Northeast Division Watch (February 24)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Northeast Division outlook (February 24 -March 2)

1. Boston Bruins (34-19-7 for 75 pts; 60 Games Played)

Current streak: Three wins in a row.

Week ahead: Three road games – vs. Vancouver (Saturday), Edmonton (Sunday) and Ottawa (Tues).

Thoughts: The Bruins really benefited from the Flames, as Calgary beat Montreal in the Heritage Classic and then Boston continued their three-game winning streak by besting Jarome Iginla & Co. We’ll see how the Bruins do in their rugged Canadian tour this week, though.

2. Montreal Canadiens (32-22-7 for 71 pts; 61 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home against Toronto (Thu), home vs. Carolina (Sat) and away vs. Atlanta (Tues).

Thoughts: Meanwhile, Montreal faces a slew of wannabe playoff teams this week. It could be a nice opportunity for the Habs to gain on the Bruins, but they won’t be playing soft games.

3. Buffalo Sabres (28-25-6 for 62 pts; 59 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home vs. Ottawa (Fri), home against Detroit (Sat) and away vs. Rangers (Tues).

Thoughts: The Sabres better load up on points against the Senators and Red Wings, because they begin a seven-game road trip against the Rangers next week. It could be a post-trade deadline death of playoff dream or a rallying point for a Buffalo team that is still a bit tough to figure out.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (26-27-7 for 59 pts; 60 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away against Montreal (Thu), home vs. Pittsburgh (Sat), @ Atlanta (Sun) and home vs. Pittsburgh (Wed).

Thoughts: They’re ahead of the Devils in the standings, so I feel compelled to consider them a contender. This challenging foursome of games should tell us if the Leafs are the real.

5. Ottawa Senators (20-31-9 for 49 pts; 60 GP)

Current streak: Two wins.

Week ahead: Away against Buffalo (Fri), home vs. Philadelphia (Sat) and home vs. Boston (Tues).

Thoughts: The real “showdown” happens between now and February 28th, as the team decides the fate of various remaining trade pieces.

Report: Wings, Hawks, Preds in mix to sign ‘strong two-way center’ Ejdsell

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Keep an eye on Swedish forward Victor Ejdsell in the coming days.

Ejdsell, 21, caught the eye of several NHL clubs following a standout year with Bofors of the Swedish first division — including Detroit (where he visited earlier this week, per MLive.) Reports suggest that Chicago and Nashville are also interested in securing Ejdsell’s services.

It’s easy to see why.

He racked up 25 goals and 57 points in 60 games this year, and he’s got terrific size. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, the physical presence is there to potentially make the shift to the NHL next season.

“He’s evolved into a strong two-way center,” Detroit assistant GM Ryan Martin told MLive. “His move from wings to center helped his defensive game. He’s got good hands and offensive ability.”

Vlasic joins Canada for Worlds, extending marathon campaign

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Marc-Edouard Vlasic is putting in work this year.

On Friday, Hockey Canada announced that Vlasic — along with Mitch Marner, Brayden Schenn and Chad Johnson — has been added to the 22-player roster for the upcoming World Hockey Championship in France and Germany.

Vlasic’s season started early as a member of Canada’s World Cup of Hockey squad. He appeared in all six games, which included his tournament high TOI (24:04) in final against Team Europe.

From there, the 30-year-old rejoined the Sharks and appeared in 75 contests, averaging 21:14 per evening. He was part of a remarkably durable San Jose defense that saw Brent Burns play all 82 games, while Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun appeared in 81.

In the playoffs, Vlasic was once again a busy guy. He finished second only to Burns in time on ice (23:16 per) and was often tasked with trying to shut down the Connor McDavid line. The Sharks would eventually bow out to the Oilers in six games.

And Vlasic might have even more to do this summer.

During his end-of-year media availability, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said getting Vlasic signed to an extension prior to September’s training camp was a big priority.

Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — expires next summer, and carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

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Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

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The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.