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Tag:Buffalo Sabres
Posted on: March 8, 2012 9:47 am
Edited on: March 8, 2012 9:51 am
 

Pregame Skate: Jeff Carter back in Columbus

Carter returns to Columbus, just in black. I guess that's fitting. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Pregame Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

7 ET, Los Angeles at Columbus

Sure, there's the story of the Kings' playoff push to watch for in this one. They only enter the night in a three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. So, ya know, the game is pretty important in that regard.

But even at this time of the year that takes a little bit of a back seat to the bigger storyline of the game: Jeff Carter returning to Columbus. Already. Even though he denies it, Carter never seemed to be too pleased to be in Columbus after the summer trade out of Philadelphia. His short time in Ohio was also disturbed by a few injury setbacks that have cut his season shorter.

“Obviously when I got traded from Philly, it was hard on me, something that I didn’t expect. Over time, you get over that," Carter told Rich Hammond of L.A. Kings Insider I came in here [Columbus] with an open mind. There were a lot of expectations around the team, from the fans and the city and stuff like that. For whatever reason, it didn’t really work out that way, and things just started to snowball from there. When you’re losing games, like we did, and giving up leads late, it’s pretty tough on guys. It’s hard to kind of keep going. It was a tough year."

You know the already disgruntled Blue Jackets fans who have sat through that tough year are going to let Carter know how they feel about him, and I can only guess it's not overwhelmingly positive. And while the Carter storyline might be front and center to start the game, once the puck drops it's back to the action.

“Obviously you want to go out and play good and beat your old team," Carter said. "I think above all that is, we’re in a pretty tight race here too. We need two points, for sure."

7 ET, Tampa Bay at Washington (NHL Network)

The Capitals and Lightning enter the night only two points apart in the Southeast Division with a couple weeks left. It feels like last season for one night, at least.

The problem, of course, is that they aren't battling for first in the division on Thursday night. They are fighting for eighth/ninth in the East. That's a position the Caps are in with their current 1-2-1 home stand and the Lightning from a first half of the season of very mediocre play. But speaking of mediocrity, the East has it and so these teams are still dreaming.

It's amazing to think that with a regulation win tonight, the Lightning will pull even with the Capitals in the playoff race. They'll have to await the final between the Jets and Canucks to see where they stand in relation to the last playoff spot.

Of course for Tampa they come in with an injury at their worst position on the ice, goaltending. Mathieu Garon is out and so it's up to Dwayne Roloson and Dustin Tokarski. The good news? The Caps aren't doing a whole lot of scoring this season, so this game could prove to a remedy for either side: the Caps offense or Lightning goaltending.

8:30 ET, San Jose at Dallas

This much we know: The Stars will remain in first place by the end of the night. But what they could do that's even more impressive is open up a five-point advantage on the Sharks in the Pacific and Western Conference race. Now that would be something.

The Sharks have been in a freefall for a few weeks now and it has led them to the brink of slipping out of the playoffs altogether. Imagine that, the Sharks missing the playoffs? It's not too tough to imagine right now. By virtue of having games in hand on the other teams, the Sharks hold the eighth position right now in the three-way tie, but with both the others in action, it's possible the Sharks could be 10th by night's end.

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I'm still trying to figure out which is more surprising, though: The Sharks being on the playoff bubble or the Stars being the division leader.

By the way, this is the third meeting between these teams and the final day of the season, April 7. So they're going to have a few chances to make some big swings in the standings, starting with tonight.

Others worth watching

9 ET, Minnesota at Phoenix: It was only a few days ago that the Coyotes were the surprise Pacific Division leader. Now they have lost four straight, including two to Columbus. They get another bottom feeder in the Wild. They kind of need to win this.

10 ET, Winnipeg at Vancouver: Now we find out how real the Jets are. They did what they had to do and held down the home-ice advantage on their long home stand, but where they will make the playoffs is on the road. It starts at the Canucks.

7 ET, Buffalo at Boston: Another hard to believe sentence: The Sabres can move into the eighth position in the East with a win tonight. This was expected to be the Northeast battle this season, but at least it's a big game with the Sabres' resurgence.

