Today is a busy and overall important day across the NHL. There are 11 games, and all but one could have a significant impact on seeding once the postseason comes around. So, instead of focusing on one game — which is my typical structure — I’ve decided to briefly provide the reasons to watch each that features a playoff scenario.
Calgary Flames (34-26-15) vs. Dallas Stars (40-29-5)
Somehow, despite dropping four straight contests, the Flames are still in the hunt for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Calgary is only two points behind Dallas who is currently in 8th, but they must win today if they hope to stay involved. They are 0-2 against the Stars so far this season, so only winning both in this home-and-home series could give them a shot at owning a tiebreaker.
Dallas has been strong in winning seven of 10, but not quite as strong as Los Angeles (8-2-0 in last 10) who is currently atop the Pacific Division by one point. However, if the Stars are able to win today and get some help from other teams across the league, they could leap to third in the standings in a heartbeat.
Prediction: Flames 2, Stars 3
Minnesota Wild (31-32-10) vs. Buffalo Sabres (36-29-10)
Remember when Minnesota was leading the Western Conference? Yeah, me either. The Wild have quite simply fallen from the face of the Earth. In fact, since picking up their 20th victory, they have gone 11-24-7 — Ouch. But, they are on a two-game winning streak, so could they play spoiler in Buffalo tonight?
As far as I’m concerned, yesterday’s 4-1 spanking of the New York Rangers confirmed that Buffalo is the real deal. The Sabres now have at least one point in 16 of 18 and are tied with Washington (who lost to Winnipeg last night) for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. A Buffalo win today would put the horribly inconsistent Capitals in a very bad spot.
Prediction: Wild 2, Sabres 4
New York Rangers (46-21-7) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (33-34-8)
New York is picking the worst time of the year to face a stint of poor hockey. The Rangers have won four of 10 and now have only a one point lead over Pittsburgh, who has played one less game. Remember, as I mentioned a few days ago, if NYR blows their lead at the top, they will fall all the way to 4th. It is danger time.
Theoretically, the Maple Leafs still have a fighting chance in the Eastern Conference. They picked up a huge overtime victory in New Jersey yesterday and will need to continue winning if they hope to get in. But, realistically, Toronto is in the same boat as Minnesota — just looking to spoil other teams’ hopes.
Prediction: Rangers 3, Maple Leafs 2
Pittsburgh Penguins (46-21-6) vs. Ottawa Senators (37-28-10)
It doesn’t matter who they play or even where they play right now; the Penguins are simply unbeatable. They haven’t dropped a contest in regulation since February 19th (13-0-1), which has them positioned beautifully to swipe the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh is 1st on offense, 8th on defense; they do it all.
Ottawa is in desperate need of a win today. They have dropped seven of 10, including an embarrassing 5-1 defeat to Montreal last night. And, I think many people fail to realize that the Senators are just two points ahead of both Washington and Buffalo, so there’s no guarantee that they will see the postseason.
Prediction: Penguins 3, Senators 1
Montreal Canadiens (29-33-13) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (43-23-8)
Unfortunately for the great fans in Montreal, their Canadiens are basically finished this season. They currently sit in the basement of the Eastern Conference and are likely in big trouble in this matchup at the Wells Fargo Center.
Barring a horrid collapse, Philadelphia is once again safely in the postseason. However, the Flyers are positioned in 5th right now, which would result in a tough series with either division-rival Pittsburgh or New York in the first round with NO home ice advantage. So, while four or five points in the standings may be hard to overcome, Philadelphia has to win tonight — and get some help around the league — to climb the standings.
Prediction: Canadiens 3, Flyers 5
Carolina Hurricanes (30-30-15) vs. Detroit Red Wings (44-25-5)
Almost all of the hope that the Hurricanes once had of making a postseason run had to be zapped last night in an unbelievable 5-1 defeat at the hands of the NHL’s worst team, the Columbus Blue Jackets. However, Carolina does get this matchup with the Red Wings at the perfect time due to their recent struggles, so maybe they can steal one to stay in playoff contention.
As I just alluded to, Detroit is in a major funk. The Wings have dropped six straight to fall out of reach in the Central Division (eight points behind St. Louis), and they now must fight desperately just to stay in the top four. Nashville and Chicago are each one point back with eight to play. Luckily for Detroit, they are in the friendly confines of Joe Louis Arena this evening.
Prediction: Hurricanes 2, Red Wings 4
Winnipeg Jets (35-31-8) vs. Nashville Predators (42-24-8)
One night after sneaking past Washington in a crucial game in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Jets return to the ice to face a very tough Nashville club, who rarely loses at home — not to mention Winnipeg’s 12-20-4 road record on the season. But, while it may be a tall task, don’t count the Jets out just yet.
Nashville has been given a multitude of opportunities to speed past Detroit in the Western Conference playoff race — which would put them in position for home ice in round one — but, a two-game skid has halted their progress. The Predators were embarrassed in each game by a combined score of 11-4. They better come ready tonight, or Winnipeg will do the same.
Prediction: Jets 3, Predators 2
Boston Bruins (42-28-3) vs. Los Angeles Kings (37-25-12)
Similar to the New York Rangers, it is time for a wake-up call in Boston. The Bruins have lost six of 10, which has allowed Ottawa and Buffalo to hang around in the Northeast Division. If Boston doesn’t preserve this lead, they will lose the huge advantages that come with being a division winner.
Los Angeles is scary good right now. They are in the midst of a six-game winning streak that has featured both offensive and defensive success for the first time all year. In fact, the Kings have averaged nearly four goals,while giving up less than two during the streak. A win tonight would mean one step closer to a Pacific Division crown.
Prediction: Bruins 3, Kings 2
Phoenix Coyotes (37-26-12) vs. San Jose Sharks (37-27-10)
The Coyotes are another one of the four teams in contention for the Pacific Division title. They enter tonight’s contest tied with LA in points but with one more game played, which has them pushed back to 7th in the Western Conference. So, not only would a regulation win potentially propel them to first in the division, but it would provide much needed separation from San Jose.
A San Jose win mixed with an LA and Dallas defeat would create an unbelievably complicated division race. It would put three teams tied at the top with 86 points, and another –the Stars — with 85. Obviously that’s wishful thinking, but I bet the Sharks can take care of their end of the deal.
Prediction: Coyotes 2, Sharks 3
Vancouver Canucks (44-21-9) vs. Colorado Avalanche (40-31-5)
The Canucks are almost certainly the only team in the Western Conference that has any chance of catching St. Louis for the top record in hockey. But, their four wins in the last 10 outings has severely hurt these chances. They will need a 5th straight win over the Av’s to inch closer.
Colorado very nearly completed a heroic third period comeback in its last game — a 3-2 loss to Phoenix. Unfortunately for the Av’s, the three-goal deficit was too much, and losing sent them from 7th to 9th in the West. Now, standing in their way is a home battle with a Vancouver team that always seems to be their achilles heel. Can they finally pick up a win in the series to jump back into playoff position? Doubtful.
Prediction: Canucks 2, Avalanche 1