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Flyers rise, Leafs fall, Islanders lurk on busy night in East playoff races

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On a busy night for the Eastern Conference’s bubble teams, the Philadelphia Flyers probably ended up being the biggest winners.*

Let’s try to sort things out lightning-round style, then we’ll take a look at where the most relevant East bubble teams stand.

  • The Philadelphia Flyers grabbed their third straight win, and it was a significant one, edging the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1. The Flyers move ahead of the Leafs and other teams for the second wild card spot in the East, although Philly’s edge on Toronto looks a lot shakier when you factor in games in hand (more on that in a moment). Still, it was a big win for the Flyers.
  • The Maple Leafs really might be the biggest losers of the night, at least among teams whose chances seem most realistic right now. The Ottawa Senators lost, but they lost in overtime (3-2 to the Calgary Flames), so they have a three-point edge on the Maple Leafs. The Boston Bruins won a hectic 4-3 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins to move one point ahead of Toronto … but again, for now. The games in hand things is going to come up again.
  • The Florida Panthers managed to get the extra point against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 2-1 overtime win. The Cats aren’t in a position of strength, yet they can’t be discounted altogether, either.
  • The New York Islanders continue to rise in the East, gaining another win against an opponent in “contender” position. Andrew Ladd (yes, Ladd) scored two goals as the Isles beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1, giving the Islanders a six-game point streak. They still need to make up some ground, yet they’re a reminder of how much of a difference a surge can make. Even with the Habs hobbling a bit lately, that’s impressive stuff.

Phew, that’s a lot to digest, right?

Well, this might make things a little easier to follow. Let’s break things down by way of the Atlantic Division races and also the bubble races overall.

Races for the last two spots in the Atlantic

2. Senators – 58 points in 47 games
3. Bruins – 56 points in 52 GP

Maple Leafs – 55 points in 47 GP
Panthers – 52 points in 50 GP

As you can see, the Bruins lead the Maple Leafs for that third spot … but that’s a huge chunk of games for Toronto to make up ground (at least in an era rife with three-point games). Boston might end up being more concerned about the East bubble races, then, so that’s a good excuse to look at that situation.

Wild card

1. Rangers – 63 points in 49 GP
2. Flyers – 56 points in 50 GP

Maple Leafs – 55 points in 47 GP
Panthers – 52 points in 50 GP
Islanders – 51 points in 47 GP
Lightning – 50 in 50
Sabres – 49 in 47
Hurricanes – 49 in 48
Red Wings – 49 in 49
Devils 49 in 50

With the Rangers likely out of reach, the Maple Leafs (and maybe the other somewhat-close Atlantic teams) must eye teams like the Flyers, Senators and Bruins instead. Games in hand make things interesting, particularly if you’re an Islanders fan dreaming of big gains or a Leafs fan being quite realistically optimistic.

If Thursday is any indication, there’s a lot of room for movement in these races for East playoff spots.

* – The Washington Capitals are probably the biggest winners of all in the East if not the NHL, as they continued their pattern of bullying teams by beating the New Jersey Devils 5-2.

Ducks cement Pacific lead as Getzlaf continues his mammoth March

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By the end of Sunday night, the Anaheim Ducks removed all doubt: they’re on top of the Pacific Division.

Now, it’s not the sort of substantial lead that the sliding San Jose Sharks squandered; Anaheim merely leads the Sharks and Edmonton Oilers by two standings points after beating the New York Rangers 6-3.

With everyone at 75 games played, it’s kind of nice to enjoy the clarity that comes with a clear lead (though the Sharks and Oilers will disagree):

Pacific top four (all teams with 75 games played)

1. Ducks – 93 points (38 ROW, 41 W)
2. Sharks – 91 poitns (40 ROW, 42 W)
3. Oilers – 91 points (37 ROW, 41 W)

Flames – 88 points (38 ROW, 42 W)

The Ducks are now on a four-game winning streak and managed an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 contests.

With all due respect to Patrick Eaves‘ two goals, it’s Ryan Getzlaf who’s really playing outstanding hockey. He generated four assists in this one, giving him eight helpers in his past four games. He now has a whopping 20 points in March.

