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.

Report: Ducks put Despres on long-term injured reserve

FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2015, file photo, Anaheim Ducks defenseman Simon Despres skates before an NHL preseason hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. Despres has agreed to a five-year contract extension with the Ducks on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, solidifying his role in Anaheim after joining the club in a trade last season. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)
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Simon Despres has played only once this season, back on Oct. 13, due to injury.

It now appears the Anaheim Ducks don’t see the 25-year-old defenseman returning to their lineup any time soon.

On Sunday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported on Twitter that the Ducks placed Despres, who carries an average annual value of $3.7 million, on long-term injured reserve, providing Anaheim with some flexibility in the salary cap situation.

By placing Despres on LTIR, it’s been suggested this could possibly allow the Ducks to sign restricted free agent defenseman Hampus Lindholm.

Lindholm, 22, missed training camp, instead deciding to stay in Sweden while he awaits a deal with the Ducks. Six games into Anaheim’s season, and still no deal.

It was reported last month that Lindholm was seeking a deal of eight years, and at least $6 million per season.

Last week, on TSN’s Insider Trading, McKenzie suggested the two sides could be about $250,000, annually, apart. He also added that there is a “cap hit penalty” when restricted free agents don’t get signed before the season begins.

“For every day that (Lindholm) is not signed in this season, the cap hit for the team will increase by about $30,000 if he were to agree to a $5.5 million deal,” McKenzie reported.

“Let’s say he agrees to a deal that’s $5.5 million AAV, well the cap hit’s going to be up around $5.8 (million) as of now, for each day that goes on.”

Comeback Canucks? Not against the Ducks

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 23:  Alexander Edler #23 and Philip Larsen #63 of the Vancouver Canucks look on after Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks reacts to scoring a goal during the third  period of a game at Honda Center on October 23, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Vancouver Canucks have made a habit of third-period comebacks early this season. Playing with the lead, though? Not so much.

Despite their early penchant for late-game magic — certainly not a sustainable method of winning in the long-term — the Canucks were unable to score a come-from-behind win against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.

Instead, they lost 4-2, as Nick Ritchie and Corey Perry scored late in the third period to nullify any chance of a Vancouver comeback.

Henrik Sedin had gotten the Canucks back into a tied game early in the final period, before the Ducks killed off a Vancouver power play and then surged ahead for good.

It’s Vancouver’s first regulation loss of the season. In six games, the Canucks have played with the lead only once.

Really, the score flattered the Canucks, playing the second half of a back-to-back set in California. The Ducks dominated possession, but goalie Ryan Miller kept the Canucks in it until late in regulation.

The Canucks are now 4-1-1. That’s still a good start, but there have been signs lately that they could soon be served a reality check.


Meanwhile, the Ducks have won two in a row after losing their first four games to start the season.

It was promising that their best players were their best players in Anaheim’s home opener.

Ryan Getzlaf had three assists. Corey Perry had an assist on the winner and scored to put this one away. Defenseman Cam Fowler, who has been at the center of trade speculation in the past few months, scored Sunday and is now up to three goals, with points in four of six games.

“He’s played great,” Getzlaf recently told the Orange County Register. “Cam put a lot on his shoulders last year. He had a great year for us last year and it gets overlooked a little bit because he does it in a little bit quieter way. He’s not flashy.

“I thought his play has carried over from last year. He’s continued to play the same way and at a high level.”

This win puts the Ducks within a point of the San Jose Sharks. The two California rivals face each other Tuesday in San Jose.

Video: Dan Girardi’s first goal in nearly a year lifts Rangers to victory

FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2012, file photo, New York Rangers' Dan Girardi looks on during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia. The Rangers say they have agreed to terms with Girardi on a multiyear contract extension, taking the key defenseman off the trading block and keeping him away from unrestricted free agency. The deal was announced Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
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An offensive defenseman, Dan Girardi is not.

His last goal prior to this weekend? Nov. 12, 2015. It’s been a while. Almost an entire year now. But in his return to the New York Rangers lineup on Sunday, the 32-year-old Girardi was able to bust his scoring slump on a slap shot from the blue line that beat Arizona Coyotes goalie Louis Domingue.

The Rangers eventually won by a final score of 3-2, with Girardi’s goal counting as the winner. He scored only twice last season, and hasn’t scored more than five goals in a single season since 2009-10.

Despite poor start, Elliott ‘will find his game very soon,’ says former teammate Jake Allen

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12:  Goalie Brian Elliott #1 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Edmonton Oilers on October 12, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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OK. So, Brian Elliott isn’t off to a good start in net for the Calgary Flames.

He has lost all three of his starts. He’s allowed 14 goals with a save percentage of only .839. Not good. Not good at all, especially considering the Flames acquired Elliott with the hopes of addressing their goaltending concerns from previous seasons.

Chad Johnson has instead started three of the last four games for Calgary.

Whether it’s Elliott or Johnson in net, the Flames have given up the most goals against in the league, while giving up 30.2 shots against per 60 minutes at five-on-five. That puts them 18th in the league at even strength.

But despite Elliott’s difficult start, a former Blues teammate of his has voiced support for the 31-year-old puck stopper, optimistically stating that a turnaround will happen.

“I wouldn’t worry one bit. That’s just my perspective,” Blues goalie Jake Allen told the Calgary Herald. “He’s one of the most competitive people I have ever met, and he will find his game very soon.

“Obviously, he wanted to get off to a good start (in Calgary), that’s first and foremost, but if it doesn’t go that way, he will rebound and find it. I’m 100 (per cent) about that. I wouldn’t be too concerned if I was a Flames fan.”

That’s reassuring. Maybe.

Elliott enjoyed five strong seasons in St. Louis, playing alongside Allen for three of those seasons. But St. Louis was — and still is — a very structured team under head coach Ken Hitchcock, which certainly bodes well for goalies.

It’s still very early in Elliott’s tenure in Calgary, which also has a new head coach in Glen Gulutzan.

The coach will have an interesting decision coming up next week, with the Flames making a quick two-game stop in the Central Division. They’ll face the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday and the Blues the following night.

Elliott didn’t get a chance to face his old team Saturday. Perhaps he’ll get that opportunity in St. Louis on Tuesday.