Jason Brough

Shayne Gostisbehere, Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux
AP

Flyers need that ‘killer instinct now’

With a win tonight over the worst team in the NHL, the Philadelphia Flyers would greatly improve their chances of making the playoffs.

Should, on the other hand, they blow it against the visiting Maple Leafs, there’s no telling what could happen in their final two games of the regular season. The Flyers host red-hot Pittsburgh Saturday, then play in Brooklyn Sunday against an Isles side that’s already guaranteed its spot in

the postseason.

As you surely know by now, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Boston are all fighting for the final two playoff spots in the East, meaning one of those teams is going to end up disappointed.

“We have to have a killer instinct now,” Flyers goalie Steve Mason said, per CSN Philly. “We can’t let these games get away from us.”

Especially tonight’s game, against a Toronto squad that was built to be bad. The Leafs have dropped six of their last seven in regulation, including last night’s 5-1 loss to Columbus that left their head coach, Mike Babcock, fuming.

After Babcock’s tongue-lashing, don’t be surprised if the Leafs are a touch more competitive tonight. The Flyers should still beat them — they’d better beat them– but they’ll need to be sharper than they were last night in Detroit, where they were shut out, 3-0, by the Red Wings.

“We still know we have everything in our control,” said captain Claude Giroux. “We’re disappointed we didn’t get any points (in Detroit), but we’ve got three games left and we know we can do this.”

Related: Bergeron calls on the Bruins to “go out there and do it”

Blackhawks expecting to be healthy for playoffs

Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov, of Russia, celebrates after scoring a goal against the Nashville Predators in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
AP
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CHICAGO (AP) The Chicago Blackhawks think they will be at full strength when the NHL playoffs start next week.

Right now, not so much.

The defending Stanley Cup champions will be without goaltender Corey Crawford and forwards Artem Anisimov, Marian Hossa and Andrew Shaw when they take on the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Crawford, Anisimov and Shaw are out with upper-body injuries, and Hossa is making his way back from a lower-body injury. Crawford and Hossa participated in Chicago’s morning skate, and it looks as if Crawford will return for Saturday’s season finale at Columbus for his first game since a 5-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on March 14.

“We got him targeted for Saturday,” coach Joel Quenneville said.

The 37-year-old Hossa, just one shy of 500 career goals, got hurt during Sunday’s 6-4 win against Boston. He skated for about 20 minutes by himself before Thursday’s morning skate and felt good enough to join his teammates for practice. He also could return against the Blue Jackets, but sounded as if he wanted to be cautious.

“If it is meant to be and I feel great in a couple days, I’ll play,” he said. “If not, you know the health is more important at this time of the year.”

Anisimov left in the second period of Chicago’s 6-2 win over Arizona on Tuesday night after taking a big hit. Anisimov, who has 20 goals and 22 assists in his first season with Chicago, centers the Blackhawks’ potent second line with rookie Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane on the wings.

“He is fine,” Quenneville said. “He is out today, and I’m going to say questionable and doubtful for Saturday, but he’ll be fine.”

Shaw is expected to return for the start of the playoffs. He got hurt during Friday’s 5-4 overtime win at Winnipeg.

The Blues have their own injury issues. Goaltender Jake Allen and forward David Backes are out with lower-body injuries, but could return for the start of the playoffs. Center Steve Ott had hamstring surgery in December, and then was diagnosed with colitis. Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and rookie forward Robby Fabbri also have been hurt, but could return against Chicago.

While Anisimov and Shaw missed the morning skate, Bryan Bickell rejoined the team after he was promoted from Rockford of the AHL on Wednesday. The 30-year-old Bickell spent much of this season with the IceHogs after helping Chicago win the Stanley Cup last year. The rugged winger, who signed a $16 million, four-year deal in 2013, has 20 goals and 19 assists in 75 career playoff games.

“We know at this time of the year his play seems to rise to the challenge of playing important games,” Quenneville said, “and he brings an element that he’s got all the tools to help our team.”

Related: Duncan Keith to miss first game of playoffs due to suspension

 

Ennis has ‘great day’ at Sabres practice, but admits concussion scared him

Tyler Ennis
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It’s a scary thing to have a concussion — especially these days with all we’ve learned about the devastating long-term effects that concussions can have.

Sabres forward Tyler Ennis can tell you all about the fear. He sustained a concussion Dec. 30 on a hit by Alex Ovechkin.

“It’s a really difficult thing,” Ennis told the Buffalo News today after practicing with his Sabres teammates for the first time in months.

“I went through a lot of different emotions, a lot of ups and downs, so yeah, there’s really bad days. There’s days where you feel great and there’s days where it’s tough. To say I wasn’t scared at some point would be probably a lie, but I feel so good right now. I feel great. I feel 100 percent.”

Ennis hasn’t been cleared for contact, and he reportedly won’t play in the Sabres’ final two games of the season.

But today?

“Today was a great day,” he said.

‘As of today,’ Benning sees Desjardins returning as Canucks coach

Jim Benning, Willie Desjardins, Trevor Linden
AP
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About a month ago, Canucks president of hockey operations Trevor Linden confirmed a report that head coach Willie Desjardins would be back next season.

In doing so, Linden praised Desjardins for his work with Vancouver’s young players and said “there’s no reason for us to consider a change.”

The Canucks were struggling at the time, but they’ve really struggled since, with just three wins in their last 13. They got thumped, 6-2, last night in Edmonton, one of the more embarrassing losses of the campaign.

And so, today, GM Jim Benning was asked again about Desjardins.

Specifically, he was asked if there was any doubt in his mind that Desjardins would be the coach at training camp.

“Well, as of today, no,” Benning told TSN 1040 radio (audio).

It was an interesting way of putting it, since he could’ve just said “no.”

Instead, he prefaced it with “as of today.”

That has many wondering if the Canucks are going to wait and see how things shake out elsewhere around the league. For example, what if the Bruins miss the playoffs and fire Claude Julien — would the Canucks take a run at him? What if the Blues have another early exit — would Ken Hitchcock become available?

It’s all speculation, but to steal Benning’s phrase, as of today, one of the main arguments for keeping Desjardins is the lack of outstanding candidates to replace him.

And that could change soon, depending what happens elsewhere.

Backstrom feels ‘100 percent,’ will return for Caps tonight

Nicklas Backstrom
AP
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Washington Capitals fans can breathe a sigh of relief today after learning Nicklas Backstrom is healthy enough to play tonight versus Pittsburgh.

Backstrom has missed the last three games with an upper-body injury.

“He’s one of the best centermen in the National Hockey League,” Caps coach Barry Trotz told reporters, per CSN Washington. “Getting him back gives us a little more depth, a few more options and a real good player back in.”

Backstrom is expected to center Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, with a second line of Evgeny Kuznetsov between Andre Burakovsky and Justin Williams.

The 1-2 combination of Backstrom and Kuznetsov is a big reason the Caps have been so successful during the regular season, so having a healthy Backstrom heading into arguably the most important postseason in franchise history is rather important.

“I feel like I’m 100 percent,” Backstrom said, per the Washington Post. “I think it’s important, too, that you feel good before you come back because we’ve clinched a playoff spot already, so there’s no need to rush back, I think. But at the same time, you want to play a couple games before.”