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.
As you can see in the video, apparently Ryan Suter doesn’t like being paired with fellow lefty Jonas Brodin.
The Wild defenseman rather openly questioned the coaching staff’s decision-making today after practice.
“Yeah, I don’t know what they’re thinking,” said Suter. “I need to play with a right-handed defenseman. To give me more options. Neutral zone. Offensively. And even coming out of the D zone, it’s not fair to put a guy on his off side.”
Suter didn’t know if the pairings were just for practice or not. The Wild play tomorrow in Chicago. Minnesota has just one win in its last seven games.
Suter also had something to say about that.
“It does no good to pout and get pissed off at each other,” said Suter. “You’ve got to come together and dig out of this. Now’s when you need leadership more than ever. It’s easy to be a coach and a leader when things are going good.”
Yeo, by the way, has not been very happy with the Wild lately. In fact, one could go so far as to say he’s been acting pretty “pissed off.”
For example, at today’s practice:
The Star Tribune has more on what went down today.
Yeo, you may recall, went a little “nuts” during a Wild practice last season.
We already knew this yesterday, but in case you missed it, Garret Sparks will make his NHL debut in goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight against Edmonton.
Sparks, 22, has been excellent in the AHL this season, going 8-2-1 with a .938 save percentage. He spent most of last season in the ECHL, where he also posted good numbers.
Sparks is getting the nod tonight because James Reimer is hurt and Jonathan Bernier has been struggling badly.
“He’s got an opportunity like lots of kids have had before him and it’s up to him to grab it,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said, per NHL.com. “He’s got the [second-best] save percentage in the AHL and he’s winning all the time down there. Obviously we’re in need of some saves and we’ll have to play well in front of him for sure. But it’s an opportunity for him.”
Bernier, meanwhile, will have to sit and watch. The 27-year-old has allowed at least four goals in four of his last five starts. His save percentage has fallen all the way to .888.
Anders Nilsson will be in net for the Oilers.
— Cam Ward for the Hurricanes. Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers, who will try not to rely on him so much.
— Semyon Varlamov for the Avs. Thomas Greiss for the Isles.
— The Canucks aren’t saying if it’ll be Ryan Miller of Jacob Markstrom. For the Ducks, it’ll be John Gibson.
Alain Vigneault has maintained for much of the season that the New York Rangers needed to play better.
The head coach said it a week ago, after the Blueshirts had beaten the Predators, 3-0, despite getting outshot, 31-19.
He’d said it a couple of weeks before that, after they’d beaten the Hurricanes in very similar fashion. (Final score: 3-0. Shots: 33-23 for Carolina.)
But as long as the Rangers kept winning, it was tough, according to Vigneault, to get the message across.
“Sometimes, the results might be going your way, so when you’re pointing out certain things, it might be a little bit more challenging for them to understand because the results are so positive,” Vigneault said, per the New York Post.
“But after three losses in a row, I think we’ve got everybody’s attention.”
Derek Stepan‘s injury — he’ll miss 4-6 weeks with broken ribs — has no doubt captured their attention as well. (Oscar Lindberg will center Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast tonight at home to Carolina.)
The Rangers also play Wednesday, in Brooklyn against the Islanders (on NBCSN).
Stars winger Jamie Benn, Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and Canadiens center Alex Galchenyuk have been named the NHL’s three stars for the past week.
Benn shared the League lead in goals (4) and points (6) as the Stars (19-5-0, 38 points) won two of three games to continue their best start to a season in the franchise’s 48-year history.
Holtby posted a 4-0-0 record with a 1.75 goals-against average, .945 save percentage and one shutout to backstop the Capitals (17-5-1, 35 points) to the top of the Metropolitan Division standings.
Galchenyuk tied for first in the NHL with four goals and added one assist to help the Canadiens (18-4-3, 39 points) earn five of a possible six points and reclaim first place in the League standings.
As much as the injuries to Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher have been frustrating for the Canadiens, those are short-term issues that should be forgotten soon enough. Galchenyuk’s play, in contrast, is reason for long-term optimism. The 21-year-old is trending towards becoming the elite No. 1 center the Habs have needed so badly. He’s not there yet, but when’s all said and done, he could turn out to be the best forward (or player, period) taken in the 2012 draft.