Chris Kunitz, Al Montoya

Eastern playoff race: Caps clinch #1 seed, Sabres are in

Eastern Conference playoff race

z-1. Washington – 107 pts
x-2. Philadelphia – 104 pts
x-3. Boston – 101 pts
x-4. Pittsburgh – 104 pts
x-5. Tampa Bay – 101 pts
x-6. Montreal – 94 pts
x-7. Buffalo – 94 pts
8. Carolina – 91 pts
9. NY Rangers – 91 pts

x – clinched playoff spot

Pittsburgh 4, NY Islanders 3 (SO)

The last time the Penguins ventured to Long Island, they were crushed 9-3 and the two teams racked up 346 total penalty minutes. Twelve minutes into the game, Francois St. Laurent and Eric Furlatt had already dealt out four fighting majors and three misconducts. Maybe the officials did a good job of getting the game under control, maybe it’s because Colin Campbell was in attendance, or maybe it was just because the Penguins had too much to play for—but that was where the really rough stuff ended. In front of a ton of Pittsburgh fans in Nassau Coliseum, the Penguins jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the 1st period and held a 3-2 lead in the waning moments of the 3rd period. But a funny thing happened on the way to Pittsburgh’s victory—Travis Hamonic scored with 35 seconds to force the game to overtime. The Islanders had plenty of chances to win it in OT, but failed to score the game winner. The game went to a shootout and finally fell as Chris Kunitz scored the only goal for the Pens’ victory.

The win guarantees the Penguins will finish no worse than 4th in the Eastern Conference and will start the playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center with home-ice advantage. They also were able to pull into a tie with the Philadelphia Flyers with 104 for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. Even though the Flyers own the tiebreaker, the divisional crown will come down to the last game of the season.

Tampa Bay 4, Florida 2

From the outside looking in, this game didn’t offer very much intrigue. The Lightning were locked into the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, they had won 5 of their last 6 games, and were playing against a rival who had lost 9 straight. After the game, the Lightning were still locked in the 5th seed, they’ve now won 6 of 7 and the Panthers are winless in their last 10. The win put the Lightning over the century mark (101 to be exact) for the season and pleased their first-year coach Guy Boucher:

“When you pass 100 points in this league, you are automatically part of the elite. It’s hard to get 100 points … and so it’s quite an achievement for a team that started with so many new faces and had injuries all year long and battled through so much adversity lately.”

Buffalo 4, Philadelphia 3 (OT)

For all of the playoff implications on Friday night, the Sabres/Flyers game was the only game in the Eastern Conference where both teams had something on the line. Behind a perfect 3rd period return by Ryan Miller and thrilling overtime winner by Thomas Vanek, the Buffalo Sabres were able to lock up their ticket for the playoffs. For the Flyers, the news wasn’t as good. The overtime loss delivered the Eastern Conference’s top spot to the Washington Capitals. The loss also dropped Philadelphia into a first place tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Atlantic Division. Even though they’ve lost five straight, they only need to beat the lowly Islanders at home on Saturday night to win their first Atlantic Division title since 2004 (and the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference). However, if they fall to the Isles and the Penguins are able to win their final game, the Flyers will drop all the way down to the #4 seed and secure a date with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Carolina 6, Atlanta 1

After the New York Rangers lost on Thursday night, they gave the Carolina Hurricanes control over their own destiny. Judging by their performance against the Thrashers, they have every intention of grabbing onto their playoff opportunity and running with it. Rookie Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu each had a goal and two assists while goaltender Cam Ward came within 39 seconds of his second shutout in a row. Then again, one goal against isn’t a big deal when the team in front of him puts up a 6 spot.

The Hurricanes now have 91 points after their win in Atlanta and move into a tie with the Rangers. The problem for the Rangers is that the Canes also own the tiebreaker. Long story short: if the Canes win their final game at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning, they’re in the playoffs. If the Rangers lose in regulation, the Canes are in. The beauty of controlling one’s own destiny.

Alexei Emelin was ejected for this hit on Matt Calvert

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Alexei Emelin has been in and out of the Montreal Canadiens lineup, but this wasn’t the way they wanted him to keep his legs fresh.

The hard-hitting defenseman received a game misconduct and five-minute major penalty for a late hit on Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert on Tuesday.

So far, it sounds like Calvert may be OK.

You can see video of that hit above, as well as a GIF of the infraction via My Regular Face.

Many believe that Emelin should not have been ejected.

Injuries continue to dog Lupul as Leafs place him on IR

Joffrey Lupul
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Injuries have been a regular problem for Joffrey Lupul for much of his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it doesn’t look like that’s changing in 2015-16.

The team placed him on injured reserve retroactive to Nov. 28, calling up Rich Clune in the process.

This IR stint means that Lupul will miss at least three games for Toronto.

From the sound of things, it’s a nagging issue, as notes.

“He’s been having the same problem here for a bit,” Mike Babcock told media members on Sunday. “He doesn’t seem to be getting the power back that they thought, so we’re just trying to monitor it the best we can.”

Leafs Nation points out that Lupul has missed about one-third of Toronto’s contests since suffering a separated shoulder in April 2012.

At 32, there’s still time for Lupul to fight through this, although injuries generally accumulate with age.

WATCH LIVE: Wild at Blackhawks; Penguins at Sharks

Scott Darling, Charlie Coyle
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Will Ryan Suter say something foolish during tonight’s game? Is Brent Burns‘ beard so long that it’s finally starting to scrape the ice?

We’ll find out the answer to those questions and more during Tuesday’s NBCSN doubleheader.

Need to follow the two games online? Never fear.

Game 1: Minnesota Wild at Chicago Blackhawks


Game 2: Pittsburgh Penguins at San Jose Sharks


Bolland back in, Bjugstad out with injury for Panthers

Evgeny Medvedev, Nick Bjugstad
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Message sent or not via healthy scratches or not, Dave Bolland returns to the Florida Panthers mix on Tuesday.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, it’s maybe not under the most ideal circumstances, as part of the explanation for his return is Nick Bjugstad‘s absence.

The Miami Herald’s George Richards reports that Bjugstad is out tonight against the St. Louis Blues with an upper-body injury that he suffered during a Monday practice.

In fact, as you can see in the tweet above, the young forward was sent home because of the injury.

This forces some shuffling, with Vincent Trocheck moving up to the second line while Bolland centers the third combo as usual.

The Panthers are currently on a two-game winning streak and visit St. Louis as the second date in a five-game road trip.

This is also the early part of a span in which they play nine of 10 games on the road (counting Sunday’s away win), so a prolonged absence from Bjugstad could sting that much more.