NHL Playoff Update: Big Day Ahead

I generally don’t like being the melodramatic type, but today is a pretty huge day for playoff jockeying. I’m not going to go off the deep end and call it an “epic” day, but there’s a lot of things that can get squared away in both conferences.

eastplayoffs.jpg Things get started early this afternoon for the Atlanta Thrashers as they continue their schedule from hell to try and muscle their way into the playoffs and take on the Penguins in Pittsburgh. Luckily for the Thrashers, the Pens have been less-than impressive of late losing five of their last eight games.

Tonight, Montreal will try to keep things going against Buffalo. With the Habs’ win over Philadelphia last night, they were able to keep down another team looking to make the playoffs and improve their own standings in the race.  Montreal currently sits in sixth place in the East, two points ahead of both Boston and Philadelphia.  The Bruins face off with the Maple Leafs tonight as the Leafs will continue to try and play spoiler.

The Rangers are in Sunrise, Florida to take on the Panthers and after beating the Lightning in convincing fashion last night, one has to wonder if perhaps the Rangers are getting warm at the right time. I won’t say they’re hot because no one in this playoff race in the East is hot, but if anyone can even get lukewarm a playoff spot could be had.

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In the Western Conference, Calgary helped get themselves back into the playoff picture by beating the Avalanche.  As for others still jockeying for position, Detroit takes on Nashville in a game where one point can clinch a playoff spot for the Predators, meanwhile a win in regulation for the Red Wings could vault them ahead of the Predators for fifth place in the meantime.

Los Angeles can make life for themselves a lot less stressful if they can beat the Ducks later tonight. The Ducks come into the game with nothing but pride to play for but have won seven of their last ten games. Meanwhile, the Kings have lost six of their last ten games but are coming off a definitive 8-3 win over Vancouver on Thursday night.

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    No hearing scheduled for Abdelkader after Barkov hit

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    There’s no disciplinary hearing scheduled for Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader following his big check on Florida’s Aleksander Barkov last night, an NHL spokesman has confirmed.

    The incident, which occurred early in the second period, left Barkov woozy and forced him from the game entirely. Abdelkader wasn’t penalized on the play — that, along with the hit itself, infuriated the Panthers and head coach Gerard Gallant.

    “It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald.

    “I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way,” Gallant added, noting that Abdelkader “left his feet a little and got [Barkov] in the jaw.”

    Abdelkader has run afoul of the Department of Player Safety before. He was suspended two games during the ’13 playoffs for a hit on then-Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman.

    The Panthers are back in action tonight, as they take on the Sabres in Buffalo.

    Detroit doesn’t play again until Wednesday, when it hosts the Sens at Joe Louis.

    Dion Phaneuf traded to Senators

    LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 07:  Jordan Nolan #71 of the Los Angeles Kings is knocked off balance by Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at Staples Center on January 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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    And this is why we listen when Bob McKenzie says something.

    The Ottawa Senators have acquired defenseman Dion Phaneuf, forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, and Ryan Rupert and undrafted defensive prospect Cody Donaghey from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for defenseman Jared Cowen, forwards Colin Greening, Milan Michalek and Tobias Lindberg, plus Ottawa’s second-round pick in the 2017 draft.

    No salary will be retained by either team.

    From the Leafs’ perspective, the trade provides even more cap flexibility for their rebuild. Phaneuf is signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $7 million; he’s entirely on Ottawa’s books now. As for the guys coming to Toronto, Michalek, Cowen, and Greening are only under contract through next season, for a combined cap hit of around $10 million. And according to the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, both Cowen and Greening could be bought out by the Leafs this offseason.

    The Sens, meanwhile, get to add a workhorse defenseman to a blue line that already includes Erik Karlsson. Plus, they rid themselves of some onerous contracts.

    Report: ‘Lots of Dion Phaneuf trade chatter’

    Dion Phaneuf
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    This isn’t the first time Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf has come up in trade rumors — far from it — but since it’s TSN’s Bob McKenzie putting it out there, we should probably listen.

    “Hearing lots of Dion Phaneuf trade chatter,” McKenzie tweeted this morning. “Starting to think he could actually be dealt before the deadline.”

    Phaneuf has three goals and 21 assists in 51 games this season, while logging an average of 22:02 in ice time. The big factor in trading the 30-year-old is his contract — he’s signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $7 million. 

    Responding to McKenzie on Twitter, TSN’s Darren Dreger seemed to suggest Ottawa as a potential landing spot. The Sens, as we’ve noted recently, have had all sorts of defensive issues this season.

    In the past, Detroit has come up as a potential destination for Phaneuf, though the Wings reportedly withdrew their interest in June.

    NHL on NBCSN: Slumping Wild look to get back on track against Stars

    Dallas Stars left wing Antoine Roussel (21), from France, scores a goal past Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) in the third period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, in St. Paul, Minn. The Stars won 6-3. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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    NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2015-16 campaign tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the Dallas Stars at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

    If you’re a fan of the Minnesota Wild, the last few weeks probably haven’t been pleasant.

    The team has been slumping badly since the beginning of the new year, and late January/early February has been no different.

    The Wild come into tonight’s game having dropped five straight decisions to the Sharks, Coyotes, Islanders, Rangers and Blues.

    Minnesota has just 10 goals during the losing streak, which means their top offensive players aren’t producing.

    Head coach Mike Yeo tried to shake things up on Saturday night by scratching Thomas Vanek and Jason Zucker, but that didn’t work. The Wild were thumped, 4-1, by the St. Louis Blues.

    After playing their last three games on the road, Minnesota hopes to get a boost from their home crowd.

    “One thing for sure, [there are] mixed feelings about coming back home,” Yeo said on Monday, per the Star-Tribune. “Right now, obviously, a little home cooking would be nice for us. But I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little nervous for tomorrow. Certainly I think our fan base is a little restless — more than a little restless right now. And they expect more from us. And they deserve more of us.”

    Things haven’t been as bad in Dallas, but the Stars are coming off an embarrassing 5-1 home loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

    “It was a huge game,” forward Vernon Fiddler said, per the Morning News. “We talked about it before the game, what it means, and then we lay an egg. It’s unacceptable. There’s a lot of disappointed guys in here.

    “After a big loss like that, you want to respond. We all have to be better and take a look in the mirror and expect more of ourselves.”

    Prior to Saturday’s loss, the Stars had won three straight games.

    Could this be a trap game for Dallas?

    They won’t have to wait long to get another crack at the Blackhawks, as they’ll be shipping out to the United Center on Thursday, but they have to take care of business in Minnesota first.

    The Stars are five points behind Chicago for top spot in the Central Division. Dallas has three games in hand.