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.

By winning fifth straight, Caps extend Wild’s slump to seven losses

Minnesota Wild’s Jared Spurgeon,right, keeps Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin of Russia occupied near the net in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 19, 2015, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
AP
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Alex Ovechkin scored three times in the second period for his 14th career hat trick, and the Washington Capitals beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Thursday night.

Ovechkin, who leads the league with 34 goals, has 13 in his past 13 games. Nicklas Backstrom had three assists and Jason Chimera added an empty-netter for Washington, which improved to a league-best 20-5-2 on the road.

Braden Holtby made 33 saves for the Capitals, who won their fifth consecutive game and became the first team to reach 40 victories this season.

Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund scored for the Wild, but Minnesota lost for the 12th time in its past 13 games (1-10-2). Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves for the Wild, who have lost seven in a row at home (0-4-3).

Ovechkin’s third goal, which deflected off both the post and the back of Dubnyk into the net, was upheld following a coach’s challenge. Wild coach Mike Yeo challenged that the puck had left the zone for offsides, but the call stood after a review showed that Backstrom stopped the puck before it crossed the blue line.

The goal gave Ovechkin his first hat trick since he scored four goals against Tampa Bay on Dec. 10, 2013.

It wasn’t the only fortunate bounce for Ovechkin on the night, and the five-time 50-goal scorer capitalized on each opportunity.

A shot from T.J. Oshie deflected off of Minnesota forward Zach Parise across the ice right to Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle and Ovechkin quickly snapped off a shot to beat Dubnyk, who couldn’t get across the crease to get into position. Three minutes later, Ovechkin scored on the power play when a point shot bounced off the end boards right to Ovechkin in front of the net.

The tally provided some relief for the Capitals’ surprisingly ineffective power play. Washington had one power play in its previous six games, an empty-netter for the only goal in its previous 20 power-play chances. The Capitals were 1 of 5 on the power play on Thursday.

Coyle scored for the fifth time in eight games in the second, but second periods have doomed the Wild during their slump. Minnesota has been outscored 13-3 in the period in five straight losses.

Suter scored his sixth goal of the season on the power play in the third as Minnesota went 1 of 5 with the man advantage.

NOTES: Washington C Evgeny Kuznetsov left in the third period after he was hit in the face by the stick of Mikael Granlund off a faceoff. … Backstrom has 20 points in his last 17 games. … Minnesota D Jared Spurgeon missed his second straight game with an unspecified deep bruise. Spurgeon has returned to practice, but was held out again. … Holtby is 27-1-3 in his last 31 games with two shutouts, a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Watch the Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp tribute video

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Over the years, the Chicago Blackhawks have been forced to let some important players leave to keep their core together, which ultimately meant parting ways with Patrick Sharp.

The talented winger now wears a Dallas Stars jersey, so Blackhawks fans must face the reality of watching Sharp ply his trade for a formidable Central Division opponent.

Even if that might feel awkward, Blackhawks fans gave Sharp (and Johnny Oduya) a warm reception in Chicago on Thursday.

CSNChicago.com provides video of that ovation, which you can see in the clip above.

The Stars currently lead the Blackhawks 4-2, thanks in large part to Patrick … Eaves.

Ovechkin’s 14th career hat trick helps him make more history

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Death, taxes and Alex Ovechkin winning the Maurice Richard Trophy.

OK, the third thing on that list isn’t technically inevitable. It just feels that way lately in the NHL.

It’s unclear if the Washington Capitals can hold on against the Minnesota Wild, but we know for certain that Ovechkin already has a hat trick, the 14th of his high-scoring career.

(He also passed Jean Beliveau for 39th all-time in goals with his 509th, as NHL.com notes.)

This propels Ovechkin to the goals lead as of this writing, as he already has 34. As impressive as Patrick Kane has been, No. 8 is heating up, and may just edge No. 88 if Ovechkin can remain healthy.

One has to feel a little sympathy for the struggling Wild. They played well but lost against the Dallas Stars earlier this week and now must deal with Ovechkin and the just-as-hot Capitals.

Update: Minnesota managed three goals, but it wasn’t enough, as Washington got the edge 4-3.

Bylsma believes league will look at Gudas’ hit on Catenacci

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Rugged Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas may get in trouble with the league once again.

At least, it will be that way if Buffalo Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma has his way regarding Gudas’ five-minute charging major hit on Daniel Catenacci.

“I think there’s no question it’s head hit,” Bylsma said, according to the Buffalo News’ John Vogl. ” … I know the league will look at that hit and deal with it.”

As far as the injury portion of possible suspension considerations go:

Marcus Foligno‘s analysis of Gudas was … well just check it out.

The Flyers ended up winning 5-1. Gudas was a busy man overall, racking up 17 penalty minutes.