Atlantic Watch: 3/28-4/3

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In their four-game schedule this week, the Flyers posted a record of 2-1-1 and picked up what might be there most intense victory of the 2011-2012 regular season with their win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday. It’s those same Pens that the Flyers trail by three points for fourth in the conference and the chance for home-ice advantage in the clubs’ first-round playoff series. The Orange and Black still have a shot for fourth, but they’ll need to beat a team fighting for their playoff lives along with the Pens this week.

The Broad Street Bullies started off the week with a bang, as they rolled over the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-1 on the road Thursday night. Due to a pregame injury to Jonas Gustavsson, Jussi Rynnas made his first NHL start in a night to forget for Leafs’ fans. Both Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds recorded two-goal games in the rout, while Danny Briere had four assists for his second four-point performance of 2011-2012. Matt Read, Jakub Voracek, and Eric Wellwood were the other three Flyers to score in the team’s second six-goal game win of the year, the first being their 9-2 drubbing of the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 5th. Filling in the for injured Ilya Bryzgalov, Sergei Bobrovsky faced 17 shots and denied 16 for his fourth game of the season where he allowed only one goal against. The win was the Flyers’ fifth straight against the Leafs and gave Philly their first sweep of the season series since Toronto joined the Eastern Conference in 1998-1999.

Two days later, the Flyers returned home and suffered a 4-3 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators. After they put themselves in a 3-0 hole 14:27 into the contest, Philly was able to force overtime thanks to tallies from Simmonds, Sean Couturier, and Braydon Coburn. Simmonds’ goal didn’t come easy, as the Flyers’ tough forward took a Schenn shot off his nose to redirect the puck past Craig Anderson, who made 36 saves for the win. Briere was the only Flyer to finish with a multi-point game, as he notched another two assists in Philly’s seventh shootout loss of 2011-2012. In the shootout, Read was the only Flyer to beat Anderson, while both Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza beat Bobrovsky for the additional point. The shootout loss was Philly’s first at home since Evgeni Nabokov stole a game for New York back on February 7th in a 1-0 decision. The loss also marked the first time the Flyers lost back-to-back games at home since they lost 6-4 to the Devils on February 4th and faced Nabokov three days later.

On Sunday, the Flyers beat the Penguins in Pittsburgh 6-4 in one of the more satisfying victories of 2011-2012. Marc-Andre Bourdon may have had the eventual game-winner and Bobrovsky may have had a career-high 43 saves, but the biggest story of the game was the brawl that took place with 1:03 left. Following a heavy and clean check from Joe Vitale on Briere on the neutral zone, all 10 skaters on the ice got into it while Peter Laviolette voiced his displeasure with Dan Bylsma emphatically. Laviolette was fined $10,000 for his actions while Pitt assistant coach Tony Granato was fined $2,500. Briere left the ice for the locker room immediately after the hit and is out indefinitely with a back injury. He was the second Flyer to leave the game due to a hit from Vitale, as Nick Grossmann left in the first period after a knee-to-knee hit with the Pens’ forward and is out 7-10 days. As for scoring, Claude Giroux had a goal and two assists for a three-point game, while Voracek recorded his first two-goal game as a Flyer and added an assist for his second three-point game of the season. Max Talbot had a goal and an assist against his former team, while four players on Pittsburgh had two-point games. Steve Sullivan had a pair of goals in the loss, while Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Pascal Dupuis, who extended his point streak to 14 games, each had two assists in the tilt. The win moved the Flyers to within one point of the Penguins in the standings and gave Philly four wins against their divisional rival for a second straight season.

To conclude the week, the Flyers lost to the Rangers by a score of 5-3 for New York’s first sweep of the season series since the 1971-1972 campaign. Marian Gaborik and Ryan McDonagh each had a goal and an assist in the Blueshirts’ eighth straight win over the Flyers, as Brad Richards increased his assist total on the season to 41 with two in the tilt. Henrik Lundqvist beat Philly for a sixth time in 2011-2012 with a 37-save effort on 40 shots against to set his season-high for saves, shots against, and goals allowed in any of his contests against the Broad Street Bullies. Gaborik’s tally was one of New York’s three power-play goals in the game while both Artem Anisimov and Ryan Callahan beat Bryzgalov on the man advantage for the Rangers. Bryz allowed five goals on 24 shots in his first game back from his chip fracture in his foot, while the Flyers dropped their third straight at home (0-2-1). Giroux had three assists and Voracek had a goal and a helper in the loss while Simmonds extended his goal streak to five games with his score in the second period. Scott Hartnell also scored in the loss, as he received credit for Philly’s third period mark which was originally awarded to Andreas Lilja. The tilt had a pair of fights where Brandon Prust edged out a decision over Zac Rinaldo and Jody Shelley dropped Mike Rupp before he saluted the Flyers’ faithful, as the loss dropped the Flyers to three points behind the Penguins in the race for home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

Philadelphia signed a pair of defenseman to entry-level contracts this week. Matthew Konan, a member of the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League (WHL), had 34 points through 40 games this season. Matt Mangene signed a two-year deal and played with the University of Maine most recently.

As for injury-related news, the triumvirate of Bryzgalov, Kimmo Timonen, and Lilja returned to action this week. Bryzgalov made 19 saves on 24 shots in his lone game, Timonen had an assist and three shots on net in three contests, and Lilja had an assist and a plus-1 rating in last night’s tilt.

With Timonen’s return, Erik Gustafsson was assigned to the Adirondack Phantoms of the AHL. In a pair of games, Gus had an assist and four shots on net while going minus-1 overall.

The Flyers conclude the 2011-2012 regular season with a home game against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday and a visit to the CONSOL Energy on Saturday to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Image Courtesy of The Associated Press

New York Rangers: 3-1-0. After they beat a pair of Eastern Conference foes outside of the postseason discussion, the Rangers lost to the Boston Bruins and came out victorious against the Flyers. With their win on Tuesday, the Blueshirts clinched the conference for the first time since they won the Stanley Cup in the 1993-1994 season. Already knowing that they will play either the Washington Capitals or Buffalo Sabres in the opening round, New York finishes the campaign with contests against the Pens on Thursday and the Caps on Saturday.

The Rangers started the week with a 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday to conclude their three-game road trip 3-0-0. New York produced three goals from special teams’ play, as Callahan and Derek Stepan potted power-play tallies and Michael Del Zotto put home a shorthanded attempt in the second period. Gaborik recorded a pair of assists in the Rangers’ fourth win of the year over the Jets, while Lundqvist stopped two less shots than Ondrej Pavelec for his third straight win posting a save percentage of .907 in the process. In their season sweep of Winnipeg, the Rangers held the Jets to a total of three goals and recorded two shutouts in the clubs’ four meetings. Stu Bickel fought Tanner Glass in the third period, as the Blueshirts notched their fifth win in their last six tilts.

New York increased their win streak to four games with a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Friday at MSG. Del Zotto registered his first two-goal game in the NHL with a man advantage goal in the third period and an even strength score less than nine minutes later to give him 10 goals in 2011-2012. Richards had his sixth three-point contest of the season with a tally and an assist, while Gaborik had a goal and a helper and Stepan had two assists for two-point performances in the Rangers’ 17th three-goal game win of the year. Lundqvist made 19 stops and fell just short of his ninth shutout, as a Rene Bourque shot with 2:29 left eluded him. Although the Canadiens will most likely finish as the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers were only able to grab four points from the Northeast Division club, as they went 2-2-0 against Montreal with a pair of three-goal game losses.

