Nicklas Backstrom

Leafs shock Sabres; Capitals earn shootout win


The Toronto Maple Leafs might actually receive a few nice questions from Lance Brown this weekend – or at least a Christmas card from the Washington Capitals next year.

A game after inspiring sarcastic Blue Jays chants, the Maple Leafs won their first game in Toronto since Feb. 6 – and it was a big blow to the Buffalo Sabres. A late goal made things awfully interesting but the Sabres lost 4-3 in regulation, thus locking them up in ninth place regardless of the Capitals’ actions.

Unfortunately for Buffalo, the Capitals came through during Nicklas Backstrom’s return to the lineup by winning a 3-2 shootout against the Montreal Canadiens. This gives the Caps a two-point lead for the East’s final spot while both teams have three games left.

Considering the fact that Washington holds the tiebreaker advantage over Buffalo, it really means the Sabres might have to make up a three-point gap for the eighth seed.

Chasing the Cats

With that in mind, the Capitals might even switch their sights from the Sabres and the eighth seed to the Florida Panthers and the Southeast Division title/third spot. Florida’s buffer has been reduced to two points and although it has a game in hand, the Capitals hold the tiebreaker advantage there as well and the two teams meet in Washington on Thursday.

It’s a pretty amazing turnaround for a Capitals team that was one of the league leaders in disappointments and negative press this season.

Backstrom’s return

Capitals fans were elated to see Nicklas Backstrom return, so here’s a quick look at what he did tonight:

Backstrom: zero points, two shots on goal, 12-6 in faceoffs and a -1 rating in 19:40 minutes.

Even with overtime in mind, Backstrom skating for almost 20 minutes might be the best sign for Washington. If he can get up to speed, the Capitals could actually be dangerous – whatever playoff spot they gain.

You know, if they make it that far (which is a much smaller “if” after today).

Habs claim Byron off waivers from Flames

Paul Byron
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Montreal added some forward depth on Tuesday, acquiring diminutive forward Paul Byron off waivers from Calgary.

Byron, 26, is a veteran of nearly 150 career NHL games, most coming with the Flames. Despite fairly solid production over the last two years — 40 points in 104 games — he was exposed to waivers on Monday, along with fellow forward Mason Raymond.

(Calgary does have a logjam of players at forward, hence parting ways with Byron and Raymond.)

Byron can play both wing and center but, at 5-foot-7, 153 pounds, is one of the most undersized skaters in the league. Thankfully for him, Montreal has an affinity for undersized forwards, with the likes of Brendan Gallagher (5-foot-9, 184 pounds) and David Desharnais (5-foot-7, 174 pounds) already on the active roster.

Byron could also fill Zack Kassian‘s roster spot. Kassian is currently suspended without pay while undergoing Stage 2 of the NHL’s Substance Abuse program.

Isles claim goalie Berube off waivers

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jaroslav Halak
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The New York Islanders have claimed goalie Jean-Francois Berube off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings, the club announced today.

Berube won the Calder Cup last season with AHL Manchester, but the 24-year-old has yet to appear in an NHL game.

That the Isles claimed Berube could be evidence that Jaroslav Halak will not be ready to start the season after all.

If that’s the case, Berube would back up Thomas Greiss, with Stephon Williams expected to go to the AHL.

The Isles open their regular season Friday at home versus the Blackhawks, then play the next day in Chicago.