The NHL Closer is written by Greg Wyshynski, of FanHouse and The Fourth Period. He is also the author of Glow Pucks And 10-Cent Beer.


"I feel sad, when you're sad ... I feel glad, when you're glad ... If you only knew, what I'm going through ... I just can't smile without..." Oh, sorry — you see, along with being your humble hockey Closer, I'm also a hockey fan. One whose favorite team is now 0-7 against the Rangers this season, and is in such a late-season collapse they might as well play the rest of their home games at Shea Stadium. Ah well, sunshine and rain: At least Ovechkin's alive and the Leafs are finally dead. Have another donut, Marty...

All right, that was a little harsh. It's not your fault, Chubs, because we both know the Devils aren't even in the conversation this year if you didn't save their bacon at every turn. And the game-winning goal in last night's 3-2 loss at MSG was a fluke by Nigel Dawes of the Rangers: Chris Drury's pass attempt was kicked out by Brodeur as Dawes was taken down in front of him; the puck went off of Dawes's shoulder and rebounded back over the goal line, moments before Dawes himself crashed into the net. (Dawes has scored four of the Rangers' 14 goals against Marty this year, which is just nuts.)

Again, it was the kind of goal a team surrenders when its season is swirling around the porcelain like last night's Taco Bell. I raised the New York Mets/regular season collapse concept about the Devils earlier; the analogy isn't perfect, because the Devils were never the paper champions the Mets were, but this palpable sense of a rapidly decomposing season is a shared experience. And this Devils team's offense — coming to the back of a milk carton near you — is reminiscent of the most frustrating kind of losing baseball team: The ones who you watch strand on a runner on second base with one out in the sixth inning, and you're absolutely certain that'll be their last best chance to put a run on the scoreboard for the rest of the night.


So, in summary: My fan-hatred of the Rangers is now at postseason levels, the Devils third-best offensive option is their third-line checking center and they're five points away from missing the playoffs. Weeeee, hockey!

The Battle for the Bottom. Capitals fans: Don't forget to include Karri Ramo on your holiday card list this year. The Tampa Bay goalie's sleepy reaction to Alexander Semin's rocket shot from the face-off allowed Washington to tie the game. (Tampa was rather jobbed on the icing call to set it up, sending Tortorella into angry Fonzie mode.) In overtime, Ramo flopped around like a salmon on a pile of lingonberries (yea, Finland!) looking for a loose puck, allowing Tomas Fleischmann to score into an empty net for a 4-3 Capitals victory. Ovechkin loved this win...almost as much as how his girlfriend smells.


How-ev-uh, the teams the Capitals are chasing just aren't that into losing right now. The Bruins — despite losing spark-plug Chuck Kobasew for 4-to-8 weeks with a broken leg — used a nice veteran goal from Glen Murray on the power play to beat the Leafs, 4-2; remaining tied with Philly, two points ahead of Washington for the last playoff berth, with both teams having a game in-hand on the Caps. But more importantly for the rest of the hockey world: Boston officially ended "Operation: Cock-Tease" last night for Toronto. "Another failure. It sucks," said defenseman Bryan McCabe; I'm sure he'll recycle that line when the Leafs start adding bodies to the locker room in the off-season.

The eulogies for the beloved Leafs continue to pour in. Around the Harbour offers a musical tribute to hating Toronto. The Renegade Librarian takes the controversial stance that McCabe may, indeed, be the one that sucks. And Eyes on the Prize has perhaps the most graphic celebration of the Leafs' blowing; they included this image, which is our own tribute to the steadfast dedication of the Toronto fan:


Turco = Thug. I wish those stat wizards at the Elias Sports Bureau could tell us the winning percentages for teams whose goalies take a four-minute high-sticking penalty in overtime, because I'm guessing they're pretty fucking low. Marty Turco nailed Joe Pavelski in the mug just 1:15 into overtime; Pavelski then drew another penalty, a hook on Trevor Daley, and Joe Thornton scored his second goal of the night to top Dallas, 3-2. "[It was] nothing short of dumb. There's no excuse. Whatever I was trying to do, it doesn't matter," said Turco in a candid postgame assessment.

The win gave San Jose 102 points and nearly wrapped up the division title. Mike Chen gets out the checklist for the San Jose Sharks, and discovers that they've addressed every single criticism thrown at them this season. Which makes them the favorites to win the Stanley Cup ... until Patrick Marleau starts playing like blit meat in the postseason.


In Other Life-Altering Action Last Night. Sidney Christ returns to Earth, plays 20 minutes and doesn't earn a point in the Penguins' 3-1 win over the Islanders, which put Pittsburgh in the conference top spot. Jarkko Ruutu plays nine minutes and has a goal and two assists. And hamburgers eat people. ... OK, so that 3-2 loss to the Thrashers might have crushed the Panthers' playoff hopes. But if you're going to hit the greens early, might as well be in Florida, right? ... Buffalo topped Ottawa in the skills competition, 4-3. More importantly: Did you know that whenever Mike Fisher scores at home, the Senators play a Christian rock song written especially for him? ... Oh, and Los Angeles and Phoenix played a game and had a result. ... If the playoffs started today, the Penguins would be beginning their sweep of Boston while Steve Downie and Riley Cote would be trying to figure out which Habs forwards to headhunt.

Puck Headlines

* There's plenty I'd like to change about the NHL. But expanding the Stanley Cup Playoffs to 20 teams ranks somewhere between cleaning the ice with a mule-drawn zamboni and swapping out sticks for stale baguettes. [Yahoo! Sports!]


* "The stealth inclusion of short-printed UD Black preview cards has created some great excitement around 2007-08 Upper Deck ICE Hockey." Meanwhile, the fucking '89 Griffey rookie in a sealed factory set that was going to put my kid through college is worth bupkis. Thanks, sports card market crash...thanks a lot. [Sports Card Forum]

* A rather touching story about pond hockey friendship between Dale Hawerchuk and Scott Arniel. Much better than a touching Rather story by the "Kenneth, what is the frequency?" mugger. [The Whig Standard]

* Non-sports item of the day: As a huge "X-Files" geek (before it became teh suck), this poster will hang right next to the UFO/"I Want To Believe" one in my Mulder-esque office hovel. [Ain't It Cool]


* They might be tournament favorites, but the Michigan Wolverines are shivering like frightened kittens in a cold rain about facing North Dakota again. [Goon's World]

* Finally, Mirtle put together a rather interesting list of the top forwards and defensemen that draw penalties. Crosby leads the list with 3.1 penalties drawn per 60 minutes; Sean Avery and his stupid big mouth draw 2.4 penalties. His sample was no doubt too miniscule, so Peter Forsberg didn't make the cut. But it's pathetic dives like this one against the Canucks this week that have nerds on the HF Boards wondering if he's a victim of "the earth's magnetic force."