Atlantic: Flyers latest Eastern team to clinch a playoff spot

By Ian Altenbaugh

Photo: Ilya Bryzgalov and his Philadelphia Flyers teammates clinched a playoff berth on the weekend, the third Atlantic team to do so this season (courtesy of

Bill Streicher/Icon SMI)

The dominance of the teams in the Atlantic Division continued to be on display over the weekend when the Philadelphia Flyers clinched a 2012 playoff berth. The Flyers were the third team in the division to punch their playoff ticket this season, with the New Jersey Devils getting closer to clinching one this week. The Atlantic Division is the only one in the Eastern Conference so far to have a team clinch a playoff spot.

Below is a roundup of what happened in the division over the weekend as well as what the rest of the week has in store.

New Jersey Devils
The Devils played two games this past weekend, first hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs Friday night in a 4-3 shootout loss, then visiting the Penguins last evening in a hard fought 5-2 loss.

An ailing Devils offense got a shot in the arm Sunday when center Travis Zajac returned to action. Zajac managed an assist in 13:31 of ice time but more importantly gives the Devils three lines that can put the puck in the net. New Jersey has struggled offensively as of late, managing only 10 goals in their last seven games.

The Devils will play all of their games at home this week, hosting the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday March 27th and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday the 29th.

New York Islanders
The Isles played back-to-back games this past weekend, losing against the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 on Saturday and winning in a 3-2 shootout against the Florida Panthers last night. Two-way center Frans Nielsen had a particularly strong weekend, managing a goal, two assists and scoring the game-winning goal in last night’s shootout vs. the Panthers.

The Islanders will play a home-and-home series with the Pittsburgh Penguins this week, visiting them on Tuesday then hosting them Thursday.

New York Rangers
The Rangers played two games in the Northeast Division this past weekend, first hosting the Buffalo Sabres in a 4-1 loss Friday, then visiting the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday, beating them 4-3 in a shootout. The Rangers remain in the first spot of both the division and the Eastern Conference, leading the next team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, by a single point.

Rookie defenseman Tim Erixon earned the first two points of his NHL career when he managed an assist in each of the Rangers games over the weekend.

When the Blueshirts convene for a road trip this week, they will be doing so without the services of forward Mats Zuccarrello, who suffered a broken wrist just 2:08 into Friday’s match against the Sabres. The Rangers will play three games this week, visiting the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday and the Winnipeg Jets Wednesday, and then hosting Montreal on Friday.

Philadelphia Flyers –
The Flyers clinched a playoff berth over the weekend when they hosted the Montreal Canadiens Saturday, beating them 4-1. It was the 11th start in a row where goalie Ilya Bryzgalav has allowed two goals or less, a streak that has lasted since March 4th. The goaltender has a 9-1-1 record over that span, allowing only 12 goals and registering four shutouts.

The Flyers will wrap up a five-game homestand tonight when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning. They will then head to Toronto for a Thursday evening matchup.

Pittsburgh Penguins –
The Penguins were pummeled by the Ottawa Senators in spectacular fashion Saturday night, when they yielded eight goals on 28 shots in an 8-4 loss. The Penguins bounced back quickly, beating the New Jersey Devils 5-2 Sunday night. It was the seventh time in eight games the Penguins scored five goals or more.

Pittsburgh will have a busy schedule this week, kicking off things with a home-and-home series against the Islanders, then wrapping up the week with a game against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday.

After being healthy last week for the first time in a long time, the Penguins have lost Matt Niskanen (upper body), Steve Sullivan (undisclosed), and Ben Lovejoy (lower-body) on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday night, respectively.

Captain Sidney Crosby scored his first goal of 2012 when he sent a wrist shot past Sens goalie Craig Anderson Saturday night. Over the weekend, Crosby managed two goals and two assists, giving him four goals and 21 assists through 15 games on the season.