Cam Ward, Erik Cole

Race for the playoffs: Caps can clinch top spot, Buffalo looks to lock in, Canes control destiny

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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 – 107 pts (1 GR)
x-2. Philadelphia 103 pts (2 GR)
y-3. Boston – 101 pts (2 GR)
x-4. Pittsburgh – 102 pts (2 GR)
x-5. Tampa Bay – 99 pts (2 GR)
x-6. Montreal – 94 pts (1 GR)
7. Buffalo – 92 pts (2 GR)
8. NY Rangers – 91 pts (1 GR)
9. Carolina – 89 pts (2 GR)

y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot

Philadelphia @ Buffalo – 7:30 p.m. ET

Part of our attention tonight will be focused on Buffalo where a point of any kind earned by the Sabres locks them into a playoff spot. Buffalo has an open door to make a run at the sixth seed after Montreal’s overtime loss to Ottawa last night but going up against a Flyers team that’s down in the dumps but looking to win the Atlantic Division won’t make it easy.

The Flyers have just a one point lead on Pittsburgh for the division and all the Flyers need to do is finish tied with or ahead of the Pens to win the division title. With the Penguins in Long Island tonight in what could turn into a circus, the Flyers might want to find a way to take home two point no matter how in this one. A Flyers win and Penguins loss either in regulation or overtime/shootout would give Philly the division crown. The Sabres just need a point of any kind at all to stay out of the potential mess brewing underneath them between the Rangers and Hurricanes.

Carolina @ Atlanta – 7:30 p.m. ET

Carolina has playoff life and it’s thanks to the Thrashers that they’ve got that after Atlanta dealt a crushing shot to the Rangers last night beating them 3-0 to put playoff destiny firmly in the hands of the Hurricanes. A Carolina win gives them 91 points, the same as New York, and with the Hurricanes holding the tiebreaker on New York, would slip them into eighth place and shift all attention to Saturday night to see who goes to the postseason. A Carolina loss would mean the Rangers would just have to get one point on Saturday to clinch. Guess who the Rangers are rooting for in this one.

For Atlanta, while they’re not enjoying the role of spoilers, they probably wouldn’t mind getting one more over on a divisional foe and having a healthy hand in screwing up everyone’s playoff hopes. A Carolina loss in overtime or the shootout would clinch a playoff berth for Buffalo even if the Sabres lost in regulation tonight.

Pittsburgh @ NY Islanders – 7 p.m. ET

A point by Pittsburgh would guarantee them at least the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. With a win and depending on what happens with the Flyers against Buffalo they could vault them into first place in the Atlantic Division. With just one point separating those two teams, the Pens still have a shot at the division title, but they’ll need the Flyers to at least lose one game in regulation to help make it happen. Should the Pens and Flyers end the season tied in points, the Flyers would win the division thanks to having fewer shootout wins. This game against the Islanders won’t be easy nor will it necessarily be all that clean.

Florida @ Tampa Bay – 7:30 p.m. ET

Most of the scenarios for Tampa Bay are out of their hands, but a Lightning win and a Penguins loss in regulation means the fourth seed is in play for them heading into the final game of the season. Getting home ice in the first round of the playoffs for Tampa Bay would be huge as their home record this year is outstanding at 24-11-5. The only thing Florida could be playing for is trying to not end up the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

Kassian suspended without pay, placed in Stage 2 of Substance Abuse Program

Anaheim Ducks v Vancouver Canucks
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Zack Kassian may have avoided major injuries stemming from his Sunday car accident, but it likely sent the signal that he may need help.

The response: he was placed in Stage Two of the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program (SABH) of the NHL and NHLPA on Monday.

According to the league’s release, Kassian “will be suspended without pay until cleared for on-ice competition by the program administrators.”

Speaking of being suspended without pay, here’s a key detail:

The 24-year-old ended up with a broken nose and broken foot from that accident. The 2015-16 season was set to be his first campaign in the Montreal Canadiens organization after a tumultuous time with the Vancouver Canucks.

Kassian spoke of becoming more mature heading to Montreal, but the Canadiens were critical of his actions, wondering how many wake-up calls someone can get.

In case you’re wondering about the difference between stage one and two:

Add Lecavalier to list of expensive Flyers healthy scratches

Vincent Lecavalier

Are the Philadelphia Flyers aiming for some sort of record when it comes to expensive (potential) healthy scratches?

While lineups are obviously subject to change, notes that Vincent Lecavalier appears to be among a rather rich group of Flyers who are expected to sit during their season-opener.

Also likely to be in street clothes: Sam Gagner and Luke Schenn.

That’s $11.3 million in cap space rotting on the bench.

“I really don’t know what to say,” Lecavalier said. “I’ll practice hard and be ready when they call me up.”

The quotes from Lecavalier, Gagner and Schenn only get sadder from there, a reminder that there are human beings attached to these numbers – whether you focus on disappointing stats or bloated salaries.

Flyers fans with the urge to reach for an Alka-Setzler can at least take some comfort in knowing that the team will see $6.8 million in savings after this season, as both Gagner and Schenn are on expiring deals.

It could be a long season, though, and this Lecavalier headache may not truly end until his contract expires following the 2017-18 campaign.