NHL playoffs update: Rangers knocking on the door

Here’s the updated standings for the incredibly close race in the Eastern conference. Remember, it’s not just a battle for the playoffs; none of these teams want to play the Capitals in the first round. Of course, you never would have guessed based on how they’ve played down the stretch:

Team GP W L OTL PTS
6 Boston Bruins 80 37 30 13 87
7 Montreal Canadiens 81 39 33 9 87
8 Philadelphia Flyers 80 40 34 6 86
9 New York Rangers 80 37 33 10 84

 

6. Boston Bruins – Games remaining: Carolina, @Washington

Boston did all but secure a playoff spot with a big win over the Buffalo Sabres last night. Just one point — or a loss by the New York Rangers — and the Bruins will have clinched a spot in the playoffs. They’re only drawback at this point is they might be short on tiebreakers if it comes down securing a higher playoff spot.

7. Montreal Canadiens – Game remaining: Toronto

The Habs are insisting on giving their fans massive heart attacks, as they have won just three of their last ten games and have slowly started to slide down the standings. Eric Staal’s hat trick destroyed another chance for the Canadiens to lock down a playoff spot, and a loss to Toronto in the final game of the season could be devastating. Because of the NHL’s incredibly insane points system, the New York Rangers could beat the Flyers in both games this weekend and the Canadiens could still miss the playoffs. How?

If the Rangers beat the Flyers in two overtime or shootout games, both teams surpass the Canadiens in the standings. So the key is to just beat the Leafs and not worry about such silliness.

8. Philadelphia Flyers – Games remaining: @NY Rangers, NY Rangers

One win in either game against the Rangers and the Flyers secure a spot in the playoffs. They could leap frog the Habs as well, which is incredibly important for a team that has about a 4% chance of beating the Capitals in the first round.

9. New York Rangers – Games remaining: Philadelphia, @Philadelphia

This is the easy part. Win both games against the Flyers and they’re in the playoffs. Three points may not do it, due to tiebreakers, but securing four points in any way possible will certainly get the job done. Amazingly, it’s still possibly for the Rangers to finish in the 6th spot in the East.

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    PHT Morning Skate: A beer named after Shayne Gostisbehere

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    Conshohocken Brewing on Twitter
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    –Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere took the league by storm last year and obviously, people noticed. Starting on Friday, he’ll have a beer named after him. The Conshohocken Brewery is coming out with the “Ghost Bear Golden Ale”. (Bardown)

    –No one expected rookie Brandon Carlo to make the Bruins out of camp, but he’s been terrific in his first NHL season. Thanks to his reach and wingspan, he’s been able to be effective in his own zone. “The one thing is that he’s so long and his stick is so long, it gives him time to recover because as a young kid in the league you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. He has the ability to come back and recover,” said teammate Torey Krug. (CSN New England)

    –The Pittsburgh Penguins have an interesting dilemma with the upcoming expansion draft. First, they need to figure out if they’ll keep eight skaters and one goalie or seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie. Once that’s settled, the team will need to figure what to do with Marc-Andre Fleury and a youngster like Derrick Pouliot. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun takes a closer look at their situation. (ESPN)

    –Through 24 games, Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon has yet to pick up a single penalty minute. Some people might see that as a positive thing, but others might feel he’s too soft. So, which one is it? We know what MacKinnon thinks: “I’m being aggressive. I’m playing regularly, just not taking any minors. I think it’s a good thing. Usually I’m good for some roughing penalties and I’ve asked a couple guys to fight this year. I’m not trying to have zero penalty minutes,” said MacKinnon. (Denver Post)

    –Injuries have hit the Tampa Bay Lightning pretty hard this year, but they have a bargaining chip named Ben Bishop. Is it time for them to trade him? Here are five reasons why they should.  (The Hockey News)

    –The San Jose Sharks are having some fun on social media. Their latest hilarious video involves players guessing which teammate of theirs is depicted in a young fan’s drawing. It’s pretty funny:

    Flames keep showing life, Stars stumble once again

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    If you think the Dallas Stars are struggling because of defense more than anything else, then you’ll make sure to keep the video above “on file.”

    There Kari Lehtonen was, helpless on a 2-on-0 rush for the Calgary Flames, which Johnny Gaudreau finished with calm and ease. For some, that goal is the symbol of the Stars’ season.

    Either way, it was a painful goal in the Flames’ 2-1 win against the Stars. Calgary won despite Dallas firing 30 shots on goal versus the Flames’ 20.

    One team climbing, the other stumbling

    With that, the Flames are now on a four-game winning streak. Since falling to 5-10-1 on Nov. 12, the Flames have gone 9-3-1 in their last 13 games, pushing them to 14-13-2 overall. Gaudreau coming back is the icing on the cake after Chad Johnson really took charge of the Flames’ top job.

    During a similar span, the Stars can’t seem to get it together. Dallas stood at 6-6-3 after beating the Oilers 3-2 on Nov. 11. They’re now 10-11-6, essentially standing in place as a .500 team.

    Dallas can’t seem to get momentum going, a thought that might have left them envious of the team on the other end of the ice on Tuesday.

    Canadiens are facing some turbulence (and mostly passing the test)

    ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 6: Patrik Berglund #21 of the St. Louis Blues checks Tomas Plekanec #14 of the Montreal Canadiens at the Scottrade Center on December 6, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)
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    The Montreal Canadiens aren’t in crisis mode, but as far as this so-far outstanding 2016-17 season goes, they are finally facing some adversity.

    Alex Galchenyuk, one of their most promising young players, is out indefinitely. There are murmurs that captain Max Pacioretty isn’t getting along with head coach Michel Therrien.* Tuesday presented a body blow or two to boot.

    For one thing, the Canadiens gave up a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 to the St. Louis Blues in overtime. Jaden Schwartz grabbed an assist and scored the game’s last two goals, including the OT-winner:

    Losing to a contender like the Blues, especially while still grabbing a “charity point,” isn’t that big of a deal. A possible David Desharnais injury makes things a little dicey, however:

    Really, though, it’s not all that bad for Montreal. They managed a 2-2-1 mark during a five-game road trip heavy on quality opponents.

    Also: six of their next seven games come at home, where they’re 12-1-1. So things will look brighter soon enough.

    Still, with some injuries and a big road trip to end 2016 and start 2017, there may be some moments where Montreal looks vulnerable.

    Ultimately, fighting through stretches like these could very well benefit the Habs later on.

    * – Ah, the old standby: “Player X isn’t seeing eye-to-eye with Therrien.”

    From the Blues’ side:

    Ristolainen, Kane, O’Reilly push Sabres past McDavid and the Oilers

    EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 16:  Rasmus Ristolainen #55, Matt Moulson #26, Sam Reinhart #23, Kyle Okposo #21 and Ryan OÕReilly #90 of the Buffalo Sabres celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers on October 16, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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    On Tuesday, it wasn’t just about Jack Eichel vs. Connor McDavid. Instead, it was a clash between a fleet of young scorers who were in their prime, with the Buffalo Sabres coming up on top against the Edmonton Oilers.

    In particular, high-scoring defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, power forward Evander Kane and two-way center Ryan O'Reilly made the difference in Buffalo’s 4-3 overtime win.

    Ristolainen’s first goal of 2016-17 was a big one, as it clinched the contest in OT:

    Evander Kane scored two goals of his own, including one in the dying seconds of regulation to allow Buffalo to get a standings point (and then a second) in the first place.

    Kane finished with two goals, O’Reilly generated two assists and Ristolainen managed a one-goal, two-assist performance.

    It would be wrong to say that the marquee names didn’t show up at all. McDavid generated two assists and Eichel also nabbed a helper.

    You’d be correct in saying that other young players stole the show, though, and the Sabres were the biggest beneficiaries.