The NHL's Southeast Division appears to be making the progression from 'abject embarrassment' to 'below average'. The Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals both picked up wins on Sunday, and both are clearly two of the top eight teams in the league, and are very close to being two of the top 16. Yes, there are two playoff-worthy teams in the Southeast. Out west, the St. Louis Blues expanded their lead at the top of the conference, while the Calgary Flames helped their playoff cause.
Washington Capitals 2-0 Toronto Maple Leafs
The Capitals won their third straight game on Sunday, with Brooks Laich and Mathieu Perreault scoring the two goals. For the second straight game, the Caps were able to win without the suspended Mike Green, who will still have to sit out one more game. Japers' Rink was happy with the Caps' performance, and the performance of Alexander Semin in particular.
Today's game was a great team win, but it also served to spotlight just how good Alexander Semin has been of late. He was easily the best player on the ice this afternoon, picking up an assist and creating a number of chances despite only having one shot on goal. Even his offensive zone penalty -- his first in ten games -- wasn't a lazy stick penalty so much as it was his skates getting caught up with a Maple Leaf's skates. He gave Toronto's defense fits every time he was on the ice, which opened up room for his linemates.
Florida Panthers 2-0 Carolina Hurricanes
Washington have won three straight, but they still trail the Panthers by one point in the Southeast after this win by Florida. Carolina had 34 shots on goal, but was unable to score. Litter Box Cats was pleased with Jose Theodore's performance, but warns that he can't play every game.
Florida [was] badly outshot in the second period but Jose Theodore [put] in another solid night between the pipes. At some point he'll need a rest, but it's great to have a goalie that can work with the slimmest of leads.
St. Louis Blues 2-1 Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blues won't be happy that they struggled as much as they did against a poor Blue Jackets team, but the win is all that counts in the end. David Perron scored the winning goal in the third period, while Blues' goalie Jaroslav Halak had a fantastic game. The Blues gifted Columbus two third-period power plays, and Halak was instrumental in killing them off, as noted by St. Louis Game Time.
The biggest reason the Blues now have an NHL-best 97 points? Jaroslav Halak. The Blues' unquestioned No. 1 goaltender stood on his head. He had two killer saves on odd-man rushes and, with the help of the God wand of Alex Pietrangelo, was able to keep the penalty kill streak alive.
Calgary Flames 4-3 Minnesota Wild
Calgary occupies a playoff spot in the tight race for eighth in the West, following their victory over Minnesota. The third period was extremely open and eventful and featured six goals. Matchsticks and Gasoline stopped short of open criticism of their goalkeeper Mikka Kiprusoff, but noted that he will need to play more consistent between the pipes for Calgary to make the playoffs.
[H]e cannot let in a goal like the Erik Christensen opener tonight. Like the Blake Wheeler goal against Winnipeg. These soft goals of late have completely changed the momentum of their respective games and had no business going in the back of the net. This team needs a focused Kiprusoff in order to make the post-season.