Your promised miscellany

  • Wednesday's Winners & Losers
  • The Canucks have hit a bump in the road, but it's hardly a reason to panic. Just look at the Bruins a year ago. (The Province)
  • Bobby Ryan is looking ahead to life after Teemu in Anaheim and he wants to take that second-line role. (O.C. Register)
  • Did Brian Burke also target Ron MacLean when he complained to the CBC about Coach's Corner. Yes, yes he did. (Pro Hockey Talk)
  • Lastly, I'm a proud American and make no apologies for it, but I'm a fan of Canada ... and it's national anthem. So even I cringe at this from last night's game in Buffalo.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 7, 2012 9:39 am
Edited on: March 7, 2012 10:09 am
 

Pregame Skate: Sabres, Leafs continue push

Lindy Ruff and Buffalo return home. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Pregame Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

7 ET, Carolina at Buffalo

The first of only two games on an even quieter than usual Wednesday, all eyes will be on the Sabres after a good road trip. They went 3-1-1 on a trip that included stops in Madison Square Garden, Vancouver and Winnipeg. It resurrected their previously dead season.

However the question remains if it was more of an anomaly or the Sabres have turned the corner and shown flashes of the team many thought they would be. They can start to find that out with Wednesday's game against the Hurricanes.

Buffalo starts the night four points back of the Jets for eighth place in the East and tonight will play its one game in hand on Winnipeg. So not only would a win bring them to within just two points of the Jets, it would also pull the Sabres even in points with the Capitals in ninth.

The small bit of irony there is they would have to thank the Hurricanes for helping them achieve that as the 'Canes head to Buffalo just 24 hours after taking down the Caps in Washington with a bonus-hockey goal.

Obviously Carolina isn't going to roll over and the idea of an easy win in the NHL is almost non-existent, but this is a game the Sabres should and almost need to win. They can't make that road trip feel like it was for naught by laying an egg in their return home if they want to keep belief in a playoff berth.

7:30 ET, Toronto at Pittsburgh

The Maple Leafs are still trying to regain any semblance of their season. One way they were hoping to do that was with the hiring of Randy Carlyle. The good news? In the two games he has coached, the Leafs are outscoring their opponents by a goal. There's a plus.

The bad news is that they have still lost 12 of their last 13 games and only one of those losses came beyond 60 minutes. That's five out of the last 26 points up for grabs that they have taken. Is it any wonder then that they are almost as close to the bottom of the East as they are to Winnipeg in the playoff push?

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Now the good news is that it isn't too late to salvage their hopes even if the prospect is dire. But going into Pittsburgh and taking two points from the Penguins could potentially move them back over a pair of teams and just three points out. That's life at the bottom of the East this season, you have to fail really hard to make the playoffs out of reach.

It's pretty tough to go through a stretch of Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in five days but that's where the Leafs are. Then it's on the road for five straight. It's safe to say you'll see a very desperate team playing the Penguins tonight, but the Pens have been handling that a lot lately and are doing just fine.

Don't forget, the Penguins will be unveiling the much-anticipated Mario Lemieux statue outside of the arena.

Others were watching

There's nothing else. That's all we've got.

Your promised miscellany

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 5, 2012 11:00 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 12:27 am
 

Winners & Losers: Jets win to finish homestand

By Brian Stubits

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Winnipeg: Not the Jets -- although they fit too -- but the city of Winnipeg. Its support of the Jets in their return season has been spectacular and it seemed as amped up as ever at MTS Centre on Monday night with the Sabres in town. Winner earned the right to hold the eighth seed.

As always this season (and for many more to come, I'm sure) they filled the place to the rafters and in unison heckled somebody on the other team. Tonight's choise was Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and the Jets fans might have had the chant of the season, reigning "Sil-ver Med-al!" chants on Miller. Even if he was the best goalie in that tournament in 2010, it was still clever.

But of course its being fueled by the Jets (I'd like to say that pun was intended, but not really). They have still played more games than most every other team in the league but they are now starting to make that a moot point by winning right now. They are forcing those teams with games in hand to pick up all the points to catch them at this point. The win on Monday night, for example, put the Jets four ahead of the Sabres in the East.

