The Southeast This Week

The slump is over! The Lightning enjoyed an undefeated week, which included a gutsy 2-1 win over their inevitable first round opponent in the 2011 NHL playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

They followed that playoff berth-clinching victory with road wins against the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks, which gave them their third winning streak of at least five games this season, highlighted by a 2-0 shutout by Mike Smith. I can't believe I just typed that either. That was his first shutout in more than a full calendar year. I can believe I just typed that.

That's the good news. The bad news? Vinny Lecavalier left the game early yesterday after a scary high stick from Michael Frolik. He needed three stitches to close up a nasty gash near his right eye, and may also have a scratched cornea. At the moment, he's classified as day to day.

Call me biased, but that's about the worst news possible. Vinny has points in seven of eight, and with the help of Marty St. Louis, carried the team out of the slump.

That being said, we do have some time before the first round to let that eye heal.  Get well soon, Captain.

After the fold: the week that was in the Southeast.

Atlanta Thrashers: With every game being a must-win this week, the Thrash promptly lost two of three and watched their playoff hopes officially end. The only highlight of the week being a 43-save shutout of the Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia Flyers by Chris Mason.

And what does any good coach do after getting a shutout?  Play the other goalie the following game.   For what it's worth, Coach Craig Ramsay had already stated that regardless of the circumstances, he would alternate goalies to finish the season.  With your playoff lives in limbo, would you break a promise to go with the hot hand?  Yep, me too.

Unrelated: The Thrashers found out this week that they'll have a preseason game next year up in Newfoundland. The fine city of Conception Bay South (population 22,000 or about 20,000 more people than at a Thrashers home game) will get to see the Thrashers take on the Ottawa Senators in September as well as getting a whole bunch of other cool stuff, not the least of which being $100,000 in rink upgrades. Love it. Great to see the Hockey Night in Canada crew doing such good things to promote the game. Hint-hint, wink-wink, Versus.

Worth a mention: The Thrash were officially eliminated from playoff contention the same day that Ilya Kovalchuk and his New Jersey Devils were eliminated. Some breakups take longer than others, I guess.

Carolina Hurricanes: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: This team is frightening. If the Canes make the playoffs, keep me away. The Hurricanes picked up seven of a possible eight points this week, absolutely refusing to leave the possible playoff picture. The only problem? That single point they dropped was to the team they needed it against the most, the Buffalo Sabres.

Earlier in the week, rookie Jeff Skinner exploded back into prominence with a three point game (2G, 1A) against the Montreal Canadiens. The Canes' playoff hopes could depend solely on how the phenom finishes the season.

He's had my vote most of the year, but do you think he should win the Calder?

Unrelated:  The AHL affiliate of the Hurricanes, the Charlotte Checkers, clinched a playoff berth Saturday.  Okay, so, the Canes have an 18 year old stud, a Vezina caliber goaltender, a perennial All-Star center, and a playoff level farm team.  Even if it doesn't happen this year, it won't be long before the Southeast Division has three teams in the playoffs.  Adios ‘Southleast.'

Worth a mention: Joe Corvo had five points (1G, 4A) this week, was a +3, and picked up two power play points. He's already tied his career high for assists (29) in a season, and if he picks up just one point (he's at 40 points at the moment) in the remaining three games, he'll set a new career high for points in a season. I really enjoy when players getting towards the twilight of their careers have their best seasons. Especially Americans. Especially Americans from my home state.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers lost every game this week (that's sort of becoming a theme, isn't it?) and now sit tied for last in the conference with the Senators. Their remaining three games? At Washington, at Tampa Bay, and home against the Capitals again. On top of that, Tomas Vokoun has been out with a mysterious, lingering back injury since Monday. I don't see this team winning any more games this year.

To sum up the Panthers' year somewhat poetically, Dale Tallon had a call-up faux pas Saturday, forgetting to put center Tim Kennedy on re-entry waivers. Big deal? This is the second time Tallon has had a memory lapse involving a player transaction. Guy gets paid an awful lot to remember such things, has to be frustrating for ownership.

Unrelated: Also Saturday, David Booth played in his 300th game, becoming the 18th player in franchise history to reach the mark solely with the club, and becoming the first player in franchise history to finally match games played with games missed due to injury. Just kidding.

Washington Capitals: The Caps got back both Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott on Tuesday, and then promptly lost deadline pickup Dennis Wideman the same day after a big hit from Tuomo Ruutu. To compound things further, John Erskine left the next game early, same as Tyler Sloan the game after that. Mike Green and Tom Poti are still out as well. Looks like Braden Holtby may end up on the roster for the playoffs yet. Hey, it worked for Goldberg in D3. Worth a shot, right?

Despite having an injury list longer than the Book of Job, the Caps picked up five of six points this week and now have the same amount of points, and actually an identical record as the Flyers. The Capitals finish up the year at Toronto, at home against Florida, and then at Florida. The Flyers finish with at Ottawa, at Buffalo, and at home against the New York Islanders. I'm thinking the Capitals will finish with the top seed.

Unrelated:  The Capitals evidently have a strong following in Baltimore.  Nobody tell Gary Bettman.

Worth a mention:  We've discussed Alex Ovechkin's "down" year a few times, here's a look at why.  He's been virtually nonexistent in the first period.  Probably something he'll want to change when the playoffs start next week.

Important matchups this week: At this point they either all matter, or none of them matter.