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.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.