Flyers rise, Leafs fall, Islanders lurk on busy night in East playoff races

Getty
4 Comments

On a busy night for the Eastern Conference’s bubble teams, the Philadelphia Flyers probably ended up being the biggest winners.*

Let’s try to sort things out lightning-round style, then we’ll take a look at where the most relevant East bubble teams stand.

  • The Philadelphia Flyers grabbed their third straight win, and it was a significant one, edging the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1. The Flyers move ahead of the Leafs and other teams for the second wild card spot in the East, although Philly’s edge on Toronto looks a lot shakier when you factor in games in hand (more on that in a moment). Still, it was a big win for the Flyers.
  • The Maple Leafs really might be the biggest losers of the night, at least among teams whose chances seem most realistic right now. The Ottawa Senators lost, but they lost in overtime (3-2 to the Calgary Flames), so they have a three-point edge on the Maple Leafs. The Boston Bruins won a hectic 4-3 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins to move one point ahead of Toronto … but again, for now. The games in hand things is going to come up again.
  • The Florida Panthers managed to get the extra point against the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 2-1 overtime win. The Cats aren’t in a position of strength, yet they can’t be discounted altogether, either.
  • The New York Islanders continue to rise in the East, gaining another win against an opponent in “contender” position. Andrew Ladd (yes, Ladd) scored two goals as the Isles beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1, giving the Islanders a six-game point streak. They still need to make up some ground, yet they’re a reminder of how much of a difference a surge can make. Even with the Habs hobbling a bit lately, that’s impressive stuff.

Phew, that’s a lot to digest, right?

Well, this might make things a little easier to follow. Let’s break things down by way of the Atlantic Division races and also the bubble races overall.

Races for the last two spots in the Atlantic

2. Senators – 58 points in 47 games
3. Bruins – 56 points in 52 GP

Maple Leafs – 55 points in 47 GP
Panthers – 52 points in 50 GP

As you can see, the Bruins lead the Maple Leafs for that third spot … but that’s a huge chunk of games for Toronto to make up ground (at least in an era rife with three-point games). Boston might end up being more concerned about the East bubble races, then, so that’s a good excuse to look at that situation.

Wild card

1. Rangers – 63 points in 49 GP
2. Flyers – 56 points in 50 GP

Maple Leafs – 55 points in 47 GP
Panthers – 52 points in 50 GP
Islanders – 51 points in 47 GP
Lightning – 50 in 50
Sabres – 49 in 47
Hurricanes – 49 in 48
Red Wings – 49 in 49
Devils 49 in 50

With the Rangers likely out of reach, the Maple Leafs (and maybe the other somewhat-close Atlantic teams) must eye teams like the Flyers, Senators and Bruins instead. Games in hand make things interesting, particularly if you’re an Islanders fan dreaming of big gains or a Leafs fan being quite realistically optimistic.

If Thursday is any indication, there’s a lot of room for movement in these races for East playoff spots.

* – The Washington Capitals are probably the biggest winners of all in the East if not the NHL, as they continued their pattern of bullying teams by beating the New Jersey Devils 5-2.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

mark stone surgery
Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced Wednesday.

The Knights termed the procedure Tuesday as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

brunette dui
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
0 Comments

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested early Wednesday morning in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released later Wednesday on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

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.