Jason Brough

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) makes a pad save against Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal (12) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

It’s getting close to decision time for the Carolina Hurricanes


The Carolina Hurricanes’ slim playoff hopes got even slimmer last night with a 3-1 loss in Toronto.

According to Sports Club Stats, their postseason chances have fallen to just 14.0 percent. They still have two games left before Monday’s trade deadline — tonight against the Bruins and Sunday versus the Blues — but losing to the lowly Leafs was a tough one to take.

“It doesn’t matter where they are in the standings,” defenseman John-Michael Liles told reporters. “We got outplayed pretty well in the first period and we didn’t get our legs under us until probably the second and it ended up costing us.”

Captain Eric Staal tops the list of Carolina trade candidates, but there’s also Liles and forward Kris Versteeg on expiring contracts.

“It’s obviously a tough time for Eric,” Eric’s brother/teammate, Jordan, told the Globe and Mail prior to last night’s loss. “It is part of the business, but we want to make the playoffs. We’re trying to push for that. That’s been my goal.”

Versteeg and Eric Staal are fifth and sixth in Hurricanes scoring with 33 and 32 points, respectively. If they’re traded, the club’s chances of making the playoffs would fall to just above nil.

Granted, in the long run, that may be for the best. The ‘Canes have some fine prospects to go with 23-year-old Justin Faulk, whose 15 goals are tied for third among all NHL d-men. Another good draft this summer and they could really set up a winning future. Remember, they already have two first-round picks — theirs and, thanks to last year’s Andrej Sekera trade, the Kings’ as well. 

Related: Staal won’t be ‘crushed’ if he’s traded

The Dallas Stars might have a goaltending problem

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

For a combined cap hit of $10.4 million, Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen are hardly providing the Dallas Stars with top-notch goaltending these days.

Consider: of the 33 NHL netminders with at least 25 starts, Niemi’s .904 save percentage is higher than only one — Toronto’s Jonathan Bernier (.898). Lehtonen’s .906 save percentage isn’t much better, ranking 30th.

And that’s a problem, because no team in the entire NHL has committed as much cap space to goaltending as the Stars have for this season. The hope in bringing Niemi aboard was to have two capable starters. It’s hard to say they’ve even got one right now.

Last night at American Airlines Center, Niemi allowed three goals on Winnipeg’s first eight shots. He was pulled after 20 minutes and replaced by Lehtonen, who allowed three goals on 20 shots. The Stars lost, 6-3.

“I thought our defense had a tough night with some breakdowns,” coach Lindy Ruff told reporters. “I thought our goaltending had a tough night.”

Which is always the debate when it comes to the Stars and their goals-against average — is it team defense, or is it goaltending?

Can’t it be both? As a team, Dallas has surrendered 22 goals in it last four games (1-3-0).

The bottom line for the Stars is they’ve dropped to 23rd in GAA (2.84), and you can see the company they’re keeping:


So much for being back on track.

Related: Are the Stars contenders or pretenders?

Capitals GM: ‘I view it as a two-year window’


For the Washington Capitals, the time to finally win a Stanley Cup is now.

Or if not now, next year.

After that is anyone’s guess, according to GM Brian MacLellan.

“I view it as a two-year window,” MacLellan told reporters today. “We’re going for it this year, we’re going for it next year and then after that we’re evaluating where we’re at. We’re going to have some decisions to make as far as veteran players, and our young guys are going to be due for some pay raises.”

Chief among those young guys is Evgeny Kuznetsov, who can become a restricted free agent after next season. Key veterans T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams can also become free agents after next season, the unrestricted kind.

The Caps, of course, don’t need to be told that things can change quickly in the NHL. In the last decade, they’ve gone from missing the playoffs to winning the Presidents’ Trophy to missing the playoffs to, very likely, winning the Presidents’ Trophy again.

That’s why MacLellan views it as a two-year window. He’s not saying it can’t be longer. He’s saying it’s hard to predict these things. Heck, two years ago, how many people thought the Caps would be where they are right now? Back then, Kuznetsov had yet to make his NHL debut and the Caps were on their way to firing the coach and GM.

MacLellan was also asked about his plans for the trade deadline. Based on his response, don’t expect the Caps to be too aggressive.

“When you’re adding big pieces at the deadline, it’s always a question mark whether it will work or not, chemistry-wise,” he said. “Unless you have a big hole and I don’t think we have a big hole.”

Related: The pressure builds: Caps are now 4/1 Stanley Cup favorites

Voracek: Flyers’ playoff hopes rest on ‘these next six games’

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According to the website Sports Club Stats, the Philadelphia Flyers still have an 18.1 percent chance of making the playoffs.

But according to winger Jakub Voracek, if they don’t take advantage of their next six games — all of them at home, with most of them against non-playoff opponents — it’ll pretty much be over.

“We’ve got to make at least 10 points out of these next six games,” Voracek said, per NHL.com.

“This is going to define if we’re going to make the playoffs or not; this home stand.”

The Flyers host the Wild tonight, followed by visits from the Coyotes, Flames, Oilers, Blue Jackets and Lightning.

So 5-1-0 is a possibility.

Or maybe it’s 4-0-2.

Adding to the current challenge, however, is the absence of captain Claude Giroux. He’ll miss his third straight game tonight and remains day-to-day with what’s believed to be a concussion.

Obviously, if the Flyers are going to take a run at qualifying for the postseason, it would help to have their leading scorer in the lineup. Because there’s nothing coming in the form of deadline additions; GM Ron Hextall confirmed that yesterday.

To make the playoffs, it’s estimated the Flyers will need to go in the neighborhood of 14-7-2 in their final 23 games.


Report: JVR likely done for season

James van Riemsdyk

James van Riemsdyk is likely done for the season, according to Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos.

Kypreos reports that the Maple Leafs winger has suffered a setback in his rehab from a broken foot. The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle adds that van Riemsdyk was at Air Canada Center this morning wearing a “boot/cast,” with crutches.

Van Riemsdyk had 14 goals and 15 assists in 40 games before he was forced to the sidelines.

Because the former second overall draft pick plays for a rebuilding team that isn’t expected to be competitive for a few years, there has been speculation about his future with the club.

The 26-year-old is signed through 2017-18 for a cap hit of $4.25 million.