East update: An ideal night for idle teams

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There weren’t a ton of playoff-relevant games for the Eastern Conference tonight, yet it seemed like the big ones had some awfully interesting ripple effects. The number one theme was that it was a good night for idle teams, but here’s a roundup of what happened.

Idle Bruins clinch

The second seed isn’t a guarantee yet for the Boston Bruins, but another playoff berth is. They didn’t play on Friday but the Pittsburgh Penguins made it official when they beat the Buffalo Sabres in a 5-3 game that had a playoff atmosphere, according to Dan Bylsma via Mike Harrington.

Perhaps an even better night for the Capitals

The good news for Boston and the Washington Capitals more-or-less intertwined tonight, which is amusing (and telling of the stretch run’s whims) since they were going toe-to-toe on Thursday. Obviously, that Sabres loss is the biggest deal for the Capitals since it places Washington in eighth and Buffalo in ninth place for tiebreaker reasons – each team now has four games left – but it’s also big for the purpose of higher aims.

Considering the Florida Panthers’ surprising recent struggles, a Southeast Division title bid isn’t totally out of the question for the Capitals. The gap is now four points and Washington actually holds tiebreakers there, too – plus they’ll host what could be a huge game between the two teams on April 5.*

So yeah, tonight’s biggest winners didn’t even play. Let’s move on to the active ones that are left, though.

Time is running out for Penguins

There are plenty of good things for Pittsburgh to take from Friday. They beat the Sabres 5-3. Sidney Crosby became the seventh-youngest player to reach the 600-point plateau while Pascal Dupuis extended the NHL’s best points streak of the season to 13 games. (Click here for that story.)

Still, it’s looking likely that they’ll need to carry all their positivity into a challenging first round series against the formidable Philadelphia Flyers. The New York Rangers maintained their Atlantic Division/Eastern Conference lead at five points thanks to a demonstrative 4-1 victory against the Montreal Canadiens.

An April 5 meeting could shave that difference down to three points if Pittsburgh wins in regulation, but the Rangers hold the tiebreaker advantage and each squad only has three games remaining aside from that. It’s rarely safe to assume anything in this crazy stretch run, but the Blueshirts’ odds of winning the East’s top seed are extremely high.

In fact, their biggest competition might be for the Presidents’ Trophy. They took a one-point lead over the idle St. Louis Blues for that award today, so it wasn’t a great night for idle teams in every way.

(Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the Carolina Hurricanes are officially eliminated from playoff contention. If only they had more time …)

* – To extend the good for Washington and Boston talk, a weaker Southeast naturally makes it that much more likely for the Bruins to grab the second seed.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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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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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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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.