Race for the playoffs: Three gigantic games highlight the West race today

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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

p – 1. Vancouver – 113 pts (4 GR)
x-2. San Jose – 99 pts (5 GR)
3. Detroit – 98 pts (5 GR)
4. Phoenix – 96 pts (3 GR)
5. Los Angeles – 94 pts (5 GR)
6. Nashville – 94 pts (4 GR)
7. Anaheim – 93 pts (5 GR)
8. Chicago – 92 pts (5 GR)
9. Calgary – 89 pts (3 GR)
10. Dallas – 87 pts (6 GR)

p- clinched Presidents’ Trophy
z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
GR – games remaining

Detroit @ Nashville – 3 p.m. ET

The task is simple for Detroit: Earn a point, clinch a playoff spot. Of course, there’s the matter of still winning the Central Division and a regulation win by Nashville gets them within two points of Detroit for the top spot there. Detroit is buoyed by having Jimmy Howard return to action in goal today. The downside there is that Pekka Rinne will be in goal for Nashville. In his career against Detroit, Rinne is 8-2-2 with a 1.98 goals against average and a .948 save percentage. Add that in with Nashville’s tenacious dedication to defense and you’ve got yourself a problem if you’re Detroit. Nashville’s never won the Central Division and this year they’ve got their best chance of doing it.

Dallas @ Los Angeles – 4 p.m. ET

Dallas has six games left to play and they’re lucky to have that many games in hand because they’re a hurting team on a losing streak that’s painful. They’ve dropped five games in a row and they’re currently 10th in the West. Fortunately for them, they’re just five points out and while they can make up ground on Chicago for eighth, they need to snap out of their awful funk. Going up against L.A. who’s in desperate need of wins to keep their own heads above water in the playoffs (even in spite of being in fifth out West) the Kings have plenty of motivation. A win by L.A. draws them even with Phoenix for fourth place with a game in hand on the Coyotes.

Home ice in the first round is a definite possibility for the Kings and doing that without Anze Kopitar would be a tremendous accomplishment. Getting through Dallas, however, will be tough because the Stars are in that “cornered animal” situation. They’re dangerous and unpredictable. That is, unless, the Stars recent losing streak has sapped their will from them. It won’t get any easier for the Stars tomorrow as they’ll face Anaheim at the Pond. Speaking of the Ducks…

Anaheim @ San Jose – 10:30 p.m. ET

San Jose’s locked up their spot in the playoffs but they’d like to get a division title as well. Things in the Pacific are tight and facing the Ducks won’t make it any easier. Anaheim’s in seventh for the time being but could move up as high as fifth if things go right for them during today’s games (regulation losses by L.A. and Nashville). Both of these teams are hot and both are playing great hockey. All that means to us is that there’s a game worth staying up late tonight for out east. These teams don’t like each other and getting to see Corey Perry face off with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau is about as marquee as it gets out west.

Adam Larsson has become an ‘anchor’ for the Oilers

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Last summer’s Taylor Hall-for-Adam Larsson swap wasn’t popular in Edmonton, and it probably still isn’t now, but it likely stings a lot less today.

Larsson came up huge in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series against the Anaheim Ducks, as he scored a pair of goals and an assist in the 5-3 victory.

The 24-year-old’s first goal extended Edmonton’s lead to 3-1 in the third period, while his second tally gave them a 4-3 lead (it proved to be the game-winner) with under five minutes remaining in regulation.

Larsson finished Game 1 with a plus-2 rating, two shots on goal, three hits and two blocked shots in 18:47 of ice time (it’s the first time he’s played less than 21 minutes this postseason).

He now has four points in seven games during these playoffs, and he’s averaging 22:41 of ice time.

“We needed to improve our blue line and we needed to have an anchor back there and Larsson has become that,” said head coach Todd McLellan after his team’s win in Game 1, per the Edmonton Sun. “We could have kept floundering without fixing that hole and I think Peter Chiarelli and his staff did a tremendous job of addressing that issue. What he did to change the complexion of our team took a lot of courage. That’s not an easy thing to do when you are trading a player of Taylor’s caliber and popularity.”

Of course, we’ll never know if the Oilers would’ve made it this far had they not made that blockbuster deal last off-season, but it’s a good sign that Larsson has turned into a solid option for a team that was clearly lacking talent on defense.

Game 2 of the series will take place in Anaheim on Friday night at 10:30 p.m. ET. Don’t forget, you can stream the game via the NBC Sports app, which you can find right here.

Related:

Todd McLellan named finalist for 2017 Jack Adams Award

Oilers showed off their depth beyond McDavid in beating Sharks

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Thursday, April 27

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Last night, the Western Conference kicked off the second round of 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and tonight, it’ll be the Eastern Conference teams going head-to-head in a pair of great matchups.

Here’s what you need to know:

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: CNBC (Stream online here)

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

PHT Morning Skate: The top 5 second-round matchups since 1980

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–Yesterday was the start of second-round action in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so Sean McIndoe breaks down his top five second-round matchups since 1980. The most recent series on the list was the clash between the Blackhawks and Canucks in 2010, while the oldest series on the list 1988 battle between the Oilers and Flames. (The Hockey News)

–Rod Stewart was incredibly proud of his own, Liam, when he scored his first international goal for Great Britain during the Division 1 Group B World Hockey Championship. Stewart took to instagram to show just how thrilled he was about his son’s accomplishment. (Sportsnet)

–The Nashville Predators took down the St. Louis Blues, 4-3, in Game 1 of their second-round series thanks to a phenomenal effort from P.K. Subban. You can watch the highlights from Game 1 by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Speaking of Subban, he sat down with NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire after last night’s win. Subban talked about overcoming St. Louis’ strong third-period push, the scary injury to Kevin Fiala and what it means to be a leader on a championship team. But on a lighter note, Subban also complimented McGuire on “getting better looking every day”. (NBC Sports)

Jarome Iginla will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The 39-year-old still searching for his first Stanley Cup, which could be a big factor in his potential decision to hold off retirement. But here’s an interesting bit of information. Iginla, who suited up for the Bruins a couple of years ago, has reportedly purchased a $4.5 million home in the Boston area. Could he be headed back there? (WEEI.com)

–We’ve heard this story before, but it sounds like Ilya Kovalchuk is interested in coming back to the NHL. If he’s serious about returning to North America, there will be no shortage of suitors vying for his services. The Hockey News looks at some perfect landing spots for the the 34-year-old sniper. (The Hockey News)

–Unfortunately, Pierre LeBrun was let go by ESPN on Wednesday, but one of his final stories was a really good one. LeBrun mentions the possibility of some fireworks going off during the off-season thanks to the expansion draft and a lack of increase in the salary cap. LeBrun writes: “So much of it comes back to what decisions the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild make leading up to the expansion draft. The Ducks and Wild can’t protect all of their depth on defense, but there’s no way they’re just going to let the new Vegas Knights take a good blueliner for free in the expansion draft, either. I think they will either made a side deal with Vegas or simply trade whichever defenseman they can’t protect in the draft to another NHL team.” (ESPN)

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

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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.