MASE ON THE CASE
The Philadelphia Flyers began a four-game road trip with a 4-1 win against the New York Islanders on Monday to continue their late push for a playoff berth. The Flyers are at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; CSN-PH, FS-O, NHL.TV) before ending the week with visits to the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes.
"One down, 11 to go," goalie Steve Mason told CSN Philadelphia following the win Monday. "You just keep moving day by day."
The Flyers are one point behind the Detroit Red Wings for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference, with a game in hand. The Red Wings visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, SNO, SNW, FS-D, SUN, NHL.TV).
The key for the Flyers will be Mason, who was brilliant against the Islanders and will receive the majority of starts with Michal Neuvirth out three weeks with a lower-body injury. Philadelphia has three sets of back-to-back games in the final nine days of the regular season, so backup goalie Anthony Stolarz, who has yet to make his NHL debut, could get a start.
The Dallas Stars will clinch a playoff berth with a win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET; FS-SW, CSN-CH, NHL.TV). Dallas begins a three-game road trip at Chicago before visiting the Coyotes and San Jose Sharks. The Stars are two points ahead of the St. Louis Blues in the Central Division and two points in front of the Los Angeles Kings for home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference Playoffs.
The Stars have deployed a goalie platoon for most of the season, but Kari Lehtonen has started seven of the past eight games. Lehtonen is 5-1-1 in that stretch with a 2.48 goals-against average. Antti Niemi is 6-6-4 with a 3.53 GAA and .874 save percentage since the start of 2016, including 0-2-1 with a 5.20 GAA and .842 save percentage in his past four starts.
Coach Lindy Ruff isn't ready to commit to a true No. 1 goalie, but if Lehtonen continues to trend upward, he can be a key component in the Stars' push to win the Stanley Cup.
"We're still trying to go game-by-game but [Lehtonen] kind of grabbed the ball a little bit," Ruff told the Stars website. "We want to see if he can gather a little bit of traction and continue to get his play where we need it. Obviously, he's got the upper hand right now but, like I've said, we've had good play out of both guys, and we're still going to need both guys.
"I'm not establishing anybody as a No. 1 but I like the way he's playing, and the reason he has been playing is that his game has been better than Antti's, who is trying to find his game right now."
Though Dallas defenseman John Klingberg and forward Patrick Sharp recently returned from injuries, forward Tyler Seguin (33 goals) is out 3-4 weeks with a cut to his Achilles tendon. It will be up to leading scorer Jamie Benn (36 goals, 80 points) and the supporting cast to pick up the slack for the remainder of the regular season.
"It's going to be tough, but it gives other guys in this room an opportunity to step up their game, and myself included," Benn said. "We all need to pitch in together to fill the void."
The Blackhawks (3-4-2 in March) are four points behind Dallas in the Central and four points ahead of the surging Nashville Predators (6-2-2 in their past 10).
SHARKS CAN TASTE IT
San Jose has won a season-high four straight home games and is on the brink of clinching a playoff berth after missing the postseason last year for the first time since 2003. The Sharks resume their six-game homestand against the Blues on Tuesday (10:30 p.m. ET; SNE, SNO, SNP, FS-MW, CSN-CA, NHL.TV) one point behind the Anaheim Ducks for second place in the Pacific Division. They get into the playoffs with a win against St. Louis.
The Sharks were 5-12-0 on home ice (30th in the NHL) before Jan. 9, but are 11-3-3 since with points in 14 of 17 games. San Jose's goaltending has been solid since James Reimer arrived in a trade on Feb. 27 with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Reimer shut out the Coyotes on Sunday, and is 3-1-0 with a 1.27 GAA, .952 save percentage and two shutouts in four starts. Martin Jones is 6-2 since the trade of Reimer.
Though the Sharks are 23rd in penalty killing (79.8 percent), they're 28-for-34 (82.3 percent) on the PK in their past 13 games. They hope to continue the trend against the Blues' sixth-ranked power play (21.9 percent) on Tuesday.