Mike Knuble, Mathieu Perreault, John Erskine, Tom Poti, Martin Brodeur

Around the Rink – Friday, March 18th

Want a nice sign that the playoffs are almost here? Teams are starting to clinch playoff spots this week, as the Vancouver Canucks already accomplished the feat while both the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers are eligible to do so tonight. We’ll explain how and preview tonight’s four games in this post.

As always, all start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).

First, how the Flyers can clinch a playoff spot (without even playing):

If the Hurricanes lose in regulation and Devils get one point or less, Philadelphia’s playoff spot will be secure. (Source: NHL.com.)

7:00 pm

Washington @ New Jersey

If the Capitals win and the Hurricanes lose in regulation, Washington will clinch a playoff spot tonight. Obviously, that means that it’s just a matter of time for the Caps.

The same cannot be said for the Devils, who must continue to jump through hoops to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. They’ll root for the Canes to go without a point, but would prefer the Capitals to complete the other half of that task on some other night.

Nicklas Backstrom will be back in the lineup and Michal Neuvirth is expected to return to the Washington net, so this could be a genuine challenge for the desperate Devils.

NY Islanders @ Carolina

The Hurricanes have a chance to increase their bubble lead over the Devils, as they have no excuses when it comes to playing a team like the Islanders. That’s not to say that Garth Snow’s gang hasn’t been intermittently frisky, it’s just that if Carolina wants to make the playoffs, they need to win games like these.

Montreal @ NY Rangers

The Rangers have a tiny cushion for a playoff spot, but they must be weary of the Devils, Hurricanes and other bubble teams (plus the Buffalo Sabres, if they fall out of the eighth spot).

That means making the best of every game, which will be tough tonight. The Rangers have lost five straight games against the Canadiens and have only scored three goals in the teams’ last three contests.

They will, however, have the opportunity to exploit a Habs team that might be a little winded. Montreal played a high-energy game against Tampa Bay last night, so if there’s ever a time for the Rangers to get over the hump, it would be tonight.

10:00 pm

Phoenix @ Vancouver

If you want evidence of how far ahead the Canucks are compared to every other team in the NHL, here’s this simple fact: Vancouver clinched the Northwest Division title before anyone else clinched a playoff spot.

You would think that their substantial points lead would cause their motivation to wane, but they keep playing great hockey. The Coyotes need this game to keep themselves a stride ahead of the pack, but knowing the Canucks, points won’t come easily … if at all.

With Gorges injured, Sabres call up Brendan Guhle from WHL

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 27:  51st overall pick Brendan Guhle poses for a portrait during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres announced on Friday evening that they have called up defenseman Brendan Guhle from the Prince George Cougars of the WHL on an emergency basis.

Guhle, a second-round pick (No. 51 overall) by the Sabres in 2015, had impressed in Sabres training camp the past two years but just missed out on making the roster each time. He missed making the team in 2015 in large part because of a concussion after he was hit by Dion Phaneuf.

He did end up playing six games for the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League a year ago, scoring a goal and adding three assists.

Before his call-up on Friday he had spent the first part of the 2016-17 season playing in the WHL for Prince George as well as the Prince Albert Raiders (he was acquired by Prince George on Nov. 19).

In 19 games between the two teams he has five goals and two assists.

The Sabres needed to call up a defenseman because veteran Josh Gorges was injured on Thursday night in the team’s win over the New York Rangers when he was hit in the foot by a shot.

He had x-rays on Friday and the team is expected to offer some sort of an update on his status on Saturday. In 23 games this season for the Sabres, Gorges has no goals and one assist.

What really hurts for Sabres at the moment is they are already playing without defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and Zach Bogosian due to injury.

The Sabres host the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET.

