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.

Penguins place Kris Letang on injured reserve

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 17:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on during the game against Colorado Avalanche at PPG Paints Arena on October 17, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins are on their first real losing streak of the season (three games) and are now going to be without their No. 1 defenseman for at least the next few games after the team announced on Monday morning that Kris Letang has been placed on injured reserve.

Along with that move, the Penguins also recalled forward Jake Guentzel and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.

Letang was injured during the Penguins’ 6-4 loss in Detroit over the weekend, playing only 2:06 before exiting the game with an apparent leg injury.

Injuries have been a constant problem for Letang in his career and have allowed him to play in more than 70 games just once since 2010, and it usually has a pretty significant impact on the team when he is out.

While Sidney Crosby is the Penguins’ best player, there is an argument to be made that Letang is their most important and the one player they can not afford to lose given the minutes he plays, the impact he has on the game in all three zones, and the fact he is probably on any given night on one of the five best all-around defensemen in hockey. There is a pretty drastic change to their offense when Letang is out of the lineup.

Entering this season the Penguins averaged 3.16 goals per game over the previous six seasons with Letang in the lineup (while winning more than 64 percent of their games), versus only 2.73 (and only winning 54 percent of their games) when he has been out of the lineup.

In the 12 games Letang has missed this season they have averaged 3.06 goals, compared to 3.60 in the 30 games he has played.

The Penguins host the Washington Capitals, winners of nine in a row, on Monday night.

PHT Morning Skate: The Canucks’ power play is a big problem

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— Following a six-game winning streak that moved them back into playoff contention the Vancouver Canucks dropped their fourth game in a row on Sunday night, losing 2-1 to Cory Schneider and the New Jersey Devils. A power play unit that is currently 27th in the league on the season and has gone just 1-for-17 during their current losing streak has been a big part of the problem and Ben Kuzma of the Province looked into it following their most recent defeat. [The Province]

— The Washington Capitals’ 5-0 win on Sunday (highlights above) that improved their winning streak to nine games was also the 1,500th win in franchise history. [Washington Capitals]

— Will this be the year Shane Doan waives his no-trade clause to get a chance at the Stanley Cup? Elliotte Friedman speculates that if the Coyotes, who currently have the second worst record in the league, approached the now-40-year-old Doan about a trade that he might be willing to accept it. He has four goals and eight assists in 40 games this season. [Sportsnet]

— Edmonton Oilers forward Drake Caggiula had some fun at the team’s skills competition over the weekend by taking out in the shootout dressed as … Drake. [Edmonton Oilers/YouTube]

— Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi had an update on the status of injured goaltender Jonathan Quick on Sunday and basically said there is “no change” that he is still “a long way off.” He has been injured since the season opener and has not played since, making Peter Budaj the team’s starting goaltender this season. Budaj has a .917 save percentage and a 20-11-3 record in Quick’s absence for a Kings team that is hanging on to a playoff spot in the Western Conference [Kings Insider]

— Since their 16-game winning streak came to an end the Columbus Blue Jackets have lost four of their past six games and had to use four different goaltenders over the past four games. Is that post-winning streak hangover something that is going to be good for them in the long run? [Columbus Dispatch]

— The Minnesota Wild extended their winning streak to four games on Sunday night and moved into sole possession of first place with a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. They now have a two-point lead over the Blackhawks with four games in hand on them. Here are the highlights from Sunday’s game.

 

Oilers recall D-man Oesterle from AHL Condors

EDMONTON, AB - FEBRUARY 23:  Jordan Oesterle #82 of the Edmonton Oilers warms up against the Ottawa Senators on February 23, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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The Edmonton Oilers made a move Sunday, recalling defenseman Jordan Oesterle from the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL.

In 18 games with the Condors this season, the 24-year-old Oesterle has three goals and 11 points.

The decision comes one day after Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson missed Saturday’s contest against the rival Calgary Flames because of a lower-body injury.

While he isn’t a flashy player, Larsson seems to have made a positive impression on the Oilers coaching staff during his first season in Edmonton following last summer’s blockbuster trade involving scoring winger Taylor Hall.

No surprise this development is leading to questions about the health of Larsson, with the Oilers set to begin the second half of a six-game home stand and sitting second in the Pacific Division standings.

Video: Reaves and Boll drop the gloves in heavyweight bout

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Heavyweight fighters Jared Boll and Ryan Reaves dropped the gloves during the second period of Sunday’s game between the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues.

Those were some thunderous right hands thrown there, both combatants landing their fair share of punches before officials finally intervened.