Chris Thorburn, Tim Gleason

Southeast Division Watch (February 7)

With the All-Star break over, it’s time for the NHL playoff races to intensify. Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division’s outlook. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Southeast Division outlook (February 7-13)

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (33-16-5 for 71 pts; 54 Games Played)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Two home games: vs. Buffalo (Tuesday), vs. Carolina (Saturday).

Thoughts: The Lightning lost to Washington, but other than that hiccup, they’ve been perfect during their ridiculous 12-game homestand so far.

2. Washington Capitals (29-15-10 for 68 pts; 54 GP)

Current streak: Two wins.

Week ahead: Home vs. San Jose (Tues), home vs. Los Angeles (Sat).

Thoughts: There’s an instinct to say the Capitals are “back to their old selves,” but that’s dead wrong. Instead they’ve turned over a new, defensive-minded leaf. It makes them less fun on some level, but a more dangerous playoff threat on another.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (26-21-6 for 58 pts; 53 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Four road games: vs. New Jersey (Tues), vs. Philadelphia (Thurs), vs. Tampa Bay (Sat) and Atlanta (Sun).

Thoughts: The Hurricanes are going into this week with some serious momentum, but the upcoming five-game road swing will be a serious test for the ‘Canes. It’s not outrageous to say they can lose every single one of these games; the Flyers and Lightning are division leaders, the Thrashers are fighting for the Hurricanes’ playoff territory and the Devils are suddenly looking like their old pesky selves. We’ll see what they’re made of.

4. Atlanta Thrashers (24-21-10 for 58 pts; 55 GP)

Current streak: Three losses in a row.

Week ahead: @ Toronto (Mon), home vs. NY Rangers (Fri), home vs. Carolina (Sun).

Thoughts: With just two wins in their last 12 games, the Thrashers are clearly in disarray. Sunday’s game against what could be a beleaguered Hurricanes team could be a pretty gigantic one for Dustin Byfuglien’s bunch.

5. Florida Panthers (23-23-6 for 52 pts; 52 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Three home games: one against St. Louis (Tues), vs. Buffalo (Thurs) and against San Jose (Sun).

Thoughts: Once again, the Panthers seem like they are a day late and a dollar short for the Eastern Conference playoffs. The next few weeks are crucial for the team to decide if they should go into sell mode during the trade deadline (they should).

PHT Morning Skate: Tarasenko gives young fan an unforgettable birthday gift

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Vladimir Tarasenko gave 11-year-old fan Arianna Dougan the birthday gift of a lifetime. Dougan, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma when she was three, was given a trip for two on the team’s charter flight to Arizona and Colorado for her 11th birthday. “I was crying in the background,” said Arianna’s mom, Lorie Zucker. “She’s so over the moon she doesn’t realize what she’s got yet. It won’t hit home until she gets in the car. This has been the best birthday ever.” (NHL.com/Blues)

–To many, Mike Babcock or Joel Quenneville being the best coaches in hockey is a foregone conclusion. But what if they’re not? Yahoo’s Ryan Lambert makes a case for Wild bench boss Bruce Boudreau. “Boudreau didn’t inherit a sleeping giant of any sort when he took this job. The Wild were decent. He turned them into a team that’s not quite among the elites of the league, but is certainly a very good team that could do some damage in the playoffs.” (Yahoo)

–At one point, it looked like the Carolina Hurricanes were going to make a serious push for a playoff spot, but they quickly faded and went back to being a non-contending team. If the Oilers make the playoffs this year, the Hurricanes would own the longest playoff drought in the NHL. Sportsnet’s Luke Fox explains that the ‘Canes need to sacrifice some of their depth on defense so they can acquire an offensive weapon up front. (Sportsnet)

–Don’t look now, but the Florida Panthers are making a serious run at a playoff spot. The team turned the corner once they got injured forward Jonathan Huberdeau back into their lineup and they haven’t looked back. In the 51 games he missed, the Panthers scored just 2.33 goals per game. Since he’s been back, they’re averaging over four goals per game. (The Hockey News)

–Former NHLer Jeremy Roenick knows what it feels like to be traded. Roenick told SI.com that the first trade he experienced was “horrifying”. He also described just how tough it is to go to battle with a team one day and be on a different squad the next. (Sports Illustrated)

–On Monday, the Calgary Flames acquired Michael Stone from the Arizona Coyotes. A few hours after the deal, Flames forward Mikael Backlund posted this funny tweet about Stone running him over when they were in junior:

Little-known Langhamer spurns Ducks comeback for Coyotes

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 14:  Ryan Getzlaf #15 of the Anaheim Ducks skates with the puck during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 14, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. The Ducks defeated the Coyotes 3-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Both of Monday’s games could have gone beyond regulation, yet the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks were left kicking themselves after failing to generate standings points.

