Washington Capitals v Toronto Maple Leafs

Race for the playoffs: Flyers and Capitals hope to clinch divisions, Habs go for berth

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 103 pts (3 GR)
x-2. Washington – 103 pts (3 GR)
y-3. Boston – 99 pts (3 GR)
x-4. Pittsburgh – 100 pts (3 GR)
x-5. Tampa Bay – 99 pts (3 GR)
6. Montreal – 91 pts (3 GR)
7. NY Rangers – 91 pts (2 GR)
8. Buffalo – 90 pts (3 GR)
9. Carolina – 87 pts (3 GR)
10. Toronto – 84 pts (3 GR)

y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot

Washington @ Toronto – 7:00 pm ET

The Capitals can clinch the Southeast Division in three different ways: a) a win, b) a point plus a Tampa Bay loss of any kind or c) the Lightning lose in regulation. Ultimately, it’s pretty much a matter of time for the Capitals to win their division, but they have plenty of motivation to keep pace with the Flyers for the top spot in the East.

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs’ slim playoff hopes hang in the balance, being that just one Sabres point would mathematically eliminate them. They need to win out while Buffalo needs to go without a point and the Hurricanes must also cooperate.

Tampa Bay @ Buffalo – 7:00 pm ET

The Sabres need this game more than the Lightning and will be forced to contain Tampa Bay’s talented forwards without Ryan Miller in net. Instead, it’s likely that Jhonas Enroth will be called upon to save the day once again.

While the Sabres hope to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff bubble, the Bolts are likely more focused on gaining the fourth seed from the Penguins than keeping whatever hopes of winning the Southeast alive. They only trail Pittsburgh by one point, so it’s certainly possible.

Philadelphia @ Ottawa – 7:30 pm ET

The Flyers can clinch the Atlantic Division title in two ways: 1) by beating Ottawa while the Penguins lose or 2) earning one point while Pittsburgh loses in regulation. In other words, the division title seems like a mere formality for Philly, so their sights are set on the No. 1 seed in the East.

New Jersey @ Pittsburgh – 7:30 pm ET

Much like Tampa Bay, the Penguins probably don’t expect to stick in their division title race, but must earn as many points as possible to earn at least one round of home ice advantage. The Devils aren’t particularly likely to roll over for them, though.

Chicago @ Montreal – 7:30 pm ET

The Canadiens can clinch a playoff spot with a win of any kind. They must not get too comfortable, though, as their sixth place spot isn’t particularly secure being that both the Habs and Rangers have 91 points. Sure, Montreal has the advantage with an extra game in hand, but a bad week could make them slip to a lower seed.

Obviously, it won’t be easy, as the Blackhawks are in a desperate fight for a playoff spot and face the sobering reality of a very difficult closing schedule. Montreal might be their best chance for easy points.

Video: Reimer, Allen shut down dangerous one-timers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  James Reimer #34 of the Florida Panthers makes a save during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In an ideal world, goalie equipment wouldn’t be such an issue. Teams would be able to “get goalies moving” with great passing and chances just about no one could stop.

Then again, there are also those saves that a select handful of humans can pull off. A big reason why there’s only been one goal between the Panthers and Blues tonight is the lateral movement shown by both James Reimer and Jake Allen.

First, watch as Reimer robs Jori Lehtera on what’s likely the save of the night:

Allen really hasn’t been that far behind Reimer, right down to making a similar stop:

Considering the two nearly identical one-timer goals scored by Arizona against Anaheim in finding seams for big passes through opposing defenses, tonight’s goalies might want to do some extra stretching during intermissions.

Dvorak, Coyotes put Ducks in early hole with slick goals (Video)

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 11:  Connor Murphy #5 (second from left) of the Arizona Coyotes celebrates with Alexander Burmistrov #91, Shane Doan #19 and Christian Dvorak #18 after Murphy scored the game winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on February 11, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Penguins 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes’ happy thoughts are mostly centered on the future. Christian Dvorak possibly being more than a guy who put up nice junior numbers with Matthew Tkachuk and Mitch Marner could fuel some really nice thoughts.

He’s been red-hot in February, in particular, including a goal already tonight as the Coyotes raced off to an early 2-0 lead against the Anaheim Ducks.

Check out that smooth play for his 10th goal of 2016-17:

Again, he’s been on quite the roll lately.

February: nine points (and counting?) in nine games
Rest of the season: 13 points in 45 games

He only had one assist in 12 January contests, so this outburst is even more unexpected than the Coyotes racing off to this lead.

Interestingly, the Coyotes two goals looked awfully similar, at least in the finish:

Randy Carlyle’s mood? Probably not too chipper right now.

Brooks Laich wants another crack at NHL (with or without Leafs)

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 29:  Brooks Laich #23 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits for a puck drop against the Tampa Bay Lightning during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 29, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  The Lightning defeated the Maple Leafs 2-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Brooks Laich wants another shot at playing in the NHL. As he told The Atlantic TO (sub required), if that means being traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs, then so be it.

“You don’t win a Stanley Cup playing in the American Hockey League,” Laich said. “If the Leafs don’t have a plan for me with them, I would like to pursue a Stanley Cup somewhere else.”

Interesting.

Laich’s biased take: he has plenty more to give at the highest level.

Hmm, that … seems a little crazy. Few players see their best days at age 33 and beyond.

But what about his work with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies? Maybe he’s killing it there.

Well, if he is, his contributions aren’t showing in the simple counting stats. In 22 games this season, Laich has one goal and six points. He isn’t even firing a shot on goal per game (just 17 in those 22 contests).

Now, Laich wouldn’t sell you on his scoring skills. Face-offs might not be much of a calling card, either.

So … it’s easier to understand why he’s struggling to get a foothold in his career. Laich isn’t much of a scorer, isn’t dominant on the draw and isn’t someone who’s shown a history of dramatically tilting the ice in his team’s favor.

Does that mean he can’t be a fourth-line center, or failing that, at least a depth forward? Laich could conceivably be helpful to some team, even if it’s difficult to imagine anyone giving up anything but a minor asset for him.

And, yes, it’s crazy to imagine him exceeding anything he did with the Washington Capitals.

Avalanche say ankle injury ends Nikita Zadorov’s season

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 14: Nikita Zadorov #16 of the Colorado Avalanche congratulates Matt Duchene #9 after his goal against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Pepsi Center on December 14, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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As if the Colorado Avalanche needed another miserable element to 2016-17: Nikita Zadorov suffered a season-ending injury during the same practice that Erik Johnson returned.

Zadorov injured his ankle after being tangled up with Mikko Rantanen during a Monday practice, according to the Denver Post.

Update: The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers reports that it’s a fractured ankle. Yikes.

Zadorov, 21, is a big defenseman with the pedigree that would inspire teams to imagine better things in the future (16th pick in 2013 by Buffalo). So far, that potential hasn’t really manifested itself in production, whether you judge a player by points, plus/minus or possession numbers.

He may be able to put it together at some point – again, he’s young – so perhaps he’ll remember this as a low point before he turns things around.

At the moment, it’s just another grim part of a bleak time for the Avs.