Capitals take over Southeast Division lead

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The Washington Capitals couldn’t ask for things to go much better than they did on Thursday, taking over the Southeast Division lead thanks to tonight’s events. Here’s a rundown of the ground they gained against the Winnipeg Jets and the Eastern Conference’s bubble teams to boot.

Washington 2, NY Islanders 1 (SO)

Braden Holtby stopped 35 out of 36 shots, Mike Green kept his four-game goal streak going and Alex Ovechkin scored the lone shootout tally to give Washington a close win against fellow playoff contenders the New York Islanders. With that charity point, the New York Rangers’ inactivity and other teams’ losses, the Isles moved up to seventh in the East.

(In case you’re wondering, Martin Erat was a non-factor in less than 15 minutes of ice time, so maybe that’s lone downer.)

Boston 1, New Jersey 0

Jaromir Jagr’s lucky first goal as a member of the Boston Bruins ended up being the game-winner as Tuukka Rask tormented the New Jersey Devils with a 40-save performance. At least for one night, the Devils remain out of the top eight (now No. 9) in the East.

Montreal 4, Winnipeg 1

Like the Devils, the Winnipeg Jets lost their fifth game in a row to drop out of the top eight tonight. Michael Ryder was the player who bedeviled Winnipeg the most, scoring two goals and an assist. Another strong goalie performance was a factor, too, as Peter Budaj stopped all but one of the 34 pucks that came his way.

Philadelphia 5, Toronto 3

Perhaps this represents the only less-than-ideal outcome for the Capitals, although that’s probably grasping at straws when you look at the night as a whole.

Thanks to tonight’s activity, the Capitals now have a 46 percent chance to win the Southeast compared to dual 24 percent odds for Winnipeg and the Tampa Bay Lightning (who beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-0 tonight), according to Sports Club Stats.

Pre-game reading: A warning from Donald Fehr, about the NHL and the Olympics

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— Up top, even Patrick Kane seemed amused that he got into a little scrap with Jussi Jokinen on Saturday. The refs only gave them two minutes each for roughing. No rematch is planned.

— NHLPA chief Donald Fehr warns that if the NHL stops sending players to the Olympics, “the reaction from the players’ side — across the board — is not going to be a good one. And my guess is it’s going to last for a very long time.” Which certainly wouldn’t bode well for the next CBA negotiation. Fehr has vowed that players won’t bargain for the right to participate in the Games. (National Post)

— The Anaheim Ducks, after surging past San Jose into first place in the Pacific Division, are hoping to make some noise in the postseason. Said d-man Cam Fowler: “When you make a run in the playoffs, things have to line up for you, you have to be healthy, and a lot of things have to go right. We’re just hoping that it’s our time.” (ESPN)

— Florida forward Nick Bjugstad has just six goals in 46 games this season, and his ice time is way down. That’s not what the Panthers were expecting when they signed him to a six-year deal, and the 24-year-old is committed to turning things around. “Trust me, no one is more disappointed with this than I am. I’ll do my best to change things this summer.” (Miami Herald)

— Another young forward who’s endured a frustrating season is Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen. The sixth overall draft pick in 2014, Virtanen is currently in the AHL, where he only has seven goals in 56 games for the Utica Comets. “It hasn’t been all roses for Jake down in the AHL,” said coach Travis Green. “We’ve been very honest with him. Are we hard on him? Sometimes. But with that, there’s good dialogue. He understands that and is confident his game is going in the right direction, even though it’s hard sometimes.” (The Province)

— An interview with former All-Star Game MVP John Scott, who seems to be keeping busy in his post-NHL career. One of his hobbies? Making his own sausages. (The Athletic)

Enjoy the games!

Goalie nods: After blowout loss, ‘Hawks start Darling against desperate Bolts

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It wasn’t a good performance from Corey Crawford in Saturday’s 7-0 loss in Florida — the Chicago starter was hooked after allowing four goals on 25 shots.

Of course, it wasn’t a good night for the guy that replaced Crawford, either.

Scott Darling was torched for three goals on six shots against the Panthers, but now gets the first crack at redemption — Darling will start tonight when Chicago gets back into action in Tampa Bay.

The Lightning are hopeful they’ll have as much success against Darling — and maybe even Crawford — as the Panthers did on the weekend. Tampa Bay is desperate for points, and heads into tonight’s action sitting three points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins are idle tonight, but the Isles — who have 82 points, to Tampa Bay’s 81 — are in action, hosting Nashville.

So it’s a big night for Tampa, to say the least. Appropriately, Andrei Vasilevskiy will get the start, after stopping 29 of 30 shots in a big OT win over Detroit on Friday.

Elsewhere…

Eddie Lack is 5-1-1 in March with a .931 save percentage, so he gets the call as the ‘Canes host the Red Wings. Petr Mrazek goes for Detroit.

Roberto Luongo is still out, meaning James Reimer gets yet another start for the Panthers (he scored the shutout against Chicago over the weekend). Robin Lehner is in goal for Buffalo.

— We mentioned the Isles-Preds game above, and it’ll be Thomas Greiss in goal for the host team. It’s his second straight start, having played in Saturday’s loss to Boston, and it comes ahead of the recently recalled Jaroslav Halak. No word yet on a Preds starter.

Jake Allen‘s ridiculous month (7-1-1, .951 save percentage) continues with a start against the Coyotes. Mike Smith will be in goal for the visitors, looking to snap a five-game personal losing streak.

— The Flames will stick with Brian Elliott when they host the Avs tonight. No word yet on a Colorado starter.

Sharks’ Haley suspended one game for Jarnkrok sucker punch

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has come down on San Jose tough guy Micheal Haley.

On Monday, Haley was suspended one game for his sucker punch of Preds forward Calle Jarnkrok, near the end of Nashville’s 7-2 over the Sharks on Saturday.

“Haley forcefully punches a player who is off balance, not engaged in the confrontation and not even looking when the punch is thrown,” the DoPS explained, via video. “This is a forceful punch on an opponent who is not able to defend himself at the time.”

The DoPS did acknowledge Jarnkrok’s hit on Haley that preceded the punch — Jarnkrok was given a boarding minor on the play — and also noted that Haley explained he was seeking retribution for said hit.

In addition, the DoPS acknowledged this was Haley’s first offense.

As a result of the suspension, Haley will now miss San Jose’s next game — tomorrow at home against the Rangers — and will be eligible to return on Thursday, when the Sharks take on the Oilers in Edmonton.

Haley will also forfeit $3,472.22 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

 

Cassidy says Bruins ‘overused’ Rask early on

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Some interesting comments today from Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, after goalie Tuukka Rask returned to practice.

Cassidy’s remarks came in the wake of Saturday’s big win in Brooklyn — a game that Rask missed with a lower-body injury.

“He had a good practice today,” Cassidy said of Rask, per CSN New England“He’s a guy that’s played a lot of hockey this year … and he’s not a 240-pound goaltender that can handle all of the games, all of the workload every year. We know that. I’m not going to put limitations on him, but we probably overused him at the start of the year. At this time of year, it gets tougher and tougher with any player that’s been overplayed.”

It remains to be seen which netminder will get the nod tomorrow against Nashville at TD Garden. Anton Khudobin stopped 18 of 19 shots in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the Islanders. After a 1-5-1 start to the season, the 30-year-old backup has won his last five starts.

But Cassidy insisted today that Rask is the Bruins’ “No. 1 goalie.”

“He’s our No. 1 and his health is very important,” said Cassidy. “When he’s physically ready to go and he tells me that, then we’ll make that decision.”