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More importanlty, they come out as winners on their long homestand. The victory tonight capped off their eight-game home stand in which they went 5-1-2. They did exactly what they had to which was use the comfy confines of MTS Centre to launch themselves into a position that they can hold on to what was was pretty unthinkable considering they are the Thrashers with a different name: a playoff berth. Nine of their final 15 games are on the road.

[Related Jets 3, Sabres 1]

Teemu Selanne, Corey Perry: The Anaheim Ducks got a win to keep their slimmest of slim playoff hopes alive, but that wasn't the biggest story out of the game. Instead it was, as is often the case, Teemu Selanne notching another milestone.

By assisting on Bobby Ryan's go-ahead goal against the Oilers, Selanne earned his 1,398th career point. That was good enough to tie him with his boyhood idol Jari Kurri for 19th on the all-time scoring list. You know that is one milestone that has to just be a little more special than the rest.

Perry then put in what proved to be the winning tally with only a couple minutes left in the game to reach his own milestone: Career goal No. 200. Sure, it isn't exactly tying your boyhood idol for 19th all time in scoring but it's nothing to sneeze at either. He added No. 201 in an empty net.

And yes, the win keeps the Anaheim hopes alive even if that's a still barely. They move five points behind eighth-place San Jose in the West while the Sharks have three games in hand. What it did accomplish, though, is that they passed the Minnesota Wild to take 12th place by themselves.

[Related: Ducks 4, Oilers 2]

Dallas Stars: Only in the NHL can you win by not playing. See the losers side for an explanation.

Losers

Phoenix Coyotes: What they wouldn't give to get February back. After gaining 23 of the 24 points up for grabs in the month of love, they have been left heartbroken so far in March. The latest was Monday's 2-1 loss in Pittsburgh, the early 2-0 hole too difficult to overcome against Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins.

But they lost more than the game on Monday night. The Coyotes also lost their position atop the Pacific Division. Sure, it's by way of tie-breakers, but as of this moment, the Dallas Stars -- not the Coyotes, Sharks, Kings or Ducks -- are your division leaders and current holders of the No. 3 seed out West. Don't believe me? Take a look.

This is how quickly you can go from feeling comfortable to feeling very nervous at this time of the season. They have just a three-point lead at this point on the ninth-seeded Kings and 10th-seeded Avalanche, which isn't different than it was before the night. Except that they lose one game in hand.

It might be time to give goaltender Mike Smith a breather. He has now started 20 of the last 21 games after Monday night and he's obviously dropped the last three. He would probably like the two goals from Monday back, particularly the winner from Chris Kunitz back. After that, though, he was sharp.

[Related: Penguins 2, Coyotes 1]

Goal of the night

Chris Thorburn, Jets: This isn't a regular item in the Winners & Losers, just on occassion when when warrants it. And this one warrants it.

Back to Winnipeg we go.

H/t to Puck Daddy for the video

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 5, 2012 9:29 am
Edited on: March 5, 2012 9:36 am
 

Pregame Skate: Sabres continue playoff push

Sabres

By: Adam Gretz

The Pregame Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.


Playoff Race

RightJets8 PM, Buffalo at Winnipeg: Ah, yes, the joys of the chaotic playoff race in the NHL.

The Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets enter Monday's game separated by just two points in the standings, and with a win in regulation the Sabres would actually move into a tie with the Jets for the No. 8 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 70 points, and still have a game in hand.

It's been quite a turnaround for the Sabres after a dreadful mid-season slump, and a lot of it has to do with the recent play of goaltender Ryan Miller, who has been playing some of the best hockey of his career.

The Jets, meanwhile, need a win to keep pace with the Florida Panthers, winners on Sunday night, in the Southeast Division race, and have the advantage of playing in their own barn which has provided them with one of the best home ice advantages in the league this season. Needless to say, it's going to be a playoff atmosphere at the MTS Centre on Monday night as it's probably one of the biggest games the city of Winnipeg has seen in ... oh, about 15 years.

CoyotesPenguins7 PM, Phoenix at Pittsburgh: Unbeatable in February, the Coyotes have stumbled a bit during their first two games March and are coming off a brutal home loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets over the weekened.

It doesn't get any easier on Monday night as they head into Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins, winners of five straight and owners of the second best point total in the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins don't have much of a chance to catch the Rangers for the No. 1 spot in the division and conference, but they are still fighting for the No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage in the first round, entering Monday's game two points ahead of the Flyers, four points ahead of the Devils and five points ahead of the Senators.

They've outscored their opponents 22-7 during their current five-game winning streak.

The Coyotes have quite a bit of company in the Pacific Division race, and enter Monday's game tied with the Dallas Stars for the top spot with 75 points (Phoenix has a game in hand) and two points ahead of the San Jose Sharks.

DucksOilers10 ET, Edmonton at Anaheim: The Ducks miracle run is starting to run out of time, still seven points out of the No. 8 spot in the West and still trailing four teams.

On Monday they get a visit from the Edmonton Oilers, one of the worst teams in the league, and perhaps the worst road team in the league.

A win is an absolute must in a game like this, and a loss would be a potentially crushing blow to their already slim postseason chances

Your promised miscellany
Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 3, 2012 10:25 am
 

Pregame Skate: Randy Carlyle's Toronto debut

Carlyle

By: Adam Gretz

The Pregame Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

Playoff Race

CanadiensMaple Leafs7 ET, Toronto at Montreal: Well, it is still technically a game in the playoff race, at least for Toronto, even though their chances appear to be hanging on be the tiniest of threads. And if the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, long-time bitter rivals, have anything in common this season it's that they both seem to be a complete, dysfunctional mess at the present time. Their meeting on Saturday night in Montreal will be the debut for new Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle after he was announced as the new bench boss on Friday evening, replacing Ron Wilson.

Is it a needed move to give the Maple Leafs a boost to get back into serious playoff contention? Or is it simply too little, too late for this season, and rearranging deck chairs on what looks to be a sinking ship?

Toronto has lost 10 of 11 entering Saturday's game, and suddenly finds itself behind Tampa Bay and Buffalo in the standings. The Maple Leafs haven't made the playoffs since the NHL came out of the lockout in 2005-06, and the only other team that can make that claim is the Florida Panthers, and their drought looks like it has a pretty good chance to come to an end this year.

CanucksSabres10 ET, Buffalo at Vancouver: Thanks to wins in five of their past six games, and a 10-3-3 mark in their past 16 games, the Buffalo Sabres are another team that's found a way to work their way back into the playoff picture, and a lot of that, at least recently, is due to the play of goaltender Ryan Miller.

The veteran netminder has had his share of struggles this season, but over the past couple of weeks he has been playing like he did back in 2010 when he was the best goalie in the league -- and the Olympics -- and at no time has he looked better than he has over his past two games, recording back-to-back shutouts in wins over Anaheim and San jose.

Over their past wins, which have been by a combined score of just 3-0, the Sabres have allowed Miller to be peppered by 82 shots (that's 41 per game), many of them quality chances, and he's turned aside every single one of them.

Over his past six starts he's allowed just seven goals.

The only thing at stake for the Canucks on Saturday night is ... well, pretty much nothing. Even if they lose they're still going to be the top team in the Western Conference.

DucksKings10:30 ET, Anaheim at Los Angeles: Just 24 hours after picking up a huge two points thanks to a 3-2 win against Calgary, due to a last-minute goal from Ryan Getzlaf, the Anaheim Ducks have to jump right back into it on Saturday night in Los Angeles against one of the many teams they're still chasing in the standings.

The Ducks enter the game four points behind Los Angeles, and still seven points behind Dallas for the final playoff spot in the West, and as has been the case for the past couple of months, and will be for the remainder of the regular season, this is a game the Ducks pretty much have to win if there is going to be any chance to complete this late-season comeback.

At least Friday's game finally moved them ahead of one team -- the Minnesota Wild -- putting them at 12th place in the West.

