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Race for the playoffs: Three make-or-break games on tap tonight

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

Eastern Conference

5. Tampa Bay – 93 pts
6. Montreal – 89 pts
7. NY Rangers – 87 pts
8. Buffalo – 85 pts
9. Carolina – 82 pts
10. Toronto – 80 pts
11. Atlanta – 76 pts

NY Rangers @ Buffalo – 7 p.m. ET
The Rangers hold just a two point lead on Buffalo. Just think of how much more interesting this would’ve been had Buffalo knocked off Toronto last night. The race at the lower half of the East is filled with intrigue and Montreal’s recent slide has gotten both the Rangers and Sabres back in the mix to potentially have a shot at getting into sixth place and a likely date with Boston in the first round of the playoffs.

The potential goalie battle in this game has us all tingly with Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers and Ryan Miller for Buffalo. Miller had a rough go against Toronto last night giving up four goals in the loss. The Rangers can either keep pace with or equal the Habs, depending on what happens in their game against Carolina tonight, but if you’re thinking there’ll be a host of goals in this game, think again.

Montreal @ Carolina – 7 p.m. ET
These two teams have a slight bit of history and it’s none too friendly and there’s nothing more the Canadiens would like than to put a hurting on the Hurricanes playoff hopes. Carolina is three points back of Buffalo and if everything breaks right for them tonight, they could be just one point out after it’s all said and done this evening. Montreal may be poised to roll though after snapping their 199 minute goalless drought last night, a streak that was part of a three-game losing skid. While both teams have had their doses of inconsistency this season, Carolina’s have been a bit more hot and cold. Getting a win over the Caps in the shootout last night could be a sign of righting the ship at the right time as they’ve now won five of their last seven games.

NY Islanders @ New Jersey – 7 p.m. ET
While Zach Parise may get a shot to play for the first time since November, it’s pretty much pride on the line between these two. They’ve been the two hottest teams the second half of the year and while the Devils teased for a bit like they might get close to the playoffs, it’s not going to happen now. The Islanders would love to be the team that casts the fatal blow to the Devils final hopes at the postseason.

Western Conference

5. Los Angeles – 94 pts
6. Nashville – 92 pts
7. Anaheim – 91 pts
8. Chicago – 90 pts
9. Dallas – 87 pts
10. Calgary – 87 pts

Anaheim @ Calgary – 9:30 p.m. ET
This is it for Calgary, a loss to Anaheim and they’re dead in the water for the playoffs. Calgary will have just four games remaining after this one and getting to 95 points won’t guarantee a shot at the postseason. The Flames will essentially have to win their final five games starting with tonight’s game against the Ducks to have any slightly stress-free hopes of the playoffs. With everyone else ahead of them having games in hand to play, things don’t look good for Calgary.

Making things worse for the Flames is they’ll have to play an Anaheim team that’s playing much better of late thanks to Corey Perry’s great play. Anaheim has the chance to move up to sixth in the West with a win and moving ahead of Nashville in the West means that the rumbling talk of Corey Perry for league MVP will rumble on. For us, we’ll just be excited to see yet another game with the ever-awesome Teemu Selanne.

St. Louis @ Detroit – 7:30 p.m. ET
All right there’s not much to this game playoff-wise at all since Vancouver clinched the top spot in the Western Conference, but Detroit still needs to wrap up the Central Division and with Nashville still lurking behind them, only wins can help put them away.

Foley is ‘9.5’ out of 10 confident that NHL will expand to Vegas

LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 10:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (L) and Fidelity National Financial Inc. Chairman and President of Hockey Vision Las Vegas Bill Foley pose during a news conference at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino announcing the launch of a season ticket drive to try to gauge if there is enough interest in Las Vegas to support an NHL team on February 10, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A Las Vegas franchise would play in a USD 375 million, 20,000-seat arena being built on the Strip by MGM Resorts International and AEG that is scheduled to open in the spring of 2016.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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On a scale of 1 to 10, Bill Foley is “9.5” confident that the NHL will grant him an expansion team for Las Vegas.

That was the main takeaway from an interview Foley did with KSNV NBC in Las Vegas.

