Jason Brough

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 24:  Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers congratulates Jonathan Huberdeau #11 after he scored against the Boston Bruins during the third period at TD Garden on March 24, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Panthers defeat the Bruins 4-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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‘Finally’ healthy, Panthers aim to win two-thirds of remaining games

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) For the Florida Panthers, the 52nd game of the season comes with an opening-night feel.

The lineup is finally whole.

Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov — two of the Panthers’ top offensive players and Jaromir Jagr‘s expected linemates entering the season — are back in the lineup, with their clearances being announced Friday before the Panthers played host to Anaheim. Huberdeau has been out since severing his Achilles tendon in the preseason, and Barkov missed more than a month while recovering from a back injury.

“Finally,” Panthers hockey operations president Dale Tallon said.

Barkov has nine goals and 18 assists in 36 games this season for Florida. Huberdeau had 59 points last season.

“Glad to be back,” Barkov said. “For me, the last month has been about working hard.”

Tallon said the severity of Huberdeau’s injury initially prompted fears that it could have been far worse. He got hurt in Florida’s preseason finale on Oct. 8 at West Point, New York.

Less than four months later, he’s back on the ice.

“The rehab went really well,” Huberdeau said. “For the last few weeks I’ve been feeling pretty good … and now I feel 100 percent and ready to go.”

The moves are timely for the Panthers, who entered Friday four points out of both the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and third place in the Atlantic Division. The top two wild-card teams and the top three in divisions make the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“We’re in a tough situation,” Tallon said. “We’ve got to win probably two out of every three games going the rest of the way. I’m very proud of our team for keeping themselves in the hunt with all the injuries and all the stuff that’s gone on this year. That shows a lot of character.”

Both were cleared for contact earlier this week and were back on the ice for practice in recent days – though it was believed that they still needed perhaps a couple of more weeks to get ready for games.

Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe lauded the effort of the team’s medical staff to get both players ready.

“It definitely helps,” Rowe said. “They’re part of the team. They’re not the whole team. We expect them to come in and play and help us shoot for a playoff spot.”

Related: With three straight losses, the Leafs have ‘let it slip away’

As the Canucks fall out of the playoff picture…decisions, decisions

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24: Jim Benning of the Vancouver Canucks attends round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Vancouver Canucks were on a nice little run for a while there.

But that run is over now  — and given their remaining schedule, it’s going to be very tough for them to get back into a playoff spot.

Vancouver never stood a chance last night against the San Jose Sharks, who rolled into Rogers Arena, dominated the first period, then coasted to a 4-1 win.

“We were a little bit sluggish in the first,” Canucks forward Daniel Sedin told reporters. “After that I thought we played a good-enough game.”

But with just three wins in their last 10 games, the Canucks have fallen three points back of the second wild-card spot in the West. Vancouver doesn’t hold any games in hand on the St. Louis Blues, who got a big win last night in Mike Yeo’s debut behind the bench.

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Next up for the Canucks? A home game Saturday against the Central Division leaders from Minnesota, followed by six straight on the road against Nashville, Columbus, Boston, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis.

Yikes.

According to Sports Club Stats, Vancouver’s chances of making the playoffs have slipped to just 7 percent. To make the cut, the Canucks will need to go in the neighborhood of 17-10-4 down the stretch.

Not likely.

As far as the March 1 trade deadline is concerned, management has called it a “fluid” situation. The Canucks will in no way be in the market for rental players, but they have not ruled out making moves. And with the expansion draft on the horizon, that’s not going to quell speculation about veterans like Jannik Hansen and Alex Burrows.

Of course, Hansen and Burrows each have a no-trade clause, and GM Jim Benning vowed back in December that he wasn’t going to ask any of his players to waive their no-trades — even if the team is out of playoff contention at the deadline.

“There’s a couple reasons why I wanted to put it out there about not trading guys with no-trade contracts,” said Benning, per Canucks Army. “The first reason is I wanted to be honest with our players and fans about not asking players to waive their no-trade contracts. The other reason is I want to try to limit the unnecessary distractions so our players can focus on getting better and winning games.”

He added, “We’ve moved some no-trade contracts the last few years, but the players we have left are important veteran players who bring our team experience and leadership. We’re going to keep them.”

Benning did allow that if a player came to him and requested a trade to a contender, he’d try to facilitate a move. So that possibility remains. Burrows is a 35-year-old pending unrestricted free agent. He may relish a chance to win a Stanley Cup elsewhere.

Hansen, meanwhile, is signed through next season with an attractive cap hit of $2.5 million. The 30-year-old winger is an obvious trade candidate to many, given he’s on a team that can’t afford to lose assets for nothing in the expansion draft.

He wants to stay, though.

“I want to play here,” Hansen told The Province after Benning’s remarks in December. “I love being around the guys. I love the city and I want to win here. And I’ve been here for a very long time. It’s nice that you don’t have to speculate as to whether they’re going to come in five days or five weeks to ask you for a list of (trade) teams.”

So, it should be an interesting month. The Canucks had a disastrous deadline experience last year. The pressure’s on for management to avoid a repeat performance.

Preds put Ribeiro on waivers after reported trade request

Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro (63) celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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Mike Ribeiro‘s days with the Nashville Predators may be over.

The Preds put the 36-year-old forward on waivers today. He’s been a healthy scratch the past three games, after finishing minus-2 in a 5-4 OT loss to Buffalo on Jan. 24.

“It’s never an ideal situation for anybody,” Preds GM David Poile said Wednesday, per The Tennessean. “It’s obviously worse for a top player, a player that has played as long as Mike has. I think that he needs to get back into the lineup at some point. If he’s not going to be playing on a regular basis, it’d probably be reason to have a talk or a meeting about it. But I have not talked to him about it yet. … I think I’m just going to have to respond to the situation based on if he’s not playing on a regular basis.”

