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:

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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    Kyle Connor expected to be healthy scratch for Jets

    WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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    Jets rookie Kyle Connor played just 10:09 in Sunday’s outdoor loss to the Oilers, and tonight in Dallas it appears he’ll be a healthy scratch for the first time in his NHL career.

    Connor was not among the 12 Winnipeg forwards taking line rushes this morning. The 19-year-old has just one assist in his first five games as a Jet. He’s a minus-5 and has also struggled in terms of possession, as evidenced by his 38 percent Corsi.

    The 17th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Connor spent one year at the University of Michigan before leaving school to turn pro. He’s eligible to be sent to the AHL this season, something the Jets are no doubt considering.

    Winnipeg has a number of potential call-ups on its farm club, including Marko Dano, Quinton Howden, Andrew Copp, Nicolas Petan, and Jack Roslovic.

    Babcock’s had his fill of goalie questions, thanks

    SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Head coach Mike Babcock of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on prior to the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Mike Babcock is aware Toronto’s goaltending hasn’t been good this season.

    He’s also aware that Toronto’s goaltending hasn’t been good the last few seasons.

    Thing is, he doesn’t want to talk about it.

    “It’s five games in, isn’t it?” Babcock replied on Tuesday, when asked about the Leafs’ shaky netminding so far, specifically the play of Frederik Andersen. “Let’s just take a deep breath here.”

    And here’s a transcript of what followed (courtesy Sportsnet)!

    Reporter: The guy on Saturday night said the Leafs goaltending has been lousy this year.

    Babcock: Who did?

    Reporter: The guy on Saturday night — Don Cherry.

    Babcock: Oh, OK. Well now that I know where I’m getting my facts from, here we go. Come on. Let’s move on. What’s next here? Holy [expletive].

    Reporter: No, but seriously, it’s been an issue for this market probably since Ed Belfour left, and I’m wondering if there’s anything to that.

    Babcock: But I’m not dealing with that. This is what I would tell you. We think we have a really good goaltender. At the World Cup I had three outstanding goaltenders, and they all talked about how much time it usually takes to get ready.

    Our guy didn’t have that opportunity because of his injury. We’re real comfortable with him. Do we think he’s played as good as he’s capable of playing? No. Do we think he’s going to? Yes.

    Babcock’s right to suggest it’s too early to start grading Andersen. First, there’s the adjustment from playing behind a good team in a small market (Anaheim) to playing behind a “growing team” in a massive, pressure-packed market like Toronto.

    There’s also the additional pressure that came with Andersen’s acquisition price (a first- and second-round pick) and his subsequent contract extension (five years, $25 million).

    The injury suffered playing for Denmark in Olympic qualifying was definitely a setback, as there’s no doubt some games for Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey would’ve better prepared Andersen for the season.

    Still, it’s hard to look at his numbers — 1-0-3, .879 save percentage, 3.63 GAA — and not be at least a little concerned.

    Unless you’re Mike Babcock, that is.

    Related: The list of struggling netminders is a long one, as it’s been goals galore to start the year

    Elliott gets the start in return to St. Louis

    CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 24: Matt Stajan #18 and Lance Bouma #17 of the Calgary Flames congratulate Brian Elliott #1 after a shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Flames defeated the Blachawks 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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    Brian Elliott will be in Calgary’s crease against his old team tonight in St. Louis.

    Even though Elliott played last night in Chicago, it was an easy decision for Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan. Elliott had easily his best game of the season against the Blackhawks, stopping 31 of 33 shots in a 3-2 shootout victory. The 31-year-old turned away all seven Chicago shooters in the breakaway competition, helping the Flames to just their second win of the young season.

    “I definitely wanted that one,” Elliott told reporters afterwards. “We haven’t been playing like we wanted to and the guys came out and had a heck of an effort.”

    Elliott started 164 games for the Blues during his five years in St. Louis. Last season, he backstopped them to their first conference final since 2001. He was then traded to Calgary in June, paving the way for Jake Allen to become the full-time starter in St. Louis.

    Related: The list of struggling goalies is a long one

    Crosby on track to make season debut tonight

    NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 30: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins waits for a face-off against the 
New Jersey Devils during the third period at the Prudential Center on January 30, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
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    Yesterday, Sidney Crosby participated in a full-contact practice.

    Today, it appears he’ll make his season debut when the Penguins host the Panthers tonight in Pittsburgh.

    “He had a strong practice this morning,” head coach Mike Sullivan said, per the club. “Everything is pointing in the right direction. If he’s comfortable, he could play.”

    Crosby has missed just six games due to the concussion he sustained during practice on Oct. 7. Given his history with concussions, if he plays tonight, it has to be considered a best-case scenario. Certainly, there had been fear he could be out much longer.

    For the record, Crosby told reporters he’ll be a game-time decision.