As we get deeper into February and closer to the NHL trade deadline, it becomes more apparent every week that it is a three team race in the Atlantic division. Judging by the strength of the Metropolitan division, Tampa Bay, Boston, and Toronto are going to be the only three teams from the Atlantic division making it into the playoffs. In the weeks to come, we will see what those three teams do to become stronger for their playoff push and what the other remaining teams do as they focus on the future.
This past week, Toronto joined Tampa Bay and Boston with over 70 points on the season. They will be the only teams from the Atlantic division representing in the playoffs as the fourth-place Detroit Red Wings are 18 points behind. The Wings 53 points is good enough for 25th in the league. Five of eight of the league’s worst teams come from the Atlantic division.
Let’s take a look at the week that was.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightnings 2-1-0 week gave them 79 points on the season and they remain three points better than the league’s second best. After dropping their last game of their road trip to the Edmonton Oilers 6-2, the Bolts took back to back home games against Vancouver and Los Angeles. In their three games, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov combined for seven points. It was the first time Kucherov found the back of the net in 13 games. The Lightning are able to get away with their stars disappearing here and there because of how balanced they are, but as crunch time approaches and the playoffs begin, they won’t be able to afford Kucherov getting that cold for that long.
The Boston Bruins had two sets of back-to-back’s last week. After defeating the Red Wings in Detroit on Tuesday, they went into Madison Square Garden on Wednesday and blew out the Rangers 6-1. They returned home for a game against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday for which they suffered a disappointing loss. The Bruins got two points back in New Jersey on Sunday, after defeating the Devils 5-3. Patrice Bergeron (25-24-49) is just a point away from joining linemates Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak in the 50 point club. With over 25 games remaining, the Bruins could see their first line all have 65+ points on the year.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs are the final team over .500 in the division. They did a great job keeping track with the red-hot Boston Bruins this past week, capturing all six of the possible points that were up for grabs. Their offense erupted for 13 goals in their three games where they beat the Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators, and Ottawa Senators. Goaltender Frederik Andersen has started an eye-opening 47 of the teams 56 games. His heavy workload has paid off though, as he ranks fifth in the league in wins. Sitting just five points out of second place, the Leafs eyes are on the Boston Bruins for that potential first-round matchup in the playoffs.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings are currently fourth place in the division, but the drop off from the Toronto Maple Leafs is steep. After losing to the Boston Bruins 3-2 at home, the Wings hit the road for games against the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals. The Islanders ended up stealing the game from the Red Wings thanks to a match penalty on Tyler Bertuzzi. With about seven minutes to go, Tyler Bertuzzi hacked Cal Clutterbuck right above the knee and was assessed a five-minute major penalty. Down 5-2, the Islanders scored four power-play goals in that span and took the lead. The Isles ended up winning the game in overtime. The Red Wings did bounce back with a win over the Metropolitan leading Washington Capitals.
It was a light week for the Florida Panthers with just two games against the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings. They beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-1 but ended up dropping the game to the LA Kings to the same result. It does not look like the playoffs will be a thing this year, but the future does look bright. In a situation similar to the Boston Bruins, Aleksander Barkov is just two points away from 50 on the season and will join teammates Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck with over 50 when he does so. Like the Bruins, these three teammates could all have 65+ points at the end of the year and none of them are 25 yet.
On The Fly:
– Similar to the Florida Panthers, the Canadiens only had two games last week. The light work week only yielded one point though. After losing to the Philadelphia Flyers on the road, the Habs were defeated in a shoot out by the Nashville Predators. Carey Price, who has been just a shell of himself this season, was between the pipes for both losses. This season, Price is just 15-20-5 and his 2.92 GAA ranks 37th in the league.
– The season for the Ottawa Senators has been a complete disappointment. There at the point now where as they play for pride, every win actually hurts them in the long run. This past week, they captured four of a possible six points and it gave them 47 points on the season. They are now nine points ahead of the Arizona Coyotes, who hold on to that coveted lottery pick.
– The Buffalo Sabres and in the NHL in general were dealt a blow when Jack Eichel went down with a leg injury during a game against the Boston Bruins. It was announced that the injury suffered was a high ankle sprain and Eichel will be sidelined 4 to 6 weeks. The Sabres took five of the possible eight points that were up for grabs last week, including a surprising win on the road against the Boston Bruins.