Injuries to Evgeni Malkin, others shaking up playoff races

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StamkosSteven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
Stamkos netted a pair of goals and added an assist in a 4-0 win Sunday over the Columbus Blue Jackets. He now has 33 goals on the season, marking the fifth time in his career he has reached the 30-goal plateau.

BoyleDan Boyle, New York Rangers
Boyle had a tough time in the Rangers' 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, finishing minus-4 on the day. He also has just one point since Feb. 18.

Which injuries will impact playoff races most?

Scott Burnside@ESPN_Burnside: A month from today we'll be sweeping up the wrappers from the end of the regular-season bash, and it's going to be interesting to see how injuries will impact the races for playoff berths and the many teams jockeying for playoff positioning. The Pittsburgh Penguins might have suffered the biggest blow when Evgeni Malkin was lost for at least six weeks thanks to a shoulder injury suffered over the weekend. The Penguins came up with a big 5-3 road win Sunday against the New York Rangers, though, which couples with the Detroit Red Wings' 1-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs (the league's worst team) to further muddy the waters in the Eastern Conference. The Philadelphia Flyers will not go away, either, and are three points back of Detroit, with the Red Wings missing Niklas Kronwall for at least a week with a knee sprain but also having two games in hand. The Flyers have made a surge without Jakub Voracek, who could return this week and make life very interesting in the East. The Penguins, meanwhile, play the New York Islanders on Tuesday and are just two points back of the Isles, who are without starting netminder Jaroslav Halak long term. How do you think this injury thing is going to play out?

Craig Custance@CraigCustance: I had a conversation on Sunday with Penguins GM Jim Rutherford about Malkin and asked Rutherford about his initial thoughts when he saw Malkin go down. "Not again," Rutherford said. "I've only had to endure injuries here for almost two years. This team has had this bug for about four years. Last year at this time, we lost [Kris] Letang and we really struggled." The Penguins have done a nice job building up organizational depth at center, but there's no replacement for Malkin walking through the dressing room doors. Of all the injuries you referenced, Scotty, that Malkin one is the hardest to overcome. It makes me wonder if we'll end up looking back at these current Penguins not as underachievers, but as a team hit by horrible luck when it comes to staying healthy.

Joe McDonald@ESPNJoeyMac: When Malkin returned to the lineup recently after missing 10 games due to a lower-body injury, he was asked if he would be at 100 percent for the remainder of the season. He answered that no one is 100 percent this time of the season and it would take him a few games to get going. Now he's out for the long term just when the Penguins are trying to hold on to a playoff spot in the East. During his 10-game absence from Feb. 5 to Feb. 27, Pittsburgh went 5-4-1, but this time around the Penguins will need a better showing if they are to remain in the playoff structure.

Pierre LeBrun@Real_ESPNLeBrun: The Red Wings have had issues scoring at times this season, and that was evident again Sunday in the blanking at the hands of the last-place Maple Leafs. That's a really tough loss to take if you're Detroit and trying to stay in this race. ‚ÄéThis is an interesting time for the Wings, who are trying to bridge the gap between veterans Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, and the young generation led by rookie Dylan Larkin. No franchise has been more incredible in finding ways to regenerate on the fly for the past two-and-a-half decades, and I still think the Red Wings will continue their amazing streak and get into the playoffs for the 25th straight season. It's going to be close, though.

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