Report: NHLPA rejects proposal to extend CBA in exchange for Olympics

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The NHLPA has rejected a proposal from the National Hockey League to extend the current collective bargaining agreement by three years in exchange for participation in the 2018 Olympics, according to reports from the Associated Press and Canadian Press.v

The NHL’s participation in the 2018 games in Pyeongchang remains in doubt, mostly due to the cost of insurance and other expenses that go with sending players. In the past, those expenses have been handled by the IOC and IIHF but they are reluctant to foot the bill for the 2018 games.

In recent weeks the NHL presented the NHLPA with an opportunity to participate in the 2018 Olympics in exchange for extending the current CBA through the year 2025, while also eliminating an opt-out clause that exists in 2019.

It was expected that the NHLPA would not be willing to accept that offer from the league.

On Friday, IOC president Thomas Bach said it is in the best interest of all parties for NHL players to participate in the 2018 games, telling the Olympic Channel “all the rational arguments are speaking in favor of participation.”

There is a January deadline set for participation in 2018.

Back in September NHL deputy commissioner said it is possible the NHL could skip the 2018 games and then return for 2022 in Beijing.

NHL players have participated in the past five Olympics dating back to the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan.

There seems to be a desire among the players to participate. Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, for example,  has repeatedly said he plans on playing whether the NHL goes or not.

Khudobin delivered an encouraging performance for the Bruins

Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) and left wing Brad Marchand (63) celebrate with goalie Anton Khudobin after he blocked a shot by Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jeff Skinner to win the game, 2-1, in a shootout during an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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Anton Khudobin gave the Boston Bruins a much-needed win last night.

He also gave Tuukka Rask a much-welcomed night off.

The Bruins beat the Hurricanes, 2-1, in a shootout at TD Garden. Khudobin made 29 saves, plus two more in the shootout, including the game-decider on Jeff Skinner.

It was an encouraging performance by Khudobin, who returned to the Bruins net for the second time since a conditioning stint in the AHL. It was the first time this season that a Boston goalie other than Rask was credited with a win.

“Very good,” head coach Claude Julien said of Khudobin’s play. “He deserves a lot of accolades tonight, for the way he played, the way he responded after being out such a long time. I think the fact that he went to Providence and played some games there really helped him get back on track. Tonight, he showed that he was ready to play.”

Julien added, “No doubt, there’s a lot of confidence that grew in that dressing room by watching his play and knowing that we’ve got two goaltenders that can play extremely well for us.”

The Bruins did not feel they had good enough backup goaltending the past two seasons, both of which ended outside the playoff picture. And so they bid adieu to Niklas Svedberg and Jonas Gustavsson, bringing Khudobin back into the fold on a two-year contract.

Granted, one win isn’t enough to conclude that Khudobin will be fine. He’s now 1-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, and those numbers could still be much better.

But he’ll be back in there soon enough. The Bruins have 15 more games in December, and Rask isn’t going to play them all.

Blues ‘need more’ from Lehtera, who could be healthy scratched

Jori Lehtera
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Jori Lehtera received one of his lowest ice times of the season in Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay — just 11:21 — and was demoted to the fourth line at Friday’s practice.

If that didn’t send a message, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock delivered it shortly thereafter.

“We’re going to need more from him,” Hitchcock said, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “The position we have him in, we need more from that position.”

Lehtera was signed to a three-year, $14.1 million extension after a solid ’14-15 campaign, in which he scored 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games. His offensive production sagged a bit last year (nine goals, 34 points in 79 games) and he’s gone through some difficult stretches this year.

The 28-year-old Finn had just three points through his first 15 games of the year, but did look as though he’d turned the corner recently. Prior to the Bolts game he had four points in four contests, including his first multi-goal effort of the season (potting a pair in a 4-2 win over Boston).

Clearly, though, Hitchcock thinks there’s more to give.

Per the Post-Dispatch, Hitch said he’s unsure if Lehtera will play on Saturday, when the Blues host the Jets. Nail Yakupov and Ty Rattie both sat out against Tampa Bay, and either one could draw into the lineup.

The Lehtera development comes with the Blues playing some of their best hockey of the year. They’ve won seven of their last eight, and are just four points back of Chicago for top spot in the Western Conference.