At this point in the season, when every game holds some significance, I’ve decided to permanently alter the format of my daily previews to look at each game of the day briefly. That way, you will all have the best understanding of exactly what is at stake during that 60 minute period for each individual team playing in each game.
So, for Friday, let’s take a look at all eight matchups and how they may — or may not — change the forecast in each conference’s playoff race.
Florida Panthers (37-24-16) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (25-45-7)
With just five games remaining, Florida can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It has been a season full of ups and downs, but the Panthers still hold a four point lead over Washington in the Southeast Division and can extend that with a successful performance on the road. And, they are a respectable 17-15-6 in opposing arena’s, so there is no reason to think they won’t come out on top.
Columbus is done (and has been for weeks), but that doesn’t mean they won’t be eager to perform in front of the crowd at Nationwide Arena for the second straight game. The Blue Jackets are coming off an impressive 4-2 victory over Detroit, so it is obvious that they have the potential to play spoiler. Unfortunately, the question still remains if they can produce strong efforts for an extended period of time.
Prediction: Panthers 4, Blue Jackets 2
Winnipeg Jets (35-34-8) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (31-31-15)
It wasn’t long ago that the Jets were still relevant in the Southeast Division standings, but now circumstances have changed massively. Winnipeg has won just three of 10 and are currently on a three game skid, which means anything but a win is unacceptable in this matchup. They are eight points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, so that is virtual elimination without loads of assistance.
Carolina is in the exact same boat as the Jets. The Hurricanes are nine points out of the postseason with only five games left in the season (10 points available). Therefore, this game becomes a loser is eliminated type of showdown. A bit intriguing, don’t you think?
Prediction: Jets 2, Hurricanes 3
Montreal Canadiens (29-34-14) vs. New York Rangers (49-21-7)
If you immediately counted the Canadiens out of this one, shame on you! Sure, they may be the worst team in the Eastern Conference and may be on a two-game losing streak; but, this is a matchup they truly enjoy. In fact, Montreal has won two straight over New York by a combined score of 8-1. All I’m saying is don’t be surprised if they pull off the upset.
Now, with all of that optimistic talk aside, let’s be real: the Rangers are rolling right now and aren’t going to be stopped tonight. They have won three straight and are now only one point behind St. Louis for the best record in hockey. Madison Square Garden will play host to yet another winning performance for New York.
Prediction: Canadiens 1, Rangers 3
Pittsburgh Penguins (47-24-6) vs. Buffalo Sabres (38-29-10)
Well, following a memorable winning stretch, Pittsburgh has dropped two straight to the lowly New York Islanders, which has hurt its playoff positioning. The Penguins were on the verge of stealing the top spot in the East just days ago, and now they are in jeopardy of falling to 5th as they hold only a two point lead over Philadelphia. Unfortunately, this is not the ideal opponent (on the road) for the Pens to get back on track against.
After a statement victory over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, the Sabres have put themselves in position to control their own postseason destiny. They have picked up a point in 17 of 19 games and have not only moved into the 8th spot in the conference, but have come within two points of the 7th ranked Senators. I made the mistake of picking against this team a few days ago; won’t happen again!
Prediction: Penguins 2, Sabres 3
Nashville Predators (44-25-8) vs. Detroit Red Wings (46-26-5)
Nashville is one solid performance away from not only clinching a birth in the postseason, but also leaping the Red Wings for the crucial 4th spot in the standings. This spot is of the utmost importance because these teams could easily end up facing off in the first round, and home ice will go to the higher seed — if you’re the Predators, you don’t want that home ice to be Joe Louis Arena.
Contrary to the Predators, Detroit has already clinched a playoff spot for the 21st consecutive season. But, just knowing they will be there isn’t enough for the Red Wings. If they can win this matchup they could build a fairly sturdy three point advantage over Nashville and win the season series, which would give them the tiebreaker if necessary.
Prediction: Predators 1, Red Wings 2
Colorado Avalanche (40-33-6) vs. Calgary Flames (35-28-15)
As has been the case with a couple of teams I’ve already mentioned, the Avalanche have played themselves out of the Western Conference playoff picture during a four-game losing skid. Colorado has played the most games in the NHL and is two points out of 8th to begin the day, so they are desperate need of a regulation victory and loads of help. Quite simply, they are in for a tall task, regardless of today’s outcome.
Despite playing one less game than Colorado, the Flames are in dire of a winning effort on their home ice. They have fallen three points out of contention with only four games to play, which means any loss could mean the end of the season. Fortunately for Calgary, they are 10 games above .500 at home on the season — clearly an advantage heading into tonight.
Prediction: Avalanche 3, Flames 2
Los Angeles Kings (38-27-12) vs. Edmonton Oilers (31-37-9)
Los Angeles is an intricate part of the wild Pacific Division that repeatedly shakes up the standings in the Western Conference. As of today, the Kings sit in 8th in the West, but with a win and a Dallas lose could hop into 3rd by taking over the Pacific lead. And, while playing on the road is never easy, this is a pretty ideal opponent when looking for a crucial win.
The Oilers are eliminated from playoff contention yet again and have set themselves up for another high pick in the 2013 draft. It isn’t a bad thing necessarily as they have put together a pretty phenomenal group of young scorers that can challenge any defense on any given night. Jonathan Quick and the Kings will have to be careful to avoid an upset.
Prediction: Kings 1, Oilers 2
Dallas Stars (42-30-5) vs. Vancouver Canucks (47-21-9)
For now, Dallas has complete control over its destiny in both the Pacific Division and Western Conference standings. By that I mean that if the Stars were to win out, they would be the division champions and would host a first round playoff series. But, that’s much easier said than done, especially with this trip to one of the toughest road environments.
Vancouver is the only team in the league that has already clinched its division title, but there is still more work to be done. The Canucks have played one less game than the Western Conference-leading Blues and are three points behind them in the current standings, so a win today could make things very interesting moving forward.
Prediction: Stars 2, Canucks 4