Tomas Fleischmann, Dalton Prout

Panthers might not win the Southeast after all


When the likely sixth-seed New Jersey Devils face off against the eventual Southeast Division winner, they’re probably not going to be too intimidated. Still, the Florida Panthers at least carried the most inspiring story into the possible division crown and the third seed that comes with it, but that triumph suddenly is in some doubt.

The Blue Jackets gave the Panthers a sound 4-1 beating in Columbus tonight, holding Florida to 90 standings points – just four more than the ninth-place Washington Capitals with both teams having four games left on their schedules. (And come to think of it, the Caps actually hold the tiebreaker advantage at the moment, so one could call it the equivalent to a “three” point lead.)

Flopping down the stretch

On paper, the Panthers should have been socking away points lately, but they’re instead 1-2-3 in their last six games, needing a shootout win against the lowly Montreal Canadiens for their only victory. In that time, they’ve lost shootouts to the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers, regulation losses to the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes and an OT defeat to the Minnesota Wild.

In other words, if Florida manages a seemingly unthinkable drop from the playoffs, they’ll blame other teams that are golfing early.

Setting up for a showdown against Washington

The schedule gets more interesting after tonight, so if motivation is an issue, half of Florida’s schedule will give them extra inspiration. It starts with an away game against the Detroit Red Wings, then a presumably “easy” home game against the Winnipeg Jets.

It gets really interesting on Thursday, April 5, however. They’ll visit the Washington Capitals in what could be the Southeast Division’s version of the New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins – a game that could have serious division title implications (especially if it ends in regulation). After that, the Panthers will face the Hurricanes at home – which very well might be a fight for their Southeast title – and maybe even playoff – lives.

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Flyers-Isles, ‘Hawks-Sharks

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Wednesday night is a busy one in the NHL — 13 games all told — and that’s reflected on NBCSN with a pair of games:

Philly taking on the Isles in Brooklyn, followed by the Blackhawks taking on the Sharks in San Jose.

Tonight’s games will be available online via NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

First up, Flyers-Isles.

Philly’s looking to win back-to-back games for the first time in a month, after beating the ‘Canes 3-2 on Monday. The club will, however, have to try and get that win without the services of forward Sam Gagner, who was injured on a Brad Malone hit the other night.

Former Islander Colin McDonald was called up to replace Gagner, and is likely to draw into the lineup at Barclays.

The Isles, meanwhile, haven’t played since a 4-2 loss to Montreal on Sunday. In that game, goals from Anders Lee and John Tavares were for naught as New York struggled mightily with special teams; Montreal scored three times on the power play and once shorthanded, sweeping its season series with the Isles in the process.

After Isles-Flyers, it’s onto Sharks-Blackhawks.

Wednesday’s game will be the first of four meetings between the two sides this season. Chicago comes in having lost 6-3 to Vancouver on Saturday, a game in which Daniel and Henrik Sedin torched the Blackhawks for nine combined points.

It looks as though head coach Joel Quenneville is making a lineup change against San Jose — Andrew Shaw appears ready for first-line duties next to Jonathan Toews and Ryan Garbutt. That would drop Marian Hossa down to the third unit.

As for the Sharks, the big (well, relatively speaking) news this week is that 37-year-old veteran Dainius Zubrus signed a one-year pact with the club. Zubrus, who spent time under San Jose head coach Peter DeBoer while the pair were together in New Jersey, hasn’t played this year but successfully converted a PTO with the Sharks into a new contract.

Sens match season-high for goals, beat Dallas 7-4

Bobby Ryan, Antti Niemi
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DALLAS (AP) Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored two third-period goals and the Ottawa Senators held off the Dallas Stars for a 7-4 victory Tuesday night.

Ottawa was outshot 37-20 but scored three unassisted goals after takeaways, one on the power play and another short-handed, by Pageau.

Craig Anderson made 33 saves in his third straight win, including two shutouts. He had his scoreless streak snapped at 147:04, when Patrick Sharp scored in the second period.

Pageau scored on two breakaways, including his league-leading third short-handed, and added an assist. He has six goals this season.

Dallas goalies Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen combined to make only 13 saves.

