Aleksander Barkov

AP

Survival of the lucky? Stanley Cup playoff hopes can rise and fall with significant injuries

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There’s plenty of knocking on wood this time of year around the NHL as teams hope to avoid injuries that could damage their playoff hopes.

For some, it’s already too late.

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost Steven Stamkos for four months — and counting — and now Tyler Johnson. The Florida Panthers went without Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov for much of the year. The Los Angeles Kings tried to stay afloat without goaltender Jonathan Quick until late February but will likely miss the playoffs.

While the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins have withstood a barrage of injuries and the league-leading Washington Capitals have largely avoided them, they’re keenly aware of how quickly even one injury can make a difference.

“There’s other teams that are good teams that have just had some bad luck,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said. “Tampa Bay just couldn’t overcome the injuries. If Tampa Bay has Stamkos all the way through the season, they’d certainly be in a different place.”

Read more: Injuries keep adding up for Lightning

Considered Cup contenders at the start of the season, the Lightning had to make a run just to get within three points of a playoff spot with nine games remaining.

The Panthers got Barkov and Huberdeau back and dug out of an early hole, but a lower-body injury to goaltender Roberto Luongo contributed to a 3-7-1 tailspin that might ultimately cost them the chance to make the postseason for a second consecutive year.

“Sometimes just your body breaks up because of the games and stuff like that,” said Barkov, who missed 15 games with a back injury. “Some teams just get more injuries, and some teams just get lucky not to get injuries.”

Injuries have again been the story of the year for the Penguins, who are currently without half their regular defense in Kris Letang, Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta, and also lost trade acquisition Ron Hainsey. But they haven’t missed a beat.

“The guys that have come in just understanding whatever role that they get, they have to be accepting of it,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “They have a lot of responsibility in most cases, too, because they’re filling in for some guys who play a lot of key minutes.”

Injuries were a severe blow to the Dallas Stars, with 292 man games lost, and 265 man games lost has put the Detroit Red Wings’ 25-season playoff streak in serious jeopardy. The Edmonton Oilers have around 300 man games lost, but unlike last year’s stumble when Connor McDavid broke his collarbone they are poised to end a 10-year playoff drought.

“This organization seems to have a way of getting beat up and having injuries and needing others to support the group, and this year I think we’ve done a better job,” coach Todd McLellan said. “We haven’t lost those key forwards, knock on wood, like we did last year.”

Tampa Bay did when Stamkos tore the meniscus in his right knee Nov. 15 after putting up 20 points in his first 17 games. Friday night marked his 57th consecutive game out of the lineup.

Yet in Washington, the Capitals have a grand total of 42 man games lost all season and have only dealt with a hand injury that sidelined forward Andre Burakovsky 15 games and upper-body ailments that cost T.J. Oshie 13. Defenseman Brooks Orpik believes the Capitals’ fortunes are a combination of off-ice injury prevention techniques and luck, while the team’s brass thinks it’s also about taxing players less each game.

“The team philosophy of going four lines and spreading the ice time out and spreading the ice time out on defense and spreading the ice time out among your goalies, I think it puts less stress on your lineup,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “Having a deep team, I think, results in less injuries.”

Depth up front helped the Chicago Blackhawks withstand captain Jonathan Toews‘ nine-game absence with back problems, and having backup Antti Raanta kept the New York Rangers on track when goaltender Henrik Lundqvist went out for two weeks this month with a lower-body injury. Lundqvist is expected back this weekend.

The Columbus Blue Jackets feel fortunate not to need to test their depth again this season after injuries ravaged them to the count of 510 man games lost two years ago. They’ve overcome defenseman Seth Jones‘ broken foot and Ryan Murray‘s broken hand to make the playoffs for the third time in franchise history, so it doesn’t feel at all like 2014-15 in Columbus.

“It’s just too good of a league to be able to survive that type of season,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. “This year we’ve been lucky and hopefully done some things right as well where we haven’t been injured as much and knock on wood hopefully stay healthy for the rest of the year.”

Jagr sets another record — most points by an NHLer after turning 40

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Jaromir Jagr set another record on Friday, and his Florida Panthers earned a comeback victory that keeps their slim playoff hopes alive.

Jagr recorded a pair of assists against the New York Rangers, giving him 39 points in 70 games, which is a remarkable total given he is, you know, 45 years old. Per Elias Sports, he now has 269 points since he turned 40, which breaks the previous record held by Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe.

Howe played professionally into his 50s — until he was 52 to be exact.

Jagr still has a ways to go if he wants to achieve that same incredible feat, but he has expressed a desire to do just that. In fact, he has expressed a desire to play well beyond the youthful age of 50.

“The only way you get tired with hockey is when you don’t work hard enough and you play the game and you kind of embarrass yourself,” Jagr told Sportsnet last year. “You’re embarrassed because the other guys are better than you, but that’s because you didn’t do enough to prepare for yourself for it.”

The Panthers trailed the Rangers 2-0 before Friday’s game was even five minutes old. But they came back in the second period, before Aleksander Barkov scored in the third period and again in the shootout to give Florida a critical victory.

With 12 games left on their schedule, the Panthers are five points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot in the East.

PHT Morning Skate: The top 25 players under 25

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–Fox Sports’ Pete Blackburn shares his list of the top 25 players under 25 years old. To nobody’s surprise, Oilers center Connor McDavid is at the top of the list. Rounding out the top five are Auston Matthews, Aaron Ekblad, Patrik Laine and Aleksander Barkov (yup, two Panthers in the top five). (Fox Sports)

–Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin gets enough media attention in Montreal, so he found a creative way to avoid the cameras at the GM meetings. He walked by the cameras holding a plant so that his face would be covered. It was all in good fun! (NHL.com)

–Since naming Doug Weight as interim head coach, the Islanders have gone on a 13-5-3 run. Weight isn’t sure why things have worked out so well, but the preparation and approach he brings to the game have gone a long way in making the Islanders relevant in the Eastern Conference. (Sportsnet)

–The Dallas Stars put a stop to Washington’s incredible 15-game home winning streak, and they did it by chasing Braden Holtby from the game. You can watch the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Since making his season debut on Nov. 29, Jack Eichel has been a top 10 point producer, which is really, really good. Unfortunately for him, the Sabres are wasting his terrific season by being “a rotten team,” per Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski. (Yahoo)

–As part of a Papa John’s pizza promotion, Caps forward Alexander Ovechkin made a delivery in Virginia last week. The only problem, is that the young babysitter who answered the door didn’t realize who he was. “I was also very confused when I opened the door, which I believe is kind of apparent by my face in the video. There was a long silence between me opening the door and someone finally asking if I knew who was delivering my pizza, so I suppose that was a bit uncomfortable.” (Washington Post)

–Even though they’ll be losing their ECHL team at the end of this season, there’s no denying that the people in Alaska love their hockey. The difficult economic conditions have made keeping high-level hockey challenging, but they’re hoping things will turn around soon. “Hopes around Alaska are that the oil industry turns around and under a new Republican White House, there won’t be any opposition to that idea. If the economy rebounds, the NCAA squads won’t have to fear for their future and perhaps another NAHL team will sprout up.” (The Hockey News)

VIDEO: Steve Mason robbed the Panthers of a point with this late save

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The good news for the Florida Panthers on Thursday night is they did pick up one point in the standings as they continue their push for a playoff spot.

The bad news is they missed out on a chance to get an all-important second point by dropping a 2-1 shootout decision to the Philadelphia Flyers. The only reason the game even made it to overtime was this spectacular glove save by Flyers goalie Steve Mason to rob Aleksander Barkov of what could have been a game-winning goal in the final 30 seconds of regulation.

Barkov did score in the shootout for the Panthers, but it wasn’t enough to get them the extra point in the standings.

Aaron Ekblad scored the Panthers’ only goal in regulation, while Valtteri Filppula, playing in his first game with the Flyers, scored their lone goal in regulation.

Along with losing the extra point the Panthers also lost starting goaltender Roberto Luongo for at least a week due to a lower body injury after he had to leave the game after the first period.

By not picking up the extra point the Panthers remain behind both the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs in the Wild Card standings with 69 points. They are also just now two points ahead of the Flyers.

Panthers acquire Vanek for McIlrath, pick

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Florida has added the goalscoring winger it wanted for a playoff push.

Thomas Vanek, who leads the Red Wings with 15 goals this season, has been acquired in exchange for defenseman Dylan McIlrath and a third-round pick, per TSN.

Vanek, 33, is on a one-year, $2.6 million deal. Detroit’s retaining 50 percent of his salary in this trade, so it’s an affordable pickup for the Panthers.

The Austrian winger should fit nicely into an offensively gifted group that includes Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Jaromir Jagr, Vincent Trocheck, Reilly Smith and Jussi Jokinen. Vanek should also help out on the power play, where he has five markers this season.

“Thomas is a proven scorer in this league who will add some offensive savvy and experience to our young group of forwards,” Panthers GM Dale Tallon said in a release. “We believe strongly in our group and we’re confident that he will help our power play and supplement our core effectively.”

As for the other side of things…

The Red Wings, who will see their 25-year playoff streak snapped, began selling off assets yesterday by flipping Brendan Smith to the Rangers, and Steve Ott to the Habs.

Early analysis has panned GM Ken Holland for his sub-par return for Vanek who — while somewhat flawed — has enjoyed a bounce-back season in Detroit, and has a history for finding the back of the net.