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.

Lehtonen only lasts one period in Game 2

Lehtonen
1 Comment

Kari Lehtonen might have been more hit than miss in the playoffs going into today’s action, but Game 2 against St. Louis was certainly a start he’d like to forget.

Dallas outshot St. Louis 10-5 in the first frame, but the Blues still managed to take a 3-1 lead. Antti Niemi replaced Lehtonen for the second period which means, barring another goalie change, Lehtonen will actually end up with a sub-.500 save percentage this afternoon.

The numbers obviously look bad and it’s hard not to blame Lehtonen in the face of that, but the Blues deserve a lot of the credit for those goals. Patrik Berglund had a great shot on goal for the first marker, Joel Edmundson‘s first career playoff goal came after a nice setup by Troy Brouwer, and when Brouwer collected his own goal it was off of a rebound during a power play.

So to an extent, you could say Lehtonen looked bad due to circumstances that were very unfavorable to him. Nevertheless, the Stars needed to shake things up after what was unquestionably a bad period for them.

Dupuis, Jagr, Zuccarello are Masterton Trophy finalists

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 18:  Pascal Dupuis #9 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in action against the New York Rangers during their game at Madison Square Garden on December 18, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments

Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis, Florida’s Jaromir Jagr, and the Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello have been selected as the three finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

The Masterton Trophy recognizes “the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” In 2015 it went to Devan Dubnyk, who struggled mightily in 2013-14, but dramatically turned his career around the following season and led the Minnesota Wild to the playoffs in the process.

Dupuis attempted to play in the 2015-16 campaign while taking blood thinners, but on Dec. 8 he announced that he would stop playing “because of a medical condition related to blood clots.”

Jagr celebrated his 44th birthday in February, but despite his age he managed to score 27 goals and 66 points in 79 contests this season. With that, he became the oldest player to reach the 60-point mark in a single NHL campaign.

Zuccarello played in 81 games and set career-highs with 26 goals and 61 points this season after suffering a skull fracture and brain contusion during the 2015 playoffs that left him temporarily unable to speak.

Can there be parallels drawn between the 2016 Ducks and 2014 Sharks?

Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler (17) takes the puck up ice on a breakaway with San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, center, and Ducks center Nate Thompson, right, trailing on the play during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
AP Photo
1 Comment

The Anaheim Ducks might not have suffered a reverse sweep at the hands of one of their biggest rivals, but they seem to have reached a breaking point when it comes to playoff disappointments.

After firing head coach Bruce Boudreau, GM Bob Murray was highly critical of the team’s core, even noting that at this point he’s not a fan of long-term contracts. That was perhaps a swipe at how he feels Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf‘s eight-year $69 million and $66 million contracts have worked out thus far. Meanwhile Ryan Kesler‘s six-year deal worth roughly $41 million is about to begin.

After San Jose suffered its first round loss to the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said they were now becoming a “tomorrow team” and they began a cultural shift that included Joe Thornton losing the captaincy.

There are differences of course between the two situations. One notable one is that the Sharks’ guard was already starting to change hands in 2013-14. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were entering their mid-30s, but Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture were on the rise. Anaheim’s core of Getzlaf and Perry is significantly younger, but while Anaheim also has some promising forwards like Jakob Silfverberg, that generation of players doesn’t seem ready to carry the torch for the Ducks.

“We don’t have a lot of young guys in the lineup. … Today’s a much different feeling leaving the rink,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said, per the Los Angeles Times. “In those [previous] years there’s been a sense of hope. Today, there’s zero feeling like that.”

Perhaps the Anaheim Ducks will find hope by watching the rest of the 2016 playoffs. If the San Jose Sharks continue to succeed, they will be an example of a team that once underachieved, hit a critical low, but then managed to fix that in a relatively short time without a massive turnover in terms of on-ice personnel. While we’re at it, you could make a similar argument for the Washington Capitals.

Maybe Murray will look to those franchises for inspiration as he moves forward.

Capitals, Penguins nearly perfect at stopping third period comebacks

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) chase down the puck during the first period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
AP Photo
4 Comments

Pittsburgh only won by a single goal in Game 2 on Saturday and that deciding marker came with 4:28 minutes remaining in the third, but that contest had the potential to be far more one-sided.

The Capitals were outshot 28-10 through 40 minutes and were consequently leaning on goaltender Braden Holtby to keep things close.

“First two periods, I thought they were way better than us,” Washington coach Barry Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlantic. Or has Justin Williams put it, the Capitals “were getting embarrassed out there” during the first 40 minutes.

Washington did rebound in the third period, though it wasn’t enough to prevent the Penguins from evening this series at 1-1. That puts the pressure on Washington to take at least one game in Pittsburgh before the second round’s over.

Starting the game off strong is always going to be important, but that’s particularly true when talking about the Penguins and Capitals. Pittsburgh was 39-0-0 in the regular season when leading after 40 minutes while Washington was 37-0-1. So far in the playoffs, both teams are 4-0-0 when they have the lead after two periods.