Southeast Division lead shifts back to Capitals with Washington win, Atlanta loss

Over the last week or so, the most fickle thing in the NHL might be the Southeast Division lead.

Thanks to a previous hot streak by the Atlanta Thrashers and a recently broken slump by the Washington Capitals, the two teams now seem to be in a tug-o-war (some might say a game of hot potato) for the top spot in the division. Let’s not forget about the Tampa Bay Lightning, either, as they are staying in the picture despite playing more games on the road than at home so far this season.

The Thrashers held a thin lead over the Capitals going into tonight’s games, but the power shifted once more on Tuesday.

Washington 5, New Jersey 1

While beating the Senators and Devils shouldn’t encourage the Capitals to plan a Stanley Cup parade, the team is at least taking care of business against the teams they should beat in the last two games.

It was a team effort for the Caps, as five different players scored goals. Included in that group was Andrew Gordon, who earned his first NHL goal and assist in this game.

Michal Neuvirth was on his game tonight, stopping 35 shots and only allowing a Patrik Elias power-play goal.

St. Louis 4, Atlanta 2

Meanwhile, the Blues snapped out of a lull to beat the Thrashers 4-2 in their contest.

Ty Conklin (37 saves) and St. Louis won thanks to a scoring by committee approach, as Dustin Byfuglien and Chris Mason weren’t quite good enough to earn Atlanta their 11th win at home this season.

Here’s a quick snap shot of the Southeast Division picture after a Capitals win, a Thrashers loss and the Lightning remaining dormant.

As you can see, the Capitals now hold a thin lead over the Thrashers (one more win, one more point in the same amount of games played) while the Lightning could actually be in the best position of the three to take a lead into the new year. While they trail the Capitals by a win and two points, they’ve played in three less games than Atlanta and Washington. They could tie the Caps with one win and pass them by if they earned at least three points in those three games.

Of course, there’s still a little under 50 games left for these teams, so analyzing them too much at this point is foolish. Still, if these patterns remain consistent, the Southeast Division could be highly competitive a year (or even two) earlier than most people expected.

This race should be fun for however long it lasts.

Couture in ‘uncomfortable state’ after two facial fractures

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture played in the postseason despite two fractures in his face along with the plastic and wiring in his mouth that kept his teeth in place.

Couture revealed more details of the injuries sustained when a deflected slap shot from teammate Brent Burns hit him in the mouth in Nashville on March 25.

He said he had one fracture that went from his upper lip to the nose area that is still very sore and will take about six weeks to completely heal. The other fracture is below his bottom row of teeth.

“They’re not fun,” he said Tuesday. “It’s not extreme pain right now. Obviously it’s bearable to get by on a day-to-day basis. It’s still a struggle to eat and sleep and some of that stuff. It’s not comfortable. It’s an uncomfortable state to be in.”

Couture said he will meet with his dentist soon to figure out the next steps in recovery. He will need implants to get the teeth fixed and hopes to get that work done in the next few weeks so he can return home to Canada after that.

Couture said he is still “crushed” by San Jose’s first-round playoff loss in six games to the Edmonton Oilers and will need a few more days to get his mind right.

After San Jose made a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, Couture said it was frustrating to enter the postseason with the team so banged up this year.

“You sit there and think, `Why is this happening to us?”‘ he said. “It’s the game of hockey and injuries happen. Teams that win, they battle through the adversity and the injuries and other guys step up and play big roles. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that as a team.”

Couture scored two goals in a Game 4 win but did not play up to his usual standards. The Sharks were also hurt by a serious injury to top-line center Joe Thornton, who tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee on April 2 and was back playing in Game 3 two weeks later.

Thornton had two assists in the final four games of the series before undergoing surgery to repair the knee on Monday.

“He’s incredible,” Couture said. “I don’t know if he feels pain because it can’t be fun. The fact that he skated three days after it happened was shocking. I don’t think anyone expected that in our room. It shows how badly he wants to win that he was able to get back out there. The steps that he was going through to play was pretty remarkable. Everyone in our dressing room respects the heck out of that guy. He really wants to win.”

