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.

Penguins’ Guentzel makes ‘kick save’ to stop Capitals

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It doesn’t get much better than a player making the type of save you’d only expect from a goalie. OK, how about this: when it happens amid the high stakes of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel had already been distinguishing himself with a red-hot scoring start to the postseason, but he made a big difference in a way that won’t show up in the box score (aside from maybe as a blocked shot) for Game 1 against the Washington Capitals.

In one of the few golden opportunities in a notably tight first period, Guentzel made a “kick save” to keep it 0-0. He also managed to avoid giving the Capitals a penalty shot in the process, so this was quite the effort from the impressive rookie.

Video will be added soon. Here’s the moment in GIF form first:

Lundqvist snubs Sens with 21 saves in first (Video)

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You know how goalies claim they prefer to be busy rather than risking rust in seldom seeing shots? If that’s true, Henrik Lundqvist was really, really happy in the first period.

The Ottawa Senators generated chance after chance in a busy opening frame of Game 1, generating a 21-12 shot differential against the New York Rangers. The game remains 0-0 in large part because Lundqvist has carried over his momentum from the Montreal Canadiens series so far.

As you can see from the video above, Lundqvist made some absolutely fantastic saves, especially in somehow stopping Mark Stone.

In a duller game, 21 shots on goal could a team’s entire output.

That’s impressive stuff from what appears to be a “vintage” Lundqvist. We’ll see how much more the Rangers lean on him as this one goes along.

Oh, and here’s a GIF of the best stop of the bunch, because seriously.

Kunitz is in for Penguins vs. Capitals in Game 1

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The Pittsburgh Penguins get a familiar face back in the lineup, as Chris Kunitz is good to go against the Washington Capitals in Game 1.

The 37-year-old has been sidelined since March 31, ending his regular season with just an assist in his final nine games. His last goal came on Feb. 16.

So, in other words … he’s not quite as big of a deal for this series as he had been in the past.

He’ll draw into a solid fourth line with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnackl, while Carter Rowney will be a healthy scratch. Check out the Penguins’ line combos heading into Thursday’s showdown:

Foligno, Getzlaf, Giordano vie for Messier Leadership Award

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The NHL announced the three finalists for the Mark Messier Leadership Award: Nick Foligno (Columbus Blue Jackets), Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) and Mark Giordano (Calgary Flames).

In case you’re curious about the process, the league explains how it works (and how the buck stops with Messier):

Mark Messier solicits suggestions from club and League personnel as well as NHL fans to compile a list of potential candidates for the award. However, the selection of the three finalists and ultimate winner is Messier’s alone. 

So, yes, it might come down to steeliness/60.

Anyway, the most fun part of this award is that Getzlaf and Giordano just engaged in a first-round series, with Getzlaf’s hit on Giordano (see above) being one of the standout moments.

Perhaps Giordano will at least get the best of Getzlaf in this one?