The Senators’ Mike Hoffman also had two goals, one into an empty net. Mark Stone had a goal and two assists. Bobby Ryan and Milan Michalek also had goals.

NHL leader Jamie Benn scored his 15th and 16th goals for Dallas. Benn assisted on Tyler Seguin‘s goal.

The Senators are 4-0-2 in their last six games. Dallas’ loss ended the Stars’ five-game winning streak.

Ottawa didn’t have a shot on goal for the first 7:10, but its attempt went in for a 1-0 lead. Ryan took away the puck in the left faceoff circle, skated in front of Niemi and tucked the puck into the right corner.

Michalek scored at 18:49 of the first period for a 2-0 lead. Stone won a battle along the left-wing boards, and the puck went to Pageau. He passed to Michalek in the center of the left circle, and Michalek sent a wrist shot past Niemi into the upper right corner.

Sharp finally got to Anderson at 7:04 of the second. Cody Eakin tapped a pass ahead to Sharp, who sent a slap shot past the goalie.

The Senators regained a two-goal lead, when Stone intercepted a pass from the Stars’ Patrick Eaves at the blue line, stepped to the top of the slot and scored on a wrist shot at 12:33.

Lehtonen then replaced Niemi, who had allowed three goals in nine shots. The first shot Lehtonen faced was Hoffman’s goal from the top of the left circle on the power play.

Niemi re-entered the game at 1:05 of the third period, after Lehtonen made two saves. On the first shot Niemi faced, he allowed a short-handed breakaway goal by Pageau on a shot that trickled between the goalie’s legs.

Benn scored on a short-handed breakaway at 6:07. Just 1:57 later, Seguin scored from the right circle.

NOTES: Ryan has at least one point in nine straight games (4 goals, 7 assists, 11 points). … Anderson came into the game with two shutouts in a row after an overtime loss. … Dallas D Jason Demers (lower-body injury) was scratched from the lineup, but D Jordie Benn returned after missing Saturday’s game because of illness. … The Stars’ John Klingberg took the NHL lead with his 20th assist on Sharp’s goal. He and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, who assisted on Hoffman’s goal, are 1-2 in scoring among the league’s defensemen. . Dallas had won the previous seven games against the Senators.

Coyotes GM ‘called right away’ on Hamonic

Don Maloney
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You can add Arizona to the list of teams that tried to get in on the Travis Hamonic sweepstakes.

“[He’s] a talented player,” Coyotes GM Don Maloney said, per the Arizona Republic. “We certainly called right away, but we do not have a good fit for them right now.

“That’s the bottom line. They’re looking for a ready-made complement player.”

Hamonic, who requested a trade out of New York, is garnering plenty of interest across the league. TSN’s Darren Dreger reported five clubs — Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado and Minnesota — were in the mix, with Sportsnet floating potential trade chips like the Jets’ Jacob Trouba, and the Flames’ T.J. Brodie.

It’s unsurprising the Coyotes didn’t have a fit for Isles GM Garth Snow.

It’s hard to imagine — nearly impossible, really — to think Oliver Ekman-Larsson would be on the move, and the rest of the Arizona defense is comprised of unheralded youngsters (Michael Stone, Connor Murphy) or grizzled vets (Nicklas Grossmann, Zbynek Michalek).

But Maloney’s remarks are still noteworthy, because he more we hear about the Hamonic situation, the clearer the asking price gets.

Related: Hamonic willing to finish season with Isles

Star struck: Sens chase Niemi after three goals on nine shots (Update: And now he’s back)

Milan Michalek, Antti Niemi
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Bet Antti Niemi misses playing Buffalo.

Niemi, who stopped 46 of 47 shots in back-to-back wins over the Sabres last week, was hooked during Tuesday’s game against the Senators after allowing three goals on nine shots.

In Niemi’s defense, tonight’s goals weren’t exactly his fault.

John Klingberg coughed up the puck badly on Bobby Ryan‘s opening tally…

And on Ottawa’s second goal, Jyrki Jokipakka lost a board battle moments before Milan Michalek snapped one home:

The Sens’ third marker also came on a turnover.

Update: Well, this is quite the night for Dallas netminders. Kari Lehtonen replaced Niemi, allowed a goal, then got hurt in this collision with Klingberg, which forced him from the game and Niemi back into action.