Cam Ward

Race for the playoffs: In the East, Canes can stay alive while Caps can continue surge

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 playoff race

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

y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
GR – games remaining

Detroit @ Carolina – 7 p.m. ET

Carolina’s mission to make the playoffs is simple on paper and highly difficult to pull off. They must win out the rest of the way and hope that the Rangers slip up in one of their final games. Starting off that mission facing the Central Division champions from Detroit makes the immediate hill to climb look like a mountain.

A loss by Carolina by any means puts the Buffalo Sabres into the playoffs.  Carolina loss would also put their tragic number at one as the Rangers would only need to earn one point in their final two games to make the playoffs.

Florida @ Washington – 7 p.m. ET

The Caps have taken hold of the top seed in the Eastern Conference thanks to their own great play of late and the Flyers’ disturbing swoon. The Caps can really put the pressure on the Flyers to win out to stay in the hunt for the East’s top spot by beating Florida. Of course, the Caps winning the East could mean they end up being rewarded with facing the Rangers in the first round and that might not be the match up they’d be hoping for. Even without Ryan Callahan, the Rangers have given the Caps fits all season long and a playoff series between the two would surely be more of the same.

NY Islanders @ Boston – 7 p.m. ET

The Bruins have an extreme outside shot at the top spot in the East (all it takes is one point from the Caps to shut the Bruins out of that), but they’ve got a sincere chance at moving up to the two seed. With a game in hand on the Flyers, a win over the Isles tonight would inch them to within two points of Philly. Getting that higher seed and a potential home ice advantage over them in a potential second or third round match-up would be huge for the Bruins. While home ice didn’t help them last year against Philly, we’d like to think the same mistakes won’t be made two years in a row should they meet yet again.

Tarasenko needs to start ‘playing within the system’: Hitch

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 19:  Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks fight for control of the puck in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 19, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Is it all Vladimir Tarasenko‘s fault that the St. Louis Blues are on the brink of elimination?

No, of course it’s not.

It seems we have to clarify this every time a star player comes under fire for not producing. Hockey is a team game, and the Blues — as a team — have not been as good as the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

Still, it was interesting to hear St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock talk about Tarasenko yesterday, because the criticism was pointed, even if it was delivered in an empathetic manner.

“What happens with goal-scorers when they get frustrated is they look to hit home runs. We need him just to act like a worker,” said Hitchcock.

“What he’s doing is he’s looking to try to catch fast breaks, he’s looking to catch the other team napping. But when you play against guys like [Marc-Edouard Vlasic], you’re not going to catch him napping. He’s just got to feel comfortable playing within the system, playing within the framework.”

Hitchcock added, “I think it’s a natural tendency with younger players who have this heightened sense of urgency to do what they do well, which for him is score goals. He’s gotten too far away from the play. He’s got himself too stretched out. We just need him to come back to the puck a little bit more.”

As we noted yesterday, Tarasenko has been held pointless in five games against the Sharks. In his last three games combined, he’s managed just four shots total. This from a guy who scored 40 of the Blues’ 224 goals during the regular season, then put up 13 points (7G, 6A) in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

We’ll see tonight if the “hard lessons” continue for the 24-year-old, or if he can find a way to help get his team back to St. Louis for Game 7.

Video: Johnson pays the price for Tampa Bay

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It’s been another successful spring for Tyler Johnson.

Johnson, the most diminutive member of Tampa Bay’s vaunted “Triplets” line, is racking up the playoff points yet again. He has 17 through 16 games — tied with Joe Thornton for sixth-most in the postseason — and, depending on how far the Bolts go this year, could best last year’s total, when he had 23 in 24.

Not bad, considering the physical pounding Johnson has taken.

At just 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, the playoff grind has certainly taken its toll over the last two years. Johnson was rendered all but ineffective in last year’s Cup Final versus Chicago due to a broken right wrist and, this year, dealt with an upper-body injury in the opening round and a puck to the face just prior to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Not that it slowed him down any.

Johnson scored the game-winning OT tally in Game 4, getting his body in front of a Jason Garrison shot to deflect home past Marc-Andre Fleury. That earned high praise from Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, who heaped superlatives on his undersized star.

“He’s a winner — that’s what winners do,” coach Jon Cooper said of Johnson, per the Tampa Bay Times. “They don’t back down. And when there’s a challenge ahead of you, you’ve got to find a way to meet the challenge. There’s a lot of coaches that had a front row seat to see how this kid plays and how he competes.

“And it’s not always the size of the player, it’s the size of the heart, and that’s Tyler Johnson.”

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday to force a Game 7, now the St. Louis Blues will try to do the same against the San Jose Sharks tonight. You can catch Game 6 via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

St. Louis at San Jose (9:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 6 is on NBCSN. If you want to stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

In the meantime, here are some relevant links:

On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott

The Blues could sure use a goal or two from Tarasenko

Feeding frenzy: Sharks send Blues to the brink of elimination in Western Conference Final

Stanley Cup Final to begin Monday

Colorado inks defensive prospect Anton Lindholm

LAKE PLACID, NY - AUGUST 07: Anton Lindholm #5 of Team Sweden skates against Team USA during the 2013 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp at the Lake Placid Olympic Center on August 7, 2013 in Lake Placid, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After establishing himself in the Swedish league, Anton Lindholm will head to North America.

The Colorado Avalanche announced that they have signed the 21-year-old defenseman to a three-year, entry-level contract. They selected Lindholm in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

More of a defensive defenseman, Lindholm only registered four assists in 30 Swedish league games with Skelleftea AIK in 2015-16, but he also had a team-high 85 hits despite missing a chunk of the season due to injury. During the playoffs he helped his team reach the SHL Finals by leading them in both hits and blocked shots.

That was his second full campaign with Skelleftea AIK. The next step for Lindholm will likely be for him to continue his development in the AHL.