In their first game of April, the Rangers dropped a 2-1 decision to the visiting Boston Bruins. After Gaborik scored 4:33 into the contest, goals from Dennis Seidenberg and Patrice Bergeron 7:52 apart in the middle stanza dropped the Blueshirts’ record to 21-5-7 in one-goal games. Gaborik’s tally was his 40th of the season and made him the first Ranger to deposit 40 goals in a season since Jaromir Jagr put home 54 back in 2005-2006. Tim Thomas made 33 saves in the win, while Lundqvist stopped 19 of 21 for his second straight game with less than 20 saves. Although they out shot Boston 19-3 in the third period, Thomas denied all of New York’s attempts to tie the game, as the Rangers snapped a five-game winning streak against Boston. The loss gives New York a record of 11-8-1 against the Northeast Division this season and a record of 27-11-2 at home with one game left at Madison Square Garden.

New York proceeded to conclude the week with their 5-3 win over the Flyers last night in Philly.

The Blueshirts lone roster move of the week was assigning defenseman Tim Erixon to the Connecticut Whale of the AHL. Erixon had two shots on net and two PIMs with an even rating overall in three contests with the Whale.

For their last two games in the regular season, the Blueshirts face the Penguins in Pitt on Thursday and take on the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden for their 82nd game in 2011-2012.

Image Courtesy of The Associated Press

Pittsburgh Penguins: 2-2-0. Pittsburgh recorded a pair of wins in their Northeast Division match-ups this week and two losses in their Atlantic Division match-ups to stay in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Without a chance to win the East, the Pens need to grab two points in their final two contests to hang on to the fourth spot and home-ice against the Flyers. That task is easier said than done, as the Pens take on the Blueshirts and the Bullies in their last pair of contests in 2011-2012.

A pair of losses the Penguins can point to for an explanation as to why they didn’t win the conference will be the decisions in their most recent home-and-home with the Islanders, the second game being a 5-3 loss in New York on Thursday. Josh Bailey torched Pitt for two goals and three assists in his first five-point game in the NHL, while Kyle Okposo racked up a pair of goals to increase his total to 20 for the year in the Isles’ second win against the Pens in a three-day span. Marty Reasoner scored his first goal as an Islander in the first period, while Jay Pandolfo ended a 17-game pointless streak with his assist on Bailey’s shorthanded strike in the second period. Both Dupuis and Jordan Staal notched their 24th goals of the season, as Malkin potted his 47th in 2011-2012 in the final two minutes of the contest. Paul Martin was the lone Pen to record a two-point night, as his pair of helpers gave him 25 on the year and his third two-point game of the season. Marc-Andre Fleury allowed four goals against or more and failed to make 20 stops for a second straight game, as his 19 saves on 23 shots came against one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. Fleury was out played by Al Montoya, who won his second game in three decisions with 26 saves. The loss was the third time in a four-game span the Pens allowed at least five goals against.

The next day, the Pens traveled to Buffalo and notched a 5-3 win against the Sabres. Sullivan put home his first game-winning goal of the season late in the second period and added a couple of assists for his third three-point performance of 2011-2012. Malkin put home his 48th on the power play, while James Neal deposited his 38th on the man advantage to help Pitt snap a three-game road losing streak. Crosby had a goal and three assists for his third four-point game of the season, while Dupuis had a pair of helpers in the Penguins’ second win against the Sabres in 2011-2012. Brent Johnson won his first game in over a month with 25 saves on 28 shots against, as Pittsburgh finished the month of March with a record of 11-3-1.

After their painful loss to the Flyers on Sunday, the Pens concluded the week with a 5-3 victory over the Bruins in Boston. Johnson got the start again and recorded back-to-back wins for the first time this season with a 26-save effort. Crosby had two goals and an assist while Kris Letang had three assists, as the Pens lit Marty Turco up for five goals on 27 shots for his first game with five goals against since he joined the Bruins in March. Martin ended a 49-game goal drought with his second of the season in the first period, while Arron Asham ended a 10-game goal drought with his fifth of 2011-2012 in the third period. Dupuis extended his point streak to 15 games, as he had the primary assist on Crosby’s first goal. Dupuis has nine goals and 11 assists during the streak. The win gives Pittsburgh a record of 11-8-1 against the Northeast Division and an away record of 22-15-4 for the 2011-2012 campaign.

