MONTREAL CANADA - FEBRUARY 24: Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his first period goal during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on February 24 2011 in Montreal Quebec Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Canadiens 5-4. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

NHL Scores And More: Phil Kessel Carries Leafs Past Canadiens, Closer To Playoffs

Phil Kessel had four points as the Leafs beat Montreal to get within four points of the playoffs. Elsewhere, Andrej Meszaros scored in OT for Philly and Dallas won a big game in Detroit.

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Maple Leafs Vs. Canadiens: Phil Kessel's Big Night Brings Toronto Closer To Playoffs

Go look at the Eastern Conference standings and tell us what sticks out. We'll wait.  ...

Okay, done? Yeah, didn't think you'd believe it if we just said it, so we figured the visual evidence would be best. The Toronto Maple Leafs are just four points out of the NHL playoffs. At 27-27-1, good for 23rd best in the NHL, the Leafs are just four back of 8th place Carolina in the East.

That might be a sign that the East is extremely mediocre (at least if you're listening to Western Conference fans), especially since Toronto would be fledgling down in 13th place if they still played in the Central Division. But, of course, they don't, and last night's hectic, back-and-forth victory over the hated Montreal Canadiens was just another realization that -- holy hell, this team could be playoff bound.

It's not that fake "oh my God the Devils are gonna make the playoffs!!!1" hype, either. The Leafs have a legitimate shot at it. They're 8-2-2 since the All-Star break and perhaps of utmost importance, Phil Kessel is actually scoring at will right now. He had four points on Thursday night and he now has eight points in his last six. In an absolutely huge game -- both mentally and literally -- at Bell Centre, Kessel stepped up and delivered. 

Playoff hockey in Toronto could happen -- I mean, seriously, though.


Islanders Vs. Flyers: Andrej Meszaros' OT Goal Helps Philly Hold Off Matt Martin, Isles

Seven games ago, Matt Martin was pretty determined to punch Max Talbot in the face. Last night in Philadelphia during his first game back from suspension, Martin seemed pretty determined to take the New York Islanders on his back.

Martin's two beauties, including one that tied the game in the final minute of the third period, were enough to get the New York Islanders a point from the Flyers. In the end, though, the home team pulled out an overtime winner thanks to Ville Leino's patience and Andrej Meszaros' ability to snipe the top corner.

Defenseman Chris Pronger left the game for the Flyers after taking a puck off the hand/wrist in the third period. X-rays were negative and he'll be okay.

Al Montoya was absolutely brilliant in net for the Islanders, and from one perspective, you could probably give him the credit for keeping the Isles in it long enough for overtime to be a possibility. 

The Flyers haven't lost back-to-back games since December 20 vs. Florida and December 28 vs. Vancouver. They're the only team in the NHL without back-to-back losses in 2011. 


Stars Vs. Red Wings: Kari Lehtonen Brilliant As Dallas Wins Pivotal Game In Joe Louis Arena

With the trade deadline just four days away and the trade rumors circling the Dallas Stars and their star (pun alert!) Brad Richards, the last few games before Monday's deadline are incredibly important. As SB Nation's Defending Big D mentioned on Thursday, the games against Detroit and Nashville could turn out to be the turning point for the franchise. Wins could mean that Richards stays, but losses could mean something very different.

We may not know the full consequence of what happens should Richards stay in Dallas at this deadline -- will he sign long-term? will he walk for nothing? -- but we do know that the Stars stepped up on Thursday night with a big, necessary 4-1 win. It keeps Dallas up to speed in the Western Conference playoff race and despite a nasty five-game losing streak, the sole win against the Wings lifted them back into playoff position. 

Kari Lehtonen was absolutely fantastic in the Stars' crease, making 38 saves in the win. Mike Ribiero, Krys Barch, Loui Eriksson and Jamie Langenbrunner scored for Dallas, while Tomas Holmstrom scored the only goal for the Wings.

Elsewhere in the NHL...

Blackhawks 3, Predators 0: It was the biggest game of the year for both teams, and while Nashville had more quality scoring chances than they could handle, Chicago was either too good or the Preds were too snake-bitten. Corey Crawford made 31 saves.

Canucks 3, Blues 2: Luckily for Vancouver, St. Louis isn't on the schedule anymore. It was another tough battle between the two teams on Thursday night, but Manny Malhotra's game-winning goal a minute in to the third period gave the Canucks the win.

Kings 4, Wild 2: In their first game back at Staples Center after a long East Coast road swing, Los Angeles did what they've been doing the whole time they've been living out of suitcases -- win. Drew Doughty broke a tie early in the third period and Anze Kopitar added a shorthanded goal as the Kings passed the Wild.

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