Bill Streicher/Icon SMI)
The Eastern Conference playoff picture became much clearer last night when the New York Rangers beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-3, clinching the Eastern Conference title for the Rangers for the first time since the 1993-94 season. The Rangers are now guaranteed home ice advantage for at least the first three rounds of the playoffs.
The Flyers, meanwhile, look all but assured to start the playoffs in the fifth seed, three points behind the fourth seeded Penguins and three points ahead of the sixth seeded New Jersey Devils.
The Devils all but sewed up the sixth seed last night when they defeated the Islanders 3-1. New Jersey has an outside chance of slipping into the fifth seed, but only if the fifth-ranked Flyers lose their next two games while the Devils win out.
Combined with the Flyers loss, the Penguins all but assured they will get home-ice advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs when they beat the Boston Bruins, 5-3. In order for fifth-ranked Philadelphia to overtake Pittsburgh, the Flyers will have to win their remaining two games, while the Penguins would have to lose theirs.
Atlantic Division Notes
New Jersey Devils – Center Travis Zajac netted the game-winning goal against the New York Islanders last night. It was the forward’s first goal since he returned from injury March 25th. Jacob Josefeson fractured his wrist in the second period of last night’s game, a bad break for a forward who had already missed 37 games this season due to a broken clavicle. Rookie defenseman Adam Larsson has been a healthy scratch the past four games (all Devils’ wins) dating back to March 25th. Winger David Clarkson also missed last night’s game with a lower-body injury; he is expected to be ready for the playoffs.
New York Islanders – Winger Matt Moulson notched his career-high 35th goal last night against the New Jersey Devils. Moulson is the only player on the Islanders roster to score 30 goals in three consecutive seasons. Defensive prospect Matt Donovon made his NHL debut last night against the Devils, managing a minus-one in 21:52 of ice time. Forward prospect Brock Nelson, the 30th overall pick in 2010, signed an entry-level deal with the Islanders yesterday. The 6’4 Nelson finished third in the NCAA with 28 goals in 42 games.
New York Rangers – When the Rangers beat the Flyers last night, it marked the first time in 40 years the Blueshirts swept Philadelphia in a season series. Henrik Lundqvist recorded his 39th win of the season last night, marking a new career high for the 30-year-old netminder. Lundqvist sustained a forearm injury in the second period of last night’s match, though he managed to finish the game and expects to be ready for the playoffs.
Philadelphia Flyers – Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov returned to the lineup after missing three games because of a minor foot injury. He looked shaky, knocking aside only 19 of 24 shots. Danny Briere (upper-back contusion) and Nicklas Grossman (lower-body) both missed last night’s game because of injuries the two players sustained on Sunday.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Pascal Dupuis extended his scoring streak to 15 games last night when he assisted on Sidney Crosby’s first period goal against the Bruins. With winger James Neal notching his 40th goal of the season last night, the Penguins are now the only team in the NHL with two 40-goal scorers on their roster. Defenseman Matt Niskanen left the second period of last night’s game after receiving a vicious charge from Daniel Paille. Niskanen was hobbled and frustrated over his injury and could be seen smashing his stick on the way to the dressing room. Forward Joe Vitale went down in the third period when he took a Zdeno Chara shot to the face.