Caps playoff race update-328

Caps playoff race update-328
March 28, 2011, 2:57 pm
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Monday, March 28, 2011, 10:41 a.m.

By Ben Raby


1. Philadelphia Flyers100 PTS -7 games remaining (3 home,4 away).
The Flyers have been atop the Eastern Conference since Jan. 8, but they'll have to fend off the Capitals and Penguins if they hope to stay there. Philadelphia leads both Washington and Pittsburgh by two points, with one game in hand on both teams. The Flyers missed a pair of opportunities to increase their conference lead losing in back-to-back shootouts to the Caps and Pens last week.

Rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was pulled from the loss against the Caps after giving up three goals on nine shots, but he's looked good in his two starts since then, stopping 66 of 68 shots.Philadelphia remains without No. 1 defenseman Chris Pronger for at least another week (broken hand). Pronger has resumed skating with his teammates and is hopeful to return before theplayoffs.

Tues: @ Penguins
Thurs: vs. Thrashers
Fri:@ Devils
Sun: vs. Rangers

2. Washington Capitals - 98 PTS -6 games remaining (4 home,2 away).

The Capitals can clinch their fourthSoutheast Division titlein as many years as early as Friday. The Caps magic number is seven points (i.e. any combination of seven points gained by the Caps or lost by the Lightning). Washington is also one win away from cementing a third straight 100-point season for thesecond time in franchise history (1983-86).

Bruce Boudreau said last Thursday that he expects Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott to return to the lineup by the end of this coming week - perhaps either against Columbus Thursday, or against Buffalo Saturday. Mike Green and Tom Poti could return before the end of the regular season as well, but Boudreau has said that he wants Green in particular to get at least three "good practices" under his belt beforereturning to the lineup.

Of the Capitals six remaining games, five are against teams currently on the outside of a playoff position. The Caps also host the Sabres in what could be a playoff preview.

Tues: vs. Hurricanes
Thurs: vs. Blue Jackets
Sat:vs. Sabres

3. Boston Bruins -94 PTS -7 games remaining (5 home,2 away).

The Bruinsappear on their way to a second Northeast Division title in three years after beating rival Montreal7-0 last Thursday at TD Garden. Boston has a seven point cushion on the division lead with a favorable schedule down the stretch. Of the Bruins seven remaining games, five are against teams on the outside of a playoff position.

The Bruinscan also increase their chances of a higher draft pick by beating the lottery-bound Maple Leafs on Tuesday.BostonacquiredToronto's first round pick in this June's draftas part of the deal that sent Phil Kessel north of the border in 2009.

Tues: vs. Blackhawks
Thurs: vs. Maple Leafs
Sat: vs. Thrashers
Sun: @ Flyers

4. Pittsburgh Penguins 98 PTS -6 games remaining (2 home,4 away).
The Penguinshavenot only won four straight games to pull within two points of the conference leading Flyers, butall four wins have come via the shootout.

One of those wins came last Thursday in Philadelphia, and the Penguins can tie the Flyers atop the standings should they earn a regulation winon Tuesday when these teams meet again, this time in Pittsburgh.

Sunday's 2-1 shootout win over the Panthers improved the Penguins record in one goal gamesto 13-1-5 since Sidney Crosby went down with a concussion Jan. 5. Crosby continues to progress in his rehab, pushing himself harder and skating for longer stretches.

According to Rogers Sportsnet in Canada, Crosby could return for the final three games of the regular season. The Penguins host the Devils in their home finale April 5, followed by road games against theIslanders and Thrashers.

Tues:vs. Flyers
Thurs: @ Lightning
Sat:@ Panthers

5. Tampa Bay Lightning - 91 PTS - 7 games remaining (3 home,4 away).

Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was quieton trade deadline day, but perhaps his team could have benefited from one or two changes. The roster that Yzerman kept intact has provided him with just three wins in 13 games since the Feb. 28 deadline.

The Lightning have seen the Capitals take control of the Southeast Division, have likely played themselves out of home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and are now in danger of following even further down the conference standings.

Ofconcern for Tampa Bay should be the production (or lack thereof) from Steven Stamkos. Stamkos has gone a season-high five games with a point, and has just two goals in his last 13 games. Stamkos, with 43 goals on the season,has also been passed for the NHL lead by Anaheim's Corey Perry and his 44 goals.

Tues: vs. Senators
Fri: vs. Penguins
Sat: @Wild
Sun: @ Blackhawks

6. Montreal Canadiens - 87 PTS -6 games remaining (2 home,4 away).

The Canadienshad a scheduled day off cancelled Sunday and were skated as hard as they've been by coach Jacques Martin since training camp, according to The Montreal Gazette. That's what happens when the Canadiens go three straight games without a goal for the first time since 1949.

It was a miserable week in Montreal with the Canadiens losing 2-0 to Buffalo, 7-0 in Boston and 2-0 to Washington. The Canadiens have not scored in 186:05, and among those not finding the back of the net are some of Montreal's top six forwards. Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri havescored twice eachin their last 13 games. Brian Gionta has scored just once in his last nine games, and Scott Gomez has gone 23 games without a goal.

Tues: vs. Thrashers
Wed: @ Hurricanes
Sat:@ Devils

7. New York Rangers - 87 PTS -6 games remaining (3 home,3 away).

There is no team in the Eastern Conference playing better hockey right now than the New York Rangers. The Rangers are 8-1-1 in their last ten games and 6-0-1 in their last seven, thanks in large part to goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

'King Henrik' has started 20 straight games for the Rangers, and earned a pair of 1-0 shutouts last week against the Panthers and Bruins. Lundqvist has an NHL-best 11 shutouts on the season and is second in the Eastern Conference with 33 wins (Carey Price, 34).

