Breaking down the race for the East’s final playoff spots

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Earlier this week, the NBC Sports Network gang took a look at the Eastern Conference playoff bubble, as you can see in the video below:This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Want a more detailed playoff picture? NBC’s standings page provides some extra meat, from games played to full records.

source:  (click to enlarge)

The Southleast

First things first, the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers look to be in a two-horse race to win the once-again-woeful Southeast Division. Both teams reached 55 points in 48 games, but Washington has four more wins (26 to 22). On the other hand, the Panthers have 18 home games and 16 road games left while the Caps will play 18 more road games and 16 home games, so this one could be awfully close.

As undeserving as they might seem, one of these squads will win one of the top three seeds. Let’s face it, it’s most likely to be No. 3. Whoever loses will be in a dogfight – likely for the seventh and eighth seed.

The battles for seventh and eighth

The second place team in the Southeast, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs will likely have the inside track for the top two spots at 55 points right now. The Devils have 18 home games and 16 road contests left while the Maple Leafs have 15 home games and 18 away matches remaining.

The Winnipeg Jets are probably the closest team to a “wild card” with 50 points. The Jets have 16 home games and 16 road games left, so they’re definitely facing an uphill battle to get back into the real mix.

Long shots

The Montreal Canadiens (47 points), Tampa Bay Lightning (46), New York Islanders (45), Buffalo Sabres (45) and Carolina Hurricanes (45) are all on their last legs.

Carolina might be the easiest to count out overall since they only have 31 games left this season and only 14 of those games are at home. Conversely, the one team that might have a sneaky chance to turn things around is Tampa Bay. Beyond the obvious talent on their roster, the Bolts play 20 of their final 34 games at home, so that might give them a chance to put together a run or two.

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After reading this rundown, which bubble teams strike you as the most likely to take the Eastern Conference’s final spots? Do you expect the Panthers to surprisingly take the Southeast or will the Capitals find a way to make it happen once again? Let us know in the comments.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.