Joni Pitkanen, Derek Joslin, Jeff Skinner, Eric Staal

Eastern playoff standings condensed: Sabres beat Rangers, Hurricanes smash Canadiens

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. Buffalo – 87 pts
8. NY Rangers – 87 pts
9. Carolina – 84 pts
10. Toronto – 80 pts
11. Atlanta – 76 pts
12. New Jersey – 75 pts

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

New Jersey 3, NY Islanders 2

The Devils did what they needed to do to keep their slim playoff hopes alive by beating the New York Islanders. New Jersey defenseman Andy Greene scored the eventual game-winning goal with about 5 minutes left in the game to save New Jersey’s hopes for one more night. Unfortunately for fans in Newark, the chances to make the second season took yet another hit as the Buffalo Sabres won their game as well. The Devils need to win the rest of their games and they need the Rangers or Sabres to lose the rest of theirs. In regulation. Even if that were to happen, they’d need the Hurricanes to fall off a cliff as well. It was a fantastic run for the Devils while it lasted—but it’s time to start looking towards next season.

Carolina 6, Montreal 2

Don’t look now, but the Montreal Canadiens’ stranglehold on the 6th seed isn’t as secure as it was a couple of weeks ago. Jeff Skinner scored a pair of goals in the first period to get the Canes off to a good start and Jaime McBain scored a pair to remove any doubt. The loss was simply more of the same for Montreal. The Habs have only managed a single win in their last 5 games—which is in stark contrast to the Rangers and Sabres who have seemingly been gaining ground on a nightly basis. Montreal’s loss and Carolina’s win has served to make the Eastern Conference playoff picture look like an accordion. The 6th through 9th spots are not only separated by 5 points; the 6th through 8th spots are only separated by two points.

Buffalo 1, NY Rangers 0

In a game that seemed like a playoff contest, the Sabres went into battle without superstar goaltender Ryan Miller and escaped with a 1-0 victory. Back-up netminder Jhonas Enroth only needed to make 23 saves, but it was enough to help the surging Sabres pass the Rangers for the 7th spot in the East. After Buffalo’s win, the teams are tied with 87 points in 77 games; but the Sabres have one more win (not including shootouts) to win the new tiebreaker. Both teams have been playing out of their minds lately, but they’re both still only three points into a playoff spot over Carolina. Sure, they want to catch Montreal for the 6th spot—but more importantly, they both need to make it to the dance. On that note, they both could have used a Carolina loss. For Rangers fans, the night couldn’t have gone any worse. For Sabres fans, well, a win is a win. Any win in March in the middle of a playoff race is beautiful.

Quick wins in his return, Kings rally versus Ducks

Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, of Slovenia, and goalie Jonathan Quick congratulate each other after defeating the Dallas Stars in an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Kings won 3-2. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Welcome back, Jonathan Quick.

Starting for the first time since Oct. 12 — an absence of 59 games due to a groin injury — Quick was solid in his return against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday. He stopped 32 shots, allowing for the Kings to eventually find some offense in a 4-1 victory over their California rivals.

The Kings trailed going into the third period, but came alive with four unanswered goals for an important win in the Western Conference playoff race. Tyler Toffoli scored twice and Jeff Carter secured the win with his 30th goal of the season — after he appeared dazed in a fight with Ryan Kesler earlier in the game.

In typical fashion, tempers boiled over between these two teams. In typical fashion, Corey Perry was once again at the center of the mayhem. He tripped Anze Kopitar in the second period, leading to a melee before Brayden McNabb and Nate Thompson paired off in the main event.

“I think the game kind of led to the third. I thought we were playing great leading up to it,” said Quick, per LA Kings Insider.

“We were creating chances, played hard, heavy and I think if we don’t play like that in the first two periods we don’t get four in the third so we got rewarded for our work over 60 minutes.”

Again, this is a big win for the Kings.

Getting back into the top three in the Pacific Division seems like a tall, if not impossible order with 21 games remaining on their schedule and only four wins in their last 10 games. Anaheim, third in the division, is 10 points ahead.

But this win does help the Kings in their bid for a wild card spot.

They are only three points back of St. Louis for the final playoff spot in the conference. Nashville was victorious over Washington a few hours after L.A. defeated Anaheim, so the Predators move into third in the Central.

Quick winning in his return is huge news for the Kings. But more importantly, the players they rely on for offensive production came through. Kopitar had two assists. Carter had a two-point night. Ditto for Toffoli. Tanner Pearson had three assists.

It’s been a lack of production from top players that coach Darryl Sutter has lamented during his team’s recent struggles.

“It’s the only way we’re going to make the playoffs. Those guys held scoreless or shut down or outplayed by the other team’s top guys, we won’t make the playoffs,” said Sutter.

“They have to.”

WATCH LIVE: Flyers at Penguins from Heinz Field

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 15: Claude Giroux #28 of the Philadelphia Flyers and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins go toe-to-toe prior to fighting during the first period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 15, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins are going to take their rivalry outside on Saturday.

The Flyers visit the Penguins in a Stadium Series clash at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, beginning at 8 p.m. ET. You can catch the action on NBC or online with the NBC Sports Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Goalie nods: Murray, Neuvirth get the call at Heinz Field

Kris Letang won’t play in outdoor game; Schultz game-time decision

NHL On NBC: Penguins, Flyers meet in Stadium Series

Giroux: ‘It’s all business’ between Penguins and Flyers at Heinz Field

We have a (minor league) trade to announce: Coyotes and Bolts swap AHL forwards

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 30:  Vice President & General Manager, Alternate Governor Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center on June 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Tampa Bay Lightning and Arizona Coyotes have made a minor league trade.

The Bolts on Saturday acquired right winger Stefan Fournier from the Coyotes in exchange for right winger Jeremy Morin, who has played 82 career NHL games between the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Fournier stands six-foot-three-inches tall and 226 pounds. He has two goals and four points in 29 games with the Tuscon Roadrunners in the AHL.

Morin, who has spent the majority of his pro career in the Blackhawks organization, has been a productive minor league player over the years. He has nine goals and 21 points in 43 games this season with the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL.

 

 

Blue Jackets chase Greiss from Islanders net

FILE - In this March 12, 2016, file photo, New York Islanders goalieThomas Greiss pauses during the team's NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins in Boston. Greiss has received the bulk of the starts after starting goalie Jarsolav Halak was injured last month. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
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The New York Islanders entered today with a three-game winning streak and holders of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

But yeah, it’s been a disastrous start for the Islanders on Saturday. The Blue Jackets scored three times in the first period, chasing Thomas Greiss from the New York net after he stopped 14 of 17 shots faced.

Jean-Francois Berube entered the game to begin the second period and promptly surrendered a goal to Josh Anderson, who scored his 12th of the season.