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Goalie nods: Bolts start Budaj, even though Vasilevskiy’s on fire

An interesting decision from Lightning head coach Jon Cooper — even though Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s been a huge part of his club’s recent surge back into playoff contention, it’ll be Peter Budaj who starts in tonight’s crucial tilt against the Rangers.

“We’ve had a lot of success with Vasy,” Cooper said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “And playing him every third day, he’s played really well. When he went through this stretch of playing back-to-backs in December, I just don’t know if it was too much, too soon either we weren’t good in front of him or he wasn’t at the top of his game.

“Our No. 1 goal is to make the playoffs, but still our goaltender is young and developing. We’ve got him in a really good grove here, there’s no sense in breaking that groove. There’s a lot of games he still has to play.”

Vasilevskiy is 5-0-1 over his last six starts and has posted a .951 save percentage over his last five appearances, so going to Buadj tonight is a pretty significant move.

The veteran only has one start since coming over from L.A. in the Ben Bishop trade, and there’s so much on the line — with a win and and Isles regulation loss (to the ‘Canes), Tampa Bay would draw even with New York on points, and move one back of idle Toronto for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

No word yet on a Rangers starter for tonight, though it’s expected Antti Raanta will get the call.

Elsewhere…

— Clinging to their slim playoff chances, the Flyers will go back to Steve Mason when they host the Jackets. Mason allowed two goals on 27 shots in a loss to Boston over the weekend, and has played well lately. No word yet on a Columbus starter.

Jean-Francois Berube gives Thomas Greiss the night off as the Isles host the ‘Canes. Cam Ward is in for Carolina.

— With no other options really available, Connor Hellebuyck will start again for the Jets, despite his recent struggles. It looks as though the host Preds will counter with Pekka Rinne.

— Coming off a 31-save shutout of Winnipeg over the weekend, the red-hot Brian Elliott starts again for the Flames. Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s also played well of late, goes for Pittsburgh.

Ryan Miller was brilliant against Pittsburgh on Saturday, stopping 45 of 47 shots, and will go right back in when the Canucks host the Bruins. No word yet on a Boston starter.

— In a huge game for Western Conference wild card jockeying, the Kings and Blues will roll with their No. 1s: Jonathan Quick for Los Angeles, Jake Allen for St. Louis.

Mike Smith‘s in goal when the Coyotes host the Avs. No word yet on a Colorado starter.

PHT Morning Skate: Joel Armia scored an amazing shorthanded goal you’ll have to see to believe

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Joel Armia has developed into a very useful player for the Winnipeg Jets, and on Tuesday night, he scored an incredible end-to-end goal that you won’t want to miss. He fought off one New Jersey Devil then got around two others before scoring this beautiful shorthanded goal. (Top)

–The Score breaks down the best “bang for your buck” contracts on each Canadian team. It’s not shocking to see Senators goalie Mike Condon on this list. The second-year netminder has been with three teams this season, but he’s come through in a big way for the Senators, and he only makes $575,000. (The Score)

–The ESPN Hockey writers put together a list of what they think the Vegas Golden Knights roster is going to look like after the expansion draft. Some well-known names like Andrew Cogliano, Jonas Brodin, Mikkel Boedker, Tomas Plekanec, Jonathan Marchessault, Carl Hagelin and Jakob Silfverberg all made the list. (ESPN)

–Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” blog touched on some advice David Poile had for the Golden Knights now that the Oakland Raiders will be moving to Vegas. “You have to do your own thing. We created our ‘Predator Way.’ The Smashville idea and name. In-game entertainment fitting the market. Those things worked.” Friedman also wrote about Ken Hitchcock possibly returning to Dallas, and much more. (Sportsnet)

–Brampton Thunder forward Laura Stacey is the great-granddaughter of hall-of-fame defenseman King Clancy. Recently, Stacey decided she wanted to do a little digging into her great-grandfather’s career, and it really allowed her to get an appreciation for everything he accomplished. “Now I understand how hard he worked, how passionate and determined he was to be the best. Yes, it was a different era, but I can only imagine how hard he had to work to get where he was. As I get older, it makes it more special in that I know more the kind of guy he was.” (Canadian Press)

–The Montreal Canadiens have had some incredible defensemen come through their organization, but last night, Andrei Markov was able to reach an impressive milestone. By picking up an assist in a 4-1 win over Dallas, he tied Guy Lapointe for second in points by a defenseman in franchise history. Larry Robinson’s mark is pretty safe.

Rangers punch playoff ticket to wrap up night of clinched spots

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The New York Rangers weren’t ecstatic that Chris Tierney‘s 4-4 goal sent their game to overtime against the San Jose Sharks, but either way, getting beyond regulation punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday night.

For the seventh season in a row, the Rangers are in the NHL’s postseason. They fell to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, so they haven’t locked down the first wild-card spot in the East … yet. It seems like a matter of time, however.

The Rangers have now made the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 tries, a far cry from the barren stretch when they failed to make the playoffs from 1997-98 through 2003-04 (with the lockout season punctuating the end of that incompetent era).

New York has pivoted from the John Tortorella days to the Vigneault era, and this season has been especially interesting as they reacted to a 2016 first-round loss to the Penguins by instituting a more attacking style. The Metropolitan Division’s greatness has overshadowed, to some extent, how dramatic the improvement has been.

This result seems like a tidy way to discuss Tuesday’s other events.

The drama ends up being low for the Rangers going forward, and while there might be a shortage of life-or-death playoff struggles, the battles for seeding look to be fierce.

Oilers end NHL’s longest playoff drought; Sharks, Ducks also clinch

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There’s something beautiful about the symmetry on Tuesday … unless you’re a Detroit Red Wings fan, maybe.

On the same night that the longest active NHL playoff streak ended at 25 for Detroit, the longest playoff drought concluded when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a postseason spot by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2005-06, when Chris Pronger lifted them to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

In doing so, other dominoes fell. Both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also punched their tickets to the postseason.

The Sharks, of course, hope to exceed last season’s surprising run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks continue their run of strong regular seasons, even as memories of their Cup win start to fade into the distance. All three teams are currently vying for the Pacific Division title.

The Western Conference’s eight teams are dangerously close to being locked into place, as the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues are all close to looking down their spots as well.

Want the East perspective? Check out this summary of Tuesday’s events from the perspective of the other conference.

Craig Anderson took his blunder hard – probably too hard – in Sens loss

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Members of the Ottawa Senators were quick to defend Craig Anderson following his blunder (see above) in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s not just about his personal struggles, either. When Anderson’s managed to play, he’s been flat-out phenomenal, generating a .927 save percentage that ranks near a Vezina-type level (if he managed to play more than 35 games).

Goaltending has been a huge reason why Ottawa has at least a shot of winning the Atlantic or at least grabbing a round of home-ice advantage, so unlike certain instances where teams shield a goalie’s failures, the defenses are absolutely justified.

Anderson, on the other hand, was very hard on himself.

You have to admire Anderson for taking the blame, even if in very much “hockey player” fashion, he’s not exactly demanding the same sort of credit for his great work this season.