Philadelphia Flyers v New York Rangers

Game of the Week preview: Breaking down the East playoff bubble

The New York Rangers are currently the eighth-ranked team in the Eastern Conference, but the three other major teams in the race for the last two playoff spots earned wins while they sat idle on Saturday. What was once a nice cushion keeps shrinking, meaning that the Rangers face yet another crucial late-season game against the Philadelphia Flyers. (You can watch that NBC Game of the Week at 12:30 pm ET on Sunday, by the way.)

In the same spirit of our breakdown of the Flyers’ race to wrestle the top seed from the Washington Capitals, we thought it might be wise to handicap the battle for the last two playoff spots in the East. We’ll exclude the sixth-ranked Montreal Canadiens (91 points with three games remaining) for the sake of simplicity, but will throw in the long shot 10th-place Toronto Maple Leafs in the interest of being comprehensive.

Let’s count down the closing stretches for those four teams, from highest to lowest ranking.

7. Buffalo Sabres (39-29-10 for 88 points with four games remaining; 34 non-shootout wins.)

Maximum possible points: 96.

Remaining games: @ Carolina (Sunday), home vs. Tampa Bay (Tuesday), home vs. Philadelphia (Friday) and @ Columbus (next Saturday).

Thoughts: Obviously, Sunday’s contest against the Hurricanes is enormous. A regulation win would give them nice breathing room, but their schedule isn’t a cakewalk after that. The Lightning and Flyers will likely have incentive to spoil the Sabres’ playoff run, with Philadelphia having the bonus of trying to avoid Buffalo in the first round to boot. The Blue Jackets aren’t an automatic win either, although the team is way out of the West playoff picture.

8. New York Rangers (41-32-5 for 87 pts with four games remaining; 33 non-shootout wins.)

Maximum possible points: 95.

Remaining games: @ Philadelphia (Sun), home vs. Boston (Mon), home vs. Atlanta (Thurs) and home vs. New Jersey (next Sat).

Thoughts: The Rangers are odd ducks, with a nice win total and a strong goal differential, yet a reliance on shootout wins (eight so far). Anyway, surviving back-to-back games against the Flyers and Bruins is vital. The Rangers must hope that Boston will take Monday’s game easy since they already clinched the Northeast Division. After those games, there are should-wins against two teams that were eliminated from the playoffs on April 2nd … although one can bet the Devils would love to ruin things for the Rangers on New York’s last game of the season.


9. Carolina Hurricanes (38-30-10 for 86 pts with four games remaining; 33 non-shootout wins.)

Maximum possible points: 94.

Remaining games: Home vs. Buffalo (Sun), home vs. Detroit (Wed), @ Atlanta (Fri) and home vs. Tampa Bay (next Sat).

Thoughts: Again, Sunday’s game against the Sabres is huge. If Carolina manages to earn a regulation win against Buffalo, they would tie them in points and draw even in the first major tiebreaker category too. After that, they face an always-tough game against the Red Wings, a should-win contest against the golf course-bound Thrashers and what could be a big game (or a shoulder shrug) for the Lightning. This isn’t an easy finish, but a regulation victory against Buffalo could really open things up for the Canes.

10. Toronto Maple Leafs (37-32-10 for 84 pts with three games remaining, 32 non-shootout wins.)

Maximum possible points: 90.

Games remaining: Home vs. Washington (Tues), @ New Jersey (Wed) and home vs. Montreal (next Sat).

Thoughts: The Leafs have less points than all three teams (four less than Buffalo, three less than the Rangers and two less than Carolina) and one less game in hand. They also lack much help in the way of a non-shootout win tiebreaker and face a rocky schedule. Overall, their chances are the slimmest of the East teams who haven’t been eliminated, but it’s not a done deal just yet. They’ll just need help to get there.


After examining the four teams’ closing schedules, I think the Rangers have the best chance of gaining one of the final spots and the Maple Leafs are a long shot at best. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes could really muddy the situation with a regulation win against the Sabres on Sunday.

Overall, the Sabres and Rangers have the best chance to retain a spot, but it should be a very close race. It all starts with Sunday afternoon’s NBC Game of the Week between the Flyers and the Rangers, so don’t miss it.

Let us know which teams you think will make it in the comments.

Just a friendly reminder about Friday’s Bruins-Rangers Thanksgiving Showdown, on NBC

Brad Marchand, Dan Boyle
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If you don’t spend tomorrow eye-gouging someone to save 50 bucks on an iRobot, why not spend it watching hockey?

In case you didn’t know, tomorrow’s a pretty big day. Not only is there an Original Six matchup between the Bruins and Rangers — essentially kicking off the NHL on NBC national broadcast campaign — but there’s also an additional evening game, and a good one at that:

Anaheim hosting the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Final.

But before the Ducks and ‘Hawks do battle, the B’s and Rangers will get it on.

This marks the second time in the last three years Boston and New York meet in the Thanksgiving Showdown. Back in ’13-14, the Bruins beat the Blueshirts 3-2, and this Farrelly Brothers commercial went to air:

Tomorrow’s game promises to be a quality affair. The Bruins come in riding a four-game winning streak, which included Wednesday’s 3-2 OT win over Detroit. In that game, Jonas Gustavsson exacted a measure of revenge against his old Red Wings mates, stopping 32 of 34 shots for the win.

The Rangers, meanwhile, come into Friday’s action looking for some redemption.

Alain Vigneault’s club was waxed in Wednesday’s big test against top-seeded Montreal, dropping a 5-1 decision, at home, in front of the MSG faithful. The Rangers allowed five regulation goals for the first time this season, and saw All-Star netminder Henrik Lundqvist get yanked as a result.


New York Rangers at Boston Bruins, 1 p.m. ET, NBC

Chicago Blackhawks at Anaheim Ducks, 5 p.m. ET, NBCSN

For online viewing information via NBC Sports’ Live Extra, click here.

DeBoer: Sharks ‘need more’ after benching Hertl, Wingels

Tomas Hertl, Tommy Wingels
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Peter DeBoer didn’t mice words Thursday in discussing Tommy Wingels‘ and Tomas Hertl‘s effort from last night’s loss to Chicago.

“I don’t measure those guys on goals and assists but the intangibles of the game,” DeBoer said, per the Contra Costa Times. “Are you hard to play against? Are you playing in the other team’s end? Are you creating chances to score whether or not they go in?

“That’s a by product. Those are the measurables I use with those guys and we need more.”

Neither Wingels nor Hertl played a single shift in the third period of Wednesday’s game. The pair are both mired in lengthy scoring slumps — 14 games without a goal for Wingels, 19 for Hertl — but DeBoer carefully chose his words in explaining that offense, or a lack of it, wasn’t why the two got parked.

Instead, it was about approach.

DeBoer has been calculating in trying to establish an identity among his bottom-six forward group (Hertl and Wingels are third-liners). Prior to last night’s game, he brought in former Devil Dainius Zubrus — the pair spent time together in New Jersey — and that came after the Sharks tookfull advantage of having their new AHL affiliate in San Jose.

The club has constantly called up and sent down depth forwards to try and give DeBoer different looks.

But it appears the group still remains a work in progress.


Let’s look at the all-important U.S. Thanksgiving standings

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If you haven’t heard, U.S. Thanksgiving is pretty significant among NHL folk — and no, not just because everybody got the night off.

(Well, most people got the night off. I’m here. But I’m Canadian and don’t mind working what we refer to as “Thursday, But With More Football.”)

See, turkey day has major ramifications for the NHL playoffs. As CBC put it, conventional wisdom says American Thanksgiving is “a mark on the calendar where essentially the playoffs are decided.”

To further illustrate that point, the Associated Press (courtesy STATS) ran a report last year showing that — since the 2005-06 season — teams in a playoff spot entering the holiday have gone on to make the Stanley Cup postseason 77.3 per cent of the time.

So yeah. Late November standings are worth paying attention to.

And a quick glance at those standings reveals that 16 clubs — Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, New York Rangers, Washington, Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, Detroit, Dallas, St. Louis, Nashville, Los Angeles, San Jose, Vancouver, Chicago and Minnesota — currently have, according to the above statistic, better than a 75 percent chance of making the dance.

The other 14 clubs — Tampa Bay, New Jersey, Florida, Carolina, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Toronto, Columbus, Arizona, Winnipeg, Anaheim, Colorado, Calgary and Edmonton — have less than a 25 percent chance.

Some thoughts:

— The biggest surprises? Two conference finalists from last year’s playoffs on the outside looking in: Anaheim and Tampa Bay. The Ducks are 8-11-4 and with 20 points, five back of the final wild card spot in the West; the Bolts are 11-9-3, tied with the Wings and Isles on 25 points but on the outside looking in due to the tiebreaker.

— To further illustrate how those two clubs have fallen: Last Thanksgiving, Tampa Bay was 15-6-2 with 32 points. Anaheim was 14-4-4 with 33 points. And yes, both were comfortably in playoff positions.

— Three teams that missed from the Western Conference last year (Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose) are in good shape to get back in. The same cannot be said for the Ducks and two other clubs that made it last year: Winnipeg (three points back of the wild card) and Calgary (eight back).

— Other than Tampa Bay, the East looks remarkably similar to how last year finished. The Habs, Sens, Rangers, Isles, Pens, Red Wings and Caps were all postseason entrants.

— Speaking of the Sens, they deserve mention. Ottawa was outside the playoff picture last Thanksgiving but, as has been well-documented, bucked convention by going on a crazy run down the stretch and pulling off the greatest comeback to the postseason in NHL history.

— And it’s because of those Sens that I’m loathe to write anybody off. Of course, if I was going to write anybody off, it would be Carolina and Columbus and Buffalo and Edmonton.

— If I had to pick one team currently holding a spot that I think will drop out, it’d be Vancouver.

— If I had to pick a second, it’d be the Canucks.

— Finally, it’s worth noting that, last year, only three of the 16 teams holding a playoff spot at Thanksgiving failed to make it: Boston, Toronto and Los Angeles.

— In other words, 81 percent of the teams that were in on turkey day proceeded to qualify.

Avs put big Swedish forward Everberg on waivers

Dennis Everberg, Jason Pominville
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Colorado made a minor roster move on Thursday, putting winger Dennis Everberg on waivers.

Eveberg, 23, made his NHL debut with the Avs last season and had a fairly good rookie season, with 12 points in 55 games. This year, though, his offense was really lacking — Everberg had zero points through his first 15 games, averaging just under nine minutes per night.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder originally came to the Avs after a lengthy stint playing for Rogle BK of the Swedish Hockey League, turning heads with a 17-goal, 34-point effort in 47 games during the ’13-14 campaign.

Should he clear waivers, he’ll be off to the club’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio.