Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)
Four of the five teams in the Atlantic Division played on Tuesday night, with the division and, by extension, the Eastern Conference playoff race becoming a little bit clearer as a result.
The marquee matchup of the evening was between the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Headed into the game, the Penguins were looking to gain ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race while the Islanders were looking to pickup their first win in Pittsburgh since December 21st, 2007.
In the end, the Islanders’ second line of Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, and Kyle Okposo, who combined for eight points, was too much for the Penguins to handle and the Islanders won, 5-3. The Penguins didn’t make it easy for the Islanders, however, peppering the net with 54 shots, including 24 in the third period.
The Penguins looked like they may have sustained more than a loss, however, when goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury collided with teammate Paul Martin towards the end of the second period and was replaced in the third with backup Brad Thiessen. After the game both coach Dan Bylsma and Fleury himself said he left because of poor play, not any injury he may have sustained. Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was not so fortunate, however; reported to have sustained a lower-body injury, he was replaced by backup Al Montoya to start the third period.
The New Jersey Devils hosted the Chicago Blackhawks last night in a tightly contested match that ended in a 2-1 shootout victory for the Devils. Two players were particularly important in New Jersey’s victory, forward Travis Zajac and goaltender Martin Brodeur. Zajac, who recently returned to action after missing most of the season to a sore Achilles tendon, scored the shootout-deciding goal. Brodeur, meanwhile, churned out another stellar performance, knocking aside 37 of the 38 shots that he faced. The win gave the Devils a four-point cushion over the seventh ranked Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The New York Rangers, meanwhile, visited the Minnesota Wild last night and came out with a 3-2 victory. Combined with the Penguins 5-3 loss to the Islanders, the win allowed the Rangers to move three points ahead of Pittsburgh for the top spot in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. The Rangers have been red hot lately, winning four of their last five.
Atlantic Division Notes
New Jersey Devils – Despite a victory last night, the Devils continue to struggle putting the puck in the back of the net. With shootout goals excluded, they have managed only 10 goals in their last eight games.
New York Islanders – With two goals and an assist against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, center Frans Nielsen extended his hot streak to three games and six points. Nielsen has played his best hockey of the season over the past month, with 12 points in his last 13 games. Rookie Nino Niederreiter was scratched for the second consecutive game.
New York Rangers – When Marian Gaborik notched his 38th goal of the season last night, it marked the first time he scored against his former team, the Minnesota Wild, who originally drafted him third overall in 2000. It also was the last team Gaborik needed to score against in order to have registered at least one goal against all 30 teams in the NHL.
Philadelphia Flyers – Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov suffered a fractured foot in pregame warm-ups Monday night and is now day-to-day. He is not expected to play when the Flyers visit the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night. Philadelphia signed Nick Cousins, their third-round pick from 2011, to a three-year entry-level deal. Cousins will join the Flyers AHL affiliate the Adirondack Phantoms to finish the season.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Injuries have started to once again pile up for Pittsburgh, with Kris Letang, Matt Niskanen, Ben Lovejoy, Joe Vitale, and Brent Johnson all nursing some sort of malady. Barring any setbacks, all are expected to be healthy enough to play when the postseason rolls around.