It’s since been reported that Ribeiro has requested a trade.

Ribeiro is in the final year of his contract, which has an annual salary and cap hit of $3.5 million. He has four goals and 21 assists in 46 games this season.

It’s not clear what the Preds intend to do if Ribeiro clears waivers. They may assign him to the AHL. Or, this may simply be an attempt to get him to another team without having to trade him and retain salary.

Ribeiro entered the season already on thin ice, after his GM said he’d need to have the “summer of his life” in order to regain a top-six spot in the lineup.

“Mike Ribeiro is a big reason why we’ve made the playoffs the last two years, but he did struggle down the stretch, and in the playoffs, he was a healthy scratch a couple games,” Poile told reporters after the Preds were eliminated by the Sharks. “Mike really needs to have the summer of his life to regain his position back on the top two lines.”

With three straight losses, the Leafs have ‘let it slip away’

St. Louis Blues' Colton Parayko (55) collides with Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, of Denmark, as Maple Leafs' Roman Polak (46), of the Czech Republic, and Martin Marincin (52), of Slovakia, watch during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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All of a sudden Frederik Andersen is having a tough time, and so are his Toronto Maple Leafs.

Andersen allowed five goals on 31 shots in last night’s 5-1 loss in St. Louis, where the Blues scored three times in a span of 4:35 during the second period to put the game out of reach for the visitors.

“I’d like to make some more saves and give the team a better chance to win,” said Andersen. “In small periods like that where they come hard and score three, that’s never good. That’s one where you want to help your team out better. Everyone has got to look in the mirror and be better.”

For Andersen, after stringing together back-to-back shutouts, it was his second consecutive rough start. Tuesday in Dallas, he got yanked after surrendering three goals on eight shots in a 6-3 loss to the Stars.

For the Leafs, after a 15-game run that saw them go 11-2-2 and spend time in a playoff spot, it was their third straight regulation loss.

 

“The bottom line is we had a good thing going and we were playing good and we’ve let it slip away here,” said head coach Mike Babcock. “Now you’ve got to fight hard to get it back. There’s no sense feeling sorry for yourself or being frustrated. You’ve got to get your mind in gear, you’ve got to get your game right and you’ve got to play harder. When you do that and you play with structure, you’ll be fine. In the meantime, it’s not going as good as we’d like it to go.”

The Leafs have a big game tomorrow in Boston. With a regulation win, they can climb to within one point of the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division, and Toronto would still hold five games in hand.

“It’s going to be a playoff game – it’s not a playoff game, it’s not the playoffs, but it’s going to be an important game to both teams on Saturday night,” said Babcock. “Obviously, if you want this feeling to go away, you have to make it go away. No one is going to make it go away for you.”

Read more: Boston may be without Bergeron on Saturday

P.S. — the Bruins aren’t the only team the Leafs have to be concerned about. There’s another team in the race now: the Florida Panthers, who will get Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau back for tonight’s game against Anaheim.

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High praise for Pavelec after Jets hold off Stars

Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec (31) and left wing Nikolaj Ehlers (27) celebrate the team's 4-3 win over win over the Dallas Stars in an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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DALLAS (AP) Mark Scheifele has hurt the Dallas Stars even more than the other teams in the Central Division.

Scheifele scored two more goals against Dallas and narrowly missed two others, propelling the Winnipeg Jets to a 4-3 victory Thursday night.

At the other end, Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec made a season-high 39 saves.

Scheifele has five goals in four games between the teams this season, with the Jets winning three. He has a seven-game point streak against the Stars, with seven goals and seven assists.

“When you’re playing against teams in your division, you’ve got to buckle down,” Scheifele said. “They’re big points. Especially after the All-Star break, things ramp up.”

Dallas led 2-1 until Scheifele tied the game with 53 seconds left in the first period. He gave the Jets a 3-2 lead during a 5-on-3 power play 5:56 into the second.

The Stars just missed going ahead despite the two-man disadvantage. Jamie Benn, who had a goal and two assists, had a short-handed breakaway.

“Goalie made a good save, and then (I) kind of made a mistake in the defensive end and they put it in the back of the net,” Benn said.

Just 23 seconds later, Scheifele scored from the inside edge of the right faceoff circle.

“Go back a year and a half ago, the number of posts that (Scheifele) hit as a young guy,” Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said. “He’s got a little more poise with that puck and he’s placing it better.”

Bryan Little gave Winnipeg a 1-0 lead 6:50 into the game. John Klingberg and Benn scored for Dallas barely two minutes apart midway through the first period.

The Stars put a season-high 42 shots on goal.

Pavelec had not faced more than 37 this season. He stopped all 14 shots in a scoreless third period.

“Some high-end ones, too, on high-end shooters,” Maurice said. “The ones he could see and then a few that he didn’t see until late. He was just tracking the puck so well. Best player on the ice.

“Might be the best performance I’ve ever seen by a goaltender while I’ve been behind the bench.”

Pavelec’s teammates blocked 29 Dallas shots, including eight by Toby Enstrom. The Stars had 83 shot attempts to 43 for Winnipeg.

Kari Lehtonen made 25 saves for the Stars, but gave up the puck behind the net and didn’t skate back around in time to stop Nikolaj Ehlers‘ shot for the Jets’ final goal at 12:51 of the second period.

Patrick Eaves scored at 17:58 of the second to pull the Stars to 4-3.

Winnipeg has won a season-high three consecutive games, all on the road. The Jets had nine two-game winning streaks before that.

The Stars also entered on a two-game win streak. The loss left them two points behind Winnipeg, with both teams fighting to climb into playoff position in the Western Conference.