Five things we learned: Playoff picture almost complete

The Toronto Maple Leafs are officially headed to the playoffs after a wild third period saw Connor Brown score the game-winner against the Penguins for a 5-3 win.

A huge win in Toronto, some final farewells and a playoff picture that’s almost complete.

Here’s what we learned on the second-last night of the regular season.


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Home sweet home for Sens

The Ottawa Senators can breathe a little easier heading into their season finale.

Having already clinched a playoff berth Tuesday, the Senators did one better thanks to beating the New York Rangers 3-1.

The Sens wrapped up the second seed in the Atlantic Division, ensuring home-ice advantage for the first round. It’s the first time they’ll get to start a playoff series in Ottawa in 10 years.

The Senators have been ravaged by injuries to the likes of Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot, Bobby Ryan and Zack Smith. Having nothing on the line for their final game Sunday means they can avoid rushing players back – Karlsson, Methot and Ryan are expected to sit out anyway – and can rest additional regulars if desired.

Ottawa closes out the season on the road against the New York Islanders. Don’t be surprised if Mike Condon is between the pipes, especially after this injury scare to Craig Anderson.

Leafs win, and they’re in

It was a stressful 60 minutes for Leafs fans, but the end result was worth all the nail-biting: The Toronto Maple Leafs are officially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, claiming the final spot with a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on the second-last day of the regular season.

James van Riemsdyk scored a gorgeous goal, Kasperi Kapanen registered the first of his career at the best possible time, and Auston Matthews sealed the deal by scoring his 40th goal and first empty-net marker.

“I told the coaches at the start of the year that if we got in it was going to be tomorrow in Game 82,” head coach Mike Babcock said after the game. “I thought it would be like this – you have to really crawl in at the end. We’re one game ahead of schedule.

“But, to be honest with you, I didn’t know the kids could be this good.”

Leafs fans got a bit of a scare early in the second period when goalie Frederik Andersen left the ice after being knocked over. Curtis McElhinney stepped in and made some game-saving stops to help the Maple Leafs to victory. It remains to be seen if Andersen is healthy enough to play in Sunday’s season finale.

Post-season picture almost complete

Now that Toronto is in, we’ve officially got our full cast of characters for the 2016-17 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But there are still a few scores to be settled and matchups to be made. Let’s break it down.

Here are the matchups we know are locked in:
Montreal vs. NY Rangers
Pittsburgh vs. Columbus
Chicago vs. Nashville
Minnesota vs. St. Louis

And here are the matchups we’re still not sure about:
Ottawa vs. Toronto OR Boston
Washington vs. Toronto OR Boston
Anaheim OR Edmonton vs. Calgary
Anaheim OR Edmonton vs. San Jose

As mentioned above, Ottawa secured second place in the Atlantic as well as home ice, but will need to wait one more day to see who they’ll play. It’ll come down to the outcome of Sunday’s game between the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets. If the Maple Leafs earn at least a point, we’ve got a Battle of Ontario on our hands. A regulation loss means Boston jumps into third place (based on ROW) and will play the Senators in the first round, with Toronto travelling to Washington to take on the Presidents’ Trophy winners.

In the West, the Pacific Division title is still up for grabs. Right now, it belongs to the Anaheim Ducks, but the Edmonton Oilers inched closer with Saturday night’s regulation win over the Vancouver Canucks.

Both the Ducks and Oilers play on Sunday night. A Ducks win of any kind gives them the top spot, but a Ducks loss combined with another regulation win for Edmonton means the Oilers finish atop the Pacific. If the Oilers can pull that off, they’ll meet Calgary in Round 1 for the Battle of Alberta. If the standings stay where they are with Edmonton in second, we’re looking at a first-round bracket that includes Ducks-Flames and Oilers-Sharks. (And a possible Round 2 Battle of Alberta… but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.)

A couple of sweet send offs

Two players were afforded the opportunity to lace up their skates on home ice one last time.

Bryan Bickell and Patrik Elias were doing so as a result of very different situations, but each received a warm reception from his fans.

Bickell announced earlier on Saturday he will be retiring from the NHL after the season because of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis he received in November.

The veteran winger took a leave from the Carolina Hurricanes before being assigned to the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers in February. He rejoined the Hurricanes on Monday to play the last four games of the season.

The fans paid their respects midway through the game.

Then, with 8:14 left in regulation of a 5-4 St. Louis Blues’ victory, the Hurricanes played a video tribute for Bickell, leading to an ovation from the crowd.

He’ll play his final NHL game when the Hurricanes close out their regular season Sunday in Philadelphia.

As for Elias, the longtime New Jersey Devil, he participated in the warmup before the game against the New York Islanders.

Elias was the last player off the ice and saluted the crowd before he left.

He also took the ceremonial faceoff against former teammate Stephen Gionta.

Elias didn’t play in 2016-17 after off-season knee surgery. He retired March 31 and is the franchise leader in goals, assists and points. The Devils have already announced they’ll retire his No. 26 next season.

Better late than never

It’s been a trying season for Curtis Lazar. The former Canadian world junior captain had mononucleosis before the start of the season and was behind the eight ball from there.

Lazar fell out of favour in Ottawa and was eventually moved from the Senators to the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline after producing just one assist in 33 games. He was a frequent healthy scratch in Calgary upon his arrival, too.

But Saturday, in what was only his fourth game with the Flames, Lazar scored his first goal of the season in a 3-1 loss in San Jose.

And would you look at that: he’s suddenly heating up.

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