Stephane Yelle, Ryan Miller

Race for the playoffs: Rangers-Flyers, Sabres-Canes provide two big contests

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. Washington – 103 pts (3 GR)
x-2. Philadelphia – 102 pts (4 GR)
y-3. Boston – 99 pts (4 GR)
x-4. Pittsburgh – 100 pts (3 GR)
x-5. Tampa Bay – 97 pts (4 GR)
6. Montreal – 91 pts (3 GR)
7. Buffalo – 88 pts (4 GR)
8. NY Rangers – 87 pts (4 GR)
9. Carolina – 86 pts (4 GR)
10. Toronto – 84 pts (3 GR)

x – clinched playoff spot
y – clinched division title
GR – games remaining

NY Rangers @ Philadelphia –  12:30 pm ET

We have you covered for the NBC Game of the Week. Highlighted articles include:

Ultimately, this game could go a long way in accomplishing those tasks for the Flyers and Rangers, respectively.

Buffalo @ Carolina – 5:00 pm ET

This game could have enormous implications on the outlook of the Eastern Conference playoff bubble. If the Hurricanes manage to win this game in regulation, they would tie the Sabres in points and non-shootout wins with the same games remaining. Conversely, Buffalo could open up a nice cushion between themselves and the Canes if they won this game, even if it wouldn’t guarantee that Carolina would disappear from their rear view mirrors.

Of course, both teams might be keeping an eye on the NBC Game of the Week, because the Rangers will provide both sides with added incentive whether they win or lose.

Tampa Bay @ Chicago – 7:00 pm ET

This game is bigger for the Blackhawks than it is the Lightning, but that doesn’t mean that Tampa Bay lacks a reason to suit up. The Bolts can draw to within one point of the fourth seeded Pittsburgh Penguins. This marks their one game in hand over Pittsburgh, so they would get three games to make up a one-point difference if they managed to beat Chicago.

Leon Draisaitl continues hot streak with silky smooth goal (Video)

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Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”

Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).

Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.

Read more about his rise here.

Video: Kuznetsov sets table for Vrana’s first NHL goal

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 27:  Jakub Vrana of the Washington Capitals poses for a portrait during the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 27, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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In his fifth NHL game, intriguing Washington Capitals prospect Jakub Vrana scored his first NHL goal (and point).

Let’s be honest, though; Evgeny Kuznetsov deserves plenty of the credit, as he sent a fantastic pass for Vrana’s tap-in tally.

See it for yourself:

Even if that was mostly Kuznetsov, Vrana has been getting his chances so far.

He generated four shots on goal in two separate occasions so far in his four games of NHL action, so maybe he was due for a chance like this.

Considering he’s just 20 years old, the Capitals could get used to Kuznetsov to Vrana.

Update: The Capitals won 4-1, and Vrana’s first goal wasn’t the only noteworthy “first.” After piling on shots, John Carlson finally scored his first goal of the season:

Kulikov returns to increasingly healthy Sabres lineup

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Dmitry Kulikov #77 of the Buffalo Sabres in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.

The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?

He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.

Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.

With Foligno out sick, Columbus gives Bjorkstrand another shot

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 13:  Oliver Bjorkstrand #28 of the Columbus Blue Jackets lines up for a face-off during the game against the Boston Bruins on October 13, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.

The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.

He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.

With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.

Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?

Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old: