Roberto Luongo

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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.”

Goalie nods: Berra makes first NHL start in 15 months

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The last time Reto Berra started an NHL game, he was a member of the Colorado Avalanche. His head coach was Patrick Roy. His opponent?

The Mike Johnston-led Pittsburgh Penguins.

So yeah, been a long time.

Tonight, Berra will start for the first time since the aforementioned game — played on Dec. 9, 2015 — when the Panthers host the ‘Canes in Florida. Berra’s start comes with No. 1 netminder Roberto Luongo dealing with a hip injury, and No. 2 James Reimer needing a night off (he’s been the goalie of record in eight straight).

Berra, 30, was acquired from Colorado via trade last June and has made one appearance for the Panthers this year, playing 25 minutes in relief of Reimer back on Mar. 7. That came after a lengthy stint with Florida’s AHL affiliate in Springfield, where he went 12-14-2 with a .910 save percentage and 2.53 GAA.

Berra’s in the last of a three-year, $4.35M deal (signed with the Avs back in 2014), so this audition is fairly important. If he can prove enough to be a capable NHL backup, he might find work this summer.

For the ‘Canes, Cam Ward starts in goal.

Elsewhere…

Henrik Lundqvist is closing in on a return from injury, but not there yet, so Antti Raanta starts again as the Rangers visit New Jersey. Cory Schneider goes for the Devils, looking to turn around a terrible month of March (0-5-0, 3.81 GAA, .882 save percentage).

— Even though Marc-Andre Fleury recorded a shutout on Sunday, Pittsburgh will go with Matt Murray tonight in Buffalo. No word yet on a Sabres starter.

— Another big Atlantic Division tilt, as the B’s host the Sens (one night after they lost in Toronto). Looks as though Bruce Cassidy will go back to Tuukka Rask, who made 26 saves on Monday. The Sens are going with Craig Anderson, his third game in four nights.

— The red-hot Brian Elliott, currently on an 11-game winning streak, goes for Calgary tonight in Washington. The Caps will counter with Braden Holtby.

— It’s Louis Domingue versus Andrei Vasilevskiy as the Coyotes host the Lightning.

Al Montoya starts for the first time since Mar. 9 as the Habs host the Red Wings in Montreal. No word yet on a Detroit starter, though Jimmy Howard is expected to get the call.

Michael Hutchinson, who’s hasn’t start since Jan. 16, gets a rare opportunity when the Jets host the Flyers. Steve Mason, who’s been Philly’s go-to for most of March, will be in goal.

Corey Crawford, fresh off an OT win against Toronto on Saturday, goes for Chicago. The visiting Canucks have yet to name a starter, but Ryan Miller is likely after Richard Bachman played over the weekend against Edmonton.

— Good matchup in Minnesota, as Martin Jones and the Sharks take on Devan Dubnyk and the Wild.

Jake Allen, who’s rebounded fantastically to salvage his season, gets the call as the Blues visit Colorado. Calvin Pickard‘s in for the Avs.

Goalie nods: Aaron Dell goes again as Sharks give Jones some rest

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At this point in the regular season there really is not much mystery as to where the San Jose Sharks are going to end up in the standings.

They know they are going to the playoffs, and barring what would have to be a pretty significant collapse down the stretch, are more than likely going to win the Pacific Division crown. Their priority now is to simply stay healthy to be ready for the start of the postseason so they can make another run at the Stanley Cup.

Part of that is a desire to make sure starting goalie Martin Jones gets enough rest down the stretch, similar to the way he did a season ago when James Reimer started eight of the team’s final 20 regular season games.

Backup Aaron Dell has already started three of the Sharks’ first seven games this month, and he is going to get another one on Thursday night when the team hosts the St. Louis Blues.

Dell has been magnificent in his backup role this season and carries a .938 save percentage on the season into Thursday’s game. The Sharks are also riding a five-game point streak with him in the lineup (4-0-1) with Dell recording at least .939 save percentage in each game during that stretch, never allowing more than two goals in any of those games. He has allowed more than two goals just three of his 15 appearances this season and never more than three.

The Blues, entering the game having won five of their past six, have not announced their starter. Jake Allen played on Wednesday night in their loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

Elsewhere on Thursday night…

Cory Schneider gets the night off for the New Jersey Devils when Keith Kinkaid gets the start against the Philadelphia Flyers. No official word yet from the Flyers, but Steve Mason just recorded a shutout on Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Thomas Greiss had a nice bounce back game for the New York Islanders on Tuesday, stopping 30 of 32 shots, and gets the call again on Thursday night when they host the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets will counter with Connor Hellebuyck.

Pekka Rinne looks to break out of his recent funk on Thursday night when he goes against the Washington Capitals. Rinne has given up at least three goals in nine of his past 11 starts, including six starts where he has given up four goals. Braden Holtby goes for the Capitals.

Eddie Lack is back in net for the Carolina Hurricanes when they host the Minnesota Wild. It is expected that Devan Dubnyk will get the night off for the Wild, which means Darcy Kuemper would be in net.

— With Roberto Luongo still sidelined, James Reimer starts for the Florida Panthers as they try to cling to whatever remains of their playoff hopes against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets have yet to announce their starter.

— It will be Frederik Andersen vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy in a massive game in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Craig Anderson remains sidelined with a lower body injury so Mike Condon goes for the Ottawa Senators when they host the Chicago Blackhawks. No word yet from the Blackhawks.

Tuukka Rask is net for the Boston Bruins as they try to complete the Alberta sweep when they visit the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers will start Cam Talbot, because they always start Cam Talbot.

Kari Lehtonen tries to stop the bleeding for the Stars defense when they visit Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks.

— After recording a shutout in his previous start Mike Smith returns to the Arizona Coyotes net on Thursday when they host the Detroit Red Wings. No word yet from the Red Wings on their starter.

Jonathan Quick starts for the Kings as they try to get closer to a playoff spot against the Buffalo Sabres. Robin Lehner goes for the Sabres.

Goalie nods: Bobrovsky goes for fourth straight shutout, franchise record

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Sergei Bobrovsky will be going for history tonight in Columbus.

Having reeled off three consecutive shutouts, Bobrovsky can set the longest shutout streak of this NHL season and the longest in franchise history when the Jackets host Buffalo at Nationwide.

Bobrovsky needs 3:16 of shutout hockey to break Devan Dubnyk‘s mark for this year, and 19:28 to set the mark Steve Mason set for Columbus during the 2008-09 campaign.

After a so-so January and February, the Russian tender has stormed back in March with some of his finest play of the season. Technically, his bounce-back began late last month, allowing just three goals on 60 shots in consecutive outings against the Rangers and Habs.

In March? Oh, just a 38-save shutout against the Wild, then 20- and 33-save blankings of the Devils.

All told, Bobrovsky’s numbers on the year put him in the Vezina conversation. He leads the NHL in wins, with 35, to go along with a .931 save percentage and 2.05 GAA.

For the Sabres, Robin Lehner‘s in goal.

Elsewhere…

Jimmy Howard, who’s been out since Dec. 20 with an injury, will get the nod tonight when the Wings host the ‘Hawks. No word yet on a Chicago starter, but it’s very likely Corey Crawford will be the guy.

— Minnesota will give Devan Dubnyk the night off, and start Darcy Kuemper in Florida. James Reimer goes for the Panthers, who are still without No. 1 netminder Roberto Luongo. He’s dealing with a hip/groin injury.

— The Ducks haven’t made it official yet, but Jonathan Bernier could make another start tonight in St. Louis. It would be his second in as many nights, after a brilliant 43-save shutout win over Chicago last night. Jake Allen starts for the Blues.

Cam Talbot will make his NHL-leading 60th start tonight as Edmonton plays its 67th game of the year. The host Penguins are going with Marc-Andre Fleury.

Schneider wants to have that ‘playoff feeling’ again

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The New Jersey Devils are going to miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season, and Cory Schneider isn’t getting any younger.

Schneider, who turns 31 later this month, has been one of the NHL’s best regular-season goalies of the past decade. Yet after backing up Roberto Luongo in Vancouver and then getting traded to New Jersey in the summer of 2013, he only has six career postseason starts to his name.

“I came from very successful years in Vancouver,” Schneider told NorthJersey.com recently. “The success we had was tough to match. When you’re early in your career, that’s all you expect.”

He added, “That feeling, the playoff feeling, it’s the best feeling there is. I made a commitment here because I felt this team had a good, long-range plan and future and I still believe that. I’m a guy who wants to be part of the solution.”

Schneider is signed through 2021-22, so it’s not like the Devils are in danger of losing him. But with a goalie of his caliber, even though his numbers are down this season, there has to be a real sense of urgency in the organization to right the ship, and right it fairly soon.

Unfortunately, while the past few drafts have added some decent prospects to the system, the Devils do not appear on the verge of a dramatic turnaround. Currently, they’re on a nine-game losing streak. Their most recent defeat came at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche, the worst team in the league.

Schneider said he’s had “no indication from anybody that I’m not a part of the solution here,” but if GM Ray Shero were to shop his starter, there would be considerable interest, to say the least.

“That’s a conversation you can have at the end of the year,” said Schneider, who does have a no-trade clause in his contract.