THE SHOOTERS PERSPECTIVE
I think it’s fair to say that most people when asked who would finish in the top three seeds in the Atlantic would answer, Tampa Bay, Boston and Toronto, in some combination or another and up until now they’d be right. Most people viewed these teams as almost interchangeable and felt the division could probably go in any of those three directions. Going into Friday nights action the Lightning were first, Maple Leafs sat second and Bruins held onto the final divisional playoff position.
Sometimes though things change.
Thursday news began to trickle out that the Lightning starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy had sustained a fractured foot and although these were just reports this seemed like a definite setback for the Lightning. Last season Vasilevskiy finished third and voting for the Vezina Trophy and was off to an impressive start sporting a 9-3-0-1 record, a goals against average of 2.30 and a save percentage of .927 and one shutout. Without confirmation on the severity of the injury things were up in the air until it began to be reported Friday that Vasilevskiy would be missing the next four to six weeks. That time frame could take Vasilevskiy out of the lineup for approximately 15-25 games and the other question becomes once his foot is fully healed, how long will it take before he is back in playing shape?
While things took a turn for the worse for the Lightning they weren’t the only Atlantic Division team to suffer another blow to their lineup. Wednesday night in Denver the Bruins Captain Zdeno Chara suffered what appeared to be a significant injury to his left knee while trying to engage with Carl Soderberg. If this injury is severe and Chara were to miss an extended period of time this could prove detrimental to the Bruins’ playoff chances. Zdeno Chara now joins Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy and Kevan Millar as Bruins’ defenders who are currently injured and out of the lineup.
These injuries have obvious implications for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins’ season, but what implications could they have for the rest of the Atlantic Division. This season we’ve already seen the Toronto Maple Leafs withstand an extended absence from their franchise player, Auston Matthews, and being without unsigned RFA William Nylander. We’ve also watched the Buffalo Sabres led by a healthy Jack Eichel and a motivated Jeff Skinner surge into playoff contention. At the end of play Friday night the Maple Leafs found themselves leading the Atlantic Division, while the Buffalo Sabres had moved into third place with a record of 6-2-2 in their last ten games.
With parity in the NHL at an all-time high, you have to imagine there are a handful of teams looking to jump all over this opportunity and gain ground in what could be the most tightly contested race in the NHL. With only six points separating the first wildcard position and the sixteenth position in the East, these playoff spots are anyone’s for the taking.
Injuries are a part of every season, but it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out and if any team can take advantage of the bad luck; or will the Bruins and Lightning manage to make the best of a bad situation?