Breaking down the race for East’s final spot after Winnipeg’s win

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It’s looking more and more like every piece of the Eastern Conference will come down to an end-of-the-season battle.

The New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and maybe even Philadelphia Flyers have a chance to take the Atlantic/top spot in the East. The Northeast Division looks like a big jump ball between the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators.

While the Florida Panthers seem to be pulling away ever-so-slightly for the Southeast lead, tonight’s games only intensified the race for the conference’s final spot. The Washington Capitals had a chance to keep the heat on Florida and push the Winnipeg Jets deeper into playoff purgatory, but sticking to their season’s script, of course that didn’t happen as Winnipeg won instead.

Sure, it was an electrifying contest in the as-always charged-up MTS Centre, but the Jets’ 3-2 regulation triumph only muddies the picture. That’s great news for Winnipeg, Buffalo and maybe a couple teams with less realistic hopes and also fantastic news for fans of down-to-the-wire playoff races.

Here’s an updated look at the East’s race for No. 8:

8. Washington: 78 points, 11 games remaining (34 regulation/OT wins)

9. Winnipeg: 76 points, 11 games remaining (30 regulation/OT wins)
10. Buffalo: 75 points, 11 games remaining (26 regulation/OT wins)

(The East’s lower class is actually quite muddled and not that far off from a pure points perspective, but I’ll be honest; I don’t see anyone but maybe Tampa Bay posing a threat. Consult the full standings at your leisure if you disagree, though.)

If you’re interested in odds, Sports Club Stats breaks it down as such:

Washington: 66.3 percent chance to make the playoffs (down a whopping 11.3 percent with tonight’s loss)
Winnipeg: 28.9 percent chance (up 8.6 with win)
Buffalo: 9.3 percent chance
Tampa Bay: 2.8 percent chance

Schedule outlook

The Capitals have one game left against the Jets and one against the Sabres (both at home). The Capitals have six road games left this season versus five at home.

Meanwhile, the Jets have that road game against the Capitals but no contests remaining against Buffalo. They do have a rather unfriendly schedule, however, with a three-game road trip and four-game road trip remaining. Overall, just four of their last 11 contests are at home – which is an enormous factor for both the Caps and Jets (two teams with almost ridiculous home/road disparities).

Gut reaction

As excited and full-of-hope as Jets fans must be tonight, the Capitals have a significant set of advantages going their way at the end of this stretch run. It looks to be an exciting race for that eighth spot, though.

The Buzzer: Eichel beats McDavid; More Vegas gold

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Player of the Night: Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

So far in their careers, Connor McDavid comparisons haven’t been kind to Jack Eichel. To be fair, just about every other NHL player pales in comparison to McDavid, but Eichel gets it the worst because he was selected right behind McDavid in the 2015 NHL Draft.

McDavid’s enjoyed a deep playoff run and piled up some impressive hardware, yet Eichel got the best of number 97 for at least one night. As part of a 5-0 win for the Sabres against the Oilers, Eichel generated a goal and three assists.

If you haven’t noticed, Eichel’s been playing some of the best hockey even before Tuesday. With 10 points in his last five games, he’s enjoying the most productive stretch of his young career.

It was outrageous to place Buffalo’s blame on Eichel, so hopefully this torrid run at least turns down the volume on his critics.

Highlights of the Night:

We saw the nasty side of Brad Marchand with this questionable hit, but this goal was very, very nice:

This Shea Theodore outlet pass is so slick, it’s almost tough to keep your eye on it. William Karlsson scored yet again, and the Golden Knights won once again.

You may also enjoy Travis Konecny’s overtime game-winner, which you can check out here.

Factoids

The Boston Bruins’ run continues, while the Avalanche’s winning streak ended.

Vegas Golden Knights zero in on more records for expansion teams. Remarkable stuff.

From remarkably great to almost unspeakably bad: how can the Oilers’ penalty kill be this ineffective?

Some key bits from tonight

Panthers, Stars brawl.

Canadiens end Avalanche’s winning streak at 10.

Flyers edge Red Wings in OT.

Possible injury for Joe Thornton?

Goalie injuries also cause for concern.

Scores

Bruins 3, Devils 2
Penguins 3, Hurricanes 1
Canadiens 4, Avalanche 2
Flyers 3, Red Wings 2 (OT)
Blues 3, Senators 0
Lightning 4, Predators 3 (OT)
Stars 6, Panthers 1
Sabres 5, Oilers 0
Canucks 6, Kings 2
Golden Knights 6, Blue Jackets 3
Ducks 6, Rangers 3
Jets 5, Sharks 4 (OT)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Fights: Stars, Panthers pile up season-high 138 penalty minutes

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When you think of the Dallas Stars against the Florida Panthers, a few things might come to mind:

  • No state income taxes, if you’re an unrestricted free agent.
  • “Non-traditional franchises.”
  • Going further on that point, arguably examples of Gary Bettman’s vision in expanding the league’s scope.

You probably don’t think “blood rivals,” but maybe Tuesday will change that. Perhaps it was triggered in part by a misunderstanding about James Reimer‘s injury, or maybe because Antoine Roussel is Antoine Roussel, yet either way, things got pretty nasty between the Stars and Panthers on Tuesday.

The two teams piled up a whopping 138 penalty minutes in this one, which is great for lovers of chaos and/or fantasy hockey owners.

According to Sportsnet’s stats, that’s the highest combined PIM for a game so far in 2017-18. Somehow Matthew Tkachuk wasn’t even involved.

Again, it was a little senseless, which admittedly is sometimes the most entertaining form of violence.

¯_(ツ)_/¯

The Stars pummeled the Panthers 6-1, by the way.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sharks’ Hertl ejected; Joe Thornton injured?

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Brad Marchand isn’t the only player who delivered a questionable hit on Tuesday, as Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks is also likely to draw the attention of the Department of Player Safety.

Hertl received a game misconduct and major penalty for boarding Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, as you can see in the video above this post’s headline.

For whatever it’s worth, Hertl, 24, hasn’t been suspended in the NHL. It seems like Kulikov suffered at least some ill effects from the hit.

Some put at least a portion of blame on Kulikov for turning his back before the check.

Is the major penalty sufficient or should Hertl sit for that hit?

Update: The Jets ended up beating the Sharks 4-3 in overtime, but the bigger concern for San Jose is that Joe Thornton might be injured. More information may not come for a while.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Should Brad Marchand be suspended for elbow on Marcus Johansson?

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Much has been made of Brad Marchand cleaning up his act, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Boston Bruins forward has totally stopped blurring the line between “physical” and “illegal” play.

Marchand was everywhere in the Bruins’ 3-2 win against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, and that was mostly in a good way, scoring a goal and an assist, easily leading all forwards with 20:06 time on ice.

Devils fans were unhappy when Marchand wasn’t penalized for a highly questionable elbow on forward Marcus Johansson. You can watch the infraction in the video above this post. You can also see it in GIF form below.

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that the Department of Player Safety is aware of the elbow, and supplemental discipline may come:

Again, many recall other incidents with Marchand, so plenty were unhappy with the situation:

What do you think? Is a suspension appropriate in this case?

More on the Bruins:How will they cope without Charlie McAvoy?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.