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 playoff race
y-1. Washington – 105 pts (2 GR)
x-2. Philadelphia 103 pts (2 GR)
y-3. Boston – 99 pts (3 GR)
x-4. Pittsburgh – 102 pts (2 GR)
x-5. Tampa Bay – 99 pts (2 GR)
x-6. Montreal – 93 pts (2 GR)
7. Buffalo – 92 pts (2 GR)
8. NY Rangers – 91 pts (2 GR)
9. Carolina – 87 pts (3 GR)
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
GR – games remaining
Detroit @ Carolina – 7 p.m. ET
Carolina’s mission to make the playoffs is simple on paper and highly difficult to pull off. They must win out the rest of the way and hope that the Rangers slip up in one of their final games. Starting off that mission facing the Central Division champions from Detroit makes the immediate hill to climb look like a mountain.
A loss by Carolina by any means puts the Buffalo Sabres into the playoffs. Carolina loss would also put their tragic number at one as the Rangers would only need to earn one point in their final two games to make the playoffs.
Florida @ Washington – 7 p.m. ET
The Caps have taken hold of the top seed in the Eastern Conference thanks to their own great play of late and the Flyers’ disturbing swoon. The Caps can really put the pressure on the Flyers to win out to stay in the hunt for the East’s top spot by beating Florida. Of course, the Caps winning the East could mean they end up being rewarded with facing the Rangers in the first round and that might not be the match up they’d be hoping for. Even without Ryan Callahan, the Rangers have given the Caps fits all season long and a playoff series between the two would surely be more of the same.
NY Islanders @ Boston – 7 p.m. ET
The Bruins have an extreme outside shot at the top spot in the East (all it takes is one point from the Caps to shut the Bruins out of that), but they’ve got a sincere chance at moving up to the two seed. With a game in hand on the Flyers, a win over the Isles tonight would inch them to within two points of Philly. Getting that higher seed and a potential home ice advantage over them in a potential second or third round match-up would be huge for the Bruins. While home ice didn’t help them last year against Philly, we’d like to think the same mistakes won’t be made two years in a row should they meet yet again.
Brayden Schenn had a big game in Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Arizona Coyotes.
He scored a goal and had two assists in the defeat, but he also dropped the gloves with rookie Jakob Chychrun.
As you can tell by the video at the top of the page, Chychrun went after Schenn because the Flyers forward flattened Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone (Chychrun got two additional minutes for instigating and a 10-minute misconduct).
The fight occurred just as Martin Hanzal scored to the go-ahead goal in the game.
The officials reviewed it to see if it would stand or not (ultimately it did).
The momentum swung Arizona’s way after that, as they scored 1:39 later to extend their lead to 4-2.
PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.
–How do you decide who gets to be the last player off the ice after warmups? Play rock, paper, scissors of course! (Top)
—Connor McDavid has the city of Edmonton buzzing again. (The New York Times)
–The fight against Alzheimer’s means a lot to Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. (Sports Illustrated)
–Justin Bieber played hockey with a pro team in the UK and pulled off a serious celebration. (BarDown)
–Would Wayne Gretzky have set all those records if he was playing in today’s NHL? Mike Brophy weighs in. (CBC.ca)
–Six forgotten players that are off to fast starts in 2016-17. (USA Today)
How would you describe the Nashville Predators’ Stanley Cup bandwagon at the moment? A few flat tires? One of those abandoned school buses at a dump?
An unlikely occurrence – Peter Budaj winning four straight games for the Los Angeles Kings, all in overtime, all seriously in 2016 – puts a spotlight on an unsightly start for Nashville following a 3-2 OT decision.
In other words, it was another night where the Predators (early or not) didn’t look the part of Stanley Cup contenders.
Pekka Rinne has often been the scapegoat for Nashville’s losses, and his recent numbers justify some of the criticisms. Thursday doesn’t fall into that pattern, however. Instead, the Predators wasted a strong performance from their $7 million man, who stopped 42 out of 45 shots.
Budaj? He only needed to make 24 out of 26 stops to keep his unexpected winning streak going.
For the Kings and Predators, very different patterns continued on Thursday night.
Los Angeles has people wondering “How long can they win with Budaj?” and “Is there a team that can finally hog the puck against the Kings enough to expose him?” Don’t blame Kings fans who never want this strange sequence to end.
Nashville devotees, on the other hand, must wonder if they’re stuck in some sort of sick nightmare.
They’ve been a chic pick to win it all, yet they’re now at 2-4-1 with three away contests remaining on a challenging five-game road trip.
It’s early, but the headaches just keep multiplying for the Preds.
Are the Detroit Red Wings for real or are they headed toward a humbling regression? We might have to wait until their goalies look human before that question can really be answered.
For yet another game, Detroit’s netminder was outstanding, with Petr Mrazek helping the Red Wings beat the St. Louis 2-1 via a shootout (and a pretty stressful shootout in that).
It took eight rounds until Henrik Zetterberg managed Detroit’s second and decisive tally of the “skills competition,” and now Detroit is on a six-game winning streak.
Mrazek made 31 out of 32 games through overtime and was only beaten by Alex Steen in that shootout, stopping seven of eight attempts. He’s faced more than 30 shots on goal in all six of his appearances in 2016-17.
It is not as if there has been a big drop-off when Jimmy Howard has taken the net, either. Howard has only given up one goal in his two games, winning both of them.
Are the Red Wings asking a lot of Mrazek and Howard? Yep. Just take a look a this lopsided possession chart from Natural Stat Trick for another reminder.
You can see why skeptics murmur about this six-game winning streak being fool’s gold, but the Red Wings keep finding a way to win. Usually, it’s their goalies who have been doing the heavy lifting.