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.

Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”