It was a busy Tuesday with 9 games on the NHL schedule, and nearly half of them ended in a shutout (including 2 in one game). Five of the 6 Eastern Conference games had direct playoff implications, as did all 3 Western Conference games. Here is a quick tour around the league:
- Joffrey Lupul scored twice in the third period to lift the Leafs to a 3-2 win over the Panthers. Dion Phaneuf had the other goal for Toronto, who now sit 7 points up on 9th, which should be enough to clinch a playoff spot, in not mathematically then virtually. Tomas Fleischmann and Shawn Matthias replied for the Panthers.
- Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun combined for a 37 save shutout as the Penguins blanked the Canadiens 1-0 in a battle of the two top seeded teams in the East. Sidney Crosby was the lone Penguin to beat Carey Price, who made 24 stops. The Penguins 13th straight win gives them a 7 point cushion over the Bruins (who now have the 2nd seed) and the Habs.
- The Islanders won a battle of the teams tied for 10th place and leapfrogged Carolina for 9th place with a 3-2 win over Washington. The Isles are in sole possession of 9th, two points behind the Rangers. Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey scored first period goals for the Isles, but Mike Ribeiro and John Carlson tied it up with second period markers. John Tavares‘ 20th of the season broke the tie with just over 5 minutes left to give the Islanders the huge win.
- Carolina got the opening goal from Jiri Tlusty, but it was the Evander Kane show after that as Winnipeg scored a big 4-1 win over the Hurricanes, putting them 6 points up on the Canes for the top spot in the Southeast division. Kane had assists on the first 3 Jets goals (scored by Olli Jokinen, Tobias Enstrom and Nik Antropov) before capping off the victory with a goal of his own. The Canes do have 3 games in hand, but they now need to win them all to challenge the Jets for the Division lead and possibly the only Southeast team to get a playoff spot. The Canes dropped to 10th in the conference with the loss combined with the Islanders win.
- The Rangers got a big win for themselves and virtually put the final nail in the Flyers’ coffin at the same time with a 5-2 win over Phiadelphia. Derek Stepan led the way with a goal and three assists, while Rick Nash added a pair of goals and an assist. The Rangers hold the 8th and final playoff spot, with a 2 point cushion on the 9th place Islanders.
- In a game the Buffalo absolutely needed to win, the already “virtually” eliminated Lightning got a goal and an assist from Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis to give Tampa a 2-1 win. The loss puts the Sabres 5 points behind the Rangers for 8th, with 4 teams to pass. Jordan Leopold was the only Sabre to beat Mathieu Garon in the Lightning net.
- Edmonton kept their playoff hopes alive as Nikolai Khabibulin made 43 saves to shut out the Blues 3-0. The kid line of Jordan Eberle (2G, 1A), Taylor Hall (1G, 2A) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2A) did all the damage for Edmonton, as they are going to have to dominate like that down the stretch if they want to make up the 3 point deficit to catch a playoff spot, as they also have to leapfrog 4 teams to get there.
- Ray Emery needed to stop just 16 Flames shots to get the shutout as Chicago beat Calgary 2-0. Patrick Kane assisted on both goals, by defensemen Nick Leddy and Brent Seabrook. The Flames have lost 10 straight road games and should be ready for a fire sale to begin the long-awaited rebuild.
- If you were suffering from insomnia the Vancouver-Columbus game could have been the cure, as both Cory Schneider (17 saves) and Sergei Bobrovsky (34 saves) were credited with shutouts after not allowing a goal through 65 minutes. Maxim Lapierre was the only player among the 6 shooters to score in the shootout, giving the Canucks a 1-0 win. The win puts the Canucks up 2 points on the Wild for first in the Northwest, while the single point draws the Blue Jackets within a point of 8th in their unlikely playoff chase.
That concludes our tour around the NHL. Playoff implications abound in almost every game from here on out, which makes for great hockey. There are just 4 games on Wednesday night, but a huge game between the Bruins and Habs. The teams are tied for the top spot in the Northeast, and a Boston win would put them 2 points up with a game in hand. Check back tomorrow for a recap of all the action.