Among other injured players for San Jose were forward Patrick Marleau (broken left thumb), forward Tomas Hertl (broken foot), and forward Joonas Donskoi (separated shoulder).

You can see a picture of Couture’s damaged mouth here, but a warning — it’s pretty gross.

Bergeron may need surgery for sports hernia

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Patrice Bergeron says he may need offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia that he dealt with all year.

Bergeron missed the Bruins’ first three games of the 82-game schedule with a lower-body injury; however, he managed to play the next 79, plus six more in the playoffs as Boston fell to Ottawa in the first round.

Typically, a sports hernia is first treated with rest and physical therapy. Then, if that doesn’t solve the problem, surgery may be required.

It was a frustrating start to the season for the 31-year-old center. Bergeron had just 24 points in 49 games before the All-Star break, but he finished with a respectable 53 points in 79 games, including 21 goals.

Bergeron could win his fourth Selke Trophy in June. He’s a finalist for the award, along with Ryan Kesler and Mikko Koivu.

In other Bruins injury news, Brandon Carlo had a concussion and Torey Krug an MCL injury. Neither d-man was able to suit up for the B’s in the postseason, though Krug was close to returning.

Defenseman Adam McQuaid, hurt in Game 2 against the Sens, had a neck injury.

No Patrick Kane for U.S. at Worlds

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Tough day for USA Hockey.

After learning that prized Toronto rookie Auston Matthews was skipping the World Hockey Championships, the organization was informed Chicago star Patrick Kane would also be passing on the event.

Kane hasn’t often been able to participate in the Worlds, given he and the Blackhawks have advanced past the first playoff round in five of the last nine years. In fact, the last time Kane played at the Worlds was in 2008, when Chicago missed the playoffs entirely.

(Kane had 10 points in seven games for the Americans that year, en route to a sixth-place finish.)

Matthews cited fatigue as one of the main reasons he passed on this year’s tourney, and it’s safe to assume Kane did the same. He appeared in all 82 games for the ‘Hawks this year, four more in the playoffs, and also represented the U.S. at the World Cup of Hockey.

USA Hockey did manage to secure the services of two important players last week, however. Both Calgary sniper Johnny Gaudreau and Buffalo sophomore Jack Eichel agreed to come aboard.

Gaborik has procedure for ‘chronic’ knee issue, questionable for camp

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Yesterday, new Kings GM Rob Blake told reporters the club wouldn’t be buying out Marian Gaborik’s contract, because the veteran winger had undergone a medical procedure.

Today, the club shed more light on the situation.

L.A. announced that Gaborik recently underwent an “in-depth medical procedure for a chronic issue related to his left knee,” adding the 35-year-old would be questionable for the start of training camp.

Gaborik’s had left knee problems dating back to 2013, when he was a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He missed nearly 20 games during the ’13-14 campaign, then had more knee troubles at the tail end of ’15-16 (with the Kings).

Since injured players can’t be bought out of their contracts, Gaborik could very well open the year on LTIR, providing the Kings with some much-needed cap space.

And though Blake said next season would “be a clean slate for Marian to come in and prove himself,” there has to be some question if he’ll return.

Gaborik struggled through this season, scoring just 10 goals in 56 games while missing extensive time with a foot injury suffered at the World Cup. Health issues have dogged him throughout his 17-year career, and he’s only dressed in 110 of 164 games over the last two seasons.

Because of this, his contract has become an albatross. Signed by ex-GM Dean Lombardi, Gaborik’s seven-year, $34.125 million deal still has four years remaining, at a $4.875M cap hit. Gaborik would be 39 by the time the deal expires on July 1, 2021.

In other L.A. injury news, three players also underwent medical procedures recently. Tyler Toffoli and Derek Forbort had knee surgery, while Alec Martinez had “a minor medical procedure for a chronic issue related to his groin.” All three are expected to be ready for camp, however.