Atlantic Watch: 3/21-3/27

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In their three home games this week, the Flyers were able to clinch a playoff spot with a pair of wins over teams currently sitting outside the postseason scenario.

Unfortunately, Ilya Bryzgalov suffered a chip fracture in his right foot. Hopefully for Philly, Bryzgalov will be back by the end of next week when the club takes on the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers as part of their four-game schedule over the next few days.

On Thursday, the Orange and Black earned two points against the Washington Capitals with a 2-1 shootout win at the Wells Fargo Center.

Wayne Simmonds potted the decisive tally in the fourth round of the shootout, as Bryzgalov stoned Troy Brouwer’s attempt to extend the contest. After he mishandled a puck early to hand Alex Ovechkin a goal 26 seconds into the game, Bryzgalov settled down to stop 30 of 31 shots for his third win in his last four shootout appearances. The only Capital to beat Bryzgalov in the shootout was Matt Hendricks, who undressed Bryz on Washington’s first attempt. In addition to the shootout, Bryzgalov also needed to stop a Marcus Johansson penalty shot in the middle stanza. Claude Giroux had the Flyers’ lone goal in the game, as his breakaway goal was his 27th of the season off of assists from Jaromir Jagr and Andreas Lilja. The win marks the first time the Broad Street Bullies won the season series against the Caps since they went 3-0-1 against them in 2005-2006.

Two days later, the Flyers officially clinched a spot for the 2012 playoffs with a 4-1 win over the visiting Montreal Canadiens.

Despite the fact the Habs entered the game with the league’s best penalty-killing unit, Philly registered three power-play goals in the win. Two of those power-play goals belonged to Danny Briere, who snapped a 29-game stretch without a goal that wasn’t an empty-net tally to record his 15th and 16th of the season. Kimmo Timonen also scored on the power play for the Flyers, while Matt Read notched his 21st of the year late in the third period to help Philly to their second straight win. Pavel Kubina took part in his first fight as a Flyer when he dropped the gloves with Josh Gorges early in the third period, as Philly’s penalty-kill unit denied Montreal on all five of their power plays in the tilt. Bryzgalov’s only mistake in the game was a Tomas Plekanec breakaway goal in the second period, as the netminder made 23 saves to conclude his 11-game streak where he didn’t allow more than two goals against in any contest.

To conclude the week, the Flyers dropped a 5-3 decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday night in Philly. A Matt Carle error led to J.T. Wyman’s eventual game-winner, as the Bolts scored three times in the final stanza to walk away with two points.

Steven Stamkos furthered his league-lead in goals with his 53rd of the season, which came on the power play with six-tenths of a second left in the first period. For Philadelphia, Simmonds ended a 16-game goal drought with a tally in the second period, as the lanky forward scored for the first time since his dramatic goal against the Winnipeg Jets in the dying seconds of the Flyers’ 5-4 overtime win on February 21st. Read also scored for Philly, as the rookie’s 22nd goal gave him goals in back-to-back games for the first time since he did so on January 19th against the New York Islanders and January 21 against the New Jersey Devils. The loss marks the second straight year the Flyers lost the season series to the Lightning, as they went 1-3-0 against Tampa in 2010-11.

The biggest news of the week for the Flyers, relating to injuries and roster moves, is the fact Bryzgalov has a chip fracture in his foot. The injury is believed to have happened during Monday night’s warm-ups before the Lightning game when a Jakub Voracek shot hit an exposed part of Bryz’s skate. He is listed as day-to-day and is definitely unavailable for Thursday’s contest.

Timonen is also listed as day-to-day, as an upper-body injury will keep the defenseman from traveling to Toronto this week. General Manager Paul Holmgren said Timonen’s situation is, “a maintenance thing we had planned.”

Also out with an upper-body injury and listed as day-to-day is Lilja. Holmgren announced before the game against the Canadiens on Saturday that Lilja would miss time. The Flyers’ defenseman ended a 31-game pointless span and recorded his first point since November in his lone game of the week with the secondary assist on Giroux’s goal against the Caps.

Erik Gustafsson was recalled from the Adirondack Phantoms this week. In his two games with Philly, Gus posted an even rating with one shot on net.

In addition to all the injury and call-up action, the Flyers also signed forward Nick Cousins to a three-year entry-level contract. Drafted 68th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft by Philadelphia, Cousins was playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) before he signed this week.

Philly closes out the month of March with a road game against the Toronto Maple Leafs tomorrow night and a home game against the Ottawa Senators Saturday night. To open April, the Flyers travel to Pittsburgh for a matinee game against the Penguins on Sunday and return to the Wells Fargo Center for a game against the New York Rangers on Tuesday.

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New York Rangers: 3-1-0. In a week where they played three teams well below them in the standings, the Rangers managed to squeak out two one-goal wins, grab a shootout victory, and suffer a multi-goal loss.

Thanks to a strong performance last night from the Islanders, the Rangers’ lead over the Pens for the division and conference is still three points. The Blueshirts upcoming week has four games scheduled, two of which are against Canadian teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and two of which are teams expected to make noise in the postseason.

Ryan Callahan was the hero on Wednesday night, as the Rangers’ captain scored in overtime to give New York the 2-1 decision over the Detroit Red Wings at Madison Square Garden. Callahan’s second overtime tally this year came at the 2:42 mark of the extra frame and improved the Rangers’ record to 9-6-2 against Western Conference teams.

Henrik Zetterberg opened the scoring 3:36 into the game, but Brad Richards leveled the tilt to 1-1 with a power-play tally later in the period. Henrik Lundqvist made 26 stops, two of which came in overtime, for his first game where he allowed one goal against or less since he shut out the Devils on February 27. The win was the Rangers’ first against a Western Conference team since they edged out the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 3-2 overtime game on February 19th. The victory improved New York to 4-2-0 on their seven-game homestand.

On Friday, the Blueshirts concluded their residency with a 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Drew Stafford burned the Rangers for a pair of goals in the loss, as the Sabres’ forward increased his goal total to 17 for the campaign while Tyler Ennis had a goal and two assists in New York’s second three-goal game loss on the trip. Travis Turnbull potted his first goal in the NHL to open the scoring, as Buffalo improved to 5-0-2 in their last seven contests. Lundqvist had a rough night, as he allowed four goals against in a contest for a second time this month. Although he only faced five shots in the third period, and the Rangers out shot Buffalo by eight in the final stanza, Lundqvist still gave up a couple tallies for New York’s 10th three-goal game loss. Brian Boyle’s seventh goal of the season was the Rangers’ only tally, as Tim Erixon’s secondary assist on the score was the defenseman’s first point in the NHL. The loss marked a fifth straight game the Rangers couldn’t produce more than two goals.

For just a second time in the month of March, the Rangers won a road game, as they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in a shootout 4-3 on Saturday. Callahan played hero again, as he was the second Ranger in the three-round shootout to beat Jonas Gustavsson to earn New York their fourth win of the season decided by the skills’ competition. The Blueshirts erased a pair of one-goal deficits in the tilt, as Marian Gaborik scored 3:08 after Cody Franson in the first period to even the score at one and Brandon Dubinsky scored 8:36 after Joey Crabb in the middle period to tie it at two. New York’s only lead in the game lasted all of 18 seconds in the third period after Gaborik deposited his second of the game, and 37th of the season, only to be answered by Tim Connolly. The victory was the Rangers’ first away from MSG since their 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on March 1st ending a four-game losing streak (0-3-1) on the road.

Last night, the Blueshirts traveled to Minnesota and dealt the Wild a 3-2 loss. With the game tied 2-2 late in the third period, Ruslan Fedotenko put home his ninth goal of the season for his first game-winning goal since March 2, 2010 when he was a member of the Penguins. Ryan McDonagh had a two-assist game for New York while both Boyle and Gaborik scored in the club’s fourth win in five contests. Kyle Brodziak and Mikko Koivu, who accounted for both of Minnesota’s goals on the night, took advantage of the Wild’s only two power plays in the tilt and scored two goals with the man advantage. The win was the Rangers’ 11th straight win where they won by a margin of two goals or less, with their win over the Wild serving as the third one-goal game win for New York in regulation during their stretch of close victories. The contest finished the Blueshirts’ schedule against the Western Conference this season and improved the team’s record to 3-2-0 against the Northwest Division.

In injury news, Mats Zuccarello is sidelined indefinitely with a broken left wrist. In just his 10th game of the season with the Rangers, Zuccarello was hit by a Jordan Leopold shot on Friday night.

On the bright side, Artem Anisimov returned to the line-up for New York. After he missed a pair of games due to an upper-body injury, Anisimov had an assist and four shots on net in all of the Blueshirts’ games this week.

The Rangers also signed forward Andrew Yogan to an entry-level contract. Selected 100th overall in the 2010 draft by New York, Yogan was a member of the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League earlier this year.

After they conclude their three-game road trip with a contest against the Winnipeg Jets tonight, the Rangers return home to host the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night. The Blueshirts play the Bruins at Madison Square Garden on Sunday before they hit the road to play the Flyers on Tuesday night.

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Pittsburgh Penguins: 2-2-0. The Pens went .500 this week with a pair of multi-goal game wins and a pair of multi-goal game losses in their pursuit of the top spot in the conference.

Seven of the Pens’ last nine games have been decided by three goals or more with six of those decisions serving as wins for Pittsburgh. With three games on the road in the next few days, the Pens are still looking for a way to beat out the Rangers for the top spot in the East.

Pitt finished their schedule against the Western Conference with a dominant 5-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Thursday night. Evgeni Malkin may have had a pair of goals in the win, but it was James Neal who led the Penguins offensively with a four-point night, all of which were helpers.

Both Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz recorded their 22nd goals, as Marc-Andre Fleury made 11 more saves than Pekka Rinne for his 12th straight game where he earned his team a point (11-0-1). Kris Letang had assists on Malkin’s first goal and Dupuis’ tally to help the Penguins finish the season 13-2-3 against the Western Conference. In his first game since his return from the KHL, Alexander Radulov potted a goal halfway through the second stanza. The win improved the Pens’ home winning streak to nine games.

On Saturday, the Penguins traveled to Ottawa and suffered an 8-4 loss. In their first regulation loss since February 19, Pitt allowed four goals in the second period and three goals in the third period to experience their third loss of the season where they fell by a margin of four goals.

Daniel Alfredsson had a four-point night with a couple goals, one of which was shorthanded, and a couple of assists while both Milan Michalek and Nick Foligno posted three-point performances. Sidney Crosby scored his first goal since he returned to the line-up earlier in the month, while Tyler Kennedy potted his ninth and Matt Cooke put home a pair to end the Pens’ fourteen-game point streak. Brad Thiessen stopped 20 of the Sens’ 28 shots on net in the loss for his career-high in goals against for a single game in either the NHL or AHL. The loss marks the second time in the last three years the Pens didn’t win the season series against the Sens, as their record against Ottawa was 1-3-0 in 2011-2012.

The Pens won Sunday’s match-up against the New Jersey Devils by a score of 5-2 in Pittsburgh. Crosby scored for a second straight game, as his assist on Dupuis’ game-winning tally in the second period also gave him his second straight two-point game. Kunitz and Jordan Staal scored in the opening 20 minutes for Pitt, while Malkin notched the empty-netter for his 46th goal of the season in the Penguins’ third win against the Devils. Zach Parise recorded his 30th of the season in the first period while Ilya Kovalchuk deposited his 32nd, as Jersey dropped their second straight game.

