Brent Johnson, Patrik Elias

How the Penguins can clinch a playoff spot and tonight’s other postseason implications

Aside from the Vancouver Canucks – a Western Conference team that has just about everything covered for themselves – Friday’s five games are all about the East’s playoff races.

To keep it simple, here is a quick summary of the potential impact for each of the five games, with their start times according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).

7:00 pm

New Jersey @ Pittsburgh

Notes: The Penguins could clinch a playoff spot two different ways. The first way would be if they won and the Hurricanes came away with a point or less; the other is if they earn at least one point and Carolina loses in regulation. Pittsburgh could also move themselves within two points of the Philadelphia Flyers, although Philly would still have two games in hand plus that lead. Meanwhile the Devils have nine games to close a nine-point gap between themselves and the eighth-place Hurricanes.

7:30 pm

Florida @ Buffalo

Notes: The Panthers are in tank mode while the Sabres could creep past the New York Rangers for seventh place in the East. Buffalo has four less points than the Rangers, but two games in hand. Their biggest concerns revolve around holding off Carolina so they can keep the eighth seed, though.

Washington @ Ottawa

Notes: A win could push Washington in a first place tie with the Flyers in the East, although it’s important to note that Philly will have two games in hand.

Vancouver @ Atlanta

Notes: The Thrashers basically have a slightly rosier version of the Devils’ desperate situation. They need to make up a seven point difference between themselves and the Sabres for the eighth spot with only nine games left.

Carolina @ Tampa Bay

Notes: For complete details of Carolina’s tough end of the season, click here. Ultimately, the Hurricanes have nine games to erase Buffalo’s three-point lead for a playoff spot. That’s far more likely than the Devils and Thrashers overcoming their deficits, but again, Carolina has a tough end of the season schedule. Tampa Bay can increase their chances of a fourth seed and their slim hopes of winning the Southeast with a win tonight. They trail fourth-ranked Pittsburgh by five and division leading Washington by seven at the moment.

Finally, for those of you who are visual learners, here’s a look at the Eastern Conference playoff picture, via NBC’s standings page. (“x” denotes a team that already clinched a postseason berth, please note that the bottom three teams aren’t mentioned because they are not contenders at this time.)

(click to enlarge)

So, there you go. Tonight’s games might kill some dreams, clinch a playoff berth and have an impact on seeding. We’ll let you know how it shakes out.

Red Wings get ‘ultra-fast, ultra-competitive’ Helm back in lineup versus Sabres

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 11: Darren Helm #43 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 11, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

Darren Helm is back in the Detroit Red Wings lineup Friday, after missing the last two months with a shoulder injury.

Helm last played on Nov. 15, and was initially expected to miss at least six weeks with a dislocated shoulder. According to reports, he’ll make his return to game action against the Buffalo Sabres.

The Red Wings are searching for a fourth consecutive win, as they look to gain ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

“He’s ultra-fast, he’s ultra-competitive,” said coach Jeff Blashill, per MLive.com. “I thought he had an excellent start to the year. It was obviously unfortunate he got hurt, but we all deal with it. The good thing with him is he’s such a skater and such a competitor that when he gets back into the lineup after a long layoff I expect him to be pretty good.”

In 17 games this season before his injury, Helm had four goals and seven points.

Jets rookie scorer Patrik Laine making progress in concussion recovery

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 17:  Patrik Laine #29 of the Winnipeg Jets waits for a faceoff against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on November 17, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

There was a positive development for the Winnipeg Jets and their rookie scorer Patrik Laine on Friday.

Per reports, Laine was back skating with his teammates during Friday’s practice, albeit while wearing a yellow non-contact jersey, marking another step in his return from a concussion suffered on an open-ice hit from Jake McCabe on Jan. 7.

“It doesn’t matter how long you’re out of the games. I’m still young, and I have a lot of games ahead of me. I don’t have to rush anything,” said Laine, per NHL.com. “It’s easier to work out now, and be able to go out on the ice with the team. Hopefully I can get back soon.”

Laine has missed the last six games, and the Jets have lost four times in his absence. There have been rumblings about the future of head coach Paul Maurice in Winnipeg due to his team’s struggles.

Selected second overall last June, Laine has been as advertised in his freshman campaign: A scoring forward with a terrific and accurate shot. He leads Winnipeg in goals with 21. Certainly, the Jets have missed his ability to finish over this recent stretch. But at age 18 and given the nature of his injury, it’s imperative he not be rushed back.

“He comes back in (Saturday) and if he’s right where he left off and felt good, we would start to push the heart rate a little bit and gradually work up from there,” said Maurice, per the Winnipeg Sun. “If he feels good (Saturday), he’ll get some light bumps in.

“He’s absolutely not getting back into a game until he’s at 100 percent and clear. And then I’m more interested in getting him in the next game.”

The Jets play the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, the Anaheim Ducks on Monday and the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

Injured Silfverberg skips trip with Ducks

Jakob Silfverberg
AP
Leave a comment

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Forward Jakob Silfverberg will not travel on the Anaheim Ducks’ upcoming two-game road trip to Minnesota and Winnipeg while recovering from an upper-body injury.

The Ducks are leaving for Minnesota on Friday without Silfverberg, who was injured late in their 2-1 victory over Colorado on Thursday.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Silfverberg left Thursday’s game in the third period, shortly after a hit from Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov, and is considered day-to-day. Silfverberg’s head is believed to have hit the ice but it is not known if he suffered a head injury.

Anaheim recalled right wing Corey Tropp and defenseman Shea Theodore from its AHL affiliate in San Diego.

Silfverberg has 13 goals and 16 assists in a strong season with the Pacific Division-leading Ducks. The Swede is on pace to surpass his career highs in goals and assists.

Silfverberg has teamed up with All-Star center Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano on the Ducks’ most effective line this season.

Pre-game reading: Is better ice the key to more scoring?

Leave a comment

— Up top, the resurrection of Alexander Radulov has been quite the story in Montreal.

Corey Crawford has an interesting theory on how to increase scoring in the NHL. It’s not smaller goalie equipment; it’s better ice. “I’ve always thought the real issue isn’t goalie equipment. The issue is ice. If you can make ice like the way it is in Colorado, the way it is in Washington, Edmonton — you make the conditions like that for every game in every rink, guys are going to score. … You watch a game where the ice is just horse[bleep] — it makes a huge difference. ” (Chicago Sun-Times)

— Speaking of horse[bleep] ice…the New York Islanders! Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News think the Isles need to see what they’ve got in youngsters like Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang. Kennedy writes: “Admittedly, I’ve only watched Bridgeport once this season, but I don’t think that giving them a couple of games in The Show would foment a sense of entitlement – think of it as motivation. A call-up in 2016-17 is no guarantee of a roster spot in 2017-18.” The Isles could certainly be an interesting team to watch as the trade deadline approaches. Veteran forwards like Nikolay Kulemin and Jason Chimera aren’t going to be part of the future. If Garth Snow can move their salary, or even part of their salary, it might be wise to do it. (The Hockey News)

Marian Hossa is the 10th-oldest player in the NHL. How has the 38-year-old winger maintained such a high level of play? The answer: Hard work. “He’s one of the best professionals, the way he carries himself, prepares every day,” teammate Ryan Hartman told Sports Illustrated. “He’s always here early, even after games he’s in the gym doing some type of stuff to keep his body in shape. The way he presents himself, it helps us young guys, for sure, to learn from him.” (SI)

— A profile of Nolan Patrick, the likely first overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft. Writes Postmedia’s Michal Traikos: “Some have called him the second coming of Anze Kopitar, because he has off-the-charts hockey IQ and already plays a mature, two-way game. With a dad (Steve) and an uncle (James) who both played in the NHL, Patrick understands the subtleties of the game. When he was 16, the Wheat Kings matched him up against Leon Draisaitl, who was two years older and already drafted, in the WHL final.” (National Post)

— Patrick was, indeed, the first overall pick in Adam Kimelman’s mock draft over at NHL.com. The second pick was another center, Gabriel Vilardi. The third was also a center, Nico Hischier. In fact, of Kimelman’s top 10 picks, six were listed as centers. While there may be no obvious, future superstar like Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews in this summer’s draft, there’s still plenty of talent to be had — especially down the middle, apparently. (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!