Believe it or not, the Toronto Maple Leafs could have actually clinched a playoff spot last night with a victory over Washington and a Winnipeg Jets loss in regulation. Neither happened, however, and the Leafs, who were playing the second of a back-to-back, were thoroughly dismantled by the Caps 5-1.

 

Toronto got Joffrey Lupul back after missing five games with a concussion and he looked a little sluggish. He went minus-1 and was held without a point. Perhaps holding him out another couple of days would have made sense, but then again, I’m sure Carlyle wants to get any rust out before the playoffs.

 

It will be interesting to see how Jake Gardiner is used come the post-season. The young defenseman is still walking that fine line between being confident and just far too casual with the puck. He had a couple of bad giveaways tonight and a few shifts that were quite lengthy.

 

The Capitals have now won eight straight and are quickly becoming the team you don’t want to see in the first round of the playoffs. Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and an assist, and now has 14 points during this Capitals win streak. Mike Green also chipped in with two helpers and is starting to show some glimpses of the player he was in 2009-10.

 

Staying with Washington, if you are looking for a defenseman on the waiver wire to add to your roster late in the season, look no further than Jack Hillen. He’s posted six points and gone plus-7 in his last five games.

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The Islanders picked up a big two points with a 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers. Mark Streit had a goal and an assist, while Michael Grabner found the back of the net twice. Streit is a UFA at season’s end and with the Islanders looking like they are turning a corner here, not being able to re-sign him would be a huge loss.

 

Tomas Fleischmann has had a solid year and with two helpers last night he is now up to 30 points on the campaign. He has picked up 10 points in his last nine games and has been one of the only bright spots for the Panthers this season.

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Steve Mason appears to be enjoying a change of scenery with the Philadelphia Flyers. Although he picked up his first win last night with his new team, he has played great in three prior appearances. The Rangers threw 40 shots his way and Mason turned away 38 of them in the 4-2 victory.

 

Kimmo Timonen had a goal and an assist in the win to go along with a team leading four shots. That’s now four points in his last two games and Timonen is up to fourth among defenseman in NHL scoring. Norris Trophy candidate?

 

The Rangers are having an up and down year and appear to be doing their best not to make the playoffs, but Derek Stepan is enjoying a nice stretch. He now has 10 points in his last eight contests and sports a plus-17 rating on the season. If only he could improve that face-off percentage slightly.

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Jared Cowen played his first game this season for the Senators in their 3-2 win over the Hurricanes. After delivering a legal hit on Jeff Skinner, Cowen was forced to fight twice because of it. Skinner left the game and has a history of concussions, so hopefully the injury isn’t serious. I understand Carolina standing up for their player, but as someone who doesn’t think fighting has a place in the game, these fights tend to annoy me more than the staged ones. The fact that you can’t throw a clean hit anymore is frustrating.

 

How about the play of Patrick Wiercioch and Sergei Gonchar? The two combined for three points and a plus-6 rating last night and have done a great job picking up some of the slack in Erik Karlsson’s absence.

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The Blues beat the Canucks 2-1 in a game that set hockey back about 20 years as Ken Hitchcock continues to do his best Jacques Lemaire impersonation. With that being said, if you have Brian Elliott on your fantasy squad you will gladly take boring hockey all day. In his last five starts Elliott has a .975 save percentage and has only allowed three goals.

 

St. Louis did manage to get 36 shots on Cory Schneider, who stopped all but one. He has only lost twice in regulation over his last 13 starts.

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With a 4-3 win over the Lightning, the Jets pulled into a tie for eighth in the East with the Rangers. Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd combined for six points in the victory and are on five and four game point streaks respectively. The strong play from both recently is the main reason for this late season push by Winnipeg.

 

Despite the loss, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis are now tied for second in league scoring with 53 points. Neither are probably going to get much consideration for the Hart Trophy because of the team they are on, and that’s a real shame.

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It appears Kevin Lowe’s rant did little to spark the Oilers as they fell 5-3 to the Wild. An interesting note did come through at the end of that press conference though. After refusing to wear a helmet as player, Craig MacTavish noted he will become the first general manager to put one on. Obviously worried about a fan backlash if he doesn’t get things turned around quickly.

 

You know things are going bad for Edmonton when you give up two goals to Kyle Brodziak. He hadn’t scored in his previous 11 games.

 

Niklas Backstrom has quietly had a solid campaign for the Wild. He all of a sudden leads the NHL with 22 victories.

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The Sharks got the better of the Kings 3-2 in one of those dreaded three point games. This could be a potential first-round matchup and the lost point for the Kings could be crucial as it relates to home-ice advantage.

 

Brent Burns had a solid all around fantasy game for San Jose with a goal and an assist, to go along with a plus-2 rating, a whopping seven shots, and three hits.

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Jimmy Howard received a six-year contract extension from the Red Wings on Tuesday. Smart move by Detroit as Howard has been a rock for them and with an aging/changing roster, they need a strong presence in the net now more than ever.

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Tough break for the Blues as T.J. Oshie had to have surgery on his already injured ankle.

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Matt Greene has resumed skating after having back surgery earlier in the year. That would be a nice boost to the Kings’ blueline come playoff time.

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Nothing ruins the significance or luster of the Winter Classic by adding a bunch of outdoor games to the schedule. Good job of forward thinking NHL.

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Nice piece here from Cam Charron on the success of the Nashville Predators in recent years. It’s hard to believe they have had the same coach (Barry Trotz) and general manager (David Poile) throughout their entire existence. That has to have something to do with it.

 

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