The Kings, meanwhile, are fresh off a 4-0 win in Minnesota and need the two points just as much as Anaheim does. After Saturday the Kings hit the road for five of their next six games, and it looks to be a brutal stretch of games that includes matchups with Nashville, Chicago, Detroit (twice) and another game with Anaheim.

Others worth watching
7 ET, Tampa Bay at Carolina: After knocking off the New York Rangers on Friday the Lightning have an opportunity to continue their own late season playoff push in Carolina, and just to show how completely bonkers the playoff race currently is, the Lightning still have an outside chance of winning the Southeast.

8 ET, Columbus at Phoenix: Another tight divisional race is out west in the Pacific, as the white-hot Coyotes enter Saturday's game against Columbus two points ahead of the San Jose Sharks. The Blue Jackets recently played the role of spoiler by blanking the Avalanche in Denver, and the Coyotes are coming off what was their first regulation loss since the end of January.

10:30 ET, St. Louis at San Jose: And the team chasing Phoenix, San Jose, has an important -- and tough -- home game against the toughest team in the league to score against, the St. Louis Blues. Good news for the Sharks: for as good as the Blues record is, they've been pretty mediocre away from home.

Your promised miscellany
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 1, 2012 9:53 am
Edited on: March 1, 2012 10:01 am
 

Morning Skate: Sabres creeping back in

Miller has wins in four of his last five starts. (US Presswire)

By Brian Stubits

The Morning Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

Playoff Race

10:30 ET, Buffalo at San Jose

Well would you look at that, the Buffalo Sabres are back in the conversation. Somewhat miraculously it's true.

Ryan Miller is showing flashes of the goaltender America came to know two years ago. He's been up to the quality we've come to expect from him in recent games, including Wednesday's shutout of the not-long-ago streaking Anaheim Ducks. As a result -- and of the East's struggle at the bottom -- the Sabres begin the day only five points back of Washington.

Now before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it's time to remind everybody that the chances still aren't good and that's a lot of ground to make up still. According to Sports Club Stats, the odds the Sabres make the postseason are still only 4.1 percent. A win tonight in San Jose, however, then we're talking. They would hop two teams and move into 10th place, just three behind Washington (and we'll wait to see what Winnipeg does).

The Sharks meanwhile are still fighting for a playoff spot that is in no way guaranteed to be theirs right now. They just grabbed a huge 1-0 win over the Flyers the other night in San Jose to give them a little breathing room from the eighth-place chasers.

8 ET, Florida at Winnipeg

The Panthers are one of the rare teams that have had success this season in Winnipeg. They have played their twice and won both times. In those two games, Kris Versteeg scored five goals. To put that into context, he has 22 on the season, so nearly 1/4 of his goals have come at MTS Centre despite play 2/59 of his games there.

So the good news for the Jets? Versteeg won't be playing. That's a huge plus for a team that really needs this game at home. Winnipeg enters the night with four fewer points despite three more games played. Win this one and the Panthers stay within reach, fail to pick up any points and, well, that gets to be a big task.

But luckily for the Jets, the eighth seed in the East is still available too. They enter the night one point behind Washington there and can jump back into playoff position by the end of the evening. Again though, they have all those games in hand. That's why their margin for error is so slim, they need to pick up 2/3 of the points available the rest of the season to have a good shot.

9 ET, Calgary at Phoenix

The good news for the Flames as they head to face the Coyotes? The calendar no longer shows February. Phoenix was literally unbeatable (in regulation) for the month going 11-0-1 which included a comeback win in Calgary a week ago.

With that game a key culprit in the equation, the Flames have been slipping lately despite playing a home-heavy schedule. Perhaps getting away from home -- however unlikely that is -- might help them get back on track. It's about time they do if they want to keep in the conversation. Because right now they are four points back of being in with two teams in between them.

And it's not a terribly big secret why the Flames have lost four in a row. Miikka Kiprusoff can only be superman back there for so long. Without him it's hard to picture Calgary still being in the race. In the last four games, however, he has given up 15 goals as well as picking up a loss in two shootouts.

On the other side they face the hottest goaltender this side of ... well anywhere. You can already write Mike Smith's name in pen for the first start of the month of February. He was 11-0-0 in the month. My word.

Others worth watching

10 ET, St. Louis at Vancouver: Hoooo boy, this should be a good win. By virtue of a tie-breaker, these are the top two teams in the Western Conference. Heck, if the Blues win, they're in the lead for the Presidents' Trophy. Plus they have four straight wins on the road. Buckle up.

9 ET, Columbus at Colorado: The Blue Jackets might be out of it, but the Avalanche certainly aren't. They have the opportunity to move into the eighth spot in the West tonight. Pretty remarkable for a team that has been as streaky as they have.

7 ET, New Jersey at Boston: There isn't a whole lot here on the Devils' end. They are somewhat comfy in, but they'd like to start winning again to feel a little better. The Bruins actually find themselves in a division race. They have been mediocre (yes, really) for well over a month now.

Your promised miscellany

  • Wednesday's Winners & Losers
  • Rangers captain Ryan Callahan might be out for the Rangers' game against the Hurricanes tonight. (Rangers Rants)
  • A look through the mirrors back to an age of smoking in hockey. (SI)
  • The Ducks' slim playoff chances are getting even slimmer now and the team is showing some frustration. (O.C. Register)
  • ECHL coach Nick Vitucci lost his mind with the officials and went on one hell of a tirade. (Puck Daddy)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: February 29, 2012 11:07 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 12:48 am
 

Winners & Losers: Penguins, Blackhawks, Leafs



By: Adam Gretz

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pittsburgh-Dallas Stars matchup is your typical, run-of-the-mill East vs. West game that takes place once, maybe twice per year.

There really isn't much of a history between the two teams, and it's not really a game that would (or probably should) get any extra attention on your schedule.

But man, something flipped the switch on Wednesday night as the two teams played one of the most physical -- and entertaining -- games of the season, with what appeared to be plenty of bad blood. The Penguins lost Kris Letang and Steve Sullivan during the game, and didn't necessarily play their best, but still ended up coming away with the 4-3 win in a shootout. That gives them another two points in the Eastern Conference standings and moves them three points ahead of the Senators (with two games in hand) and four points ahead of the Philadlephia Flyers.

The real concern for the Penguins now is the status of Letang, easily their best defenseman. With all of the talk about Sidney Crosby's absence this season (and back to last season) the Penguins still have plenty of scoring and depth down the middle, especially with the way Evgeni Malkin and Jodan Staal are playing. They can still be a Stanley Cup contender, if not one of the favorites, without Crosby, and have played like it.

They may not be without Letang. During his earlier absence the Penguins were 10-11 witout him.

[Related: Penguins 4, Stars 3 -- Kris Letang injured (Video)]

Chicago Blackhawks: February hasn't been the best month for the Chicago Blackhawks, and entering Wedneday's game against the Maple Leafs, another team that's been sleepwalking through the month, the Blackhawks were riding a three-game losing streak and falling dangerously close to the Western Conference playoff bubble.

After falling down early in the first period, the Blackhawks roared back and earned a 5-4 win thanks to a big performance from Marian Hossa, scoring two goals, including the game-winner ... which turned out to be an empty net goal late in the third period.

[Related: Blackhawks 5, Maple Leafs 4]

Ryan Miller: The Sabres goalie spoke out earlier in the week about his team trading Paul Gaustad to the Nashville Predators for a draft pick (he didn't like it), and in his first appearance since the trade deadline he played perhaps his best game of the season, stopping all 43 shots he faced, including 20 in the third period alone, as Buffalo picked up a 2-0 win over the Ducks to keep a small glimmer of hope alive when it comes to its playoff chances.

[Related Sabres 2, Ducks 0 -- Sabres trade Gaustad to Nashville]

Losers

Toronto Maple Leafs
: After slow start after slow start, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally had a fast start on Wednesday night in Chicago, in a game they absolutely needed to win, not only for their playoff hopes, but to keep some sort of sanity within the city of limits of Toronto. They actually jumped out to a 3-1 lead first period lead.

Things looked promising. And then they watched as the bottom completely fell out, resulting in a 5-4 loss to the Blackhawks. And just like that, things went from bad to total meltdown.

Toronto has now lost 10 of its past 11 games, with the only win during that stretch coming in overtime against the Edmonton Oilers, and remain four points behind the Washington Capitals for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference -- a playoff spot that no team seems to want.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks already slim playoff hopes took a big hit on Wednesday night, and thanks to the Stars gaining a point in a shootout loss, and Anaheim's 2-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, Bruce Boudreau's bunch now finds itself seven points out of the No. 8 seed in the West, and still in 13th place.

They put together a heck of an effort in the third period, firing 20 shots at Ryan Miller (and 43 for the game) but could never break through on the scoreboard.

[Related: Playoff Race]

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: February 29, 2012 10:17 am
Edited on: February 29, 2012 10:29 am
 

Morning Skate: Stars keep playoff push going

The Stars go searching for a fifth straight win. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Morning Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

Playoff Race

7:30 ET, Pittsburgh at Dallas (NBC Sports Network)

The teams in the Atlantic Division (excluding the Islanders) are in an interesting spot here. Barring a miracle, they aren't going to catch the Rangers but none of them is fighting for their playoff lives either. Maybe New Jersey has to worry if they lose a few more -- maybe -- but they're six points up on ninth-place Winnipeg. So they're left playing big games seeing that it's playoff push time and all, but nothing all that impactful.

But you find ways to make them meaningful. For example, only one non-division winner is going host a first-round playoff series as the four seed. That's no doubt worth playing for. And that's what the Penguins are going after right now.

Their opponents on Wednesday night, however, have a lot greater sense of desperation. That's because the Stars enter the night in a three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the West (holding the tie-breaker with a game in hand). Dallas would be thinking about hopping into the division race if the Coyotes weren't hotter than the Phoenix summers. They have won four straight games and have gained no ground on the Coyotes.

Now none of the above means the Penguins are going to come coasting into the game while the Stars come guns a blazin'. They wouldn't be in the position their in if they did that ever. In today's NHL you can't do that against any team. It's just something to remember if you notice a difference in "compete level."

It also marks, by the way, the first time that James Neal has come back to Dallas to face his old team (and Matt Niskanen, of course). Seeing the season that Neal is having with his brand new contract extension has to be a little painful for the Dallas faithful thinking of what could have been.

Oh and don't forget about Evgeni Malkin. He has five goals and two assists in his last three games. I hear he's good.

8 ET, Toronto at Chicago

This game should be sponsored by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Free Falling could be the theme song.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a tail spin that Chuck Yeager would have a hard time pulling out of. They've lost five in a row, most in ugly fashion. They've lost nine of their last 10 games. The fans are chanting for the coach to be fired. They are on the verge of falling completely out of the playoff race, going into tonight's game four points behind eighth-place Washington. The Leafs are as close right now to 14th in the East as they are eighth.

Well OK, I guess it's a pretty typical end of February in Canada's biggest city.

But let's not forget about America's Second City here and Chicago. They are going through their own swoon. They have only four wins in their last 16 games and bring a three-game losing streak into the battle with the Leafs.

If they were to get no points tonight, the Blackhawks would legitimately have to start worrying about being on the playoff bubble. Right now they are only three points up on teams 8-10 and will have played more games than all of them. When teams come into Chicago this out of sorts, the Blackhawks need to be able to deliver the next blow.

I'm not sure who is more desperate for the two points tonight.

Others worth watching

9:30 ET, St. Louis at Edmonton: The Blues are in fight for the Central Division crown with the Red Wings and have finally found their form on the road. They've won three straight away from home but the Oilers seem like a perfect team to play spoiler the rest of the way.

10 ET, Buffalo at Anaheim: To be frank, but of these teams is all but done in the playoff race. It would be remarkable if either made it in. But I'm still going to dub this a "loser leave town" match. Don't win this game and you can definitely forget about it.

Your promised miscellany

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