Jay Gula/Icon SMI)
Every team in the Atlantic Division except for the Pittsburgh Penguins played on Tuesday night and, not surprisingly, every game had playoff implications.
None were more intriguing than the matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New Jersey Devils. In their second of a home-and-home series, the Flyers systematically dismantled the Devils, holding them to a paltry 17 shots and no goals. It also marked Philadelphia goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov’s third shutout in a row, and his fourth in five starts. Since the beginning of March, Bryzgalov has allowed five goals in six games and has been one of the biggest reasons the Flyers have been successful despite an injury-ravaged defense. The game was of particular significance as the winner of the match, in this case the Flyers, would gain the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The New York Rangers, meanwhile, further entrenched their spot for the division lead, the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and home ice advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs. The Rangers did so in their typical, physical Rangers style, but with the added flare of a newly-formed top line of Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, and Carl Hagelin. The trio appears to have found some serious chemistry, combining for four goals, five assists and 15 shots last night. The Blueshirts will face off with the Penguins on Thursday, but even if they lose, they would still maintain a four-point lead over Pittsburgh.
The New York Islanders, all but mathematically removed from the playoff race, tried to play the role of spoiler last night when they hosted the Washington Capitals. They nearly played that role to a "T", going into the first period with a 2-0 lead. Then, one of the major problems that plagued the Islanders this season once again reared its head and their lead gradually frittered away. By the end of the third period the teams were tied 4-4, with the Islanders eventually losing to the Capitals, 5-4, in the shootout.
Atlantic Division Notes
New Jersey Devils – Aside from the recent strong production from Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson, the Devils have not received regular offense from many of their top contributors. Rookie standout Adam Henrique hasn’t scored a goal in 13 games, Petr Sykora hasn’t scored in nine, Danius Zubras has only one in his last 18 games, and Jacob Josefson hasn’t scored a goal all season. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who’s been out since January 17th with a blood clot in his leg, is behind schedule in his recovery, having missed almost eight weeks of hockey with no end in sight.
New York Islanders – Casey Cizikas returned to the lineup after missing two games due to illness. He played in just over 10 minutes of ice time and was a minus-two. Forward P.A. Parenteau missed last nights game due to an undisclosed upper-body injury. Matt Moulson registered his 30th goal last night, marking the third straight 30-goal campaign of his career. The last Islanders player to register 30 goals three years in a row was Ziggy Palffy, from 1996-98.
New York Rangers – Brad Richards recorded his second two-goal game in a row last night in the Rangers 4-2 win over Carolina. Richards has been particularly hot over the month of March, registering five goals and six assists in eight games. Goalie Chad Johnson was recalled on Tuesday to fill in for Henrik Lundqvist, who had the flu. Johnson served as Marty Biron’s backup. He was returned to the minors immediately after the game. Forward Ryan Callahan missed his second game in a row because of a bruised foot. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto missed his third straight game with a sore hip suffered March 8th.
Philadelphia Flyers – Kimmo Timonen returned to the lineup last night after missing almost two weeks of hockey. He looked solid, playing 19 minutes and registering two shots. Ilya Bryzgalov’s shutout last night was his second in two starts against the Devils this season. In four starts against New Jersey this year, Bryzgalov has three wins, a goals-against average of 0.29, and a .987 save percentage.
Pittsburgh Penguins – If defenseman Kris Letang can return to the lineup Thursday in New York, it will be only the second time all season the Penguins have had a healthy 23-man roster. The Penguins have been the hottest team in the NHL in March, winning nine in a row, and are 21-4-1 in their past 26 games.