The Senators are making a serious run at the Atlantic Division title


Forget simply making the playoffs, the Ottawa Senators are now challengers for the top spot in the Atlantic Division after their latest win.

Mike Condon stopped all 23 shots he faced on Thursday night in a 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils to record his fifth shutout of the season and help lead the Senators to their 30th win.

The win does a lot of things for the Senators.

First, it helps give them a little extra cushion over the teams below them in the standings when it comes to securing a playoff spot. But it also brings them to within four points of the Montreal Canadiens for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. While a four point gap is normally more difficult to overcome at this point in the season than it would appear, this is not exactly a normal circumstance.

The Senators still have three games in hand on the Canadiens after Thursday night (they also have three games in hand on the Boston Bruins, the team immediately behind them in the standings), and also still have three head-to-head matchups remaining with the Canadiens. All three of those games come during an eight-day stretch between March 18 and March 25.

Assuming things stay as they are in the standings, they are going to be absolutely massive games.

No matter what happens the rest of the way it is still pretty surprising to even see the Senators in this position.

This is a team that missed the playoffs in two of the past three seasons and did not really make any significant changes this offseason (they traded Mika Zibanejad for Derrick Brassard; hired Guy Boucher). They also have spent a large portion of this season without starting goalie Craig Anderson as he has been away with the team, turning the goal crease over to Condon, a goalie that was not even with the team at the start of the season.

Auston Matthews’ 33rd goal includes a dash of comedy (Video)

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This wouldn’t have been worth a chuckle if not for the correction. (Well, maybe a chuckle at Auston Matthews‘ expense.)

On the 33rd goal of his brilliant rookie season, Auston Matthews made it 2-0 for Toronto on the power play. Crusty “act like you’ve been there” types might grumble that he actually celebrated before a goal really happened, only to tap it in for real the second time around. The rest of us, again, get a mild chuckle.

William Nylander‘s pass was nothing to laugh at, however. That one just gets a big thumbs up.

Hnnngmgghh indeed.

That goal could end up being key as the Blue Jackets quickly scored to start the second period, shrinking Toronto’s lead to 2-1 on Wednesday.

Video: Leafs’ Carrick delivers thunderous hit on Blue Jackets’ Anderson

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Both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs have motivation to win their Wednesday game, but the Maple Leafs need it more.

So far, it shows, too.

The Maple Leafs have raced off to a 2-0 lead, with Auston Matthews scoring his 33rd goal of the season. If generating such offense didn’t highlight the urgency, Connor Carrick‘s huge hit on Josh Anderson makes a compelling argument. Witness that big impact in the video above.

There was also another high-impact moment when Nick Foligno went crashing into the boards:

Ouch, Blues consider Paul Stastny out week-to-week

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The St. Louis Blues announced that Paul Stastny is out week-to-week with a lower-body injury.

Stastny was limited to less than four minutes of ice time during last night’s 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche. Initially, head coach Mike Yeo indicated that the issue wasn’t serious.

There are only about three weeks left in the regular season, so it’s tough to tell if “week-to-week” would mean that the Blues will be without Stastny for any playoff time.

With Stastny out for an expended period of time and other injuries affecting Blues forwards, it sounds like Nail Yakupov gets another chance to prove himself:

Stastny generated 18 goals and 40 points in 66 games so far this season. He has played more of a defensive role this season (46.2 offensive zone start percentage after being closer to 50 earlier in his Blues days) and has been impressive in the dot, winning 53.8 of his faceoffs.

WATCH LIVE: Islanders at Rangers – Wednesday Night Rivalry

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A night after a feisty matcuhup with the Devils, the Rangers host an even bigger rival in the Islanders at Madison Square Garden for Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBCSN.

As nasty as Tuesday’s contest got at times, this one means more.

While the Rangers seem pretty safely seated as the East’s first wild card, the Islanders stand three points behind the Maple Leafs for the final spot in the conference. They’ve seen other bubble teams stumble, so this is their chance to close in on Toronto in what might be a shrinking field of contenders.

Spiting the Islanders might just give the Rangers a little extra life on back-to-back nights … especially since their fans would probably let them have it if they sleepwalk through this one.

It should be a fun, physical and dramatic one on NBCSN. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.