Simulating the Season: Panthers leapfrog Maple Leafs in Atlantic, Central Division battle heats up - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

Simulating the Season: Panthers leapfrog Maple Leafs in Atlantic, Central Division battle heats up

In our latest simulated action, there's a new third seed in the Atlantic Division, big wins by the Wild and Predators put pressure on the Jets and James van Riemsdyk has one of the biggest nights of his career.
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NHL 20

NHL 20

Welcome to Simulating The Season. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the NHL has put the 2019-20 campaign on hold without a clear timeline for a return to action. As such, with the help of EA Sports’ NHL 20, we’re attempting to figure out what the rest of the season would have looked like had it not been postponed. Keep in mind, this is not a perfect science and the simulation does not take into account real world circumstances, including current injuries.

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Aaaand we're back. After a one-day break, we're glad to be able to bring Simulating the Season back. And, dear simulated (and desperate) hockey fans, there is a lot to catch up on.

We begin in the Atlantic Division, where Monday's battle between the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs set the stage for the most notable change in the standings of the past two days. As the Maple Leafs attempted to shake off a string of bad losses, Toronto was bitten again by its own bad habits and blew another third-period lead. The result? Florida was able to dig itself out of the hole it was in in the Eastern Conference and vault ahead of the Maple Leafs in the standings. Now, it's on Florida to fend off all challengers for the final divisional berth in the Atlantic. (Though that didn't get off to a great start, as you'll soon see.)

Elsewhere, the Central Division playoff race continues to be one of the most intriguing, as the three-way divisional battle remains heated and the wild-card contenders in the Central continue to fight tooth and nail for some breathing room. Big wins by the Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators highlighted action over the past two days.

Catch up on all the simulated action from Monday and Tuesday now:

STANDINGS

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MONDAY, MARCH 23

Edmonton Oilers – 2 (SO)
Anaheim Ducks – 1

An old-fashioned goalie duel! Through the first 60 minutes of this one, John Gibson and Mikko Koskinen went save-for-save, and the two opposing keepers continued to stymie all shooters through the five-minute overtime frame. But it wasn't just there that both netminders stood tall: in the shootout, only one goal, a Connor McDavid tally, was scored by either team. That was the difference-maker in this one.

Three Stars
1. John Gibson, ANA (37 saves)
2. Mikko Koskinen, EDM (31 saves)
3. Leon Draisaitl, EDM (1-0–1)

Florida Panthers – 5
Toronto Maple Leafs – 3

Another night, another third-period collapse for the Maple Leafs. Toronto entered the final stanza leading 3-1, but the late-game charge led by Panthers forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgeni Dadonov lifted the Cats to victory and left the Leafs in a tough spot in a tight playoff race. That’s the second blown lead in the past three games for the Leafs, and this one stings the most as the Panthers leapfrog into third in the Atlantic.

Three Stars
1. Jonathan Huberdeau, FLA (2-0–2)
2. Cody Ceci, TOR (0-2–2)
3. Mike Matheson, FLA (1-0–1)

Calgary Flames – 3
San Jose Sharks – 2

Ah, yes, in a battle of two teams heading in opposite directions in the Pacific Division, this one produced the hero we all expected: Zac Rinaldo. In what was through the first frame a 2-2 game, Rinaldo's blast beat Aaron Dell late in the second period and stood as the game-winning goal. Full marks to Dillon Dube in this one, as the youngster's goal and assist went a long way in securing Calgary a pair of points in a tight playoff race.

Three Stars
1. Dillon Dube, CGY (1-1–2)
2. Sean Monahan, CGY (1-0–1)
3. Zac Rinaldo, CGY (1-0–1)

Minnesota Wild – 4
Colorado Avalanche – 3

The slide continues for the Avalanche, who are doing little to hold off the charging Dallas Stars, but the bigger story here might be the continued success of the Wild. Minnesota continues to keep pace with the rest of the Central Division and is now right on the cusp of a wild-card berth. There's not much time left, but a late surge and some help could see the Wild stun the West and earn a ticket to the dance.

Three Stars
1. Zach Parise, MIN (2-0–2)
2. Mikko Rantanen, COL (1-1–2)
3. Brad Hunt, MIN (1-0–1)

Columbus Blue Jackets – 4
New Jersey Devils – 2

The battered Blue Jackets have had to grind away to secure wins down the stretch, and Monday’s victory over New Jersey was as hard-fought as it gets. Four separate players scored on Monday, including depth forwards Devin Shore and Kevin Stenlund (who has goals in the past three games). Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey’s best player for the past two months, was solid again with 36 stops, but the club in front of him had just 19 shots on goal.

Three Stars
1. Devin Shore, CBJ (1-2–3)
2. Kevin Stenlund, CBJ (1-1–2)
3. Zach Werenski, CBJ (0-2–2)

Vegas Golden Knights – 4
Vancouver Canucks – 2

Every coach knows that any successful team has to have a few "goalie wins" sprinkled in each season, games in which a goaltender stands on his head and delivers the victory for his squad. And Monday's battle between Vegas and Vancouver? That was a goalie win for the Golden Knights. Marc-Andre Fleury was exceptional, stopping all but two of the 32 shots that came his way as the depth scoring carried the offense.