Fleury made 32 saves for his first 30-save performance since he stopped 34 against the Boston Bruins on March 11th, as his record improved to 11-0-1 in his last 12 decisions. Martin Brodeur, on the other hand, lost his fourth straight game, as he allowed four goals against on 27 shots. The win moved the Pens to within one point of the conference-leading Rangers, as New Jersey fell to six points behind the Flyers, who had a Game in Hand on Philly. The game improved Pittsburgh’s record to 11-7-1 against the rest of the Atlantic Division and to 38-15-5 against the Eastern Conference this season, while the Devils dropped to 12-11-0 against the Atlantic Division and to 34-22-4 against the rest of the conference.

Last night, the Pens saw their winning streak at home come to a crashing halt with a surprising 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders.

A bad bounce off the end boards and a flubbed glove-save attempt let the Islanders leave the first period with a 2-0 advantage thanks to tallies from Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner. With goals from Kennedy and Neal, the Penguins were able to tie the game at two by the 4:10 mark in the middle stanza, but Fleury allowed three goals in the final eight minutes of the period. A Kyle Okposo snap shot, a David Ullstrom power-play tally, and Nielsen’s second of the contest caused Fleury to be pulled after 40 minutes of play with 13 saves on 18 shots against. Evgeni Nabokov also left the cage for New York after two periods, but his exit was due to a lower-body injury rather than a poor performance. Al Montoya stopped 21 of the Pens’ 22 third-period shots to give New York their fourth win in five games, while Pittsburgh lost at home for the first time since their 2-1 defeat against the Anaheim Ducks on February 15. The loss dropped the Pens’ record to 10-2-1 in March, as the Islanders improved to 6-5-2.

As for Pitt’s injuries, Letang is the biggest name that was most recently hurt for the club. Out with a lower-body injury due to a pair of collisions on Sunday, Letang is listed as day-to-day.

Also hurt in Sunday’s game against the Devils was Ben Lovejoy, who suffered a right knee injury. The incident resulted in Lovejoy undergoing arthroscopic surgery yesterday and is expected to sideline him for three to four weeks.

Matt Niskanen is another Pens’ defenseman who will miss time, as he is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Due to all the injured blue liners, Pittsburgh called up both Brian Strait and Simon Despres. Strait recorded his first point in the NHL with an assist on Tuesday, while Despres had one shot on net in 13:40 TOI last night.

As for players who returned to the line-up this week, both Dustin Jeffrey (illness) and Steve Sullivan (lower-body injury) made their way back to the ice. Jeffrey, who missed 10 games, played against New Jersey, where he won two of his six faceoffs and posted a shot on net. Sullivan, who missed Sunday’s game against the Devils, had an assist and a shot on net last night against the Isles.

The Pens have road games against the New York Islanders on Thursday and the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night before they return to the CONSOL Energy Center to host the Flyers on Sunday. Pitt concludes the week with a tilt against the Bruins in Boston on Tuesday night.

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New Jersey Devils: 1-1-1. Doing what they do best, the Devils took part in a pair of shootouts this week, but were only able to win one to earn three points out of the six offered to them over the last few days.

Three of the Devils’ last seven games have been determined by the shootout, as the club has earned two wins in those decisions. With a trio of games against teams sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the Devils have a chance to gain ground on the Flyers for the fifth spot.

Trailing 3-1 in the third period, the Devils were able to force overtime to earn a point in their 4-3 shootout loss on Friday night against the Maple Leafs. Markers from Parise and Adam Henrique 4:21 apart in the final 10 minutes of regulation pushed the game into overtime, where New Jersey out shot Toronto 4-0. Although Kovalchuk and Parise beat James Reimer, the Leaf’s goalie stopped Patrik Elias while all three of Toronto’s shooters beat Brodeur. Jacob Josefson recorded his first goal of the season in the second period, as Jersey took part in their 15th shootout. Brodeur made 14 saves in the loss, while the Devils dropped their third game in their last four contests.

