Jerome Davis/Icon SMI)
Defenseman Alexander Sulzer (Buffalo Sabres), Jake Gardiner (Toronto Maple Leafs), and forward Phil Kessel (Toronto Maple Leafs), are the three stars of the week in the Northeast for March 30 – April 5.
First Star: Alexander Sulzer, D, Buffalo Sabres – Acquired at the NHL trade deadline for depth, Sulzer has performed above expectations for the Sabres thus far. He’s seen more time in a top-four role, and has seen more development in his offensive game because of it. Of Sulzer’s nine points this season, eight of them have come in his first 15 games as a Sabre. In three games this week, Sulzer has averaged approximately 21 minutes of ice time. He also found his way to the score sheet, notching two goals and adding three assists.
Second Star: Jake Gardiner, D, Toronto Maple Leafs – The 21-year-old has been a rookie sensation for the Maple Leafs. More recently, he’s starting to find ways to put up points. He’s found his offensive niche in the second half after going scoreless in the first few months of the season. Gardiner scored a highlight reel goal against the Sabres on Tuesday in the Maple Leafs 6-5 loss. He also set up Tim Connolly on a shifty play against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, and added a goal late in the game to send it to overtime. Gardiner has also averaged 21 minutes of ice-time this week.
Third Star: Phil Kessel, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs – The deadly winger has proven himself to be one of the leagues premiere point producers this season with his first career 80-point season. Kessel’s 82 points this season are the highest point total from a Maple Leaf since Mats Sundin scored 83 points in the 1998-99 season. His play over the last three games has been a large factor in the Maple Leafs stronger play as of late. He’s averaged 22 minutes of ice-time and has factored in on the score sheet five times. He scored his 37th goal of the season earlier this week against the Sabres, and had an impressive three-assist performance against them on Tuesday. Last night, Kessel matched a season high 10 shots against the Lightning and added an assist in the game.
Northeast Division Notes
Boston Bruins –
Goaltender Anton Khudobin made his first start of the season on Thursday. The 25-year-old turned aside 44 of 45 shots to steal the 3-1 victory. Rookie defenseman Torey Krug recorded his first career point (assist) in the game , as well. Defenseman Johnny Boychuk is considered day-to-day with a mild knee sprain. The Sabres will be in town to finish off the regular season on Saturday.
Buffalo Sabres – Thursday nights 2-1 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers officially eliminated the Sabres from the playoff run. Defenseman Alexander Sulzer missed Thursday’s game against the Flyers due to personal reasons. The team will head to Boston to finish off their season on Saturday.
Montreal Canadiens – Tomas Kaberle returned to the lineup last night against the Carolina Hurricanes. Kaberle has missed the past nine games due to an upper body injury. The Canadiens will host the Maple Leafs on Saturday to close out the season.
Ottawa Senators – The Senators will look to finish off the season with a victory as they travel to New Jersey on Saturday for an afternoon meeting with the Devils. The Senators are coming off a 3-1 loss to the Bruins – who may end up being the Senators first round opponent.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Goaltender Ben Scrivens continued his strong play in Thursday’s 3-2 victory over the Lightning. The 25-year-old goaltender has a 2-0-1 record in his last three games. Injured forward Joffrey Lupul (separated shoulder) took the morning skate on Thursday, but will not return this season. The Maple Leafs will wrap-up their season with a game against the Canadiens in Montreal on Saturday.