Carolina Hurricanes v Buffalo Sabres

Eastern playoff race: Caps take over top spot, Leafs look forward to next year

4 Comments

Eastern Conference playoff race

x-1. Washington – 105 pts
x-2. Philadelphia – 103 pts
x-3. Boston – 99 pts
x-4. Pittsburgh – 102 pts
x-5. Tampa Bay – 99 pts
x-6. Montreal – 93 pts
7. Buffalo – 92 pts
8. NY Rangers – 91 pts
9. Carolina – 87 pts

x – clinched playoff spot

Buffalo 4, Tampa Bay 2

At a time when the Buffalo Sabres need every point they can get to maintain their place in the standings, Thomas Vanek made sure they’d get the two points against Tampa Bay. Vanek scored his first hat trick this season and the 7th place Sabres lowered their “magic number” to 2 over the Carolina Hurricanes. The win also helped Buffalo keep pace with the 6th seeded Montreal Canadiens who are only a single point ahead of them in the standings.

For the Lightning, the loss snapped their 5-game winning streak. Worse than the loss on the scoreboard was when stud defenseman Viktor Hedman went down with a lower-body injury in the 2nd period. Head coach Guy Boucher hinted that it might have just been for precautionary reasons, but added, “We’ll have to see, we’ll have to wait.” Any extending period absence that potentially extends into the playoffs would be a huge loss for the Lightning. Hopefully for the Lightning and their fans, it’s a minor injury and the team is exercising caution.

Washington 3, Toronto 2 (SO)

Both the Capitals and Leafs made news in the Eastern Conference playoff race—although for much different reasons. The Capitals were finally able to catch and pass the Philadelphia Flyers behind the power of Mike Knuble’s lone goal in the skills competition. The Caps only have two games remaining, yet hold a two-point advantage over the Flyers and have clinched the Southeast Division. Not too bad for a team that was having a disappointing time this season.

For the Leafs, they were battling to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Unfortunately for Leafs Nation, their fate was sealed even before the shootout was completed because the Sabres were able to beat the Lightning at home. The shootout loss hurt, but their season had already been decided. Leafs’ captain Dion Phaneuf captured the sentiment of the locker room (and probably a fair amount of fans as well):

“It’s probably the worst feeling in hockey, other than losing in the playoffs. Right now, [the run] still doesn’t make it any better. As players, we play to play in the playoffs.”

 

Ottawa 5, Philadelphia 2

Coming into the game against the lowly Ottawa Senators, the Flyers had the chance to clinch the Atlantic Division, a guaranteed top 3 seed that comes with the division crown. Instead, not only did they get pumped by the Sens and not only did they lose the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings, but they are now only a single point ahead of the Penguins to win the division (both have two games left). The Flyers have been the class of the East all season—but they’re playing their worst hockey of the season at the worst possible time. The loss to the Sens was the fourth straight defeat for the Flyers. Needless to say, Philadelphia isn’t exactly streaking towards the playoffs.

On top of the poor play, newcomer Ben Holmstrom did his best Matt Cooke impression in his first game in the league. Yeah, Chris Pronger can’t come back soon enough.

Pittsburgh 4, New Jersey 2

No Sidney Crosby, no Evgeni Malkin, no problem. People keep waiting for the Penguins to start slipping without their two superstars but they just keep winning. Now, instead of slipping down the standings, they’re seriously threatening the Flyers for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. Their magic number for clinching home ice advantage in the first round dropped to 2 with their win against the Devils and the Lightning’s loss in Buffalo.

Next up, a simple game in Long Island. Surely there won’t be any storylines to follow in that game, right?

Montreal 2, Chicago 1 (OT)

Some people may have said it was only a matter of time, but when a team clinches a playoff spot, a burden is invariably lifted. With their thrilling OT victory over the defending champs, the Habs officially sent in their RSVP for the 2010-11 playoffs. Carey Price was an absolute wall as he stopped 42 of 43 shots directed at him by the Hawks. Michael Cammalleri looked like he was ready for the playoffs to start today and PK Subban proved that he has a flair for the dramatic (Blackhawks fans may have a different take on his drama lessons). But if you truly like drama, keep this in mind: if the playoffs started today the Canadiens would face the Bruins in the first round.

Buffalo’s depth on defense is dwindling

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 18:  Josh Gorges #4 of the Buffalo Sabres skates against the Boston Bruins at First Niagara Center on October 18, 2014 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

The Buffalo Sabres aren’t known for their depth on defense, so when they have to deal with injuries at that position, things can get complicated.

Well…I guess things are about to get complicated.

On Sunday, the Sabres announced that Josh Gorges (pictured) will miss “weeks” because of a non-displaced fracture in his foot. The injury occurred after he blocked a shot in Thursday’s game against the Rangers.

Besides Gorges, Buffalo is also without Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov.

Bogosian has been out since Nov. 3 with sprained ligaments in his knee, and he’s still 10-to-14 days away from getting back into the lineup.

The news is a little better for Kulikov, who returned to practice on Sunday. He’s missed 11 games because of a back injury he suffered in the preseason. He tried playing through it, but obviously he was still in some discomfort.

“Kulikov has now skated two days with some physicality and now been skating for seven days,” coach Dan Bylsma said, per the Buffalo News. “Hopefully, that means we’ll see him in practice soon – in the next week hopefully.”

Now, some of the replacements for these guys are starting to get hurt.

Taylor Fedun missed Sunday’s practice and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play against the Capitals on Monday night. If he can’t go, Buffalo will need to call someone up from the minors.

Things got so wacky last week that the Sabres called up Brendan Guhle from junior on an emergency basis. By rule, he can stay on the roster as long as he keeps playing. Once he stops playing, the emergency tag is removed and he has to go back to his junior team.

Guhle, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Cody Franson and Justin Falk are the healthy defensemen on the roster right now.

Goalie nods: Dubnyk looks to continue dominance of Oilers

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 07:  Devan Dubnyk #40 of the Minnesota Wild celbrates a win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on April 7, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 2-1.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

Playing against your old team is always special, but Devan Dubnyk takes it to another level when he goes up against the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers drafted Dubnyk in the first round, 14th overall, in 2004 and he spent parts of five seasons with them.

Since leaving Edmonton in 2014, he’s won six of seven games against his former team.

To make matters worse for the Oilers, his individual stats are better against them than they are against any other team in the league. He has a  1.28 goals-against-average and a .949 save percentage in those seven games.

His numbers in 2016-17 aren’t as good as his career numbers against Edmonton, but he still has a fantastic 1.67 goals-against-average and a .946 save percentage this season.

Like the Wild, the Oilers played last night, as they won an OT decision against the Ducks.

Cam Talbot played in that game, so they’ll opt to start backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson tonight.

Elsewhere… 

Ben Bishop turned in a solid performance against the Capitals last night, but the Lightning still haven’t announced who their starter will be this afternoon. Cam Ward is likely to get the nod for the Hurricanes.

–The Flyers and Predators both played afternoon games yesterday, and neither side has indicated who will start. Don’t be surprised if it’s Steve Mason against Pekka Rinne.

Jared Coreau made his NHL debut for Detroit yesterday, so look for Petr Mrazek to get the call tonight. Jaroslav Halak is the probable starter for the Islanders.

–Look for Connor Hellebuyck to be between the pipes for the Jets, but that hasn’t been confirmed. With Corey Crawford hurt, don’t be surprised if Scott Darling gets his second start in two nights for Chicago.

–The Ducks will give backup Jonathan Bernier the start in Calgary. The Flames will continue to ride Chad Johnson.

Flames get Johnny Gaudreau back way ahead of schedule

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 5: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 5, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
Getty
2 Comments

Some good news if you’re a fan of the Calgary Flames.

Johnny Gaudreau, who missed 10 games with a finger injury, will be back in their lineup for Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks.

The Flames forward was injured in a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 (he was slashed by Eric Staal), and after he underwent surgery, the team announced that he’d be out six weeks.

In the end, he missed less than three weeks of action.

“I’m ready to play,” Gaudreau said, per NHL.com. “I think the finger’s healed up pretty well there. I’m just excited to get things going here.

“I think they did a great job with my finger and we did a great job rehabbing it. They keep tell me it’s going to be harder to break the nine other fingers than to re-hurt this one. It feels good. It feels good when I shoot. I’m excited to finally get out of there.”

He’ll be playing with some added protection, as Calgary’s equipment manager made this glove for him:

Before Gaudreau got hurt, the Flames had a 6-10-1 record. But thanks to improved team play and some strong performances from goalie Chad Johnson, they managed to go 6-3-1 in, while Gaudreau was out.

The 23-year-old has five goals and six assists in 17 games, but he had scored three goals in three games before getting hurt.

Related:

Gaudreau injury a reminder as to how star players are treated

Boudreau: Flames made “mountain out of a molehill” over Gaudreau slash

Garret Sparks plays for first time since being suspended by Maple Leafs

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 30:  Garret Sparks #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs gets set to face the Edmonton Oilers in an NHL game at Air Canada Centre on November 30, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Oilers 3-0. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

Garret Sparks made waves for all the wrong reasons last week, as he was suspended by the Maple Leafs for remarks he made on social media.

Sparks officially made his return on Saturday night in the Marlies’ 3-2 loss to the Hartford Wolf Pack. He stopped 27 of 30 shots.

“It’s been a lot to deal with. I understand what I did,” Sparks said, per TSN.ca. “[The incident] wasn’t me. That’s not who I want to be known as, it’s not the image I want my reputation to have.

“I should know the difference between what I can and can’t say. It’s just holding myself to a higher standard of professionalism.”

The 23-year-old actually returned to the team on Tuesday, but didn’t play until yesterday.

With Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen dealing with an illness, the Leafs recalled Antoine Bibeau, which opened the door for Sparks to make his return.

Sparks has been limited to just five AHL games this year, but he was between the pipes for 17 NHL games in 2015-16.