With the NHL playoff race heating up, we track the teams impacted by last night’s results and which of tonight’s games will affect the playoff picture.
If the season ended today…
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (1) vs. NEW YORK RANGERS (8)
BOSTON BRUINS (2) vs. OTTAWA SENATORS (7)
WASHINGTON CAPITALS (3) vs. NEW YORK ISLANDERS (6)
MONTREAL CANADIENS (4) vs. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (5)
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Who’s already clinched? Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders
Who can clinch tonight? The Senators and the Rangers can lock up the final two spots in the East Thursday night. If Winnipeg loses in regulation, both teams would automatically clinch regardless of their result. Should the Jets win or lose in overtime, the Rangers and Sens can still secure post-season berths with a victory as Winnipeg would be eliminated.
What’d I miss? The Toronto Maple Leafs had no answer for Martin St. Louis and the Lightning as they dropped a 5-2 contest in Tampa Bay. Outside of Saturday’s win over Ottawa, the Leafs have been uninspiring and flat in four of their last five games and need to pick up their play heading into the post-season. The loss could end up costly for the Leafs as they essentially ended their chances of home-ice advantage. With the Islanders one point behind, the Leafs could end up dropping to sixth and running into the red-hot Capitals in the first round - certainly not an ideal situation.
Thursday’s game to watch: Montreal Canadiens vs. Winnipeg Jets -- It’s all or nothing for the Jets as they need a victory in their final game of the season to have any hope of qualifying for the post-season. A win combined with a Rangers or Senators loss would move the Jets into the playoffs (for now), but both teams still have games in hand. Montreal, on the other hand, is still fighting for a Northeast Division title (tied with Boston) and have a chance to regain momentum heading into the post-season. The Habs have dropped five of six and have looked nothing like the team we saw in the first three months of the season. Time for both teams to step up.
-Ottawa vs. Washington: Sens could get huge boost by Karlsson return
-Toronto vs. Florida: If Leafs can’t improve play against Panthers, get out the panic button!
-New York Islanders vs. Philadelphia: Isles focused on climbing up East standings
-New York Rangers vs. Carolina: Win and you’re in for Rangers
-Tampa Bay vs. Boston: Can Chara slow down Stamkos and St. Louis?
-Pittsburgh vs. New Jersey: This would’ve been a big game… last season.
Fun fact: After 17 goals in the first three months of the season, Nazem Kadri has just one goal in April. I blame Don Cherry.
If the season ended today…
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (1) vs. DETROIT RED WINGS (8)
ANAHEIM DUCKS (2) vs. MINNESOTA WILD (7)
VANCOUVER CANUCKS (3) vs. ST. LOUIS BLUES (6)
LOS ANGELES KINGS (4) vs. SAN JOSE SHARKS (5)
Who’s already clinched? Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues.
Who can clinch tonight? No one.
What’d I miss? The savvy Red Wings reclaimed the eighth seed in the West with a clutch 3-1 victory over the Kings. Jimmy Howard played one of his best games of the season as the Red Wings were able to hold off a strong effort from the defending Cup champs. The win allowed the Red Wings to move past idle Columbus, who remain one point behind Detroit with just two games left to play.
With the Kings’ loss, the Sharks had an opportunity to jump them in the standings with a win or overtime loss, but came up short in Phoenix. The Sharks couldn’t solve Mike Smith who had 34 saves in a 2-1 Coyotes’ victory. San Jose and Los Angeles are tied (47 games played) in the standings with the Kings holding the tiebreaker.
Chicago rolled past the lowly Oilers to secure its first Presidents’ Trophy since 1990-91. The Blackhawks are now 10-1-2 in their past 13 games.
Thursday’s game to watch: Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Dallas Stars - Despite Detroit’s big win, the Blue Jackets remain alive in the playoff race. They are just two points out of seventh and badly need a victory to stay in contention. Columbus has split its two games with Dallas this season and need another strong performance from Vezina candidate Sergei Bobrovsky. Yes , that guy who used to play in Philly. The Blue Jackets have nine wins in their last 12 and can’t afford to let any opportunity slide with just two games left on their schedule.
-Nashville vs. Detroit: Can Red Wings hold up in back-to-back?
-Calgary vs. St. Louis: Blues can jump Sharks and Kings with win
-Anaheim vs. Vancouver: Possible second-round preview
Fun fact: When the Stars and Blue Jackets last faced off (Feb. 26), Columbus had the worst record (5-12-2) in the NHL.