Tonight in the East bubble: Devils win again, Thrashers beat Leafs in OT

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Just about every night will be important for the New Jersey Devils, Atlanta Thrashers, Toronto Maple Leafs and other teams fighting for the East’s final playoff spot. Yet Sunday might be a particularly important evening for those general managers, as teams with uncertain futures were given one last chance to convince their front offices that they should be buyers rather than sellers during tomorrow’s trade deadline.

It’s tough to deny that Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon and Devils manager Lou Lamoriello are feeling quite differently about their teams, even if Tallon’s group actually holds one more point in the overall standings.

New Jersey 2, Florida 1

Since January 26th, the Devils only lost to two teams: the Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. I was going to make some convoluted joke about sun burns, but the Florida loss actually came in New Jersey.

Either way, New Jersey earned a measure of revenge by beating their bubble opponents. Better yet, they managed to do so in regulation, keeping the Rats from getting a charity point in the process. Devils coach Jacques Lemaire is making a compelling case for the Jack Adams award, as his team is an incredible 17-2-2 in their last 21 games.

While the Devils seemed to win in typical fashion (a bland, low-scoring game), there was one thing that made tonight special: Martin Brodeur earned the victory in his first start since February 6th. Brian Rolston and David Clarkson provided just enough offense for New Jersey, as they were able to limit Florida to one Marty Reasoner score to win the game.

Atlanta 3, Toronto 2 (OT)

While it was great for the Devils to win on Sunday, it hasn’t been a great weekend overall considering the fact that most of the bubble teams kept picking up points. Atlanta’s been involved in two three-point games, as the Thrashers won this game in overtime against the Maple Leafs and received a charity point against the Panthers on Friday.

The Maple Leafs built a 2-0 lead, but received what could be a crucial blow when James Reimer went down with a head injury in the second period. We’ll keep an eye out for updates regarding the team’s surprisingly effective rookie netminder, especially considering the fact that Jean-Sebastien Giguere allowed all three of those Thrashers goals.

To be fair, Atlanta threw 43 shots at Reimer and Giguere, so it’s not like the older netminder was alone in the blame. The second and third periods were especially one-sided, as the Birds out-shot the Leafs by a whopping 31-11 margin. Ron Hainsey’s overtime winner probably wasn’t Giguere’s fault, as it appeared the goalie was screened by his own defenseman.

With these results in mind, let’s take a look at the race for eighth place with some help from our NHL Standings page:

(click to enlarge)

At this moment in time, it looks like the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes are the two teams with the best chance to take the final spot in the East. Obviously, there are plenty of contenders, though, so this should be awfully fun to watch. Could it come down to a final game (or even point) like last season? Stay tuned.

Ducks take control of second in Pacific after edging Oilers

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Connor McDavid was fantastic on Wednesday, but the Anaheim Ducks overcame his strong showing for a significant win in the Pacific.

McDavid scored a goal and two assists, yet Ryan Getzlaf was right there with him with three assists, helping the Ducks win 4-3.

With that, Anaheim is clearly ahead of Edmonton for second in the Pacific. The Ducks would hold home-ice over the Oilers if the playoffs began today, and better yet for them, a division title isn’t out of the question:

1. Sharks – 91 points in 73 games played
2. Ducks – 89 points in 73 GP
3. Oilers – 87 points in 73 GP
4. Flames – 86 points in 73 GP

As you can see, the Oilers aren’t exactly far ahead of the Flames for third, either.

Going forward, the Oilers have an interesting schedule: a mix of games against cellar dwellers (two apiece against the Canucks and Avalanche) plus two games apiece versus the Kings and Sharks.

The Ducks’ schedule includes two matches against the Flames, one against the Kings and one more match at Edmonton on April 1.

Long story short, the jockeying for position is far from over, but this was a pretty significant win for the Ducks.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).

Islanders grab precious points by beating Rangers

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The goal posts might move from time to time – now they’re chasing the Boston Bruins more than the Toronto Maple Leafs – but the bottom line is that the New York Islanders need to get it done to make the playoffs.

They still have some climbing to do, but Wednesday represented a step in the right direction with a tough 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.

The Rangers built 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the second period as John Tavares struggled with a “hat trick” of penalties, but Tavares & Co. wouldn’t give up. They managed two power-play goals in the third (one by Nikolay Kulemin, the winner by Andrew Ladd) to turn things around for a significant win.

Anders Lee was also a big part of the win, grabbing a goal and an assist. The biggest difference-maker may very well have been Thomas Greiss, who stopped 34 of 36 shots (including all 11 in the third) as the Rangers created a lot of offense.

The Islanders now have 80 standings points, placing them two behind the Bruins for the East’s final wild card spot.

The Rangers’ hold over the first wild card seems quite secure, but they do have to worry ever so slightly about their play at home. With this defeat, they’ve now lost seven straight (0-5-2) at Madison Square Garden.

Video: Rick Nash scores 20th goal in sprawling style

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Rick Nash has his critics stemming from his playoff struggles in the past, but for those who support him, moments like these are satisfying.

Why? Because you’d be absurd to discredit how hard he tries when Nash scores goals like he did for the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Nash went all-out for his 20th goal of the season, sprawling after scoring against Thomas Greiss. It’s quite a sight, and Getty Images really was on top of that one.

via Getty Images

The Rangers may need more from him tonight, however, as the Islanders just went up 3-2. Watch the remainder of the contest on NBCSN.