Pittsburgh had four players return from injury this week, which also resulted in three players being assigned to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL.

After he missed 17 games due to an illness, Johnson had a save percentage of .895 in his two wins. Since Johnson returned to action, Brad Thiessen was sent down and had 27 saves along with a win in his lone game with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

On defense, both Letang and Matt Niskanen returned to the line-up. Letang had three assists and six shots on net in two games, while Niskanen was minus-2 overall with four PIMs and four shots on net in three games.

Since Letang and Niskanen joined the mix, both Simon Despres and Brian Strait were assigned to the AHL. Despres had an assist, four shots on net, and two PIMs in a pair of contests for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, while Strait was plus-1 with a shot on net and four PIMs in one tilt.

Vitale, who knocked out two key Flyers on Sunday, was rocked in the side of the face by a shot in the Penguins’ win last night. He had to be helped off the ice and didn’t return. Karma isn’t always pleasant.

The Pens host the Rangers on Thursday and the Flyers on Saturday to finish their regular season schedule.

Image Courtesy of The Associated Press

New Jersey Devils: 3-0-0. With the help of three wins this week, the Devils are now on a four-game winning streak. It’s the fifth time this season New Jersey has had a winning streak of at least four games, as the Devils still have an outside chance of grabbing the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs. With a game on Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings and a tilt on Saturday against the Ottawa Senators, the Devils would need to win their last two games and have the Flyers fail to record a point for the rest of the season to end up in fifth.

On Thursday, a four-goal second period helped the Devils beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in New Jersey. Ilya Kovalchuk, David Clarkson, and Alexei Ponikarovsky each had a goal and an assist in the win, while Patrick Elias and Adam Henrique each had two-assist contests. Along with Kovalchuk’s mark, both Jacob Josefson and Marek Zidlicky posted their second goals of the season in the middle stanza while Dainius Zubrus’ shorthanded tally started the Devils’ monstrous second period. Martin Brodeur recorded his second win of the season where he made less than 20 saves, as he stopped 16. For Tampa, Dwayne Roloson was pulled in the third period after he allowed his sixth goal on the Devils’ 34th shot on net, while Sebastien Caron made four saves in the final 13:55 of the contest. The victory was Jersey’s first multi-goal game win since they beat the Flyers 4-1 on March 11th.

For their third straight win, New Jersey rolled over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday for a 5-0 decision. Kovalchuk had a goal and two assists for a three-point night, while Petr Sykora and Elias had two-point affairs. Clarkson’s goal in the first period made him the third Devil to post 30 goals this season, as Ryan Carter’s tally in the middle stanza ended his 12-game goal drought. Brodeur earned his third shutout of the season with 22 stops, his lowest save total out of his three blankings this year. Former Flyer Brian Boucher had a rough night, as he stopped 26 of 31 for his third game of the season where he allowed five goals against in just nine appearances this year. Five different Hurricanes finished the game minus-2, as the Devils won the season series 3-1-0. New Jersey finishes the season with a record of 14-6-0 against the Southeast Division.

