Philadelphia Flyers v New Jersey Devils - Game Five

Cap relief coming: Devils Brian Rolston goes on LTIR with sports hernia

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Much has been made of the New Jersey Devils inability to ice a complete roster of players thanks to their bind with the salary cap. While guys like Anton Volchenkov and Brian Rolston dealt with nagging injuries and recently demoted enforcer Pierre-Luc Letorneau-Leblond was serving a suspension the Devils had to ice just 15 skaters on Monday night and will send out just 16 skaters for tonight’s game against Buffalo.

Fear not Devils fans, relief is on the way in the form of a sports hernia. I know that sounds gross, but in this case it’s a bit too accurate as Devils forward Brian Rolston is headed to LTIR as he’ll be getting his sports hernia operated on tomorrow and will be out of action for 4-6 weeks. With Rolston on LTIR, the Devils will be allowed to go over the salary cap by $5.062 million (Rolston’s cap hit), thus temporarily solving their salary cap problems. Expect the express from the Devils AHL home in Albany to New Jersey to open up instantly as reinforcements and depth players can be plugged in now with the added salary space.

As for who we can expect to be on the way up to New Jersey, wingers Vladimir Zharkov and Mattias Tedenby are candidates as well as potentially the return of Pierre-Luc Letorneau-Leblond. There’s an outside possibility that prospect Jacob Josefson could get the call to New Jersey as well, but you’d have to think that getting him consistent minutes in Albany would be more of a priority this early in his career.

Those who aren’t Devils fans are going to declare shenanigans on Devils GM Lou Lamoriello for the financially fortunate turn of events with Rolston. Lamoriello’s history of getting things worked out to make the money work for the Devils is the thing of legend now. Of course, having him have a high-priced player end up with a sports hernia, an ailment that takes time to recover from, seems almost all too convenient to just about everyone. Unless Lou Lamoriello has mastered the art of voodoo, he’s in the clear here and this is just dumb luck for him. Then again, I wouldn’t doubt Lou’s ability to work the books either.

For Rolston, his second tour of duty in New Jersey has been nothing short of a complete disaster. After two sub-par seasons, he headed into this season looking to prove his worth and ensure his spot in the lineup in New Jersey and not end up being traded away for salary cap relief. Instead, he’s laid up with an injury and ends up giving the Devils what they needed to help them out without even meaning to. Let’s just go ahead and nominate him for team MVP already.

Most of all for Lamoriello now, this buys him time to get a plan together for when Rolston is able to return from LTIR to help the team get back under the cap. The Devils won’t get to claim an emergency when it’s time for Rolston to come back to get under the cap and if they’d like to keep the NHLPA off their back, they’d be wise to get their act together. Getting a plan worked out now will be a must-have for the Devils. While they can send the guys they’ll call up now back down again then, they won’t completely be in the clear.

For now, the Devils have no worries other than getting Anton Volchenkov back on the ice and getting the roster replacements into New Jersey as soon as possible. Lucky Lou strikes again.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.