Crunch time has arrived and the push for the playoffs is in full tilt with just over three weeks to go. The biggest question surrounding the Atlantic division is how many teams will represent in the postseason? Will it just be the three or can the Florida Panthers put it all together to steal a wildcard spot? Time will only tell.
As for the Florida Panthers, a frustrating loss to the Ottawa Senators last night halted their nine-game point streak. Three third-period goals, including two in the final three minutes by the Senators is what did it. However, earlier in the week the Panthers showed that they can compete with the best when they took the Tampa Bay Lightning to overtime in Tampa Bay. They grabbed five out of a possible eight points during the week and as it stands now, they are three points behind the New Jersey Devils for the final wild-card spot. They have two games in hand on the Devils.
Presidents Trophy Quest
For the majority of the year, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been the league’s best, and with that comes the coveted Presidents Trophy. An award that acknowledges the team with the most points at the end of the season. For a while it had been teams in their own conference that were putting the pressure on them. Now, the Nashville Predators are in the mix out of the West as they sit just two points back.
This past week, the Lightning did a clean sweep of the Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, and Montréal Canadiens. The Hart trophy favorite, Nikita Kucherov, leads the league with 88 points and has a realistic shot at hitting the century mark this year. There three remaining games with the Boston Bruins are going to be appointment TV and their first is this Saturday in Tampa Bay*.
Boston’s Lineup Woes?
The Boston Bruins finished a six-game home stand on Saturday and did it in historic fashion. They became just the seventh team in NHL history to sweep a six-game home stand and they finished it off with a 7-4 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday. They took care of business even with a diminished lineup. Patrice Bergeron has been out with a broken foot, Charlie McAvoy suffered a sprained MCL and may miss the end of the regular season, David Backes missed the final two games because of a suspension. But the moves at the trade deadline were made for something like this. Brian Gionta and Tommy Wingels were able to slide into the offense, and Nick Holden helped man the blue line.
The six-game winning streak was snapped on Sunday in Chicago on the second half on a home and home with you Blackhawks. With those three players still out, the Bruins took another hit when it was announced Brad Marchand would miss the game with an upper body injury. After tying the game at one late, the Bruins allowed two late power-play goals in the third. While any loss leads to frustration, the Bruins should not hang their heads for a long with that many prominent players out on the end of a back-to-back. The depth this team has is going to create options down the stretch and into the postseason, and options are never a bad thing.
*Could you imagine if Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay was in Boston? St. Patrick’s Day on a Saturday in Boston, with a 7 PM puck drop?! The TD Garden would be rocking.
Matthews Return Is Close
The Toronto Maple Leafs have had a light schedule over the last two weeks with just five games and they are probably happy that it was. Since Auston Matthews went down with a shoulder injury, the Leafs have struggled. With just two wins in the six games he has missed, they snapped a four-game losing streak on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s unknown when, but Matthews return is going to come at the perfect time. It looks more and more like Toronto is locked into the third spot in the Atlantic but crazier things have happened and 12 games in 25 days will be a test.
On The Fly:
– The Detroit Red Wings have struggled mightily over the last two weeks. Thanks to a 0-3-1 week, they have now gone winless in seven games. It’s clear and it’s been known for a while that all eyes are on the 2018-19 season, and maybe even the one after it, but it just feels weird seeing – Hockeytown where they are.
– The Montréal Canadiens must be counting down the days until the season is over. They are dropping like flies. You know Shea Weber has been out since December, and Carey Price since the end of February, but Max Pacioretty might not return to the lineup this year either. Over the weekend Philip Danault missed time with a head injury. They are limping to the finish line and this last week showed it as they went 0-3-1 and were outscored 19 – 8.
– The Ottawa Senators have struggled all year but it seems they are still playing for pride. They managed to grab five of a possible eight points this past week and did so spoiling the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers who are trying to make a playoff push. Matt Duchene has seem to find his game as well, tallying three goals and two assists on the week. Getting him some confidence heading into next year could pay major dividends.
– Like the Montréal Canadiens, the Buffalo Sabres injury report is starting to fill up as their lackluster season winds down. Jack Eichel still hasn’t returned to the lineup from an injury in early February and Kyle Okposo will miss extended time after being diagnosed with a concussion this past week. Role players like Evan Rodrigues, Seth Griffith, and Kyle Criscuolo have also been out, leading to a Who’s Who lineup. They are now just one point ahead of the Arizona Coyotes in a “race” for the number one draft lottery spot.
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