Terry Lee/Icon SMI)
The NHL schedule was thin Monday, with just three games on the docket. But there were still points to be grabbed, and no two were bigger than those at stake when the Winnipeg Jets hosted the Buffalo Sabres at the MTS Centre. And for the second time in a week, the Jets faced a pivotal playoff bubble matchup and came out on top, 3-1.
The Sabres came into the game riding a three-game winning streak, while Winnipeg was in the midst of a 4-1-2 run at home with being Buffalo the final opponent on a season-long eight-game home stand. But instead of being tied for the final spot in the East, the Jets moved to four points ahead of Buffalo and within two of Southeast leader Florida, a team Winnipeg dominated 7-0 last Thursday.
Bryan Little assisted on all of Winnipeg’s goals, the first three-assist game of his career and his first three-point night since he had a hat trick in Atlanta on Dec. 26, 2008, vs. Carolina.
Southeast Division Notes
Carolina Hurricanes – Patrick Dwyer was back on the ice Monday, his first practice since he left Carolina’s 3-2 shootout loss against Florida on Feb. 25. Dwyer’s numbers aren’t eye-popping — five goals and five assists in 57 games — but his defensive contributions were missed. Dwyer had been paired with center Brandon Sutter as two-thirds of Carolina’s best checking line, with Andreas Nodl often playing the other wing since being acquired via waivers from Philadelphia in late November. With Dwyer back, Zach Boychuk was reassigned to the AHL‘s Charlotte Checkers over the weekend, seemingly unable to impress coach Kirk Muller in his first recall under the new Hurricanes head coach.
Florida Panthers – Top scorer Kris Versteeg hopes to be back on the ice this week, giving the Panthers some added scoring punch for the stretch run. Versteeg admitted to the Miami Herald that his current injury — reportedly a hip ailment — has been an issue for more than a month, and the numbers show it. Versteeg had 11, 15 and 12 points, respectively, in the season’s first three months. But in 21 games since the calendar flipped to 2012, he has just 11 total points — and just five of his 22 goals — and is a combined minus-12 compared to the plus-14 he boasted through the end of December.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Tampa Bay’s makeshift defense could get a boost this week with the possible return of 21-year-old workhorse Victor Hedman. Newcomers Keith Aulie, Mike Commodore and Brian Lee have all been in the lineup of late for the Lightning, and to their credit helped Tampa Bay win four straight with Hedman out of the lineup. Hedman briefly skated Monday and told the Tampa Times that he was “100 percent and ready to go.” But Hedman also offered the possibility he won’t be able to play at home Tuesday against Ottawa, saying, “It’s a possibility I can play. We’ll see how it feels [Tuesday].”
Washington Capitals – The Capitals reassigned goaltender Braden Holtby to Hershey of the AHL. Holtby had been up in D.C. due to an injury to supplanted No. 1 goalie Tomas Vokoun. Regardless, Michal Neuvirth has started five straight for Washington and is expected to start Tuesday when the Capitals host Carolina. With the Capitals being shut out in consecutive games for the first time in more than a decade, coach Dale Hunter preached traffic in front of the net during Monday’s practice, so expect Washington to try and create havoc in front of the Hurricanes net Tuesday.