All times Eastern
Toronto @ Carolina
Carolina helped improve their shot at getting back into the eighth spot in the East by shutting out Buffalo 1-0 last night. Whether Cam Ward has another gem up his sleeve could decide whether or not the Maple Leafs still have a playoff spot to chase after. The Leafs are six out of the eighth spot and four behind Carolina in the standings. A loss would leave Toronto just 11 games to try and make up that ground and doing that would require a lot of help from other teams in between. Daunting to say the least, but it makes tonight’s game a huge one for how the Eastern Conference’s bottom end of the playoffs could shake out.
Washington @ Detroit
The Caps won their ninth straight game beating Montreal 4-2 and as they head into Detroit they face a Wings team that’s been solid all season long and one that’s made life hard on the Caps in recent years at home. Washington hasn’t won in Detroit since November 2003 when Jaromir Jagr and Robert Lang led the Caps to victory and gave goalie Rastislav Stana his first and only victory in the NHL. The teams don’t play each other every year in Detroit, but with it being since before Alex Ovechkin arrived in Washington, that’s pretty rough. Seeing Pavel Datsyuk and Ovechkin square off on the same ice should be a treat and bring the best out of both of them.
Colorado @ Vancouver
This could get awkward. Colorado’s lost 19 of their last 20 games while Vancouver could clinch a playoff spot and the Northwest Division title by just earning a point in this one. It’s hard to fathom that these two were close in the divisional hunt back in December but here we are nonetheless as the Canucks have a 41 point lead on the Avs. We’re guessing the Canucks will get it all wrapped up and be the first team to make the playoffs this season because the depths of how poor Colorado’s played of late is stunning.
St. Louis @ Anaheim
Anaheim seeks to get themselves back into a better position to attack for the playoffs as a win would put them ahead of Calgary for the eighth spot in the West. Both teams would have 81 points, but the Ducks have more wins and will have two games in hand on the Flames. Translation: Times are getting rough for Calgary. The Blues are playing for a bit of pride as a win would tie them in points with Columbus in the Central Division. It would also do wonders to help them play the role of spoiler for the teams trying to get in the playoffs. If you can’t join the postseason party, you might as well try to drag others into the misery with you.
The NHL announced on Saturday afternoon that commissioner Gary Bettman has upheld the 10-game suspension the league issued to Anaheim Ducks forward Antoine Vermette for an abuse of official incident that happened earlier this month.
Bettman met with Vermette on Thursday and heard his appeal, and has ruled that the 10-game ban will remain in place.
Vermette was ejected from the Ducks’ Feb. 14 game against the Minnesota Wild after he slashed linesman Shandor Alphonso in the leg following a face off. The NHL ruled that it was a Category II abuse of official foul, which carries an automatic 10-game suspension. He has already served four of those games. He will lose $97,222.22 in salary as a result of the entire suspension.
Vermette’s suspension is the third abuse of official suspension we have seen in the NHL over the past two years following the 20-game ban Dennis Wideman received last year (later reduced to 10 games) and the three-game suspension given to Arizona Coyotes defenseman Anthony DeAngelo this season.
After signing a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the Ducks in free agency, Vermette has eight goals and 14 assists in 58 games this season.
Just about the only downside to the Chicago Blackhawks’ latest win, a 6-3 dismantling of the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night, was the injury suffered by defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
He ended up leaving the game after taking just four shifts in the first period and did not return.
Along with missing almost all of that game, he will also be out of the lineup on Sunday when the Blackhawks look to continue their recent hot streak when they host the St. Louis Blues.
In 60 games this season Hjalmarsson has five goals and nine assists while mostly playing alongside Duncan Keith. On Thursday the Blackhawks had seven defensemen in the lineup and relied on Michal Rozsival to fill some of the minutes left vacated by Hjalmarsson. He ended up scoring his first goal of the season in the win.
The Blackhawks have been on a roll over the past few weeks, winning eight of their past nine games and scoring at least four goals in every win during that stretch.
They will miss Hjalmarsson on Sunday, but it seems to only be a short-term issue.
An already shorthanded Pittsburgh Penguins defense is going to be without another key player on Saturday when Kris Letang misses their Stadium Series game against the Philadelphia Flyers due to an upper body.
Coach Mike Sullivan announced the news following the team’s morning skate and would only add that Letang remains day-to-day with an upper body injury.
Letang, the Penguins’ best defenseman, played more than 28 minutes in their most recent game, a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.
In 41 games this season he has five goals and 29 assists. Ron Hainsey, recently acquired in a trade with the Hurricanes, is going to have to immediately take on a pretty substantial role with his new team.
Anytime the Penguins are without Letang it’s a big deal because of how impactful he is on the blue line, but it is an even bigger issue now given the injury situation they are dealing with. Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta are both sidelined for what will most likely be the remainder of the regular season.
Justin Schultz, a game-time decision on Saturday night according to Sullivan, has missed the past three games due to a concussion.
NBC’s coverage of the 2016-17 NHL season continues on Saturday night with the final outdoor game of the season when cross-state rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers meet at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in the NHL Stadium Series.
It’s only the second meeting of the season between the two rivals after the Penguins won aa 5-4 decision earlier this season in Philadelphia.
The Penguins come into the game fighting through some recent injury woes that have decimated their defense. Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley are likely to miss the remainder of the regular season, while Justin Schultz is recovering from a concussion that has sidelined him for the past three games. As if that wasn’t enough, Kris Letang, the Penguins’ best defenseman and arguably their most irreplaceable player given the role he has, the minutes he plays and the impact he makes, is day-to-day with an injury of his own. That recent rash of injuries forced the team to make a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes earlier this week to acquire veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey, who is expected to make his debut with the team on Saturday at Heinz Field.
The Penguins have also been dealing with injuries to forwards Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust.
Even with all of that the Penguins have managed to remain in second place in the Metropolitan Division and are 6-1-3 in their past 10 games.
The Flyers, meanwhile, are struggling.
With only nine wins in their past 27 games they have lost a hold on a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and enter Saturday five points back of a wild card spot. A loss on Sunday could even lead to them starting to sell off assets in advance of the NHL trade deadline this week. They have one more game (Tuesday at home against the Colorado Avalanche) between now and the trade deadline.
So it could pretty big game for them on Saturday night.
Faceoff is 8 p.m. ET and can be seen on NBC or our live stream.