At the same time, despite his high level of confidence, Foley would appreciate an answer sooner rather than later — especially if the team is to start playing in 2017-18.

” I don’t want to give the league too much time,” he said, smiling. “They’re doing their job, they’re doing their process and so on. We would really like to have the word by June.”

Foley was asked what he believed to be the biggest “concern” the NHL had about expansion. He replied that it was a matter of whether the league expanded by one team or two (Quebec City has also applied for a franchise), but also the expansion draft.

“Who’s available in the draft? Are players with no-trade clauses…are they going to be part of the draft or not part of the draft?” Foley wondered. “So the owners and the league have a lot of things to do and to figure out.”

Full video of the interview can be found here.

Related: Bettman rejects notion that the NHL is waiting for Seattle

Goalie nods: Backup extraordinaire Montoya gets the call versus Wings

Florida Panthers goalie Al Montoya watches game action against the New Jersey Devils' during the second period of a NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
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The Florida Panthers have had no problem giving Roberto Luongo the odd night off this season. That’s because Al Montoya has been one of the best backups in the league.

Montoya (8-2-1, .931) will get the call tonight in Detroit, with Luongo (23-13-5, .930) expected to start tomorrow in Buffalo.

The Panthers have the highest team save percentage in the NHL, at .926 (which includes empty-net goals).

“They both give us a chance to win every night,” Panthers d-man Brian Campbell told the Miami Herald recently. “Both make huge saves for us at times. You need consistent saves every night and they both bring it. Montoya gets put into a tough spot a lot of times and nothing seems to change.”

Beyond Montoya, other NHL backups with particularly good numbers include the Flyers’ Michal Neuvirth (.933), the Kings’ Jhonas Enroth (.931), the Blues’ Brian Elliott (.930), the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss (.929), and the Wild’s Darcy Kuemper (.928).

Petr Mrazek will start for the Red Wings. He used to be Detroit’s backup, but he’s since surpassed Jimmy Howard for the starting job.

Elsewhere…

Cory Schneider for the Devils at MSG, versus Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers.

John Gibson for the Ducks in Pittsburgh, versus Marc-Andre Fleury for the Penguins.

— Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Lightning in Ottawa, versus Craig Anderson for the Sens.

Blues put Pietrangelo on IR with knee injury

Pietrangelo-Coyle
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Not good news for the St. Louis Blues — the club announced this morning that defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has been placed on injured reserve with a right-knee injury. He’ll be re-evaluated in three weeks.

Pietrangelo suffered the injury Saturday in a knee-on-knee collision with Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle.

Based on the timeline provided, the Blues will be without their leader in average ice time (26:40) until at least the end of the month. St. Louis plays 10 times between now and Feb. 29, which also happens to be the trade deadline.

The big question, of course, is whether Pietrangelo will be ready to go upon re-evaluation.

The first day of the playoffs is April 13.

Update:

Related: Armstrong wants Blues to get healthy before any trades are made

“I wonder if that’s Crosby, what happens?’ — AV upset after McDonagh concussed by Simmonds

Alain Vigneault
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Alain Vigneault took another shot at the NHL’s Department of Player Safety today.

This time, the Rangers head coach was upset about the lack of supplementary discipline for Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds in the wake of Saturday’s altercation with New York captain Ryan McDonagh.

“An All-Star player gets sucker-punched, goes down,” Vigneault said, per The Record. “I wonder if that’s (Sidney) Crosby, what happens? What are the consequences? And, on top of that, a player breaks his stick, throws it at the referees. In the rulebook, that’s automatic. It’s three games. Nothing happens. It’s not even on the sheet after the game.”

Simmonds’ punch left McDonagh concussed and unable to play tonight versus New Jersey, with no timetable for his return.

Earlier this season, Vigneault voiced his frustration with the league after Rangers center Derek Stepan suffered broken ribs in Boston on a hit from Bruins forward Matt Beleskey.

Vigneault felt the hit was late.

“I remember Aaron Rome in this building, .6 seconds late, getting suspended four games in the Stanley Cup Final,” the former Vancouver Canucks coach said, recalling the contentious 2011 final.

Beleskey was not suspended.