Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)
The race for the Southeast Division remains up for grabs, but none of the contenders seem to want to seize control. Despite winning just once in three games this week, the Florida Panthers remain in first with 74 points, two ahead of Washington and Winnipeg with games in hand on both.
With their overtime loss Thursday to the Capitals, the Lightning still remain in fourth place, five points behind the Panthers for the division lead and three behind Washington and Winnipeg for the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference. But one of the league’s hottest players is keeping them in contention — and is the Southeast’s top star for the week of March 2-8.
First Star: Teddy Purcell, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning — Purcell pushed his point streak to 11 games Thursday, and he registered eight points (three goals, five assists) in four games for Tampa Bay this week. That helped the Lightning get five of a possible eight points in their push to gain ground and get back into the playoff picture. Outside of his three even-strength points in Tampa Bay’s 4-3 overtime win on March 3 over the Rangers, Purcell got the remainder of his points this week on the power play. With Steven Stamkos — the league’s top goal-scorer with 48 goals — centering Purcell and Martin St. Louis, Purcell is not only benefiting from playing with two top-level players, but he’s making them even better, as well.
Second Star: Ondrej Pavelec, G, Winnipeg Jets — It was a slow week for the Jets with just two games in seven days, but they managed to stay in the playoff hunt thanks to the struggles of the Southeast’s other teams. It also helped to have Pavelec in net. He stopped 23 of 24 shots in Florida’s 3-1 win over fellow playoff bubble team Buffalo on March 5th. But he was the hard-luck loser in Vancouver Thursday, making 42 saves in a 3-2 loss to the Canucks. Pavelec kept the Jets in the game early, stopping 20 shots in the first period, and the Jets scored early in third to go up 2-1 on the defending Western Conference champions. But Vancouver scored twice in the final frame to eek out a win at home. Still, Pavelec stopped 65 of 69 shots in two games this week, good for a .942 save percentage, and the Jets and Capitals remained tied for the East’s final playoff spot with 72 points. Washington has one game in hand on Winnipeg, and both trail first-place Florida by two points.
Third Star: Marcus Johnasson, C, Washington Capitals —Johansson had just a goal and an assist in four games this week, but both were clutch plays that helped the Capitals earn points in the standings. Washington was shut out in back-to-back home losses against New Jersey last Friday and vs. Philadelphia Sunday, and looked like they were on their way to a regulation loss Tuesday against Carolina. But Johnasson’s return feed on a give-and-go led to Brooks Laich’s game-tying goal with less than three minutes remaining, giving the Capitals a much-needed point in the standings. Then, on Thursday Johansson helped force overtime again, scoring with 3:58 left on a defensive breakdown by the Lightning to tie the game at 2-2. Washington wound up winning in overtime on an Alexander Ovechkin goal, giving the Capitals three out of a possible eight points for the week when they could have easily come away empty-handed. Johansson still has a long way to go be a nightly threat at both ends of the ice, but his clutch points in Washington’s last two games couldn’t have come at a better time.
Southeast Division Notes
Carolina Hurricanes: Cam Ward stopped 85 of the 91 shots he faced in back-to-back overtime games Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Hurricanes got their first overtime/shootout win since Dec. 29, snapping a run of eight straight losses after regulation, with their overtime win over Washington Tuesday. With their OT loss Wednesday in Buffalo, Carolina has had three consecutive games go to overtime, all starts by Ward.
Florida Panthers: The front end of a Pennsylvania back-to-back didn’t go well for the Panthers. They were blanked by the Flyers, 5-0, Florida’s second blowout loss in four games. The team went 1-3 for the week and was outscored 17-5 in that stretch. The Panthers still sit in first place, but they had a chance this week to seize control of the division with Washington struggling and the Jets playing just twice, but instead kept those two within striking range and opened the door for Tampa Bay to have an outside shot at winning the Southeast.