Dallas appears ready for Kari Lehtonen to make his return from a concussion, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
The Stars returned third-string goalie Cristopher Nilstorp to AHL Texas on Monday, one day after Nilstorp had to make a relief appearance of Tim Thomas in Sunday’s ugly 7-2 loss to the Jets.
Thomas was lit up for four goals on 16 shots in yesterday’s loss, and was hooked just 29 seconds into the second period after Olli Jokinen scored to give the Jets a 4-2 lead. The 39-year-old veteran hasn’t exactly been stellar in his four games in a Stars sweater — going 2-1-1 with a .892 save percentage and 3.31 GAA — so Dallas will be keen to get Lehtonen back in goal for the playoff push.
The Finnish netminder has been out of action since suffering a concussion versus Minnesota on Mar. 8. Dallas, meanwhile, is currently tied with Phoenix on 75 points but holds the final wild card spot via tiebreaker (fewer games played). Vancouver sits just three back of the Stars and Coyotes, with 72 points.
It’s unclear if Lehtonen will be selected to start for Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh, but the Nilstorp reassignment means he’s eligible to be.
With less than a month remaining in the 2013-14 regular season, winning against fellow playoff bubble teams matters … but winning in regulation is a much sweeter victory.
The Winnipeg Jets probably did so most emphatically, as they didn’t slow down after chasing Tim Thomas on Sunday, ultimately pounding the West’s current final wild card team by an eye-popping score of 7-2.
This win emboldens Winnipeg’s chances (even if only slightly) while making Dallas’ grip a little looser on that final playoff spot. Let’s take a quick look through both conferences to see where things are at heading into Monday.
- It wasn’t pretty, but the Vancouver Canucks avoided a loss against Roberto Luongo and the Florida Panthers, taking an important 4-3 shootout win. Eddie Lack exhales.
- Winnipeg’s win is good news for the idle Phoenix Coyotes, who are tied with the Stars points-wise, although Dallas has a game in hand. The Stars and Coyotes may very well have a playoff spot on the line when they meet in Glendale on April 13.
- In the upper ranks of the Central Division, the Colorado Avalanche stayed a point ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks after the Avs beat the Ottawa Senators 3-1 while Chicago bested Detroit 4-1.
- Meanwhile, the idle Anaheim Ducks still hold a game in hand over the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks won 1-0 against the New York Rangers to give them six wins in a row and 97 standings points (the same as the Ducks, who have played 68 games to San Jose’s 69).
Here’s the West outlook, via NHL.com:
Here’s an even quicker summary of the East action:
- In the bubble, Detroit lost some ground to the Washington Capitals. Both the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes fell short against the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers respectively, leaving their outlooks that much dimmer.
- In the Atlantic Division, the Montreal Canadiens won their game to leave them second in the division while the Toronto Maple Leafs squandered an opportunity to increase their breathing room at third. The idle Tampa Bay Lightning (first wild card spot) are only one point behind Toronto with two games in hand.
- The Metropolitan Division saw a little upheaval. The Philadelphia Flyers’ win against the Pittsburgh Penguins hurts other teams in the division, as the New York Rangers were pushed down to the East’s final wild card spot (thanks also to their 1-0 loss against the Sharks). The idle Columbus Blue Jackets’ playoff hopes look a little safer after losses for Washington and New York.
Need the numbers and standings? Understandable enough:
Tim Thomas barely made it into the second period of Sunday’s important game between the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets before he was pulled for backup Cristopher Nilstorp.
Whether you paint it as Thomas having a tough go of things (four goals allowed on 17 shots), a message to the Stars from head coach Lindy Ruff (allowing 17 shots in a little more than a period is … less than ideal) or a combination of the two, this outing might make the Stars more anxious to get Kari Lehtonen back.
One thing that seems reasonable to say is that Blake Wheeler was a thorn in Thomas’ side on Sunday; he collected a primary assist on three of the four goals Thomas allowed.
Wheeler’s third helper came on this Olli Jokinen tally, which was the last straw: