On this eventful Saturday with the weather more Spring-esque with balmy 60+ degree temps reminding us of playoff aspirations, a bevy of action is taking place, including Habs-Pens as we punch away in Huguenot Library. At the end of two, Les Habitants are ahead 3-zip with goals coming off the sticks of Tomas Plekanec, Travis Moen and Mike Cammalleri. The Canadiens chased emerging MVP candidate Marc-Andre Fleury (3 GA on 12 shots). Vezina hopeful Carey Price has stopped all 17 shots.
Both clubs are comfortably ahead in the playoff chase with the banged up Pens fourth with 86 points- four behind Eastern leader Philadelphia- and the Habs sixth with 81. Seven ahead of seventh Buffalo and eighth New York, who both play later on. Unless Pittsburgh has a furious rally, it looks like the Canadiens will steer within one of fifth Tampa Bay, who have been overtaken by resurgent Washiongton for the Southeast lead. The Caps have quietly been winning regularly with Alex Ovechkin turning it on. His goal in last night's damaging 2-1 comeback win over ninth Carolina was highlight variety. The Caps would win in regulation but not without controversy due to an apparent Canes' goal being wiped out due to a quick whistle. One of those rules you live with when it comes to officials, who are human. So, it kept Carolina at 72 with 14 games left, including a big clash with Columbus in Raleigh.
With 10 games involving 20 teams on Spring Puck Saturday, every team in the chase for seventh and eighth are taking part. Fresh off a point in a tough 3-2 overtime defeat to the Devils, the Thrashers visit the Flyers tonight. Atlanta still sits 11th with 68 points with Game 69 a biggie. The same can be said of the Devils who host the Islanders at The Rock at the same time. With more late heroics coming from Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac, the Devs are 12th with 66, still eight behind the Rangers but with two more games left. Still, on a day they need two more points to close to six and put the pressure on our team, who faces the Sharks, it's essential they get it done against an Islander team that doesn't lose much these days. Last weekend, they needed a shootout to prevail on Long Island. It should be interesting with the Isles only two back of their state rival.
The teams playing early tonight will have a close eye on Buffalo-Toronto with the Sabres looking to stay hot. Drew Stafford is red hot and Jason Pominville is heating up at the right time. Rookie Tyler Ennis has also stepped up for Lindy Ruff's club that looks to put more distance between them and the pack against 10th Toronto, who tries to bounce back from a tough 3-2 loss to Philly. Big difference between the Leafs climbing to 70 with a regulation win, just four back and a Sabre victory in 60, which would put them eight clear of their archrival. Should be fun to watch.
For John Tortorella's club, they'll already know the results with at least a couple of clubs likely gaining ground. After today, they have only a dozen left. Considering how flat the Rangers were in one of their worst performances Wednesday in Anaheim, expect them to be ready against one of the hottest clubs. The Sharks have gone from outside playoff position pre All-Star Break to sitting third in the crowded West, leading the best division in hockey, the Pacific. The second half performances of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and recently re-signed netminder Antti Niemi have sparked the Sharks to 85 points- three ahead of fourth Dallas and four in front of sixth LA and seventh Phoenix. Oh. And the ninth Ducks sit six out, meaning that's all that separates last from first.
Against a team that boasts Calder hopeful Logan Couture (25 goals), Dany Heatley, gritty Ryane Clowe, Joe Pavelski, Dan Boyle and revived Devin Setoguchi, the Blueshirts have their work cut out. It's imperative that they get out quickly with headliners Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi all on top of their game. Simply put, the Rangers cannot afford a repeat of the other night. Not with fewer games left than anyone else.
It should be interesting to see how they respond to adversity. A lot's on the line today for every playoff chaser. Fasten your seatbelts.