started when I was a teenager with the Islanders," Pat revealed in an exclusive interview. "Guys on the team would drag me to charity events. I had the chance to meet Clinton Brown III, a little person who had undergone dozens of surgeries. He subsequently became a lifelong friend and I'd go to his house after practice and we'd play video games for hours and just laugh."

That was the beginning; eventually Pat was traded to Buffalo and events and ideas jelled. Good works were just ahead.

"I had major knee surgery that caused me to miss the rest of the season. As soon as I got off crutches, my wife, Marybeth, suggested that some good could come out of this bad situation. I met a 12-year-old boy named Robert Schwegler who was in isolation and had been battling leukemia. I'd go up to see him at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and we'd play video games at his hospital bed. It was there I realized how profound an impact video games and technology could have on the healing process."

Then came the turning point.

"One day after a visit, a nurse came to me and thanked me for visiting Robert. I said, 'He's my friend.' She just said, 'I don't think you get it. Your visits are the only time this child smiles.' We both shed a tear and I knew that I had to do more to help children, like Robert, Clinton and many others."

This, in turn, led to "Companions In Courage," But the motivation began in the LaFontaine household.

"When I was a teenager, my Mom and Dad told me that if I was ever in a position to use my celebrity to benefit others, then it was my obligation to do so. I think about them often and having our family now growing each day makes me reflect and appreciate how important those values are in life." (MORE FROM PAT NEXT FRIDAY.)

(ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Rick Vaive, who previously held Toronto's goal-scoring record until Matthews broke it.)


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