In the case of the Ducks, they simply couldn’t overcome a lousy start to the Arizona Coyotes. They erased most of a 3-0 deficit but ultimately fell 3-2 on Monday.

Again, it was an ugly opening for Anaheim.

Randy Carlyle turned to John Gibson to start the second period and the red-hot goalie didn’t give up a goal; even so, his strong work wasn’t rewarded with anything but nice numbers.

Ryan Getzlaf scored both of Anaheim’s goals, including one with less than 30 seconds remaining in the third period and the Ducks’ net empty. You’d think that would be the end of the drama, but that wasn’t the case.

Mike Smith needed to leave the net during the third, likely because of a collision with Jakob Silfverberg. (Sounds like he’s OK, though.)

This forced Marek Langhamer to close out the game, meaning he had to deal with Anaheim’s endgame barrage. That included making quite the clutch stop against Sami Vatanen, spurning quite the attempt to tie:

Wow.

A quick primer on Langhamer: he was a seventh-round pick by the Coyotes (then Phoenix, 184th overall in 2012). He’s spent chunks of this season in both the AHL and ECHL, so this must be quite the moment for the 22-year-old.

As cool as that story is, the Ducks have to be kicking themselves. Instead of going ahead of the Edmonton Oilers for the second spot in the Pacific, both teams remain locked at 72 points (with Edmonton holding two games in hand).

Coyotes fans might have mixed feelings about the returns for Michael Stone, but beating their division rivals had to feel like a resounding win.

Yes, the Florida Panthers are indeed on fire

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  Michael Sgarbossa #48 of the Florida Panthers is congratulated after scoring a goal during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers are on a ridiculous roll right now. They’re even hotter than the also-quite-hot St. Louis Blues.

You could practically hear the air leave the building in St. Louis as Vincent Trocheck‘s goal made it 2-1 with just five seconds remaining in regulation. To little surprise, that ended up being the final score on Monday in what was otherwise quite the goaltending duel between James Reimer and Jake Allen.

The Panthers won all five games of what seemed to be a harrowing road trip on paper:

Feb. 11: 7-4 win against Predators
Feb. 15: 6-5 OT win against Sharks
Feb. 17: 4-1 win against Ducks
Feb. 18: 3-2 win vs. Kings
Tonight: 2-1 win over St. Louis

The Panthers now face a four-game homestand to close out February and also play seven of eight in Florida. (Actually, eight of nine, as they close out that run by visiting the Lightning on March 11).

Anyway, the Cats are in the catbird seat, and they finish the night back in front of the Boston Bruins for third in the Atlantic Division:

1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 GP
2. Senators: 68 in 57
3. Panthers – 66 in 58

Bruins – 66 in 59
Maple Leafs – 65 in 58
Sabres – 62 in 60
Lightning – 60 in 58
Red Wings – 58 in 59

As you can see, games in hand stand as Florida’s advantage over Boston, but with the Bruins holding the second wild card spot, the Panthers’ position in the playoff picture is clear (if vulnerable).

Again, it wasn’t like the Panthers outright dominated the Blues.

St. Louis and Florida both looked sharp in this one, but the Blues have lost two straight games in regulation after reeling off a six-game winning streak. With a ton of road games on the docket through the next month, the Blues will just need to keep fighting.

At least Mike Yeo has an easy team to point to in explaining how the Blues can overcome such challenges.

Video: Reimer, Allen shut down dangerous one-timers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  James Reimer #34 of the Florida Panthers makes a save during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In an ideal world, goalie equipment wouldn’t be such an issue. Teams would be able to “get goalies moving” with great passing and chances just about no one could stop.

Then again, there are also those saves that a select handful of humans can pull off. A big reason why there’s only been one goal between the Panthers and Blues tonight is the lateral movement shown by both James Reimer and Jake Allen.

First, watch as Reimer robs Jori Lehtera on what’s likely the save of the night:

Allen really hasn’t been that far behind Reimer, right down to making a similar stop:

Considering the two nearly identical one-timer goals scored by Arizona against Anaheim in finding seams for big passes through opposing defenses, tonight’s goalies might want to do some extra stretching during intermissions.