Let’s take a look at Thursday’s five-some of games, with all start times according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).
New Jersey @ Toronto
Call it the Clash of the Dreamers: the Maple Leafs are heating up and remain eight points out of a playoff spot while the Devils are on fire but remain 15 points behind the Hurricanes. Both teams face considerable odds, but whichever crew ends up with two points will dream a little bigger.
Los Angeles @ Pittsburgh
The Penguins are a team the Kings probably look up to – at least from a “we can get there someday” standpoint – but right now Pittsburgh resembles Los Angeles. After all, the Pens’ top players are injured, so they are playing an even tighter style predicated on attacking defensemen and the skills of a center who wears No. 11. Hmm …
Carolina @ Philadelphia
If the 2011 playoffs began today, this would be the first round’s top versus bottom seed series. In fact, the first game would even take place in Philly. We’re a long way from that actually happening (especially considering the competition the Hurricanes face), but it would probably be as good a 1 vs. 8 matchup will get in the East. (For the West, it must be Vancouver vs. Chicago, right?)
Buffalo @ Florida
It’s a game between the 10th-place Sabres and the 11th-place Panthers, with Buffalo looking a little stronger (especially considering the fact that the offensively challenged Panthers traded away former 20-goal scorer Michael Frolik). Not helping matters for Florida is their home struggles: they’ll try to avoid their fifth-straight loss in Sunrise tonight.
NY Islanders @ Montreal
The Canadiens won’t get a chance to lick their wounds from that violent and potentially deflating loss against the Bruins, as they host the lowly Isles tonight. Whichever poor soul plays in New York’s net might have a long night if the Habs release their vengeful anger on Thursday, though.
But the chance for at least a single point slipped at the worst possible time, as Jonathan Toews scored with 1:18 left in regulation and then set up an empty net goal from Marian Hossa just a few seconds later to secure the 4-2 win.
The Canucks remain stuck at five wins — just five wins — on the road. They have the 29th-ranked road record in the entire NHL. Only the Arizona Coyotes have been worse away from home ice. So, that’s a problem that needs to be fixed down the stretch.
Vancouver had a chance to move into a wild card spot. Instead, they let the Blackhawks regain momentum as the period went on, and as a result, they remain on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture for right now.
Corey Crawford earned his 200th career win, making 26 saves. That’s a milestone night for him. For Toews, that’s his most productive night of the season, as he factored into all four Chicago goals, which, of course, included the winner.
So overtime against the New York Islanders seemed like a perfect time for captain Claude Giroux to bust his scoring slump.
Without a goal in his last 12 games, or since Dec. 21 before the holiday break, Giroux finished the Flyers comeback with an overtime goal to give Philly a 3-2 victory on Sunday. Jakub Voracek did great work along the boards to force a turnover from John Tavares, and Shayne Gostisbehere followed up his chance with a quick pass to a wide-open Giroux at the top of the crease.
That comeback win — Philly trailed by two goals early in the second period — bumps the Flyers back into a wild card spot.
Steve Mason had a big game in net for Philly, with 36 saves, while the Flyers fired 47 shots on goal toward Thomas Greiss, although it’s a difficult task trying to re-set and stop Giroux — an accomplished scorer in the NHL — on the doorstep.
Goals, goals and more goals! Blue Jackets outlast Senators for overtime win
Plenty of goals. A little three-on-three overtime. Seemed like an enjoyable afternoon of hockey between the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Well, maybe the goalies, Mike Condon and Joonas Korpisalo, didn’t enjoy it as much.
The Blue Jackets prevailed for a 7-6 overtime win, with Cam Atkinson scoring just 1:09 into the extra period. That’s his 23rd goal of the season. Only two players — Jeff Carter (24) and Sidney Crosby (28) — have scored more goals than Atkinson this season.
With the win, and the Capitals sitting idle today, the Blue Jackets move back into a tie with Washington at 68 points in the fight for first place in the Metropolitan Division.
There were some anxious moments for Columbus.
Rookie defenseman Zach Werenski was hurt blocking a shot in the third period. He briefly left the game, unable to put any pressure on his right leg as he was helped off.
The good news: He only missed a few minutes, returning late in regulation and for the overtime as well, which is important for the Blue Jackets.
#CBJ Zach Werenski said on @FOXSportsOH post-game he "thought it was broken" and "long term" injury when he blocked the shot.
“He’s made a couple of huge mistakes in a game and he comes to the bench, shakes it off and then goes out and makes a great play. For a 19-year-old playing that position and the amount of time he’s getting in key situations with this organization, it’s pretty impressive.”