Wed: @ Sabres
Thurs: @ Islanders
Sun: @Flyers

8. Buffalo Sabres -85 PTS -7 games remaining (3 home, 4 away).

The Sabres have thrived under new owner Terry Pegula who completed his purchase ofhis hometownteam in February. Buffalo is 11-3-3 in its last 17 games and the Sabres have increased their lead on ninth place Carolina tofive points. The Sabres and Hurricanes meet in Carolina, April 3, in the 79th game of the season for both teams. The Sabres will be in Washington one day earlier to face the Capitals.

Tues: @ Maple Leafs
Wed: vs. Rangers
Sat:@ Capitals
Sun: @ Hurricanes

9. Carolina Hurricanes -80 PTS -7 games remaining (4 home,3 away).

The Hurricanesappear to be the only team on the outsideof a playoff position that still has a shotat qualifying for the post-season. That said, itwon't be easy for a Carolina team that trails Buffalo by five points, with seven games remaining.The Capitals could have a say with games this week against both the Hurricanes and Sabres. Ultimately Carolina's best shot at getting back in the race could be next Sunday when the host the Sabres at the RBC Center.

Included among the Hurricanes' final seven games are three sets of back-to-backs. Don't be surprised to see Cam Ward start every one of them. Ward has started 33 of the past 34 games and is expected to start every game as long as the Hurricanes remain in playoff contention.

Tues:@ Capitals
Wed: vs. Canadiens
Sat: @ Islanders
Sun: vs.Sabres

10. Toronto Maple Leafs - 78 PTS -6 games remaining (3 home, 3 away).

If theMaple Leafs intend on keeping their slim playoff hopes alive, they'll be best served to beat the 8th place Sabres at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday. Toronto won three straight games last week to pull within three points of a playoff position, but a loss in Detroit Saturday combined with two Buffalo wins has left the Maple Leafs trailing the Sabres by seven points.

Tues: vs. Sabres
Thurs: @ Bruins
Sat: @ Senators

11. Atlanta Thrashers - 76 PTS -7 games remaining - (2 home,5 away)
The Thrashers were tied for 8th place in the Eastern Conference as late as Feb. 12, but a 7-9-3 stretch has seen them fall to 11th, nine points out of a playoff spot. Atlanta now embarks on a five game road trip against five teams that are all currently in a playoff position.

Tues: @ Canadiens
Thurs: @ Flyers
Sat: @ Bruins

12. New Jersey Devils - 73 PTS - 7 games remaining (5 home,2 away).
TheDevils went 23-3-2 fromJan. 9 - March 15 to pull within six points of a playoff position, after trailing by as many as 27. Since then,the Devils havelost five of six games and have been all but officially eliminated from playoff contention.That can happen as early as Wednesday with New Jersey trailing 8th place Buffaloby 12 points with seven games to play.

The Devils have lost three straight overall, including back-to-back shutouts against the Penguins and Sabres. New Jersey has gone a franchise record 173:55 (and counting) without scoring, while leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk has just one point in his last six games. Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus have gone scoreless in their last six games. Former Capital David Steckel has also gone pointless in his first 12 games since being traded to the Devils, Feb. 28.

Wed: vs. Islanders
Fri: vs. Flyers

13. New York Islanders -70 PTS -6 games remaining (3 home,3 away).

The Islanders were officially eliminated from playoff contention with a 4-1 loss Saturday to the Flyers. The Islanderswill missthe playoffs for thefifth time in six years and they'll remain without aplayoff series win since 1993. Michael Grabner continues to lead all rookies with 31 goals, one ahead of San Jose's Logan Couture, and his plus-16 rating is a team-best on Long Island.

Former No. 1 pick John Tavares needs three goals over the final six games to join teammates Grabner and Matt Moulson in the 30-goal club. The Islanders are one of just five teams with two 30-goal scorers through Sunday (Canucks, Sharks, Blackhawks, Flyers), and should Tavares net three more goals, the Islanders could finish as the only team to boast three 30-goal scorers at year's end.

Wed: @ DevilsThurs: vs. Rangers
Sat: vs.Hurricanes

14. Florida Panthers - 69 PTS -6 games remaining (3 home,3 away)

The Pantherswere eliminated from playoff contention with a 4-2 loss Friday in Buffalo, extending their post-season drought to an NHL record 10 seasons (or 11 years counting the lockout).Florida has lost five straight including an 0-3-1start toits current five game road trip.

The Panthers could have a say in the final Eastern Conference standings, however, playing their final four games against the Penguins, Lightning and Capitals (twice).

Tues: @ Blue Jackets
Thurs:vs. Senators
Sat: vs. Penguins

15. Ottawa Senators - 68 PTS -6 games remaining (3 home,3 away).

The Senatorswill miss the playoffs for just the second time since 1996 but they're making a valiant effort to escape the Eastern Conference basement. Ottawa has embraced its role as spoiler, going 7-3-1 in its last 11 games including wins last week over the Rangers and Capitals.

Goalie Craig Anderson has emerged as a late-season bright spot in Ottawa since he was acquired Feb. 18from Colorado.Anderson has gone 8-4-1 with two shutouts and the Senators rewarded himwith a four year 12.75 million dollar deal that keeps the 29-year-old from becoming an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Tues: @ Lightning
Thurs: @ Panthers
Sat: vs. Maple Leafs