Naturally, we’ll have all the bases covered for today’s NBC Game of the Week between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers at 12:30pm ET. Yet this Sunday boasts five other games, including a host of weekend afternoon contests. Let’s get the lowdown on those matches, with start times according to Eastern Standard Time (ET) as usual.
New Jersey @ NY Islanders
Is it sobering or kind of funny that with all the hype the Devils’ impressive run to relevance is getting, they’re still only three points ahead of the Islanders? To be fair, the Isles have played in two more games and are looking fairly stout lately in their own right, but it’s still indicative of the Hoffa-sized hole New Jersey dug for itself.
Then again, the narrowing gap between the Devils and the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes also indicates that the rest of the lower seed East team’s haven’t exactly been elite all season, either.
Washington @ Florida
Despite the Lightning having a lead going into their 12-game homestand last month, the Capitals kept with the Southeast Division’s top team, as they’re only one point behind Tampa Bay as of this moment. Beating up on the fading Florida Panthers would allow the Caps to take a temporary lead in the division that seemed like it wouldn’t be in doubt for several more years for the team. The Panthers are behind the Devils and only one point ahead of the Islanders right now, so maybe they can finally tank to get a top draft pick?
(Though, in true Panthers purgatorial fashion, they might get a lottery pick in a roundly panned draft. Even when they finally lose, Florida just cannot win.)
Buffalo @ Minnesota
These teams seem oddly similar, almost like opposite conference cousins. Both teams are hovering around their conference’s playoff bubble. Each squad lost their top center to injury, as Derek Roy is missing for the Sabres while Mikko Koivu is on the shelf for the Wild. They also lean heavily on highly paid and skilled goalies, as Ryan Miller and Niklas Backstrom play key roles in their teams’ playoff hopes (although the gap between Wild backup Jose Theodore and untrusted Sabres No. 2 Patrick Lalime is substantial). These two scrappy teams need this one badly, so the intensity should be solid even if the familiarity isn’t there.
Nashville @ Calgary
The Flames are two points (and one win) ahead of the Predators, leaving them in the top eight while Nashville is wedged into a virtual ninth-place tie with the Anaheim Ducks. That Calgary lead is deceptive, however, because they’ve played in two more games than Shea Weber & Co. This is a typically big game in the West bubble.
Vancouver @ Anaheim
Unlike the stumbling Flyers, the Canucks haven’t let a lack of fear for their playoff positioning affect their focus in dispatching desperate teams. For the most part, anyway. While they don’t hold the psychological edge that the Blackhawks must against Vancouver, the Ducks are the kind of talented potential playoff team that would give any top seed the willies, so perhaps the Canucks will want to hurt their chances of slipping into the eighth spot.