NHL Playoffs Update: Previewing tonight's action

Thrashers.jpgI apologize for not having an update based on last night’s action, so I thought we’d merge the update from last night’s games into a preview for tonight’s games, and focus on the ones that truly affect the playoff standings.

The big news from yesterday in the East was the loss by the New Jersey Devils, which dropped them down from 2nd to 4th in the conference standings. They do have one game in hand on the Pittsburgh Penguins, so there’s still time left to make another run for the division. Of course, since the Pens and Devils don’t face each other for the rest of the season (thanks NHL!!) we won’t have the privilege of head-to-head matchup with the title on the line.

In the West, the Colorado Avalanche continue their slide and have opened up the possibility (once again) for the Calgary Flames to somehow make it into the playoffs.

After the jump, we take a look at the standings and at tonight’s big games.


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The games that matter:

Buffalo Sabres @ Boston Bruins, 7:00 p.m. EDT – The Bruins have a big, big game tonight as they fight to keep in the playoff standings. Doing so against Ryan Miller and the Sabres will be tough, especially as they continue to struggle without Marc Savard (don’t let that big game on Saturday fool you). Another such win tonight, against the Sabres, would go a long ways to assuaging the fears that the Bruins are on their ways to backing out of the playoffs.

Carolina Hurricanes @ Atlanta Thrashers, 7:00 p.m. EDT – This game is why the Bruins should be feeling the heat. The Thrashers have yet another chance to win a big game at home and somehow sneak into a playoff spot — however temporarily.

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The games that matter:

Los Angeles Kings @ Minnesota Wild, 9:00 p.m. EDT – Just a month ago we were talking about the Los Angeles Kings perhaps threatening for the top spot in the West. Now they’re close to falling out of the playoffs altogether. The Wild should prove an easy foe for the Kings, but one thing to keep an eye on: Jonathan Quick may get the Kings to the playoffs but he may fall apart from exhaustion once they get there.

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    Devils’ Merrill undergoes shoulder surgery, out four months

    NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 04: Jon Merrill #7 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Detroit Red Wings at the Prudential Center on January 4, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Red Wings defeated the Devils 1-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    New Jersey d-man Jon Merrill, who struggled through an injury-riddled campaign, has undergone successful shoulder surgery with an expected recovery time of four months, the club announced on Wednesday.

    Merrill, 24, only appeared in 47 games this year, first missing time with an arm injury, then suffering a shoulder ailment late in the year.

    There was no clear indication if the two ailments were related, but Merrill’s arm injury was on the right side, and surgery was on his right shoulder.

    A former University of Michigan standout taken 38th overall in 2010, Merrill enjoyed solid rookie and sophomore campaigns in New Jersey. His second year was especially solid — 14 points in 66 games, averaging over 20 minutes per night — and he boasts good size, going 6-foot-3, 205 pounds.

    Based on the four-month timetable for recovery, Merrill will likely miss parts of New Jersey’s training camp and preseason action.

    Max Talbot mulling European options for next season

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    After a 10-year career with over 700 games played and one Stanley Cup, Maxime Talbot could be done in the NHL.

    Per RDS, Talbot — who’ll hit unrestricted free agency on July 1 — has “some options in Europe” for next season, and is contemplating a move overseas.

    In his prime, Talbot was a gritty, hardworking forward with decent touch around the net. He scored double-digit goals four times, including a career-high 19 in ’11-12.

    The 32-year-old split last season between Boston and its AHL affiliate in Providence, scoring seven points in 38 games at the NHL level.

    Talbot did acquit himself very well with the P-Bruins — 21 points in 26 games — and has some experience playing abroad, having suited up for Finnish League club Ilves Tampere during the lockout.

    Based on how things went last year in free agency, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Talbot land in Europe.

    The likes of Maxim Lapierre, Curtis Glencross and Marcel Goc all failed to score NHL contracts last summer — Lapierre and Goc proceeded to sign overseas, while Glencross opted to retire.

     

    Ex-‘Hawks coach Suhonen takes Austrian national team job

    SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13:  Thomas Raffl #5 of Austria celebrates with his teammates after Thomas Hundertpfund #27 scored a goal in the first period against Tuukka Rask #40 of Finland during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group B game on day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Alpo Suhonen, who became the first European-born NHL coach in over 50 years upon taking the Chicago gig in 2000, has been named the new bench boss of the Austrian men’s national team, per IIHF.com.

    Suhonen, 67, takes over from former NHL defenseman Dan Ratushny, who was splitting duties between Team Austria and Lausanne of the Swiss League.

    Suhonen takes over the national team at a critical juncture. Austria finished a disappointing fourth at the 2016 World Hockey Championship Division 1 tournament — meaning the country finished 20th overall. As the IIHF websites notes, that’s the worst finish for Austria in 86 years of WHC competition.

    Looking forward, Austria does have a chance to make amends this summer, when it will play a series of contests to prep for Olympic qualification.

    Suhonen inherits a roster with decent NHL pedigree as Thomas Vanek, Michael Raffl and Michael Grabner are all eligible to participate.

    That said, Vanek was named to Team Europe’s initial 16-man roster for the World Cup of Hockey, and it remains to be seen how that will impact his national team commitments.

    Datsyuk’s agent acknowledges offer from KHL’s SKA, but no deal yet

    Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk (13) celebrates his empty net goal against the Edmonton Oilers in the third period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit Monday, March 9, 2015. Detroit won 5-2. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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    Gennady Timchenko, the billionaire chairman of KHL club SKA Saint Petersburg, reportedly believes there’s a “good chance” that Pavel Datsyuk will be playing for his team next season.

    But according to Datsyuk’s agent, Dan Milstein, there’s only been an offer from SKA. Nothing has been signed yet. There could still be offers from other KHL teams for his client to consider.

    And at any rate, Milstein insisted once again that Datysuk won’t be making any decisions until he speaks with the Detroit Red Wings in mid-June, after the 37-year-old returns from a family vacation.

    Milstein passed along that update to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, plus a few other Wings reporters.

    Related: Datsyuk ‘wants to make sure the Wings have options’