Brooks Laich, Martin St. Louis

Southeast Division Watch (February 28)

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.

Pacific Division outlook (February 28 -March 6)

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (37-18-7 for 81 pts; 62 Games Played)

Current streak: Three straight wins.

Week ahead: @ New Jersey (Wednesday), @ Boston (Thursday) and home vs. Montreal (Saturday).

Thoughts: The Lightning have five more points, four more wins and one game in hand against the Capitals for the division lead. Still, they just recently finished the carbo-loading part of their schedule; now it’s time for the final leg of the marathon to the playoffs. Can they outlast Washington?

2. Washington Capitals (33-20-10 for 76 pts; 63 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home against Islanders (Tues), St. Louis (Thurs) and @ Florida (Sun).

Thoughts: This will be a nice opportunity for the Capitals to earn some relatively easy points, which is good, because they have a treacherous six-game road trip coming up in mid-March.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (29-25-9 for 67 pts; 63 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Home vs. Florida (Tues), home vs. Buffalo (Thurs) and @ Chicago (Fri).

Thoughts: The Canes can push the Panthers’ playoff dreams closer to the grave, then play a huge game at home against the ninth-place Sabres before they visit the red-hot Blackhawks. No cakewalks this week, unless Florida trades all their veterans for picks.

4. Atlanta Thrashers (26-26-11 for 63 pts; 63 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Montreal (Tues), Ottawa (Thurs) and Florida (Sat).

Thoughts: The Thrashers need to have a good week, because their schedule gets awfully rocky to finish the season. After they conclude their five-game homestand against the Panthers, they’ll play three of four and five of seven on the road. There’s also another five-game road trip remaining on their schedule. Overall, they play 10 of 16 away from Atlanta after Saturday’s game against Florida. They might end up a few strides short of being one of the feel-good stories of the 2010-11 season.

5. Florida Panthers (26-29-7 for 59 pts; 62 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Away vs. Carolina (Tues), home vs. Montreal (Thurs), @ Atlanta (Sat), home vs. Washington (Sun)

Thoughts: If the Panthers can scrap together enough points to still be playoff-relevant on Sunday, they feature possibly the league’s oddest March schedule. Starting with that game against the Capitals, they will have a seven-game homestand followed by a five-game road trip. They might be the odds-on favorite to be next month’s streakiest team, then.

PHT Morning Skate: Sharks name stray cat after captain Joe Pavelski

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–The stray cat that ran onto the ice prior to Game 1 between the Sharks and Preds has been named after Joe Pavelski. (Associated Press)

–Speaking of that black cat, here’s a mountain of pucks shaped like the cat. (The Score)

–When Lukas Head was younger, he played with Steven Stamkos and P.K. Subban. Here’s his story. (Toronto Star)

–Watch the highlights from yesterday’s game between the Stars and Blues. (Top)

–A look behind the scenes of the NHL draft lottery. (Canadian Press)

–Two-time Olympic gold medalist Sharon Szabados loves curing and the Oilers and she was forced to make a tough choice on Saturday. (Sportsnet)

Pascal Dupuis, who was named one of the Masterton Trophy finalists, is adjusting to retirement. (NHL.com)

Pavelski’s late goal helps Sharks grab 2-0 series lead over Preds

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The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.

The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.

Here’s the goal:

Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.

Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.

Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.

Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.

The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.

Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.

The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.

Video: Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved by his visor after taking Shea Weber shot to the face

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It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.

After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.

In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.

You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.

It’s nice to see that Vlasic was in a joking mood after the game:

Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:

It sounds like Olli Maatta won’t be ready for Game 3

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You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.

After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.

“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.

“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”

After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.

“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”

And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.

Related:

Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta