Toronto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers

Panthers cough up chance to clinch Southeast, playoffs

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There aren’t many sports that allow you to “back into” a third seed, but the Florida Panthers might just do that with the Southeast Division this season. They keep inching toward that mark and/or their first playoff berth in more than a decade, but they’re earning virtually zero style points (not to mention tempting the jinxing gods.)

At first, it seemed like they were ready to cruise to an exciting destination as they opened up a 3-0 lead against a Winnipeg Jets team that had every excuse to fold – especially on the road.

Blame it on “playing not to lose,” just not being good enough or any number of other factors, but the bottom line is that the Jets took over the scoring after Tomas Fleischmann made it 3-0 just 25 seconds in the second period. Winnipeg collected two goals to end the middle frame and then scored two goals within four minutes of the third period to make it 4-3. On the bright side, the Panthers squeezed another charity point out of the game as Tomas Kopecky scored the game-tying goal but Andrew Ladd’s OT winner has to be tough to swallow.

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Well, unless you’re the team that ends up with the East’s sixth seed, that is. In that case, you’re probably licking your chops.

Southeast showdown

This sets up a great opportunity for the Washington Capitals to unseat the Panthers for the Southeast title. Florida only needs a point to clinch a playoff spot and the division but the Caps could make that less of a certainty by beating them at the Verizon Center on Thursday.

After that, the Panthers visit the Carolina Hurricanes while the Washington Capitals face a Rangers team with little to play for in Madison Square Garden – both on Saturday.

It would be surprising if Florida fails to win the division and even more shocking if they fall out of the East’s top eight if things really fall apart, but they opened themselves up to that possibility by letting a seemingly certain victory slip away.

Datsyuk ‘wants to make sure the Wings have options,’ says his agent

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 21:  Pavel Datsyuk #13 of the Detroit Red Wings checks his stick before a face-off against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 21, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Pavel Datsyuk‘s future with the Detroit Red Wings and in the National Hockey League has been up in the air for a while now, as he’s linked to rumors of a return to Russia and the KHL.

His agent, Dan Milstein, recently explained to the Detroit Free Press that Datsyuk’s future should become clear in mid-June after meeting with Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.

As per General Fanager, Datsyuk has one more year left on his current deal, which comes with a cap hit of $7.5 million.

From the Detroit Free Press:

“He would like to leave, but at the same time, he wants to make sure the Wings have options,” Milstein said. “He wants to help the team any way he can with the salary cap issue.”

Wings general manager Ken Holland has said there are no loopholes. Because Datsyuk signed his last contract after he turned 35, his $7.5 million salary cap hit remains in tact even if Datsyuk departs. The Wings’ only option is to trade his contract to a team such as Arizona or Carolina that could use the hefty cap hit in order to be above the salary cap minimum.

At the age of 37, his career in the league started in 2001-02, and has spanned 953 regular season games in which he’s accrued 918 points.

He’s had a highly decorated career, with two Stanley Cup championships with the Red Wings, three Selke and four Lady Byng trophies.

Allen or Elliott? Another goalie decision looms for Hitchcock

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues tends goal against Nick Spaling #16 of the San Jose Sharks during the third period in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues need to win Game 6 on Wednesday, or their season is over. Who they decide to turn to in net is likely to be a talking point — heated debate, maybe? — leading up to that contest.

Do they go back to Jake Allen for a third consecutive start, despite the fact he allowed four goals on 25 shots in Monday’s Game 5 loss to the San Jose Sharks? Or, will head coach Ken Hitchcock turn once again to Brian Elliott, who started every single game from the series opener of the first round versus Chicago to Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.

Hitchcock at least felt that going with Allen over Elliott in Game 4 provided the necessary spark for his team, as the Blues evened the series.

But on Monday, the Sharks, on the strength of two Joe Pavelski goals, eventually overpowered the Blues for the win, moving San Jose one victory away from the Stanley Cup Final.

“I thought he was fine. I don’t know, those are decisions we make in a day or so. But I thought he was fine today. He stopped some point-blank shots, especially early, three times early,” Hitchcock told reporters.

“I don’t know. That’s stuff we’ll talk about tomorrow.”

Feeding frenzy: Sharks send Blues to the brink of elimination in Western Conference Final

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The San Jose Sharks won a back-and-forth Game 5 to take back the lead in a back-and-forth Western Conference Final, moving one victory away from appearing in the Stanley Cup Final.

After scoring the tying goal late in the second period, Joe Pavelski notched his 12th of the playoffs to give San Jose the lead for good just 16 seconds into the third period.

The Sharks earned a 6-3 victory on the road, in a bounce-back effort from Saturday.

Twice, the Blues grabbed the lead. Troy Brouwer gave them the advantage in the first period, showing off his baseball skills by batting the puck into the net on a rebound. Robby Fabbri gave them another lead in the second period, making Roman Polak pay for snapping on Dmitrij Jaskin along the boards.

But the Blues couldn’t hold on. The Sharks scored twice on three power play opportunities and can now clinch the Western Conference on home ice in Wednesday’s Game 6.

As for the Blues, will Ken Hitchcock change up his starting goaltender again? It’s certainly an aspect of this series that will once again be up for debate leading up to Wednesday’s game.

After Brian Elliott had backstopped the Blues through the first two rounds and started the first three games of this series, Hitchcock decided to start Jake Allen in Game 4.

Allen recorded the win Saturday, and was called upon again in Game 5 as expected, but gave up four goals on 25 shots Monday.

Video: Sharks’ Polak snaps, Blues make him pay on the power play

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San Jose Sharks defenseman Roman Polak took serious issue with St. Louis Blues forward Dmitrij Jaskin during the second period, as the two eventually threw off the gloves off in a fight in the corner.

In the process, Polak let his emotions get the better of him — he snapped — by also taking a roughing minor to give the Blues a power play.

The Blues made him — and the Sharks — pay on a blast from Robby Fabbri, who was a game-time decision for Monday’s contest.

The Sharks tied the game at 3-3 before the end of the second period on Joe Pavelski‘s 11th of the playoffs. Pavelski struck again in the third period, giving San Jose the 4-3 lead.