Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMI)
The Winnipeg Jets fell short of the playoffs in the season's final month, but that hasn't kept a couple of the Jets' core players from thriving in the last weeks of the season. And the Capitals — who clinched a playoff berth Thursday — got clutch play from an oft-criticized forward to avoid missing the postseason. Here are the Southeast Division's three stars for the week of March 30 – April 5.
First star: Zach Bogosian, D, Winnipeg Jets — Bogosian had a big week for the Jets, registering seven points (two goals and five assists) in four games to reach 30 points for the first time in his career. Bogosian has come a long way in the past season — it wasn't that long ago that the play of Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien had many wondering if Bogosian was expendable. Instead, he is arguably Winnipeg's most important defenseman, bringing a combination of two-way skill, size and toughness to the Jets blue line.
Second star: Andrew Ladd, LW, Winnipeg Jets — The Jets captain couldn't push Winnipeg into the playoffs, but he continues to lead by example. Ladd scored four goals this week, including two overtime game-winners, in four games. That gives him 28 goals on the season, one shy of the career-high 29 he registered in 2010-11. Once prone to injury, Ladd has played in every game this year and missed just one game the past four seasons, emerging as one the Southeast's most consistent players.
Third star: Alexander Semin, LW, Washington Capitals — The Capitals needed someone to step up this past week to help them earn a playoff spot, and Semin filled the void. While Semin has been criticized in the past for not shining in big games, he had two goals and two assists this week, and notched the shootout winner over Montreal last Saturday to give the Capitals a needed extra point in the standings. With Washington now playoff-bound, Semin — an unrestricted free agent this summer — needs to show he can dominate in the postseason, too.
Southeast Division Notes
Carolina Hurricanes – The Hurricanes earned their first shootout win of the season Thursday, beating Montreal in Raleigh to become the last team in the NHL to notch a win in the post-overtime skills competition. The win was also Cam Ward's 30th of the season, marking the fifth time in his career he's reached at least that many wins. … The Hurricanes signed Union College's Jeremy Welsh to a one-year entry-level contract Friday just a day after he and his teammates were eliminated by Ferris State, 3-1, in the Frozen Four semifinal game in Tampa Bay. Welsh — who had 27 goals in 40 games this season, 100 points in his collegiate career, and was the East Regional's Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament — will join Carolina for their season finale in Florida Saturday.
Florida Panthers – The Panthers may have lost to Washington Thursday, but Buffalo's defeat in Philadelphia clinched Florida's first playoff berth since 2000. All that is left to be determined is who will win the Southeast Division — and home ice in the first round of the playoffs. Any one-point swing — a Florida win or overtime loss, or anything other than a Washington win in Saturday's regular-season finales — will give the Panthers their first division title. If Florida loses in regulation to Carolina Saturday and Washington earns two points over the Rangers, the Capitals would win their fifth-straight Southeast crown. … The Panthers are just 2-3-5 in their last 10 games.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Steven Stamkos scored his 59th goal of the year in Thursday's 3-2 loss in Toronto. He now has one more game — Saturday in Winnipeg — to become the second player since the lockout to reach 60 goals in a season. Alexander Ovechkin scored 65 in 2007-08. … The Lightning reassigned Brandon Segal to the AHL's Norfolk Admirals on Thursday.
Washington Capitals – With a playoff spot now secured, the Capitals can focus on their season finale in New York City with a chance at winning the Southeast Division still on the line. If Florida holds on for the division title, the Capitals would face the Rangers in the first round, and Florida would hold home ice in a first-round series against New Jersey. But the team's would flip-flop opponents if the Panthers falter and the Capitals top New York. … Michal Neuvirth left Thursday's win over Florida with a lower-body injury, leaving rookie Brayden Holtby as the only healthy goalie on the Washington roster. If Neuvirth's injury is serious enough to keep him from dressing for the season finale, journeyman Dany Sabourin would likely be recalled from Hershey.
Winnipeg Jets – The Jets closed out their road schedule with another loss, finishing the season with a 14-22-5 record away from the MTS Centre, good for fourth worst in the NHL. Winnipeg closes out 2011-12 at home against Tampa Bay.