New York Rangers v New York Islanders

Eastern Conference playoff update: Lightning clinch a spot, Leafs keep dreaming

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Eastern Conference playoff race

x-1. Philadelphia – 102 pts (5 GR)
x-2. Washington – 101 pts (4 GR)
x-3. Boston – 97 pts (5 GR)
x-4. Pittsburgh – 98 pts (4 GR)
x-5. Tampa Bay – 95 pts (5 GR)
6. Montreal – 89 pts (4 GR)
7. Buffalo – 87 pts (5 GR)
8. NY Rangers – 87 pts (4 GR)
9. Carolina – 84 pts (5 GR)
10. Toronto – 82 pts (4 GR)
11. Atlanta – 78 pts (5 GR)

z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
GR – Games Remaining

Toronto 4, Boston 3 (SO)

This game probably just delays the inevitable for both teams. The Maple Leafs are still a big-time long shot since they need to close a five-point gap to take a playoff spot from the currently eighth-ranked Rangers. In fact, with New York holding a wins tiebreaker, they may need to make up a six-point difference in only four games.

Meanwhile, the Bruins earned a point, so they only need one more point in their last five games to clinch the Northeast Division.

Still, for one night, Maple Leafs fans can wonder how different life would be if the season was just a week or two longer. Joffrey Lupul scored two goals and an assist and Nazem Kadri scored the only shootout goal for Toronto to a win a thriller against the Bruins in Boston.

Atlanta 1, Philadelphia 0

Speaking of long shots, the Thrashers kept their incredibly slim playoff hopes alive thanks to a 43-save shutout by Chris Mason. The fact that they beat the Flyers in regulation opens up the door for the Vancouver Canucks to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy tonight, although Philly must be a lot more concerned about the East’s top seed (more on that in a moment).

Evander Kane scored the game’s only goal, giving the Thrashers a nice thrill, even if it will ultimately be an empty one. The Rangers only need two points and the Sabres only need to earn a single point to slam the door shut on Atlanta’s playoff hopes, making their fate all but certain.

NY Islanders 6, NY Rangers 2

Some might say that the Islanders are only playing for pride, but there’s also another driving force called “spite.” This loss pushes the Rangers into eighth, shrinking their lead against the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes to only three points. The Canes hold a game in hand over the Rangers and play a huge game against the Sabres on Sunday.

This regulation loss also gives the idle Sabres the seventh seed, since Buffalo has five games remaining versus New York’s four. Time will tell if Marian Gaborik will face any discipline for his hit on Frans Nielsen, but the Isles made the Rangers pay dearly on the scoreboard tonight.

Washington 4, Columbus 3 (OT)

Jason Chimera scored the game-winning overtime goal and also provided an assist during his return from being a healthy scratch against the Carolina Hurricanes. This win maintains their six-point lead over the Lightning for the Southeast Division crown while moving them to within one point of the East-leading Flyers.

Philadelphia has one extra point, one more game in hand and one more win, so they have a slight advantage. Still, it’s not out of the question for Washington to catch up to them during the stretch run, especially with the Caps’ final two games coming against the tanking Florida Panthers.

Tampa Bay 2, Pittsburgh 1

The Lightning edged the Penguins in what almost certainly should be a preview of a first round match between the two squads. Steve Downie and Martin St. Louis scored for Tampa Bay while Michael Rupp scored Pittsburgh’s only goal. Dwayne Roloson made 36 saves to help the Bolts clinch a playoff spot tonight. St. Louis now has 30 or more goals in six different seasons.

This result could make for an interesting race for the fourth seed. The Penguins still hold a three-point lead over the Lightning, but Tampa Bay (five games remaining) has one more game in hand than Pittsburgh (four games remaining). Pittsburgh has more wins (45 to 42), but both teams have an identical 36 non-shootout wins.

Flames’ Jokipakka (hip) might not play for Finns at World Cup

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 5: Jyrki Jokipakka #3 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 5, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Jyrki Jokipakka was one of the three Finnish d-men added to the World Cup roster last week but, according to Calgary president Brian Burke, Jokipakka isn’t a lock to play this fall.

“He had hip surgery after the season, and it’s not 100 percent that he’s going to be able to compete in this tournament,” Burke told Sportsnet’s Fan 960. “But the fact he was named recognizes his accomplishments to date, and we’re very proud of [him].”

Jokipakka, acquired in the Kris Russell-to-Dallas deadline trade, appeared in 58 games last year — 18 for the Flames, 40 for the Stars. He finished with two goals and 12 points.

Still only 24 years old, Jokipakka could be a nice piece for the Flames moving forward. He’s 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and was rated highly enough to crack the Finnish roster (granted, the country isn’t overwhelmingly deep on the blueline).

So it’s understandable why the club might be wary of letting him play in the World Cup. In addition to coming off major surgery, Jokipakka is headed into the last of a two-year, $1.8 million deal with a $900,000 average annual cap hit.

Once that expires, he’ll become a restricted free agent.

‘Yep,’ Letang will play tonight

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with his teammates Sidney Crosby #87 after scoring a goal against Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Jason Behnken/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang will play tonight. He confirmed it this morning, albeit in rather unusual circumstances.

Letang did not participate in yesterday’s Media Day at the Stanley Cup Final. He didn’t practice either. The Penguins said it was simply a “maintenance day” for their best defensemen, but when it was learned he would hold a press conference this morning, all of a sudden people started to wonder about his status for Game 1 against the Sharks.

He was asked if he was playing.

“Yep.”

So, no problems?

“Nope.”

And that was that.

No explanation was provided about yesterday, but Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said a few minutes later that he was confident that Letang would be able to log his usual amount of minutes.

“Very confident,” said Sullivan.

Penguins center Nick Bonino also confirmed that he’ll be able to go tonight. He didn’t skate Saturday or Sunday, but was on the ice this morning.

Former NHLer Bulis calls it a career

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 23:  Center Jan Bulis #38 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on against the Washington Capitals on December 23, 2005 at the MCI Center in Washington D.C. The Capitals won 4-2.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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Jan Bulis, who appeared in 552 games with the Capitals, Canadiens and Canucks, announced his retirement from professional hockey today, per Czech news outlet Ceske Noviny.

Bulis, 38, last played in North America with Vancouver during the 2006-07 campaign, and has since carved out a pretty lengthy career in the KHL, playing for both Mytishchi Atlant and Chelyabinsk Traktor.

Picked 43rd overall by Washington at the 1996 draft, Bulis’ best years came with the Habs. He posted a career-high 20 goals and 40 points in 2005-06 — that year, he also represented the Czechs at the Winter Olympics in Turin (capturing bronze) and at the World Hockey Championships (capturing silver).

Report: Semin will stay in KHL for 2016-17

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 11:  Alexander Semin #13 of the Montreal Canadiens skates during the NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on October 11, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Ottawa Senators 3-1.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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It seems there will be no NHL comeback attempt by Alex Semin. At least not in 2016-17.

Instead, Semin has inked a one-year extension with Magnitogorsk Metallurg, according to Sport-Express writer Igor Eronko.

At 32 years old, Semin still could have a lot of years left in him as a professional hockey player, but at this point it wouldn’t be surprising if he has played in his last NHL game. Early in his career his talent was clear and demonstrated by some great showings offensively, but he was plagued by inconsistency. In recent years though, he wasn’t so much inconsistent as he was underwhelming.

After being limited to six goals and 19 points in 57 games with Carolina in 2014-15, the one-time 40-goal scorer was bought out of his five-year, $35 million contract just two seasons into it. Montreal took a chance on him for 2015-16, but he only appeared in 15 games with the Canadiens before they put him on unconditional waivers on Dec. 9.

He’s fared better in the KHL though, with five goals and 14 points in 20 regular season games followed by another seven markers and 15 points in 23 playoff contests.