Let’s take a look at Thursday’s five-some of games, with all start times according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).
New Jersey @ Toronto
Call it the Clash of the Dreamers: the Maple Leafs are heating up and remain eight points out of a playoff spot while the Devils are on fire but remain 15 points behind the Hurricanes. Both teams face considerable odds, but whichever crew ends up with two points will dream a little bigger.
Los Angeles @ Pittsburgh
The Penguins are a team the Kings probably look up to – at least from a “we can get there someday” standpoint – but right now Pittsburgh resembles Los Angeles. After all, the Pens’ top players are injured, so they are playing an even tighter style predicated on attacking defensemen and the skills of a center who wears No. 11. Hmm …
Carolina @ Philadelphia
If the 2011 playoffs began today, this would be the first round’s top versus bottom seed series. In fact, the first game would even take place in Philly. We’re a long way from that actually happening (especially considering the competition the Hurricanes face), but it would probably be as good a 1 vs. 8 matchup will get in the East. (For the West, it must be Vancouver vs. Chicago, right?)
Buffalo @ Florida
It’s a game between the 10th-place Sabres and the 11th-place Panthers, with Buffalo looking a little stronger (especially considering the fact that the offensively challenged Panthers traded away former 20-goal scorer Michael Frolik). Not helping matters for Florida is their home struggles: they’ll try to avoid their fifth-straight loss in Sunrise tonight.
NY Islanders @ Montreal
The Canadiens won’t get a chance to lick their wounds from that violent and potentially deflating loss against the Bruins, as they host the lowly Isles tonight. Whichever poor soul plays in New York’s net might have a long night if the Habs release their vengeful anger on Thursday, though.