Capitals win over Islanders has them in trouble, Rangers stay in race, Panthers and Lightning clinch, and more

Apr 27, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Washington Capitals defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) fights New York Islanders left wing Matt Martin (17) in the second period at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL schedule saw all teams in the East and Central Divisions in action yesterday. While the usual three teams all pulled off wins in the Central, the battles in the East are tightening among five squads for four playoff spots.

NHL East: Capitals blank Islanders, Bruins and Rangers win

The Capitals came into action a point behind the Penguins in the battle for first. After a tough 60 minutes against the struggling Islanders, they took sole possession of the top spot in the East. Daniel Sprong scored two minutes into the first period and Vitek Vanecek stopped all 18 Islanders shots for the 1-0 win.

“It wasn’t too many shots, but you try and stay focused all game and try and help the teammates [by making] a save,” Vanecek said. “They helped me a lot. That’s why they didn’t shoot too many shots.”

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The Islanders have had a rough month of April so far going 7-5-1 for 15 points. Not bad, but both the Rangers and Bruins continue to narrow the gap picking up 22 and 21 points respectively as each won last night too. The Caps (18 points) and Pens (19) also widened the gap putting the Islanders in a precarious spot down the stretch.

Taylor Hall is really settling into a groove with the Bruins as he picked up his fourth goal since the trade from Buffalo. Boston avenged their 1-0 loss to the Penguins on Sunday with a 3-1 win yesterday. The Bruins are 7-2 after the Hall trade. Boston has lost the previous two games before his acquisition.

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Apr 27, 2021; New York, NY, USA; Igor Shesterkin #31 of the New York Rangers makes the second period save on Riley Sheahan #15 of the Buffalo Sabres at Madison Square Garden on April 27, 2021 in New York City. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers remain one of the hottest teams in the NHL. Things looked bleak after losing to the Islanders and Flyers last week, but they won their third straight last night 3-1 over the Sabres. From March 17th to date, no team has picked up more points in the NHL than the Blueshirts’ 32 points.

Igor Shesterkin made 36 saves and stole the win from the Sabres. It was his spectacular goaltending that kept the Rangers in it until they found their game in the third period. That’s when Alexis Lafrenière scored his 10th of the season off a beautiful feed from Ryan Strome for the eventual game-winner.

The Devils finally won a game. They beat the Flyers 6-4 for their first win since April 8th, a stretch of 10 games without a victory.

NHL Central: Lightning and Panthers clinch; Hurricanes win again

PANTHERS PLAYOFFS
Apr 27, 2021; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Florida Panthers left wing Jonathan Huberdeau (11) and Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) celebrate after defeating the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Central Division is basically the Bolts, Canes, Cats, and everyone else. Carolina easily beat Dallas by a 5-1 score. The Hurricanes continue to sit atop the division standings with 71 points thanks to two goals by Jordan Staal.

Meanwhile, both the Panthers and Lightning clinched playoff spots with their wins. First the Lighting topped the Blackhawks in a wild 7-4 shootout. Brayden Point led the way with a goal and two helpers as Tampa still sits in third with 68 points.

The Panthers went off in the third period, scoring four times to beat the Predators 7-4. Jonathan Huberdau picked up five points (2G, 3A) in the win. Florida holds second place with 69 points. “It’s fun,” Huberdeau said after clinching. “We’ve been through a lot. I’ve been here nine years. It’s just a fun year. I think when you win it makes it so much more fun.”

In the final game of the evening, the Blue Jackets got themselves a win with a 1-0 shutout over the Red Wings. Elvis Merzlikins stopped a grand total of 41 shots with Patrik Laine scoring the only shootout goal for the victory. I’m sure the Merzlikins would still like to delete the season.