Race for the playoffs: Do or die out West for Dallas, Kings get first real test

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.”

Western Conference

z – 1. Vancouver – 111 pts
2. Detroit – 98 pts
3. San Jose – 97 pts
4. Phoenix – 95 pts
5. Los Angeles – 94 pts
6. Anaheim – 93 pts
7. Nashville – 92 pts
8. Chicago – 90 pts
9. Dallas – 87 pts
10. Calgary – 87 pts

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

Dallas @ San Jose – 10:30 p.m. ET

Overrating a game this late season is tough to do, but for the Dallas Stars, a win tonight is virtually mandatory. With Anaheim on a roll, Chicago mostly playing well, and Nashville holding strong, the Stars cannot afford to lose. They’re three points out of eighth and fortunately they’ve got six more games after tonight. They’ve got some breathing room, but losses aren’t going to help them and they’ve had a lot of them lately losing six of their last seven games and four in a row.

For San Jose, they’re looking to keep ahead of Phoenix and Los Angeles in the race for the division title. While a playoff spot is theirs with a win in regulation, they’ve still got plenty to play for and we’re thinking that they’d really enjoy helping the Stars lose out on a playoff spot. If the Stars don’t come out fired up for this one, they might as well pack it in. A win also puts the Sharks ahead of Detroit for the second seed for the time being after Detroit was thumped by St. Louis 10-3 last night.

Los Angeles @ Vancouver – 10 p.m. ET

The Kings looked solid in beating the NHL’s worst team Edmonton 2-0 in their first game without Anze Kopitar. Taking on Vancouver tonight should provide them with a bit more of a challenge than the lowly Oilers. Vancouver has everything in the Western Conference locked up and the one thing left on their hit list before the playoffs is locking up the Presidents’ Trophy. Two more wins would do just that. With five more games left to play in Vancouver, they’re hoping to avoid injuries as much as they are hoping to keep playing great hockey. It can be a delicate balance. A Kings win would allow them to slide ahead of Phoenix for the time being and potentially draw within a point of San Jose for the division lead. It’s put up or shut up time for L.A.

Nashville @ Colorado – 9 p.m. ET

Nashville’s been playing great lately and they appear headed to another postseason appearance. Colorado is in full-on tank mode seeking out a top five draft pick. I think you can see which way this game might be headed tonight. That said, a team playing for pride can be dangerous. Whether Colorado has the pride and patience necessary to deal with the Preds tonight is another thing entirely. A win by Nashville can vault them into sixth place and potentially up to fifth.

Video: Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler lose cool in scuffle with Kassian, Oilers

via NBCSN
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In the first round, Zack Kassian reminded the hockey world why he came into the league with considerable hype as a first-rounder, as he scored some big goals for the Edmonton Oilers.

Of course, there’s a reason why Kassian has 522 penalty minutes in 313 career regular-season games. He can be a nasty presence who straddles the line.

He did as much late in Game 1, getting into it with Ryan Kesler, and then things really got out of hand. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and others were involved in “histrionics.”

(Who wants to start a Patreon to find out what Getzlaf and Andrej Sekera were saying to each other, by the way?)

It looks like the players involved were only whistled for roughing minors rather than fighting majors. This caps a tough night for Anaheim, who lost 5-3 and saw Kevin Bieksa suffer a troubling lower-body injury.

King Leon: Draisaitl collects four points vs. Ducks to give Oilers a Game 1 win

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So far, the Edmonton Oilers had been showing that they can win tight, low-scoring playoff games. And then the third period of Game 1 against the Anaheim Ducks happened.

The two teams entered the final frame tied 1-1, with smaller breaks and bounces being the story. Then just about everything happened in the third, with Leon Draisaitl guiding the Oilers to a 5-3 win to take a 1-0 series lead.

Draisaitl ended up with a goal and three assists, extending his point streak to three games (seven points during that span).

He wasn’t the only Oilers player to raise some eyebrows, and actually, the other two starring members were a lot more surprising. Mark Letestu seemed to make the early difference with two power-play goals, while low-scoring defenseman Adam Larsson found the net twice, including on the game-winner.

Phew, that’s a lot to absorb, right? This video captures the wildest scoring stretch of that period, even if there would be more:

While Connor McDavid hasn’t been bad, he’s been quiet – by his lofty standards – so far in the Oilers’ run, and that was mostly true on Wednesday. He ended up with a mere secondary assist in this one,

Yet, that might just be part of the good news for the Oilers. They advanced after McDavid had spotty series against the Sharks, and they just gave the Ducks their first postseason loss of 2017 with Draisaitl and others stealing the headlines.

Things got nasty at the end of this game, with key Ducks such as Ryan Getzlaf being prominently involved. Such moments make it clear that Anaheim isn’t likely to bow out of this one easily (and perhaps not gracefully?) but that should only make for a captivating Game 2.

That Game 2 airs Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN; you can watch online or via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

Keep an eye on Oilers’ Slepyshev (the Ducks certainly should)

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The breaks and breakaways frequently went the Edmonton Oilers’ way as they eliminated the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of their first-round series. Those results have been more of a mixed bag for Edmonton against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 tonight, though.

Anton Slepyshev is a great example of those ups and downs.

In Game 6 against the Sharks, Slepyshev used his speed to score a breakaway tally that ended up being the game-winner. (See here for those friendly breakaways.)

Slepyshev’s been burning the Ducks with his speed on Wednesday, but the Oilers have been burned in the process. For one thing, John Gibson turned aside this big chance shortly after Ryan Getzlaf gave Anaheim a 1-0 lead:

Later on in that same second period, Slepyshev got a step on the Ducks defense again. This time, he didn’t just fail to score; he took a goalie interference penalty for bumping Gibson.

With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being among those hitting posts, it might feel like it’s all against the Oilers this time around, but crossbars/postsanother theme from Edmonton’s Game 6 win vs. San Jose – have more or less balanced out.

And, one break really went Edmonton’s way: a Ducks defender broke his stick on the Oilers’ 5-on-3 opportunity, opening the door for a crucial Mark Letestu goal:

The end result is a 1-1 tie, but give the Oilers credit for not getting rattled. If Slepyshev can keep up his efforts, his speed could be a factor in a series that looks like it could be a real tug-o-war.

Jake Allen takes blame for Predators’ game-winner vs. Blues

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Let’s be honest: the St. Louis Blues owe a lot to Jake Allen‘s work against the Minnesota Wild in that first-round series.

He probably bought himself a significant amount of goodwill for that outstanding work, but Allen isn’t resting on his laurels. He admitted that “a little mistake by me cost” the Blues the 4-3 decision against the Predators, leaving St. Louis down 1-0 to Nashville.

The goal in question was Vernon Fiddler‘s unlikely 4-3 tally, which came after an unsuccessful poke check attempt by Allen:

Now, to be fair, that wasn’t even the only failed poke check that turned into a goal, as Pekka Rinne also got beat after making such an attempt:

Then again, Allen is wise to score points with teammates for taking the blame. As far as his team, head coach Mike Yeo believes that it was the second period that really made the difference.

Regardless, Allen and the Blues hope to carry over the momentum from their third-period dominance in Game 1 to Game 2 to tie the series 1-1.

That contest airs on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. (You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; here’s the livestream link.)