Tim Thomas, Greg Campbell

Race for the playoffs: Bruins can clinch division, Rangers looking to bounce back

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

Eastern Conference

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

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

Toronto @ Boston – 7 p.m. ET

It’s virtually a must-win game for the Leafs and for the Bruins, they can lock up the Northeast Division with a win. The last two outings for the B’s against Toronto have not gone well and Boston would love to see Tomas Kaberle snap out of it against his old team. Since joining the Bruins Kaberle has one goal and six assists in 18 games. The Bruins power play isn’t clicking the way they’d like but yet through all this they stay on top of things. Getting things figured out before the playoffs would ease coach Claude Julien’s mind a bit. For the Leafs, Buffalo’s win last night hurt their chances badly and now they’ve got to try and win out to get a shot at the postseason. Beating Boston one more time would suit them just fine.

NY Rangers @ NY Islanders – 7 p.m. ET

These two rivals go into tonight’s game with only pride on the line for the Isles and playoffs on the minds of the Rangers. After losing to the Sabres last night, the Rangers technically fell into eighth place in the Eastern Conference as the Sabres tied them with 87 points. Getting one over on the Isles tonight would do the Rangers a lot of good as Carolina is lurking in ninth just three points out. The Isles would like nothing more than to make life more uncomfortable on the Rangers.

Atlanta @ Philadelphia – 7 p.m. ET

A loss tonight by the Thrashers eliminates them from postseason contention. They’re barely hanging on as it is and they’ll need to win their final six games just to keep hope alive. Fortunately for them, they’ve beaten Philly the last two times they’ve played this year in the shootout and in overtime. They’ll need that kind of fortune the rest of the way. Philly, meanwhile, needs to win to keep Pittsburgh off their back and close in on trying to clinch the division.

Pittsburgh @ Tampa Bay – 7:30 p.m. ET

This is shaping up to be a very likely first round match-up in the playoffs. While Pittsburgh seems destined to have home ice in the first round, the Lightning could cut into that advantage with a win. Winning in regulation would get Tampa to within three points of Pittsburgh. The Pens would like to catch Philly for the lead in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. With Sidney Crosby skating with the team, perhaps the captain can rally the guys on game day into taking the number one seed.

Columbus @ Washington – 7 p.m. ET

The Jackets are just playing out the string while the Capitals get to try to keep their offense alive without Dennis Wideman who’s out week-to-week with a lower body injury. The Caps can get to within a point of Philly for the top spot in the East with a win and coming off a shootout loss to Carolina the other night, they could stand to see the offense pick up a bit. Doing so against Columbus is a questionable process as you never know if you’ll get the easy to score on Blue Jackets or not. At the very least, scoring two goals is a virtual automatic thing for the Caps in this one. Columbus has given up two or more goals in 14 straight games. That’s… Not good.

PHT Morning Skate: Shea Weber’s shot has injured a lot of people

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–Blue Jackets assistant coach Brad Shaw took a risk by leaving the Blues organization after 10 years, but it appears to have paid off. He and the rest of the staff have found a way to make the Jackets a competitive team in 2016-17.(Ottawa Citizen

–The San Jose Sharks are giving away “Chia Jumbo Joe Thornton” on Saturday, and they made a pretty cheesy/funny commercial to promote the occasion. (Top)

–Canadiens goalie Al Montoya is the first player of Cuban heritage to play in an NHL game. He’s hoping that his journey to the NHL will inspire others like him to make the leap to the pro ranks. “To play this game from where I came from and my background, it’s who I am and what I’m made of,” said Montoya. “Without the sacrifices my family made to get to the United States and put me in hockey, I wouldn’t be here. The Cuban background is a huge part of what I am.” (NHL.com)

Ryan O'Reilly sat down for a Q&A with ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun. They discussed his new beard, what it was like to play with one of his favorite players, Joe Thornton and why he thinks the Sabres haven’t been very good this season. With Buffalo currently in last place in the East, O’Reilly admits that he could do a better job as one of the leaders on the team. (ESPN)

Shea Weber has one of the heaviest slap shots in the NHL and as you’d imagine, he’s caused a few injuries over the years. According to this list, Weber’s shot has injured 11 people since 2009, including his former GM David Poile and current teammate Max Pacioretty (twice). (BarDown)

–Sportsnet has a “ref cam” on some of their hockey broadcasts. It gives fans a different view of the game, which is pretty cool. Here’s a look at some of the best “ref cam” moments from Wednesday’s game between the Habs and Penguins.

Hitchcock believes Blues’ Allen is ‘locked up mentally’

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes the third period save against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 8, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Things were already rough for the St. Louis Blues and their goalies (particularly still-pretty-newly crowned No. 1 Jake Allen) heading into Thursday, but the Washington Capitals really highlighted those issues in a 7-3 thrashing.

Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”

Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.

From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.

Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.

With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.

Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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If you’re reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.