NHL Playoff Push: Flames, Leafs heading in opposite directions

Calgary scored four quick goals, Vancouver topped Anaheim and the Wild got over the mumps.

With the Carolina Hurricanes completing Game 62 on their schedule on Sunday, no team has more than 20 games left to play.

For bubble teams, the phrase “our post-season starts now” is already being spouted as the NHL season winds down.

Some teams are making a charge, while others seem to be letting the moment get the better of them.

Here’s a look at where we are with less than a month of regular-season hockey left to play.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

If the season ended today…

(M1) vs. (WC2)

(A1) vs. (WC1)

(M2) vs. (M3)

(A2) vs. (A3)

Series we’d love to see: Blue Jackets vs. Penguins
Please let this happen.

These two teams met in Columbus’ most recent playoff appearance in 2014, in what was a crazy, six-game win for Pittsburgh. The Blue Jackets have been a great story this season, and seeing them take on the defending champs would make for quite the spectacle. The Penguins have more obvious rivalries with the Flyers and Capitals, but in recent years, their games with the Blue Jackets have taken on quite a nasty undertone. You never know what you’re going to get when Brandon Dubinsky takes on Sidney Crosby.

Oh, and who would want to miss a John Tortorella playoff post-game press conference?

Here’s what the Eastern Conference standings look like today:

What’d I miss? The only real change from last week would be the New York Islanders snagging the second wild card away from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs have lost five straight, and are coming off a one-point performance out of the dreaded California road trip. The Penguins are once again tied with the Blue Jackets, though now both teams have played 64 games. Columbus does hold the tiebreaker with one more ROW, games won without needing a shootout.

The Montreal Canadiens have steadied a once-rocky ship, while the Washington Capitals are showing no signs of slowing down in their pursuit of a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy. The Ottawa Senators just continue to win games.

Fun fact: The Senators have never met the Boston Bruins in the playoffs. Last season, the Bruins needed just a point in Game 82 to make the post-season, but were blown out by the Senators in an embarrassing 6-1 loss at home. Ottawa has three games left against Boston, with a matchup at home on Monday. The Senators, who are just six points out of first in the Atlantic with three games in hand, also play the Canadiens three more times.

Monday’s game to watch: Lightning vs. Rangers
The Tampa Bay Lightning, sellers at the trade deadline, are making a move. A 6-2-2 record in their last 10 has the Bolts on the cusp of moving into the East’s playoff picture. A win over the suddenly cooling Rangers (losers of three of their last four) would put Tampa Bay one point behind the Islanders for the second wild card. After receiving some criticism for an underwhelming return in the Ben Bishop trade, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is looking pretty with his team in a good spot both now and in the future. You can watch the game at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

If the season ended today…

(C1) vs. (WC2)

(P1) vs. (WC1)

(C2) vs. (C3)

(P2) vs. (P3)

Series we’d love to see: Sharks vs. Flames
While the San Jose Sharks gear up for what could be their last shot at a Cup in the Joe Thornton era, the upstart Calgary Flames will look to win a playoff series for the second time in three seasons. These teams met in a memorable seven-game battle in 2008, which featured a three-goal comeback by the Flames in Game 3 at home; with Owen Nolan scoring the game winner and Curtis Joseph recording the last playoff win of his career.

Here’s what the Western Conference standings look like today:

What’d I miss? Calgary has essentially caught fire (sorry) at just the right time, solidifying its playoff position with a seven-game winning streak. Brian Elliott’s first season as a Flame will never be thought of as spotless, but the 31-year-old has rounded into form as the team’s deadline acquisitions appear to have sharpened its blue line.

The St. Louis Blues were given a gift from the scheduling gods by getting to play the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. The Blues entered the contest having lost their last five games in regulation, and came away with a 3-0 shutout victory.

Fun fact: The Winnipeg Jets still have faint hopes of making the post-season, though they’re running out of time. They’ve played more games than the teams they’re chasing with one game left against the Blues and Los Angeles Kings and two against the Nashville Predators.

Another season without spring hockey will be a disappointment for Winnipeg, but the young team has made significant strides this season. Look how calmly rookie Patrik Laine collects this ill-advised pass in front of his crease from Colorado’s Blake Comeau. If that happens earlier in the season, that puck might end up in the back of the Jets net.

Monday’s game to watch: Sharks vs. Jets
If the Jets are going to make a push, it better start now. Winnipeg gets to host a tired Sharks team that lost in Minnesota on Sunday. A win puts the Jets a point behind the Blues for the last Western wild-card spot while a loss keeps them three points away having played three more games.

Hopefully for them they can carry over some momentum from Saturday’s thrashing of Colorado.

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