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.

Stepan to miss 4-6 weeks with broken ribs

Leave a comment

Derek Stepan is out 4-6 weeks with broken ribs, the New York Rangers announced today.

Stepan was hurt Friday on a controversial hit by Boston’s Matt Beleskey. The Bruins’ forward did not receive any supplemental discipline for the check, despite admitting it was “maybe…a little bit late.”

At any rate it’s a big loss for the Rangers, who suddenly find themselves on a three-game losing streak. Considering the timeline, New York could be without one of its top centers for 12-18 games, give or take.

The Rangers host Carolina tonight.

Related: Yep, Alain Vigneault went there — ‘I remember Aaron Rome in this building’

Price to miss minimum six weeks, so no Winter Classic for him

Carey Price,
Leave a comment

Carey Price will miss a minimum of six weeks with a lower-body injury, the Montreal Canadiens announced today.

That means Price will miss the Winter Classic against the Bruins on New Year’s Day. The 30-year-old goalie has only appeared in 12 games this season.

On the bright side, the reigning Hart Trophy winner will not require surgery. And considering the Habs have already built up a 13-point playoff cushion in the standings, well, if something like this were going to happen during the season, now is as good a time as any.

Related: The latest on Price’s injury

Report: Jets offered Byfuglien for Hamonic, Isles said no

Dustin Byfuglien

If Travis Hamonic could choose one team to be traded to, he’d probably choose Winnipeg. The 25-year-old Islanders defenseman wants to be closer to his family, and his family is from Manitoba. Hamonic already owns a condo in Winnipeg.

So far, though, the Jets and Islanders haven’t been able to work out a deal. The Jets have three right-shot defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers who could, theoretically, be swapped for Hamonic, also a right shot.

“I think the Islanders were offered Byfuglien and they said no,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said this morning on Sportsnet 960 (audio), per Today’s Slapshot. “And I understand why, because Byfuglien’s got no term left.

“I think they’d love to have Trouba, but the Jets aren’t really there to do it. Myers, if it’s happened – I can’t say for sure it has or hasn’t – I’m not sure that’s the deal either team really wants to make, to be perfectly honest.”

Byfuglien is a pending unrestricted free agent who’s expected to cash in big-time on his next deal. The 30-year-old may not be the most disciplined player, but at his best, he’s an absolute force on the back end.

That the Isles reportedly said no to Byfuglien shouldn’t really come as a surprise, given his contract uncertainty. However, it does make one wonder about his future in Winnipeg. Remember that the salary cap is not expected to go up by much, and the Jets have another pending UFA in captain Andrew Ladd, plus a couple of key RFAs in Trouba and Mark Scheifele.

While it’s never easy to tell what GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is thinking, the big question with Byfuglien and the Jets may end up being when, not if, they part ways. Will it be after the season or before the Feb. 29 trade deadline?

Preds still haven’t found their scoring touch

Mike Fisher

The Nashville Predators got off to a relatively good start this season, but something seems to have happened to their offense over the last six games.

Prior to Nov. 20, the Preds had only been shut out once in their first 17 games. Since then, they’ve been blanked three times and have just six goals in their last six contests.

If you remove Mike Fisher from the equation, the numbers are even more dreadful.

Fisher’s scored three of those six goals, while Filip Forsberg, Shea Weber, James Neal and Mike Ribeiro have none.

After Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Buffalo , here’s what coach Peter Laviolette told the Tennessean: “I thought we could’ve had more gas, to be honest with you. The energy just wasn’t there; maybe the second period had something to do with that or the road trip, which was a long trip. I’m not making any excuses, but I think when we play at a higher tempo that’s when we’re at our best, and we had more to push in that area tonight.”

The first game back home after a long road trip is typically a difficult one for most teams, so we’ll see how the Predators respond on Tuesday night when they host Arizona.