A lot going on – fight included – between Corey Perry, Brendan Smith (Video)

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If there’s one thing that’s undeniable from the clip going on, it’s that Corey Perry and Brendan Smith squeezed a lot of activity (carnage?) into a single shift.

Early on in Sunday’s New York Rangers – Anaheim Ducks game, both player delivered hits that were at least borderline dangerous. After that, they traded punches in a pretty solid fight (especially since they seemed a little tired because, again, this was a fairly elaborate sequence).

It’s way too messy a sequence to call neat, but there is something efficient about trading hits and then getting into a fight. That’s a mini-hockey feud in short order.

If you want a pretty moment to counteract all that, check out the great puck movement on this 3-on-1 goal for the Rangers:

Penguins lose to Flyers and lose another key player to injury

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PITTSBURGH — Even with a ridiculously long injured list that would be the foundation of a pretty good hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins still found a way to go 8-1-3 in their previous 12 games entering Sunday’s contest against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The injuries finally seemed to start catching up to them on Sunday in a 6-2 loss, extending their current losing streak to three games, matching their season long.

While the loss certainly impacts their pursuit of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division (they remain three points back of the Washington Capitals), and even their quest for home ice advantage in the first round, it is still not the worst thing to come out of Sunday’s game.

The worst thing for them would be the fact the Penguins lost yet another key player to an injury when forward Conor Sheary had to leave the game mid-way through the first period.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the game that Sheary is dealing with a lower body injury and that right now he is considered to be day-to-day. It was initially believed that Sheary was injured blocking a shot, but Sullivan insisted that was not the case and that it happened in the offensive zone at some point in the first period.

With Jake Guentzel still sidelined due a concussion he suffered in a recent game against the Buffalo Sabres, that means two-thirds of the team’s recently assembled top line (Sidney Crosby-Sheary-Guentzel) is now sidelined due to injury. Sheary’s injury is especially concerning given how good he has been on Crosby’s wing dating back to the 2016 playoffs. Entering play on Sunday Sheary was averaging nearly a point per game (50 points in 54 games) with almost all of that production coming at even-strength.

They had yet another scare in the third period on Sunday when defenseman Brian Dumoulin had to briefly leave the game and head to the locker room after he was elbowed in the side of the head by Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds.

On Sunday, all of the injuries finally seemed to be too much with the Flyers pretty much dominating the game over the final two periods.

The Flyers received goals from six different players (Jordan Weal, Valtteri Filppula, Dale Weise, Jakob Voracek, Radko Gudas and Shayne Gostisbehere) in the win and outshot the Penguins by a 24-15 margin over the final 40 minutes.

“That wasn’t a good effort and at this point of the season we can’t afford to have those,” said Penguins forward Matt Cullen after the game. “I don’t think that was a typical effort for us. I don’t think we had a lot of life, to be honest.”

Even more than winning games the rest of the way the biggest concern for the Penguins has to be getting their list of injured players healthy and finding a way to avoid adding to it, something that has proven to be difficult in recent weeks.

At this point, whether they win the Metropolitan Division or not, they know their path through the Eastern Conference playoffs is very likely going to have to go through both Washington and Columbus, and they are going to need their full complement of players to do it.

One of the biggest factors in winning a Stanley Cup is having all of your key players in the lineup come playoff time.

A year ago the Penguins did.

Right now they are not even close to having that.

Video: Dumoulin shakes off elbow, Sheary out day-to-day for Penguins

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Barring a major comeback, the Pittsburgh Penguins look like they’re going to lose to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. Their injury losses might be just as big.

On the bright side, it seems like Brian Dumoulin was able to shake off an elbow from Wayne Simmonds. You can watch the hit, which didn’t draw a penalty, in the video above.

Meanwhile, Conor Sheary has been missing since the first period with what might be a lower-body injury.

The Penguins’ list of injuries is already pretty ridiculous, so if one or both of these players miss significant time, tonight will sting deeper than a setback on the scoreboard.

Update after the Penguins’ loss: Seemingly good news, if very early and vague: