Around the Rink – Sunday, March 6th

Naturally, we’ll have all the bases covered for today’s NBC Game of the Week between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers at 12:30pm ET. Yet this Sunday boasts five other games, including a host of weekend afternoon contests. Let’s get the lowdown on those matches, with start times according to Eastern Standard Time (ET) as usual.

3:00 pm

New Jersey @ NY Islanders

Is it sobering or kind of funny that with all the hype the Devils’ impressive run to relevance is getting, they’re still only three points ahead of the Islanders? To be fair, the Isles have played in two more games and are looking fairly stout lately in their own right, but it’s still indicative of the Hoffa-sized hole New Jersey dug for itself.

Then again, the narrowing gap between the Devils and the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes also indicates that the rest of the lower seed East team’s haven’t exactly been elite all season, either.

5:00 pm

Washington @ Florida

Despite the Lightning having a lead going into their 12-game homestand last month, the Capitals kept with the Southeast Division’s top team, as they’re only one point behind Tampa Bay as of this moment. Beating up on the fading Florida Panthers would allow the Caps to take a temporary lead in the division that seemed like it wouldn’t be in doubt for several more years for the team. The Panthers are behind the Devils and only one point ahead of the Islanders right now, so maybe they can finally tank to get a top draft pick?

(Though, in true Panthers purgatorial fashion, they might get a lottery pick in a roundly panned draft. Even when they finally lose, Florida just cannot win.)

6:00 pm

Buffalo @ Minnesota

These teams seem oddly similar, almost like opposite conference cousins. Both teams are hovering around their conference’s playoff bubble. Each squad lost their top center to injury, as Derek Roy is missing for the Sabres while Mikko Koivu is on the shelf for the Wild. They also lean heavily on highly paid and skilled goalies, as Ryan Miller and Niklas Backstrom play key roles in their teams’ playoff hopes (although the gap between Wild backup Jose Theodore and untrusted Sabres No. 2 Patrick Lalime is substantial). These two scrappy teams need this one badly, so the intensity should be solid even if the familiarity isn’t there.

8:00 pm

Nashville @ Calgary

The Flames are two points (and one win) ahead of the Predators, leaving them in the top eight while Nashville is wedged into a virtual ninth-place tie with the Anaheim Ducks. That Calgary lead is deceptive, however, because they’ve played in two more games than Shea Weber & Co. This is a typically big game in the West bubble.

Vancouver @ Anaheim

Unlike the stumbling Flyers, the Canucks haven’t let a lack of fear for their playoff positioning affect their focus in dispatching desperate teams. For the most part, anyway. While they don’t hold the psychological edge that the Blackhawks must against Vancouver, the Ducks are the kind of talented potential playoff team that would give any top seed the willies, so perhaps the Canucks will want to hurt their chances of slipping into the eighth spot.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.