Michael Tureski/Icon SMI)
With the end of the season within sight, all but one of the Southeast Division’s teams appears to have their fate sealed. The Florida Panthers are all but assured a long-awaited return to the postseason, while the Winnipeg Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes are just waiting for their mathematical elimination from the postseason. The Washington Capitals remain in a heated race with the Buffalo Sabres for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff berth.
The division’s two top snipers again had big weeks, while two checking line teammates paired up to impress in Manitoba. This group makes up the “three” stars of the week for March 23-29.
First Star: Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning – Stamkos pushed his NHL-leading goal total to 55 with five goals this week, plus he added two assists for seven points in four games. Stamkos had points in all four of the Lightning’s games, including two multi-goal games, to lead Tampa Bay to a 2-2 record on the week. But even though he’s the first star, he should probably buy teammate Martin St. Louis dinner; St. Louis notched assists on all five of Stamkos’ goals this week, plus added one goal of his own for six points.
Second Star: Alexander Ovechkin, RW, Washington Capitals – Ovechkin is turning into the Southeast’s Susan Lucci, coming in as second star for the third straight week. With the Capitals’ playoff hopes dangling in the balance, Ovechkin continues to lead the charge for Washington. He led all Capitals with six points in this week’s four games, scoring three goals and adding three assists. And while he was held without a point on four shots in Washington’s crushing 5-1 defeat Tuesday to Buffalo, he has come through otherwise. That includes assisting on both of the Capitals’ goals Thursday in Boston, plus tallying after regulation in Washington’s eventual shootout win.
Third Stars: Spencer Machacek, RW, and Ben Maxwell, C, Winnipeg Jets – Winnipeg’s playoff hopes may be ultra dim, but the play of grinders Machacek and Maxwell is a sliver lining. The duo factored in on four goals together this week, with Machacek scoring twice and Maxwell once while each registered four points. They teamed up for Machacek’s goal last Friday that tied the game in Washington with less than four minutes remaining, an eventual overtime win for the Jets, and continue to carve a niche for themselves for next season.
Southeast Division Notes
Carolina Hurricanes – The Hurricanes agreed to a new television deal with Fox Sports Carolina that will, for the first time, lead to the broadcast of all of the Hurricanes’ games. The deal kicks in with the 2013-14 season, with Fox Sports Carolina agreeing to televise all games not carried on national television in the U.S. Fox Sports Carolina will broadcast 65 games next season, the same number they televised in 2011-12.
Florida Panthers – With both Florida and Washington winning Thursday, the Panthers remain five points up on the Capitals with just five games remaining, including one in hand on their second-place rival.
Tampa Bay Lightning – The Lightning signed Minnesota-Duluth undrafted free agent J.T. Brown to an entry-level contract, landing the biggest unclaimed collegiate player on the market. Brown, who just completed his sophomore season, will join the Lightning for the balance of the season, burning off the first year of the two-year ELC.