Tonight in the East bubble: Devils win again, Thrashers beat Leafs in OT


Just about every night will be important for the New Jersey Devils, Atlanta Thrashers, Toronto Maple Leafs and other teams fighting for the East’s final playoff spot. Yet Sunday might be a particularly important evening for those general managers, as teams with uncertain futures were given one last chance to convince their front offices that they should be buyers rather than sellers during tomorrow’s trade deadline.

It’s tough to deny that Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon and Devils manager Lou Lamoriello are feeling quite differently about their teams, even if Tallon’s group actually holds one more point in the overall standings.

New Jersey 2, Florida 1

Since January 26th, the Devils only lost to two teams: the Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. I was going to make some convoluted joke about sun burns, but the Florida loss actually came in New Jersey.

Either way, New Jersey earned a measure of revenge by beating their bubble opponents. Better yet, they managed to do so in regulation, keeping the Rats from getting a charity point in the process. Devils coach Jacques Lemaire is making a compelling case for the Jack Adams award, as his team is an incredible 17-2-2 in their last 21 games.

While the Devils seemed to win in typical fashion (a bland, low-scoring game), there was one thing that made tonight special: Martin Brodeur earned the victory in his first start since February 6th. Brian Rolston and David Clarkson provided just enough offense for New Jersey, as they were able to limit Florida to one Marty Reasoner score to win the game.

Atlanta 3, Toronto 2 (OT)

While it was great for the Devils to win on Sunday, it hasn’t been a great weekend overall considering the fact that most of the bubble teams kept picking up points. Atlanta’s been involved in two three-point games, as the Thrashers won this game in overtime against the Maple Leafs and received a charity point against the Panthers on Friday.

The Maple Leafs built a 2-0 lead, but received what could be a crucial blow when James Reimer went down with a head injury in the second period. We’ll keep an eye out for updates regarding the team’s surprisingly effective rookie netminder, especially considering the fact that Jean-Sebastien Giguere allowed all three of those Thrashers goals.

To be fair, Atlanta threw 43 shots at Reimer and Giguere, so it’s not like the older netminder was alone in the blame. The second and third periods were especially one-sided, as the Birds out-shot the Leafs by a whopping 31-11 margin. Ron Hainsey’s overtime winner probably wasn’t Giguere’s fault, as it appeared the goalie was screened by his own defenseman.

With these results in mind, let’s take a look at the race for eighth place with some help from our NHL Standings page:

(click to enlarge)

At this moment in time, it looks like the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes are the two teams with the best chance to take the final spot in the East. Obviously, there are plenty of contenders, though, so this should be awfully fun to watch. Could it come down to a final game (or even point) like last season? Stay tuned.

With J.S. Giguere out, the Leafs turn to unlikely goalie duo of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens

With word that J.S. Giguere’s injury will keep him out about seven to 10 days, the Toronto Maple Leafs will turn to a very green goalie duo of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens for their game against the Ottawa Senators tonight.

Chris Johnston writes that they make an unlikely duo, as Reimer was once third on the Leafs’ depth chart while Scrivens came in at fifth.

The two became fast friends during the Maple Leafs’ training camp according to Johnston, but never expecting to be the two netminders dressing for a regular season NHL game. At least during the 2010-11 season, that is.

Yet that’s the case, as a startling rash of injuries pushed the two goalies up the team’s depth chart. Giguere was the most recent addition to a walking (or waddling, I guess, since they’re wearing goalie pads?) wounded list that included Jonas Gustavsson (minor heart surgery) and minor league netminder Jussi Rynnas (broken finger).

It’s likely that Reimer will get a nice run of starts, but Scrivens is an asset to the organization too … even if it’s just to get them through survival mode. The gang at Pension Plan Puppets points out that one of the perks of having the Toronto Marlies as their AHL affiliate is that Scrivens was able to play for the Marlies Friday and then backup Reimer tonight without traveling.

Considering the team’s goalie headaches, it’s nice to at least have one convenient thing going for them, after all.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere leaves Leafs’ game against Sabres with lower body injury

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ goalies keep getting banged up lately. Jonas Gustavsson was already off dealing with his own issues, but now it looks like Jean-Sebastien Giguere might be hobbled as well.

Giguere left the Maple Leafs’ game against the Buffalo Sabres during the first period tonight with what James Mirtle reports might be a lower body injury. The team will re-evaluate Giguere after the game.

Mirtle points out that the Leafs are now down three goalies and might be forced to recall Ben Scrivens from the AHL to act as James Reimer’s backup. Perhaps the silver lining to all this will be that Reimer could get a better audition to prove that he’s worthy of a full-time NHL job next season, though.

We’ll update you about as Giguere’s health as more news comes through. Don’t be surprised if it’s a groin injury, as that ailment sidelined him for 11 games already this season.

Save of the Night – Cam Ward (December 16)

There were some great saves last night (Jean-Sebastien Giguere made a similar stop to the one Tim Thomas made a while ago, although he didn’t hold onto the puck), but I’m giving bonus points for a great overall night of work.

Cam Ward probably produced the best performance of all the 18 starting goalies tonight, stopping 45 out of 47 shots as he helped the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Atlanta Thrashers in a shootout.

Ward’s best save(s) came at the most important time, as he robbed Johnny Oduya on a series of shots. Considering the fact that it took place during the waning moments of overtime really puts it over the top.

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Riding the Zamboni – Thursday, December 16th

For recaps of tonight’s first seven games, click here. Let’s get to the two latest contests now.

Edmonton 6, Columbus 3

Believe or not, Linus Omark earned last week’s goal of the week award before he actually scored his first real NHL goal. That’s because that goal came during the shootout. Instead, Omark scored his first real goal tonight, along with two assists. Jordan Eberle (two goals) and Taylor Hall (three assists) also produced on a night in which the Oilers’ youngsters were better than the Blue Jackets’ youngsters.

Kristian Huselius was explosive in defeat, scoring all three of the Blue Jackets’ tallies.

Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 37 out of 40 shots, while Steve Mason had a tough night, with Mason getting pulled after two periods because he allowed all six of Edmonton’s goals on 27 shots.

Calgary 5, Toronto 2

The Flames dominated “Neon” Dion Phaneuf‘s team in his return to Calgary, although the big defenseman wasn’t victimized very often (he finished the game with zero points and a +1 rating). He received some boos when he touched the puck, but nothing on the level of Dany Heatley.

Olli Jokinen (one goal and two assists), Niklas Hagman (one goal and one assist), Anton Babchuk (two assists) and Alex Tanguay (one goal) shined for the Flames in this contest.

Like Steve Mason and Curtis McElhinney, Jean-Sebastien Giguere didn’t make it through the entire start. He was pulled from the game after the second period, as he allowed four goals on 24 shots. Meanwhile, Miikka Kiprusoff had a light night, getting the win by stopping 17 out of 19 shots.