To make it four straight, the Devils beat the Isles 3-1 at the Prudential Center last night. Elias deposited his 26th of the season 1:18 into the tilt and recorded an assist for a two-point performance, as Zach Parise had helpers on Travis Zajac’s tally in the second period and Kovalchuk’s empty-netter at the end of the game. Zajac’s power-play goal in the second period was his second of the season and his first game-winning goal since he planted an overtime goal against the Atlanta Thrashers on March 11, 2011. Sykora and Mark Fayne were the other Devils to record points in Jersey’s fourth win against the Isles this year, as the pair had assists on Elias’ early strike. For the Islanders, Matt Moulson potted his 35th 2:39 after Elias’ goal to become the first Isle to pot 35 goals in a season since Jason Blake deposited 40 in 2006-2007. Johan Hedberg earned his fourth straight win and increased his record to 6-0-1 in his last seven starts with 19 saves on 20 shots against for his fourth win of the season where he made less than 20 saves. The Devils enjoyed four power plays in the tilt while the Islanders weren’t awarded a single man advantage, as the only player on Jersey’s roster to enter the sin bin was Cam Janssen for his first-period scrap with Micheal Haley. The win was the third straight game New Jersey scored at least three goals.

Anton Volchenkov returned to the Devils’ line-up after he missed two contests due to a lower-body injury. In three games this week, Volchenkov was plus-4 with two shots on net.

Due to Volchenkov’s return, d-man Matt Taormina was relegated to the Albany Devils of the AHL. In a pair of tilts, Taormina registered a goal on six shots and was plus-1 overall.

Unfortunately for Jersey, Clarkson is out with a lower-body injury. He missed last night’s game against the Islanders and is listed as day-to-day.

Jersey takes a trip to Joe Louis Arena for a match-up against the Detroit Red Wings tomorrow night before they conclude their season on Saturday at home against the Ottawa Senators.

Image Courtesy of The Associated Press

New York Islanders: 1-3-0. After their win against the Penguins, the Islanders dropped a trio of contests. With two games left, the Isles look to avoid dropping to last in the Conference, something they can avoid by earning two points in their final pair of games against two teams positioned at the bottom of the league.

Following their win over the Pens on Thursday, the Islanders lost 6-3 to Boston in New York. Okposo planted his 21st of the season in the first period, while P.A. Parenteau potted a pair for his third two-goal game of 2011-2012. Turco made 19 stops for the win, while Montoya allowed six goals against in a single contest for the second time this season. Moulson and John Tavares each had two-assist games, while Frans Nielsen and Travis Hamonic added on assists in New York’s fourth loss at home in their last five contests at Nassau Coliseum. Andrew MacDonald finished the affair minus-3, while the only Islander to post a plus rating was Steve Staios with a plus-1 tilt. With the loss, the Isles finished the month of March with a record of 7-6-2.

The next day, the Islanders lost to the Ottawa Senators 5-1 in New York. Mark Streit’s seventh of the season opened the scoring and gave the Isles a 1-0 advantage 7:55 into the tilt, but the Sens scored the game’s next five goals for the win. Anderson stopped 29 of 30 to out play Montoya, who allowed five goals on 32 shots. The defeat was New York’s eighth of the season where they lost by a margin of four goals or more, as the loss gave the Islanders a record of 7-11-2 against the Northeast Division for 2011-2012. This was the Islanders’ third straight loss to Ottawa, as they have been out scored 16-3 in their three-game losing streak to the Sens.

New York wrapped up the week with their 3-1 loss to the Devils last night.

Due to Nabokov’s status as day-to-day with a lower-body injury, the Islanders signed John Grahame. With his last game in the NHL coming on March 14, 2008, Grahame has yet to make an appearance in a game for New York.

Also injured for New York recently was forward Casey Cizikas. Day-to-day with an upper-body injury, Cizikas has missed the Isles’ last three games.

As for their interaction with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL, the Islanders recalled both Haley and Matt Donovan while they sent down David Ullstrom.

Haley had 19 PIMs and five shots on net in three contests with New York, while Donovan was minus-1 with a shot on net in his NHL debut last night. Ullstrom had two goals on 15 shots, two assists, and six PIMs in three games while going plus-4 overall with Bridgeport.

The Islanders also signed Brock Nelson to a three-year entry-level contract. The 30th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, Nelson has decided to skip his final two years at the University of North Dakota to play professionally.

After a game against the Winnipeg Jets in New York on Thursday, the Islanders conclude the season with a contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday.