Early ride on the Zamboni – Tuesday, March 22

NY Rangers 1, Florida 0

The Rangers rode a Brandon Dubinsky goal halfway through the 3rd period to beat the Panthers 1-0 and increase their current winning streak to five. Henrik Lundqvist only needed 22 saves to earn his NHL-leading 10th shutout on the season. On the other end of the rink, Tomas Vokoun stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced—but it wasn’t enough. New York’s seventh win in their last eight games has them only three points behind the Canadiens for 6th place in the Eastern Conference.

Carolina 4, Ottawa 3

If Eric Staal and Paul Maurice wanted to scare the entire Hurricanes’ fan base, mission accomplished when Carolina’s head coach pulled his captain for “precautionary reasons” in the 3rd period of their victory against the Ottawa Senators. After they fell behind 2-0, the Canes were able to ride a pair of goals from Chad LaRose to an important win to help keep pace with the 8th place Sabres.

From the Sens perspective, the game was a case of good news/bad news. The bad news is they are only a single loss from being mathematically eliminated. However, the bright side is the loss put them in the 29th overall spot—and the #2 overall draft pick. So there’s that.

Boston 4, New Jersey 1

The Devils started the game by outshooting the Bruins 12-1. Ilya Kovalchuk started the scoring with his 27th goal of the year. If the game could have ended there, Jacques Lemaire would be a much happier man than he is tonight. The Bruins responded with the next FOUR as they earned the victory and held onto the top spot in the Northeast Division.

The loss “dropped” the Devils to 24-6-2 over their last 32 games. More importantly, the loss drops them nine points behind the 8th placed Buffalo Sabres. If they were to win-out for the rest of the season, they’d only be able to muster 90 points for the season. Chances are that won’t be enough to make to the NHL’s second season.

NY Islanders 5, Tampa Bay 2

The Lightning continued their slide by losing to the Isles and dropping to 2-4-4 in their last 10 games. Nate Thompson started things off right by scoring about a minute into the game; yet after that the Islanders scored 4 straight to run away with the game. Al Montoya continued his stellar play with New York by stopping 36 shots and Michael Grabner scored his 31st goal of the season as he continues to make a case for the Calder Trophy. Aside from individual play, the team improved to 6-1-3 in their last 10 games as well. Good goaltending, scoring in bunches, and a pair of shorthanded goals. Where was this for the first few months of the season?

Washington 5, Philadelphia 4 (SO)

The Caps jumped out to a 3-0 start, blew the three goal lead, and then looked unbeatable in the shootout to earn the two points. If they could have won the game in regulation they would have caught the Flyers for 1st place in the East. As it stands, they’ll have to settle for a big win and their eleventh win in their last twelve games. Not a bad way to start the home-stretch without the injured Alexander Ovechkin.

The Flyers’ day started out badly when they heard Jody Shelley will be out for 4 weeks with a fractured orbital bone. From there, Sergei Bobrovsky gave up 3 goals in just over a period of action. Things didn’t start to get better until they scored four straight goals to make it a game. They couldn’t finish it off for the victory, but after the way the day started, one point is better than they could have expected.

Buffalo 2, Montreal 0

It probably shouldn’t be a huge surprise when Carey Price and Ryan Miller treat fans to a low-scoring goaltending display. By the time the game ended, Ryan Miller won the duel of netminders as he stopped 31 shots to earn his 4th shutout in 2011; but Nathan Gerbe upstaged them both. The diminutive forward had a beautiful redirection goal to give the Sabres the 1-0 lead halfway through the 2nd period; only to be topped by a great individual effort to score into an empty net to cap off the Sabres’ victory. The win allowed Buffalo to maintain their 3 point lead on the 9th place Carolina Hurricanes as both teams were victorious on Tuesday night.

Sabres’ center Paul Gaustad summed up the night the best: “Both goalies played great. Ours played a little bit better.”

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.