Brian Little, Brian Boucher

Tonight in the Eastern Conference bubble: Thrashers win, Devils and Leafs fall

With a busy St. Patrick Day’s slate of 11 games tonight, it might be easier to follow the action if we break the results down into digestible chunks (especially if you’re also ingesting plenty of green beer). With that in mind, let’s take a look at the three games that affected the Eastern Conference playoff bubble tonight.

Atlanta 4, Philadelphia 3 (OT)

Luckily for the still-alive-but-barely Thrashers, “style points” are not yet a playoffs tie-breaker. Atlanta coughed up three one-goal leads against the East’s best team, but ultimately managed to squeeze out two crucial points.

The best part for the Thrashers is that they gave up that one “charity point” to a team so far ahead of them it won’t matter.

Ron Hainsey collected two assists for Atlanta while Daniel Briere scored two goals and one assist for the Chris Pronger-less Flyers. If the Thrashers make the playoffs, it won’t be on the strength of their regulation play (their goal differential is -30). It will be on the strength of the charity point, as they have 12 points from overtime or shootout losses and four shootout wins.

Florida 4, Toronto 0

While the Thrashers were opportunistic with their shootout win, the two other major bubble teams couldn’t earn a single point against struggling teams.

The Maple Leafs showed how much they need James Reimer’s above average netminding, as they just couldn’t get it done against the Panthers with Jean-Sebastien Giguere getting the start.

Sergei Samsonov and Stephen Weiss scored a goal and an assist each while Scott Clemmensen earned a 24-save shutout to win the game for Florida. Whether this win fuels delusions of a playoff run or counts as a satisfying moment as a “spoiler” is up to the Panthers.

Ottawa 3, New Jersey 1

On paper, this looked like an easy win for the ludicrously hot Devils.

After all, the Senators are one of the East’s cellar dwellers and they weren’t even able to start their possible goalie of the future Craig Anderson tonight. Instead, it was Curtis McElhinney between the pipes.

McElhinney ended up being up to the task, as he stopped 33 out of 34 New Jersey shots, only allowing a Brian Rolston slapper to beat him during this game. Chris Neil scored twice (one being an empty netter) in the third period while Ryan Shannon provided Ottawa’s other goal.

***

So with those three games, the Eastern Conference bubble looks like this (via NBC’s NHL standings page).

(click to enlarge)

So, as you can see, the Devils really missed an opportunity tonight. They still might have a better chance than the Thrashers and Maple Leafs because of total wins and games remaining, though. Overall, the current playoff teams (New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres) are clearly the favorites to earn the last two spots in the East while the Devils and Buffalo Sabres probably have the best chance to usurp them.

Penguins push Capitals to brink of elimination with OT win

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The Pittsburgh Penguins ended a long run of playoff overtime struggles on Wednesday … and are now one win away from ending the Washington Capitals’ season.

Many expected the Penguins to crater on defense without Kris Letang (they were 2-8-1 in the regular season without him). While there were shaky moments, Pittsburgh emphasized its speed and other strengths in taking a 3-2 overtime thriller against Washington.

With that, the Penguins’ series lead grows to 3-1.

It was a thrilling, sometimes nasty contest, from Sidney Crosby shaking off an Alex Ovechkin slash, to Evgeni Malkin delivering a hit some thought was over the line and plenty of typical playoff skirmishes.

Ultimately, Matt Murray played another strong game and Patric Hornqvist scored the overtime-winner to put the Capitals in a tough spot.

The Penguins lost their previous eight playoff overtime games, so maybe it was just a matter of time before such a game went their way?

Then again, the history between the two teams is a little different:

If the Capitals want to advance beyond the second round for the first time in the Ovechkin era, they’ll need to accomplish quite the feat against arguably the hottest team in the NHL.

Sidney Crosby looks hurt (and furious) after Alex Ovechkin slash

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NBCSN screen
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Sidney Crosby is known to get fiery, but even for his feisty standards, he was furious during the third period of Game 4.

An Alex Ovechkin slash caught Crosby on the hand, leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins star shaking his mitt and pleading for a call.

After that, Crosby left to get his hand looked at … but not before flipping out and destroying his stick.

You can watch it happen in the GIF and the videos above.

Crosby was able to return not that long after that moment, although we can only speculate regarding how his overall game will be affected if his hand isn’t 100 percent.

Dirty or not? Evgeni Malkin’s hit on Daniel Winnik

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Tensions seem to rise with every passing game in the playoffs, particularly in a series with bad blood like the one between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Kris Letang was suspended for his hit in Game 3, and some wonder if Evgeni Malkin should suffer a similar fate for his check on Daniel Winnik on Wednesday.

Winnik left the contest and has not yet returned during the third period.

Take a look at the hit in the video above and decide for yourself.

Blues aim to raise money for victims of Fort McMurray fires

An evacuee puts gas in his car on his way out of Fort McMurray, Alberta, as a wildfire burns in the background Wednesday, May 4, 2016. The raging wildfire emptied Canada's main oil sands city, destroying entire neighborhoods of Fort McMurray, where officials warned Wednesday that all efforts to suppress the fire have failed.  (Jason Franson /The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
AP
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Fires devastated the Canadian city of Fort McMurray, and the St. Louis Blues are doing their part to help those who were affected.

Here’s what the team is doing to raise money during Game 4 against the Dallas Stars:

Proceeds raised through the team’s 50/50 raffle and the Blues for Kids silent auction will benefit families who have been misplaced by the fires.

Blues forward Scottie Upshall shared his thoughts with the Associated Press regarding several family members being among those evacuated from the area.

“It’s been a great city, a city that’s survived for many years through some tough times and for me, growing up there doesn’t seem too long ago,” Upshall said. “Places that probably aren’t standing anymore will be really, really tough to take. But as long as everyone’s OK, that’s the main thing.”

Other people from around the hockey world weighed in on the scary scene, including Ottawa Senators defenseman Chris Phillips, who told the Ottawa Citizen that “it hurts a lot.”

People shared some scary sights from the evacuation.