Three Stars
1. Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK (30 saves)
2. Nick Cousins, VGK (1-1–2)
3. Nate Schmidt, VGK (0-2–2)

STANDINGS

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TUESDAY, MARCH 24

Detroit Red Wings – 7
Boston Bruins – 3

Did the teams swap jerseys before the game? Oddsmakers would have had the Bruins as close to a sure-thing heading into the contest, but Tuukka Rask had one of the worst games of his career, allowing four goals on the first five shots against. It was 6-1 after the first period, and while the Bruins were the better team possession-wise in the second half of the game, it was a goner. Chalk it up as a bad night and nothing more for Boston.

Three Stars
1. Dylan Larkin, DET (2-2–4)
2. Dmytro Timashov, DET (1-2–3)
3. Anthony Mantha, DET (1-2–3)

Los Angeles Kings – 3
Dallas Stars – 2

The chance to pull level with the Avalanche was there for the taking, but the Stars fell short in a contest they surely will feel they could have won against the West-worst Kings. Stunningly, this is one in which Dallas had to try to fight from behind and chased the game much of the evening. It was Dustin Brown's net-side tally with 4:29 left in the third period that handed Los Angeles the victory.

Three Stars
1. Corey Perry, DAL (1-1–2)
2. Dustin Brown, LAK (1-0–1)
3. Joakim Ryan, LAK (1-0–1)

Buffalo Sabres – 4
Montreal Canadiens – 1

This was a weird one. The first 40 minutes were scoreless and the Sabres had just 11 shots in that span without recording two in a row. But something turned the Sabres around after the second intermission, as Buffalo scored scored three goals in the opening minute and put the Canadiens in a deep hole out of which they could not climb. The Sabres and Canadiens are now dead-even in the Eastern Conference.

Three Stars
1. Linus Ullmark, BUF (28 saves)
2. Victor Olofsson, BUF (1-1–2)
3. Zemgus Girgensons, BUF (1-1–2)

Nashville Predators – 6
Winnipeg Jets – 2

Big, big win for the Predators, who press pause on the Jets' climb towards a divisional playoff berth and ensure that both spots are still up for grabs with the post-season on the horizon. In the eight-goal affair, it wasn't the big guns who stepped up to get the job done for Nashville, but the role players. Calle Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons each registered a goal and assist, while Austin Watson, Craig Smith, Mattias Ekholm and noted fourth-liner Filip Forsberg also found twine for Nashville.

Three Stars
1. Colton Sissons, NSH (1-1–2)
2. Mattias Ekholm, NSH (1-0–1)
3. Calle Jarnkrok, NSH (1-1–2)

Columbus Blue Jackets – 4
New York Rangers – 3

The Blue Jackets remain hot and earn another big victory. Cam Atkinson had a four-point night and even dropped the gloves with former Columbus teammate Artemi Panarin. Panarin was all over the ice and the scoresheet, registering three assists for the Rangers and another fight against Pierre-Luc Dubois, who tussled for the fourth time in five games. The Rangers were the better team through 40, but a two-goal third-period and a great effort from Joonas Korpisalo gave the Blue Jackets the win.

Three Stars
1. Cam Atkinson, CBJ (1-3–4)
2. Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (2-1–3)
3. Artemi Panarin, NYR (0-3–3)

Washington Capitals – 4
St. Louis Blues – 3

The battle of the past two Stanley Cup champions lived up to the hype – but it wasn't because of the top-tier star power fans expected. Instead, the stars of the show were Washington’s Garnet Hathaway and St. Louis’ Zach Sanford, who traded goals twice in the third to keep the action lively. Ilya Kovalchuk got in a rare fight with Sammy Blais, who had a goal himself despite just six minutes of ice time. 

Three Stars
1. Garnet Hathaway, WSH (2-0–2)
2. Zach Sanford, STL (2-0–2)
3. Jaden Schwartz, STL (1-1–2)

Philadelphia Flyers – 4
New York Islanders – 3

Welcome to the 'JVR' show. James van Riemsdyk had a game for the ages, posting four goals, including three in the third to erase a 3-1 deficit. His heroics wouldn’t have been possible without Carter Hart making 18 stops in the third when the Islanders started to pour it on. At the other end, Ryan Pulock had his first career hat-trick, meaning all seven goals came via two players.

Three Stars
1. James van Riemsdyk, PHI (4-0–4)
2. Ryan Pulock, NYI (3-0–3)
3. Shayne Gostisbehere, PHI (0-2–2)

Pittsburgh Penguins – 6
Carolina Hurricanes – 2

What a bounce back for the Penguins. A 10-8 loss at the hands of the rival Capitals over the weekend stung, but a quick 3-0 lead in the first saw Pittsburgh gets its confidence back. Two goals from Jared McCann and Connor Sheary set the stage for the victory. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes continue to lose ground to the Blue Jackets and in the Metropolitan fight.

Three Stars
1. Conor Sheary, PIT (2-1–3)
2. Jared McCann, PIT (2-1–3)
3. Jake Guentzel, PIT (1-2–3)

Ottawa Senators – 6
Florida Panthers – 4

There was no shortage of action in this one as the first period alone featured six goals in a 3-3 draw. The Senators young core was ready for battle, though. Brady Tkachuk and longtime friend Josh Norris helped the Sens to a 5-3 advantage before the game hit the halfway mark, and while Jonathan Huberdeau kept hot with another goal, a Thomas Chabot blast on a late power play sealed the deal. Special teams were the difference, with seven of the 10 goals in the game coming with the man advantage.

Three Stars
1. Brady Tkachuk, OTT (1-1–2)
2. Anthony Duclair, OTT (1-1–2)
3. Thomas Chabot, OTT (1-1–2)

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