Race for the playoffs: Bruins can clinch division, Rangers looking to bounce back

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

x-1. Philadelphia 102 pts
x-2. Washington 99 pts
x-3. Boston – 96 pts
x-4. Pittsburgh – 98 pts
5. Tampa Bay – 93 pts
6. Montreal – 89 pts
7. Buffalo – 87 pts
8. NY Rangers – 87 pts
9. Carolina – 84 pts
10. Toronto – 80 pts
11. Atlanta – 76 pts

z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot

Toronto @ Boston – 7 p.m. ET

It’s virtually a must-win game for the Leafs and for the Bruins, they can lock up the Northeast Division with a win. The last two outings for the B’s against Toronto have not gone well and Boston would love to see Tomas Kaberle snap out of it against his old team. Since joining the Bruins Kaberle has one goal and six assists in 18 games. The Bruins power play isn’t clicking the way they’d like but yet through all this they stay on top of things. Getting things figured out before the playoffs would ease coach Claude Julien’s mind a bit. For the Leafs, Buffalo’s win last night hurt their chances badly and now they’ve got to try and win out to get a shot at the postseason. Beating Boston one more time would suit them just fine.

NY Rangers @ NY Islanders – 7 p.m. ET

These two rivals go into tonight’s game with only pride on the line for the Isles and playoffs on the minds of the Rangers. After losing to the Sabres last night, the Rangers technically fell into eighth place in the Eastern Conference as the Sabres tied them with 87 points. Getting one over on the Isles tonight would do the Rangers a lot of good as Carolina is lurking in ninth just three points out. The Isles would like nothing more than to make life more uncomfortable on the Rangers.

Atlanta @ Philadelphia – 7 p.m. ET

A loss tonight by the Thrashers eliminates them from postseason contention. They’re barely hanging on as it is and they’ll need to win their final six games just to keep hope alive. Fortunately for them, they’ve beaten Philly the last two times they’ve played this year in the shootout and in overtime. They’ll need that kind of fortune the rest of the way. Philly, meanwhile, needs to win to keep Pittsburgh off their back and close in on trying to clinch the division.

Pittsburgh @ Tampa Bay – 7:30 p.m. ET

This is shaping up to be a very likely first round match-up in the playoffs. While Pittsburgh seems destined to have home ice in the first round, the Lightning could cut into that advantage with a win. Winning in regulation would get Tampa to within three points of Pittsburgh. The Pens would like to catch Philly for the lead in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. With Sidney Crosby skating with the team, perhaps the captain can rally the guys on game day into taking the number one seed.

Columbus @ Washington – 7 p.m. ET

The Jackets are just playing out the string while the Capitals get to try to keep their offense alive without Dennis Wideman who’s out week-to-week with a lower body injury. The Caps can get to within a point of Philly for the top spot in the East with a win and coming off a shootout loss to Carolina the other night, they could stand to see the offense pick up a bit. Doing so against Columbus is a questionable process as you never know if you’ll get the easy to score on Blue Jackets or not. At the very least, scoring two goals is a virtual automatic thing for the Caps in this one. Columbus has given up two or more goals in 14 straight games. That’s… Not good.

Video: Predators’ Fiddler ejected for knee-to-knee on Blues’ Parayko

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Hey, remember when Vernon Fiddler was a feel-good story in scoring an unlikely, lucky goal to seal Game 1 for the Nashville Predators?

That feel-good story didn’t extend very far into Game 2 against the St. Louis Blues.

With about 90 seconds remaining in the first period, Fiddler delivered a knee-to-knee hit on the Blues’ rising star defenseman Colton Parayko, who left the ice after getting some help. The officials responded accordingly, handing Fiddler a game misconduct and five-minute major for kneeing.

Vladimir Tarasenko made the Predators pay with a 1-1 power-play goal as the opening frame was nearing an end, and being that it was a major penalty, the damage may continue. The Blues will begin the second with about 3:30 in man-advantage time.

You can see video of the hit above this post’s headline. PHT will monitor updates regarding Parayko’s condition.

All things considered, the Predators are probably lucky that Game 2 is currently locked up at 1-1.

Video: Did Ovechkin miss opportunity to land big hit on Crosby?

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There are a lot of ways to describe Alex Ovechkin‘s on-ice style. One that probably never comes up is “shy.”

He’s one of the most hard-hitting high-scorers in recent memory, but Keith Jones and Mike Milbury noticed a moment where he passed up a potentially huge hit on Sidney Crosby in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ eventual Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals.

Both Jones and Milbury admit that Ovechkin probably made the right choice in the moment, as he a) scored a goal soon after and b) would have been whistled for interference (at minimum?).

Even so, they still wonder if it was really the right choice. Watch that interesting discussion in the video above.

And, in the clip below, something most can agree on: Crosby’s on a roll.

Game 2 is on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App (click here for the livestream link).

Predators admit Fiala ‘will be missed’ but must move on

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ST. LOUIS — The Nashville Predators faced the reality Thursday that they will have to play the rest of the playoffs without left winger Kevin Fiala, who sustained a broken left leg on Wednesday night in their series opener against the St. Louis Blues.

“Kev was playing so well for us,” Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis told NHL.com. “He became a dominant player on the ice, and it’s a big loss for our team. It hurts right now, hurts for Kev, too, but we have to move forward. He’s going to be missed for sure, but we have to find a way to get past it.”

The Predators will try to do that starting Friday night, when they take on the Blues in Game 2 of the Western Conference second-round series, trying to stay undefeated in this year’s postseason.

After sweeping the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, the eighth-seeded Predators won Game 1 against the Blues 4-3 on Wednesday. Nashville got a goal and two assists from P.K. Subban and the game-winning goal from Vernon Fiddler with 5:05 left in the third period.

Colin Wilson also scored for the Predators in his first game of the postseason, having missed the Chicago series because of a lower-body injury, and he likely must play a major role if the team is going to overcome the loss of Fiala.

Wilson led the Predators in playoff points a year ago, when they lost in the second round to the San Jose Sharks. They are trying to advance to the first Western Conference finals in franchise history.

“He’s awesome in the playoffs,” Ellis said of Wilson. “He’s been good for us all year, so he’s adapted to his role on the team, and he’s one of the guys we lean heavily on. Now losing Kev, we’re going to rely on him even more than ever.”

Wilson does not believe he will be able to carry the load alone.

“Throughout the year, I think we’re a little bit inconsistent, but when we played our game, we were always unstoppable,” Wilson told NHL.com. “We have a lot of talent, great D, great goaltending, all-around strong team with a lot of depth. Watching them was fun, but being a part of it is a lot better.”

The Blues saw ways they can be better after the Game 1 loss, primarily by avoiding penalties that helped put them in a 3-1 hole in the second period. Two of the Predators’ goals came on power plays.

“They put us on our heels, put us behind, created a lot of momentum,” St. Louis goalie Jake Allen said. “When we didn’t have to kill any penalties, it changed the game. I thought we played really well five-on-five.”

That performance did not result in a win, however, which is becoming a problem on home ice for the Blues. They are now 1-2 at home this season, compared to a 3-0 record on the road.

“We have to be better at home,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “We put ourselves in a tough position by not coming out and putting our best game in front of us (in Game 1). We have to be a little more focus and committed to playing a 60-minute game. For me, this time of year, you should definitely feel some momentum and energy from your crowd.

“There were some things (Wednesday) we can build off, things we certainly learned about their team and things we need to do to be successful.”

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Hurricanes get Scott Darling from Blackhawks for third-rounder

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If you’re looking at that headline regarding the Carolina Hurricanes nabbing Scott Darling from the Chicago Blackhawks in a state of awe, don’t feel too badly.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that even Darling’s representatives didn’t see it coming.

But it did indeed happen, as the Hurricanes sent a third-round pick in 2017 to Chicago for Darling. It sounds like the Blackhawks were going to part ways with Darling one way or another, so they get a decent pick for their trouble.

Darling is scheduled to be a UFA this summer, so the Hurricanes must believe that they can sign a goalie Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman described as “always reliable.”

The Hurricanes could have chosen to keep Darling in their organization, but apparently he didn’t make a huge first impression during this opportunity:

“Reliable” might honestly be selling Darling, 28, a little short. In 75 regular season games, he generated a fantastic .923 save percentage and even excelled when called upon in the playoffs.

With the Hurricanes’ mess in net in mind, you have to credit GM Ron Francis & Co. for being proactive … assuming they can sign Darling to a reasonable deal.

Carolina and Chicago seem comfortable as trade partners, as the two teams also made the Teuvo Teravainen/Bryan Bickell deal fairly recently.