Around the Rink – Saturday, March 12th

Today is a typical Saturday, being that it’s full of games (10) with plenty of playoff implications. (OK, plenty of playoff implications is typical for any day, but we digress.) Since there’s so many contests, we’re going to keep it fairly simple. All start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).

2:00 pm

Montreal @ Pittsburgh

Is this uncomfortable reunion week for the Canadiens? After losing Max Pacioretty, the team was forced to play against the goalie who took them to the Eastern Conference finals (4-1 loss to St. Louis) and now play the team they beat to get there in Pittsburgh. This should be a good test for both teams.

7:00 pm

Columbus @ Carolina

As bad as things have been going for the Hurricanes (three losses in a row, seated outside the East’s top eight), they’re that much worse for the bumbling Blue Jackets. Columbus is on a seven-game losing streak, so they should be a desperate team, but file this under “Games you must win if you want to make the playoffs” for the Canes.

NY Islanders @ New Jersey

The Devils keep winning and winning, while the Islanders quietly stay just a stride or two behind New Jersey. If the Isles win today in regulation, they will have the same amount of standings points (although the Devils will have two games in hand). That’s quite the turnaround, though one wonders how much it will benefit Garth Snow’s team in the long run.

Atlanta @ Philadelphia

Dustin Byfuglien and Chris Pronger (health permitting) get to renew their hostilities Stanley Cup finals, although the match loses some of its luster since Buff is playing on defense/being a rover. The Thrashers need this one badly after losing to Ilya Kovalchuk and the Devils last night.

Buffalo @ Toronto

One must wonder if Toronto-area hockey fans are just hoping that one of these two teams make the playoffs. After all, Buffalo is just a hop, skip and a jump away from that area, making it an interesting foster team for jilted Leafs fans. It’s definitely a big one for both teams, with the Sabres in seventh and the Maple Leafs in 10th.

Tampa Bay @ Florida

This might be the week in which the Lightning’s Southeast Division hopes go up in smoke, unless they excel during this four-game road swing. The Panthers are a very Panther-like 1-1-1 in the first half of their six-game homestand. Will this be the night their playoff hopes will be put to bed?

8:00 pm

Detroit @ St. Louis

The Blues seem like the West’s answer to the Islanders: they’ve been hit with a litany of injuries yet they’re currently putting together a winning run that might ultimately be pointless. This might be their best chance to take points from Detroit, though, being that the game’s in St. Louis and the Red Wings squeaked out an OT win against Edmonton last night.

Colorado @ Nashville

Jeez, the Avalanche are a downer. Either that, or they’re very committed to tanking this season. The 10th place Predators would love to help them maintain that losing spirit as they have some ground to make up to get back in the top eight.

10:00 pm

Vancouver @ Calgary

As stunning as the Flames’ turnaround has been, they’re one of those home-dependent (21 wins in Calgary vs. only 15 on the road) clubs who might be in serious trouble in a 1 vs. 8 seed match. Then again, who wouldn’t be in trouble against the Canucks in the playoffs?

10:30 pm

NY Rangers @ San Jose

The Ducks slapped the Rangers around on Thursday. Will the Sharks be equally unaccommodating as New York plays its second game against tough California teams? With the Stars nipping at their heels, San Jose has plenty to play for, which might not bode well for the Broadway bunch.

PHT’s second-round playoff predictions, featuring the red-hot Random Thing Picker

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It was a tough first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for many of the so-called experts of the world.

Upsets included the Predators over the Blackhawks and the Blues over the Wild. The Rangers over the Canadiens was a quasi-upset, too.

Here at PHT, it was a mixed bag. Mike Halford and Cam Tucker each went an impressive 6-2. And so too did the Random Thing Picker, which as its name suggests, picks random things. (And picks them rather well, apparently.)

Of note, the Random Thing Picker and James O’Brien were the only ones to pick the Preds over the ‘Hawks. So congratulations to both robotic lifeforms on that bit of soothsaying.

Rounding out the rest of the first-round results, Adam Gretz and Joey Alfieri went 4-4, while at 3-5, O’Brien and yours truly couldn’t even crack .500. (Stupid Jake Allen.)

On to the second round!

Washington versus Pittsburgh (Stream Capitals-Penguins)

Brough: Capitals in 7
Halford: Penguins in 6
O’Brien: Capitals in 7
Gretz: Capitals in 7
Tucker: Capitals in 6
Alfieri: Capitals in 7
Random Thing Picker: Capitals

New York versus Ottawa (Stream Rangers-Senators)

Brough: Senators in 6
Halford: Senators in 7
O’Brien: Rangers in 7
Gretz: Rangers in 6
Tucker: Rangers in 6
Alfieri: Senators in 6
Random Thing Picker: Senators

St. Louis versus Nashville (Stream Blues-Predators)

Brough: Predators in 6
Halford: Blues in 7
O’Brien: Predators in 6
Gretz: Predators in 6
Tucker: Predators in 7
Alfieri: Predators in 6
Random Thing Picker: Blues

Anaheim versus Edmonton (Stream Ducks-Oilers)

Brough: Ducks in 7
Halford: Ducks in 6
O’Brien: Ducks in 6
Gretz: Oilers in 7
Tucker: Oilers in 6
Alfieri: Ducks in 6
Random Thing Picker: Ducks

Feel free to add your picks below…

Auston Matthews to skip Worlds

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Auston Matthews is going to take some time off.

As such, the 19-year-old star forward won’t be heading overseas to represent the United States in the upcoming World Championship.

You can hardly blame him. Matthews just finished his rookie season in the NHL, playing all 82 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, plus six more in the playoffs.

Oh, and he also played in the World Cup for Team North America.

Matthews did participate in last year’s Worlds. He had six goals and three assists in 10 games on the way to a fourth-place finish.

Related: Gaudreau, Eichel commit to USA Worlds roster

Blackhawks fire their AHL head coach

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Yesterday, the Chicago Blackhawks fired longtime assistant coach Mike Kitchen.

Today, it was longtime AHL coach Ted Dent who got the ax.

Dent has been the head coach of the Rockford IceHogs the past six seasons, and he was an assistant coach for Chicago’s AHL affiliate the previous five seasons.

“The Chicago Blackhawks thank Ted for all of his contributions throughout his tenure with the organization,” GM Stan Bowman said. “He played a major role in helping a number of players reach the NHL level with the Chicago Blackhawks, many of whom became Stanley Cup champions. We wish Ted and his family the best.”

The IceHogs missed the playoffs this season, finishing last in the AHL’s Central Division with a record of 25-39-12.

Related: A furious Bowman addressed the Blackhawks’ postseason failure

Report: Canucks close to naming Travis Green head coach

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The Vancouver Canucks are reportedly set to announce Travis Green as their next head coach.

According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the announcement will be made in the next couple of days.

Green, who played over 1,000 games in the NHL including the playoffs, has been the head coach of the Canucks’ AHL affiliate in Utica the past four seasons. Under his watch, the Comets have played mostly winning hockey in spite of some rather depleted lineups.

Ever since Willie Desjardins was fired at the end of the season, Green has been the leading candidate to take over in Vancouver. The only question, really, was whether he’d be a candidate for another NHL head-coaching vacancy, perhaps with the Florida Panthers.

Assuming no last-minute hiccups, Green will take over a transitioning Canucks team that has finished 28th and 29th overall in its last two seasons, respectively.

“We’re going to be young,” president of hockey ops Trevor Linden said. “Young players make mistakes. There’s going to be some growing pains. We need a coach that understands exactly where we are.”

Related: In farewell to Vancouver, Desjardins defends his approach to young players