Mikhail Grabovski; Shaone Morrisonn

Eastern playoff bungle continues: Canes, Leafs stay alive while Sabres,Thrashers falter

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Eastern Conference playoff race

x-1. Philadelphia – 102 pts
x-2. Washington – 99 pts
x-3. Boston – 96 pts
x-4. Pittsburgh – 98 pts
5. Tampa Bay – 93 pts
6. Montreal – 89 pts
7. NY Rangers – 87 pts
8. Buffalo – 85 pts
9. Carolina – 82 pts
10. Toronto – 80 pts
11. Atlanta – 76 pts

z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot

Philadelphia 5 – Pittsburgh 2

So much for the talk of the Flyers slipping from atop the East. Ville Leino scored twice while Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, and Jeff Carter also added goals to give the Flyers an emphatic win, their 25th win on the road. Sergei Bobrovsky made 25 saves as he kept the Penguins at bay in their attempt to draw even with the Flyers in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference race. A Pens win would’ve put the two teams in a tie atop the conference. Instead, Philly is up on them by four once again and have shaken the confidence of the Pens after they had been on a roll.

Toronto 4 – Buffalo 3

A double-turn tonight in Toronto as the Leafs continue to battle and stay on the edge of the playoff race in the East and they beat just the team they had to in Buffalo tonight. Mikhail Grabovski’s goal late in the second period proved to be the deciding goal as the teams played a tight third period with no scoring. James Reimer continues to build his folk hero legacy in Toronto by stymieing the Sabres again this time with 28 saves. Ryan Miller admitted that he “just looked stupid” on the ice tonight making 31 saves and playing poorly still in the loss. Buffalo will have to rebound fast tomorrow night at home against the Rangers if they want to have a shot at getting out of eighth in the right direction.

Carolina 3 – Washington 2 (F/SO)

Washington had the chance to help put the Lightning officially into the playoffs tonight, but instead were foiled by Carolina trying to stay in the race for the playoffs themselves. Jeff Skinner scored the game-tying goal early in the third and scored the shootout winner as well to get the Hurricanes two points closer to Buffalo. Just three points out now, the Hurricanes continue to hang around in the rear view mirror of the Sabres. Cam Ward made 38 saves in the win and did not allow any Caps to score in the shootout. It wasn’t all bad news for the Caps, however, as Jason Arnott and Alexander Ovechkin returned to action in quiet fashion as neither player had a point in the loss.

Montreal 3 – Atlanta 1

It was nothing but bad news for the Thrashers as they’re all but done in the East playoff race. Montreal snapped their goalless drought at 199:01 and then scored twice in 11 seconds. You just can’t predict hockey. Montreal was able to get a couple of important points to try and put the Rangers and Sabres a bit further back in their rear view mirrors.

Tampa Bay 5 – Ottawa 2

Martin St. Louis and Dominic Moore each had two goals while Steve Stamkos scored an empty net goal, his 44th on the season to tie him again with Corey Perry for the NHL lead. Dwayne Roloson stopped 31 shots in the win to keep Tampa Bay up by four points on Montreal. While the Habs have slumped lately, a loss tonight from Tampa Bay would’ve put them squarely in the crosshairs to be taken out of the fifth seed should Montreal get rolling again.

Video: Reimer, Allen shut down dangerous one-timers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  James Reimer #34 of the Florida Panthers makes a save during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In an ideal world, goalie equipment wouldn’t be such an issue. Teams would be able to “get goalies moving” with great passing and chances just about no one could stop.

Then again, there are also those saves that a select handful of humans can pull off. A big reason why there’s only been one goal between the Panthers and Blues tonight is the lateral movement shown by both James Reimer and Jake Allen.

First, watch as Reimer robs Jori Lehtera on what’s likely the save of the night:

Allen really hasn’t been that far behind Reimer, right down to making a similar stop:

Considering the two nearly identical one-timer goals scored by Arizona against Anaheim in finding seams for big passes through opposing defenses, tonight’s goalies might want to do some extra stretching during intermissions.

Dvorak, Coyotes put Ducks in early hole with slick goals (Video)

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 11:  Connor Murphy #5 (second from left) of the Arizona Coyotes celebrates with Alexander Burmistrov #91, Shane Doan #19 and Christian Dvorak #18 after Murphy scored the game winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on February 11, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Penguins 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes’ happy thoughts are mostly centered on the future. Christian Dvorak possibly being more than a guy who put up nice junior numbers with Matthew Tkachuk and Mitch Marner could fuel some really nice thoughts.

He’s been red-hot in February, in particular, including a goal already tonight as the Coyotes raced off to an early 2-0 lead against the Anaheim Ducks.

Check out that smooth play for his 10th goal of 2016-17:

Again, he’s been on quite the roll lately.

February: nine points (and counting?) in nine games
Rest of the season: 13 points in 45 games

He only had one assist in 12 January contests, so this outburst is even more unexpected than the Coyotes racing off to this lead.

Interestingly, the Coyotes two goals looked awfully similar, at least in the finish:

Randy Carlyle’s mood? Probably not too chipper right now.

Brooks Laich wants another crack at NHL (with or without Leafs)

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 29:  Brooks Laich #23 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits for a puck drop against the Tampa Bay Lightning during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 29, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  The Lightning defeated the Maple Leafs 2-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Brooks Laich wants another shot at playing in the NHL. As he told The Atlantic TO (sub required), if that means being traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs, then so be it.

“You don’t win a Stanley Cup playing in the American Hockey League,” Laich said. “If the Leafs don’t have a plan for me with them, I would like to pursue a Stanley Cup somewhere else.”

Interesting.

Laich’s biased take: he has plenty more to give at the highest level.

Hmm, that … seems a little crazy. Few players see their best days at age 33 and beyond.

But what about his work with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies? Maybe he’s killing it there.

Well, if he is, his contributions aren’t showing in the simple counting stats. In 22 games this season, Laich has one goal and six points. He isn’t even firing a shot on goal per game (just 17 in those 22 contests).

Now, Laich wouldn’t sell you on his scoring skills. Face-offs might not be much of a calling card, either.

So … it’s easier to understand why he’s struggling to get a foothold in his career. Laich isn’t much of a scorer, isn’t dominant on the draw and isn’t someone who’s shown a history of dramatically tilting the ice in his team’s favor.

Does that mean he can’t be a fourth-line center, or failing that, at least a depth forward? Laich could conceivably be helpful to some team, even if it’s difficult to imagine anyone giving up anything but a minor asset for him.

And, yes, it’s crazy to imagine him exceeding anything he did with the Washington Capitals.

Avalanche say ankle injury ends Nikita Zadorov’s season

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 14: Nikita Zadorov #16 of the Colorado Avalanche congratulates Matt Duchene #9 after his goal against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Pepsi Center on December 14, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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As if the Colorado Avalanche needed another miserable element to 2016-17: Nikita Zadorov suffered a season-ending injury during the same practice that Erik Johnson returned.

Zadorov injured his ankle after being tangled up with Mikko Rantanen during a Monday practice, according to the Denver Post.

Update: The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers reports that it’s a fractured ankle. Yikes.

Zadorov, 21, is a big defenseman with the pedigree that would inspire teams to imagine better things in the future (16th pick in 2013 by Buffalo). So far, that potential hasn’t really manifested itself in production, whether you judge a player by points, plus/minus or possession numbers.

He may be able to put it together at some point – again, he’s young – so perhaps he’ll remember this as a low point before he turns things around.

At the moment, it’s just another grim part of a bleak time for the Avs.