Ryan Dadoun

New York Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic (3) lies on the ice after he suffered an injury on a play during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets in New York, Thursday, March 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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Not this time? Hamonic might play as soon as Game 1

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As much as teams lean on their top defensemen in the regular season, they become even more dependent on them in the playoffs, so how will the Islanders hold up going forward if they don’t have their minutes leader? Based on last year’s results, the answer is not good.

The Islanders were missing defenseman Travis Hamonic for the entire opening round of the 2015 playoffs and they ultimately lost that series to Washington in seven games. Once again Hamonic is hurt, but this time around he might be back in time to make a difference.

Hamonic (knee) seemed upbeat after practicing on Tuesday and while nothing has been decided yet, it’s possible that he might even be able to play in Game 1 of the Islanders’ series against Florida.

“You don’t want to rush guys back,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano told NHL.com. “I want him to go through some agility drills and see how he feels. But he practiced today, so [Wednesday] if he has a good day, it’s something we’ll think about for Thursday.

Hamonic led the Islanders in terms of minutes per game in 2014-15 with 21:47 and that’s gone up to 23:49 minutes per contest this season. What makes that 2015-16 statistic more impressive is the fact that the Islanders use him rather sparingly with the man advantage. In fact, if you just look at even strength minutes per game, Hamonic finished fifth in the NHL. So losing him puts considerable strain of the remainder of the Islanders’ defensive core.

If you’re interested in getting a sense of the many injuries playoff teams are dealing with, click here.

Pens goalie Murray exits after collision with Brayden Schenn

Buffalo Sabres' Jake McCabe (29) backhands a shot behind Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray for a goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, March 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins have been dealt another significant blow.

Already battered by injuries, they scratched Sidney Crosby (bumps and bruises) and Kris Letang (healthy) Saturday afternoon in what was likely an effort to protect two of their key players. Matt Murray made the start though and left the game following a collision with Philadelphia Flyers forward Brayden Schenn.

The Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t been able to use Marc-Andre Fleury since March 31 due to a concussion, but Murray has made his absence far easier for the Penguins to cope with. The 21-year-old rookie has posted a 2.05 GAA and .927 save percentage in 12 starts this season, not including Saturday’s contest.

If Murray isn’t available for the beginning of the playoffs then that further complicates the Penguins’ goaltending situation. Obviously the ideal is that Fleury will start in Game 1, but it’s not clear if that will happen.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was asked on Friday about the possibility of Fleury playing in today’s season finale and had this to say to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “It is a possibility? Yes. It is a probability? Probably not. In a perfect world, would we like to get him in a game? Sure we would. But that’s not always possible. We know Marc is making progress, and that’s a positive sign. That’s encouraging from our standpoint.”

In other words, it sounds like Fleury probably isn’t ready yet, but might be by the time the first round starts.

Meanwhile, Jeff Zatkoff replaced Murray this afternoon.

Update: Sullivan report that, “For precautionary reasons, it makes sense for us to keep (Murray) out,” per the team’s Twitter feed.

Rangers lost Eric Staal Saturday, but ‘he should be fine’

EricStaal
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The New York Rangers earned a 3-2 win over Detroit Saturday afternoon. That’s important from a seeding perspective, but that victory came at a potential cost as Eric Staal left the game due to what initially looked like it might be a head injury.

You can see below that teammate Jesper Fast appeared to accidentally hit Staal in the head:

After the game though, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault downplayed Staal’s absence as being a precautionary measure.

“He should be fine,” Vigneault said, per the Rangers’ Twitter feed.

It’s not hard to see the logic in keeping Staal out regardless of his condition following the hit. The Rangers had secured their playoff spot prior to Saturday’s contest, so there’s no reason to push Staal if there’s even the slightest chance that he might be less than 100%.

That’s especially true because while, as stated at the top, winning today did impact the Rangers from a seeding perspective, you could debate whether or not that’s a positive. The Rangers now hold the third seed in the Metropolitan Division and the Islanders would need to earn three of a possible four points this weekend to change that.

The third Metropolitan Division seed leads to a series against the Pittsburgh Penguins though, while the alternative – the first Wild Card seed – will feature a first round matchup against the Florida Panthers. Pittsburgh is by far the hotter team when compared to Florida, has more star power, and holds the better record, albeit by a slim margin.

That being said, at least the Rangers are entering the playoffs on a winning note.

Red Wings stumble into playoffs, Bruins in serious trouble

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The streak has been preserved.

For the 25th consecutive season, the Detroit Red Wings have advanced to the playoffs. That streak ties the St. Louis Blues and puts Detroit four seasons shy of matching the Boston Bruins’ all-time streak.

Speaking of the Bruins, the Red Wings aren’t making the playoffs thanks to their own efforts on Saturday. Detroit suffered a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers, but in the end it didn’t matter because Ottawa crushed the Bruins 6-1.

Boston had to start backup Jonas Gustavsson because Tuukka Rask was sick and while that certainly didn’t help matters, it would be unfair to put this blowout solely on Gustavsson’s shoulders.

Regardless, Boston and Detroit have now both finished the season with 93 points in 82 games. However, because the Red Wings control the tiebreaker, they secured the third Atlantic Division seed while Boston is in the second Wild Card spot. The problem for the Bruins now is that the Philadelphia Flyers are just one point shy of them and have two games left, including their ongoing contest against Pittsburgh.

If Philadelphia gets at least two points in its last two games, Boston will miss the playoffs and the Flyers will get that second Wild Card spot. In other words, the Bruins’ fate is now entirely out of their hands.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins at Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers' Claude Giroux in action during an NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
AP Photo

The stakes couldn’t be much higher for the Philadelphia Flyers going into today’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, which is set to start at 3:00 p.m. ET.

Going into the third period of Boston’s game versus Ottawa, the Senators had a 4-1 lead, which makes this game all the more important for Philadelphia. If Boston loses, then regardless of the outcome of the Detroit-New York Rangers game (which is also in progress), the Flyers can secure a playoff spot with a win against Pittsburgh this afternoon.

You can watch the action on NBC or view it online by clicking on the link below:

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Some more information about this afternoon’s contest:

NHL on NBC: Penguins look to crush Flyers’ playoff dreams

Flyers catch a break: Penguins scratch Crosby, Letang