NHL playoffs update: Just win baby

You had to know it wasn’t going to turn out easy. Nothing about the race for the final three spots in the Eastern Conference has been easy nor logical, so of course there was no way the Flyers would beat the Rangers tonight to finalize the East field. Of course the Rangers would win, and do so in regulation, to make things even tighter and even more butt-clenchingly silly for the Flyers, Bruins, and Canadiens.

With all that said, here’s how the Eastern Conference playoff race looks now:

Team GP W L OTL PTS
6 Boston Bruins 80 37 30 13 87
7 Montreal Canadiens 81 39 33 9 87
8 Philadelphia Flyers 81 40 35 6 86
9 New York Rangers 81 38 33 10

86

 

That sets the table for tomorrow night with two huge games that will put the onus on both the Bruins and Canadiens to do something different. They’ll actually have to win a game if they want to get in the playoffs. The team with the most seeming leeway is the Bruins as they’ve got two games left. A win over Carolina tomorrow would lock up a playoff spot for the Bruins as they’d have 89 points and the only other team that can hit that mark is Montreal. A Boston loss in regulation or overtime puts the Bruins in the unenviable position of having to get a point against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals on Sunday afternoon on NBC.

The Habs are in the unenviable spot of teetering on the edge. Should the Maple Leafs beat the Habs in regulation, they’ll be sweating out the Rangers-Flyers brawl-for-it-all on Sunday afternoon as a Rangers win in overtime or shootout would then eliminate Montreal from the playoffs. If Montreal was able to just make it to overtime against Toronto, that would ensure a spot in the playoffs for the Habs.  All of these “loser” possibilities have to be counted upon because asking anyone to, you know, actually win their way into the playoffs seems to be like asking for the moon as a gift.

The Rangers-Flyers game on Sunday afternoon sets up to be a winner-take-all game with a playoff spot on the line.  Both teams can still make the playoffs if the Bruins earn zero points this weekend and their game on Sunday goes to overtime.

Confused yet? Good. The key here for everyone involved is to just win, or in the case of the Canadiens, just get a single stinking point. The Bruins could make the playoffs just by going to overtime twice. Yes, I know, this is a daunting task to ask of all these teams. This is why we can’t have nice things out East.

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    Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

    NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

    For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

    The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

    Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

    With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

    Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

    Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

    Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
    Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
    Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
    Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
    Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

    Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

    And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

    * – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

    Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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    If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

    The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

    We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

    Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

    While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

    Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

    The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

    Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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    If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

    It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

    Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

    Central Division title chase

    1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
    2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

    Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

    Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

    The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

    Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

    Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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    Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

    Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

    Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

    This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

    MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

    But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

    The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

    Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

    In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

    You might even be tempted to believe the hype.