Jonathan Toews

Race for the Playoffs: Chicago’s pursuit runs into old nemesis Detroit tonight

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

Western Conference

1. Vancouver – 109 pts
2. Detroit – 97 pts
3. San Jose – 97 pts
4. Phoenix – 93 pts
5. Los Angeles – 92 pts
6. Nashville – 92 pts
7. Anaheim – 89 pts
8. Chicago – 88 pts
9. Calgary – 87 pts
10. Dallas – 86 pts

Chicago @ Detroit – 7:30 p.m. ET

Things are getting a bit dicey for the defending Stanley Cup champions. They’ve lost five of their last eight games and they’ve slipped back in the West race to eighth place and they’re just two points away from being in tenth. If the wins don’t start coming soon, they could find themselves not even getting a chance to defend their title in the playoffs. Tonight, they’ll get to face a Detroit team playing without Jimmy Howard among others. If there was ever a good shot for Chicago to get one over on their hated Original Six rivals, this would be it.

With Anaheim in action at home against lowly Colorado, they’ll need to win to try and keep pace with the Ducks. For Detroit, a win would do them well to keep the streaking Predators off their heels. Nashville is just five points out of the division lead and while they’ve been on a tear, they’ve jumped Chicago for second place and are locked into the middle of the pack in the playoffs. While five points is a good lead, the threat of being overtaken is still there.

Detroit has been coping with different nagging injuries all year and played well and they’ll need to keep that up through the rest of the season. This is the first of three meetings between Chicago and Detroit before the end of the season as they’ll conclude the year with a home-and-home series that concludes with the NBC Game of the Week on the final day of the season from Chicago.

Colorado @ Anaheim – 10 p.m. ET

Anaheim DucksAnaheim’s hot run of play of late has gotten them into seventh in the West and with a win tonight they can keep the pressure from the likes of Calgary and Dallas off of them and move slightly closer to locking down a playoff spot in the West. Corey Perry has been a man possessed of late seemingly carrying the Ducks on his shoulders. Over his last nine games, Perry has 11 goals and four assists and the Ducks have gone 7-2-0 in those games. Doing all that with a host of different guys in goal between Dan Ellis, Ray Emery, and recently returned from vertigo Jonas Hiller makes the feat all the more impressive. The Ducks top line of Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan might be the best line in the NHL right now while Lubomir Visnovsky is quietly having one of the top seasons from a defenseman.

With all those positive things working, however, all it takes is a couple bumps in the road to knock you back out of the top eight in the West. Beating teams like 14th in the West Colorado is essential to keeping the good things going. If the Ducks allow this game to play like a trap game and lose, it could be looked back on as one of the more regrettable losses of the season. The way the Ducks are rolling right now, expecting a letdown here seems unlikely.

Video: Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have spoken out against a late, high hit that Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik threw on Olli Maatta early in the first period of an eventful Game 2 on Saturday.

Maatta left and didn’t return. He played only 31 seconds, and the Penguins were reduced to five defensemen for a large portion of the game. Orpik was given a minor penalty on the play, but the league’s Department of Player Safety may see it differently.

The hit occurred well after Maatta had gotten rid of the puck. He struggled on his way to the dressing room for further evaluation.

Based on multiple reports, Orpik wasn’t made available to the media following the game, which went to the Penguins as they earned the split on the road.

But the Penguins have taken issue with the hit.

“I thought it was a late hit,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, as per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”

Game on: Penguins even series with rival Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins will head back home with a split of their second-round series with the rival Washington Capitals.

Former Capitals forward Eric Fehr came back to burn his hold team, as he scored with under five minutes remaining in regulation to help lift the Penguins over Washington with a 2-1 victory in an eventful Game 2 on Saturday. Evgeni Malkin threw the puck toward the net and Fehr was able to re-direct it by Braden Holtby.

Oh, this was an eventful game, indeed.

It started early in the first period with Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik catching Penguins blue liner Olli Maatta with a late and high hit that warranted — at least for now — only a minor penalty for interference. Maatta, clearly in distress following the hit, didn’t play another shift and saw only 31 seconds of ice time in total, as Pittsburgh was reduced to five defensemen for the remainder of the game.

It continued in the third period. Kris Letang was furious after getting called for a trip on Justin Williams, and even more ticked off when the Capitals tied the game on the ensuing power play.

For two periods, the Capitals couldn’t get much going. Only four of their players had registered a shot on goal through 40 minutes, while the Penguins held the edge in that department and held the lead.

Washington came out with more jump in the third period, testing rookie netminder Matt Murray with 14 shots in the final 20 minutes. But the Penguins got the late goal to break the deadlock.

Video: Penguins’ Letang was furious after Capitals tie up Game 2 with power play goal

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Kris Letang watched from the penalty box as the Washington Capitals tied up Game 2 with a power play goal in the third period. The Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman was called for tripping after he appeared to muscle Justin Williams off the puck as he entered the zone.

Letang let his disagreement with the call be known at the time, and was furious after the Capitals capitalized on a goal from Marcus Johansson.

The Capitals started the period down a goal and being outshot 28-10 by the Penguins, who need a win to even the series.

Also, it seems this is worth mentioning:

Video: Hagelin goes top shelf to give Penguins the lead in Game 2

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In their quest to even the series, the Pittsburgh Penguins had done a nice job through two periods of suffocating the Washington Capitals, while gaining the lead on a beautiful goal.

Carl Hagelin took advantage of a vast amount of space that opened up in front of the Washington net, finishing off a nice pass from Nick Bonino, burying his shot just under the cross bar on the glove side of Braden Holtby.

Through two periods, the Penguins were outshooting Washington 28-10. Only four Capitals players — Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen — had registered shots on goal.