Following their loss to the Penguins on Sunday, the Devils returned to the Prudential Center to beat the Chicago Blackhawks last night 2-1 in a shootout. The five-round shootout concluded with a Travis Zajac shot that beat Corey Crawford and an Andrew Shaw shot that failed to count as a shot for the Devils’ league-leading 12th shootout win of the season. Elias also scored in the shootout for Jersey, while Patrick Sharp was the only Hawk to beat Brodeur, who redeemed himself for Friday’s display in the skills’ competition. In regulation, Petr Sykora registered his 18th of the season on the power-play with 4:18 left in the first off assists from Henrique and Mark Fayne. Nearly halfway through the final stanza, Brent Seabrook put home his eighth of the year to tie the game at one. The win put the Devils at 9-6-2 against the West with the club’s only game remaining against a team from the other conference is on April 5 against the Red Wings.

The only Devil to go down with an injury this week was Anton Volchenkov. The defenseman has missed Jersey’s last two games with a lower-body injury. He is listed as day-to-day.

In his place for last night’s game against the Hawks was Peter Harrold, who was called up from the Albany Devils. He had one shot on net in 19:06 TOI.

After he missed 37 games due to a problem with his achilles, Zajac returned to action. He had an assist and two PIMs while going minus-1 overall in the Devils’ two most recent games.

The Devils conclude their Southeast Division match-ups for 2011-2012 with a home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning tomorrow night and a game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena Saturday night. New Jersey concludes the week against the Islanders at the Prudential Center on Tuesday.

Image Courtesy of The Associated Press

New York Islanders: 2-1-0. The Islanders concluded their five-game road trip with two wins and a loss this week, as they beat a pair of clubs looking forward to the playoffs.

New York finished the road trip with a record of 4-1-0. Hopefully they can keep their winning ways intact, as they take on four of the top seven teams in the conference over the next few days.

The Isles’ only loss on the road trip came in their 4-3 loss to the Lightning on Saturday. After Stamkos’ 51st and 52nd, New York scored the game’s next three goals with marks from Nielsen, Okposo, and Matt Moulson, who deposited his 33rd of the season. Unfortunately for New York, Tom Pyatt tied the game just over nine minutes into the final period and former Islander Tim Wallace won it minutes later with his first game-winning goal in the NHL. Dwayne Roloson beat his former team with a 34-save effort, while Montoya lost for a fourth time in his last five decisions with 22 saves and four goals against. The loss was the Islanders’ fourth straight loss where they lost by a margin of one goal and was the club’s first one-goal game loss on the road in the month of March.

New York beat the Florida Panthers the following day by the score of 3-2 in a shootout. Nielsen was the lone player to score in the shootout for either team, while Nabokov stoned both John Madden and Wojtek Wolski before Marcel Goc missed the net on the final shot to give the Islanders the additional point. Moulson’s 34th of the season came in the second period to erase a 1-0 deficit due to Stephen Weiss’ first period tally, while Okposo’s 17th in 2011-2012 came 2:31 after Tomas Fleischmann made it a 2-1 game in the third period. The victory is the Isles’ second of the month via the shootout and their seventh of the season. New York avoided being swept by the Panthers in the season series after Florida won the first three meetings by a combined score of 10-3. Former Islander Sean Bergenheim tied the game-high of five shots on net in 20:07 TOI, but failed to register a point.

New York concluded the week with their 5-3 win over the Pens in Pittsburgh last night.

The only injury or roster news of the week surronding the Isles is the fact they signed Nabokov to a one-year contract extension.

The Islanders start their four-game week with three contests at home, the first of which is tomorrow against the Penguins. After Saturday’s game against the Boston Bruins and Sunday’s game against the Ottawa Senators, the Islanders travel to the Prudential Center to face the Devils.