Race for the Playoffs: Kings or Coyotes can clinch, Ducks-Sharks battle in Anaheim

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 playoff race

p – 1. Vancouver – 113 pts (3 GR)
y-2. San Jose – 103 pts (3 GR)
y-3. Detroit – 102 pts (3 GR)
4. Nashville – 97 pts (2 GR)
5. Phoenix – 96 pts (3 GR)
6. Los Angeles – 96 pts (3 GR)
7. Anaheim – 93 pts (3 GR)
8. Chicago – 93 pts (3 GR)
9. Dallas – 91 pts (3 GR)
10. Calgary – 91 pts (2 GR)

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

St. Louis @ Chicago – 8 p.m. ET

Chicago was able to get a point last night, but in their quest to make the playoffs, getting two points each night is the goal and right now they’re teetering on the edge of trouble. With a pair of games against Central Division champion Detroit awaiting them this weekend, beating St. Louis is a must for the Hawks. With the Stars streaking in the right direction and with a pair of games coming up against Colorado and their final game in Minnesota, they can’t expect Dallas to go away easily. If the Blackhawks want to get back to the playoffs to defend their Stanley Cup, it starts tonight against the Blues.

St. Louis being a longtime rival of Chicago, they’re eager to put a hurting on Chicago’s hopes and with St. Louis playing better of late (winners of three of their last four, and five of their last seven) it’s not going to be easy. It never is this time of year. If Chicago wants to avoid having their hated rivals from Detroit helping decide their fate completely, they’ll get the job done tonight.

San Jose @ Anaheim – 10 p.m. ET

The Sharks have everything tied up in the division as they won the Pacific Division after disposing of the Kings on Monday night.  Anaheim is still in a perilous position however. After dropping their last two games, they’re still in danger of being passed by Chicago or caught by Dallas and Calgary. While the Ducks own the tiebreaker over all of those teams, getting far enough ahead of them to make it not matter would be ideal. Having to do it against the Sharks tonight and wrapping the year up with a home-and-home battle against Los Angeles doesn’t sound pleasant.

Anaheim hasn’t gotten the stellar goaltending that’s been sustaining them this season in their last two losses allowing four goals in both games. While Jonas Hiller still tries to shake off vertigo, it’s on Ray Emery and Dan Ellis to hold things down. Doing that against a Sharks team that’s been lighting everyone up in the second half of the year is daunting. The Sharks aren’t without something to play for as they’re hoping to lock down the two seed in the West and get an edge on Detroit there. These teams greatly dislike each other so if you’re in need of a real primer for the playoffs, waiting out til the end of the night for this one would be a good idea.

Phoenix @ Los Angeles – 10:30 p.m. ET

It doesn’t get any more cut and dried than this. The winner of tonight’s game punches their ticket to the playoffs while the loser continues to hang in an elevated state of limbo. Tonight’s winner also gets to jump into the fourth seed in the West for the night and continue their battle with Nashville and others to see who can take down the middle two seeds to face each other in the playoffs and hopefully avoid San Jose or Detroit.

L.A. has had their ups and downs since Anze Kopitar went out of the lineup for the remainder of the season and playoffs. They’ve been able to stand tall against the weaker teams, but against the likes of San Jose and Vancouver they’ve struggled. How they do against Phoenix provides a good measuring stick to see where they’re at and where Phoenix is at as well. After Phoenix rattled off a five game win streak a couple weeks ago, they’ve been flip-flopping between wins and losses. Getting consistent would do them a world of good heading into the playoffs and beating a shorthanded Kings team would be a good way to do it.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin’s blast lifts Capitals in OT, Sheary speeds by Panthers

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Player of the night: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin has already reached double digits in goals scored in this new campaign. The Capitals’ star recorded his 10th goal of the season on Friday and it counted as the overtime winner against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Capitals trailed late in the third period, but T.J. Oshie scored the tying goal and Ovechkin won it on a power play less than two minutes into the extra period, as he deployed that famous one-timer slap shot from his off-wing. This time, Petr Mrazek was victimized by the wicked slapper.

Ovechkin is now only two goals behind the entire Montreal Canadiens team — in the same amount of games.

Highlight of the night:

What a weapon speed is in today’s National Hockey League. Conor Sheary illustrated that once again, as he saw a little bit of room down the left side and flew around Alex Petrovic before making a move to the backhand on James Reimer. That goal counted as the eventual winner, as the Penguins defeated the Panthers 4-3. Earlier in the third period, Sheary and Roberto Luongo came together near the Florida net, causing Luongo’s right hand to get caught against the post, injuring the Panthers’ netminder.

Factoid of the night:

It was a milestone night in Winnipeg for Blake Wheeler and coach Paul Maurice.

Scores:

Vancouver 4, Buffalo 2

San Jose 3, New Jersey 0

Washington 4, Detroit 3 (OT)

Pittsburgh 4, Florida 3

Winnipeg 4, Minnesota 3

Anaheim 6, Montreal 2

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Video: Price takes out his frustration, as the Habs were crushed again

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It’s gone from bad, to worse, to an absolute nightmare for the Montreal Canadiens.

A three-game trip through California is never fun for opposing teams, but this was misery for the Habs. They were outscored a combined 16-5 in three games against the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, with few, if any positives beyond the second period in a 6-2 loss in Anaheim on Friday.

Montreal hasn’t won since its season opener on Oct. 5, and is now on a seven-game losing skid, unable to generate much offensively with a league worst 10 goals scored through seven games before tonight, while giving up plenty of goals at the other end.

That is a recipe for disaster and even though it’s still early in the season, this has to be a major concern for coach Claude Julien and, in particular, general manager Marc Bergevin.

Read more: Is there a trade to be made between the Penguins and Canadiens?

Down by three after the first period, Montreal had 30 shots on goal during the middle frame and managed to trim Anaheim’s lead down to one heading into the third period. And then, just when it seemed like maybe they were on a path toward an inspirational comeback on the road, it all fell apart.

Three straight goals for Anaheim, with journeyman forward Derek Grant scoring the first two goals of his NHL career — in game No. 93.

As you can probably tell from the clip below, Carey Price was visibly irritated, as he whacked his goalie stick against the post after the sixth Anaheim goal.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Canucks defeat the Sabres, as the losing continues in Buffalo

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The Buffalo Sabres remain stuck on just a single win to begin the season. Jack Eichel is sick of losing, but the losing continues.

Returning home from a four-game road trip out west, the Sabres had an opportunity ahead of them to get back into the win column. The Vancouver Canucks, hardly a powerhouse in any way, were in town. They had played — and lost — the night before in Boston. And then the Sabres went out and were thoroughly outplayed in a 4-2 loss that, one could argue, flattered the hosts.

They weren’t able to take advantage of an early lead after Justin Bailey was allowed access to the net off the rush. They couldn’t hold the lead after Eichel dangled Ben Hutton and then scored on a shot Jacob Markstrom should’ve stopped. They gave up yet another short-handed goal, putting that number at six for the Sabres just eight games into the season.

Instead, Buffalo spent most of the night in its own end, giving up 37 shots through two periods. Hard to pin this, in any way, on goalie Chad Johnson.

“First of all, I thought we didn’t defend well and close quick enough in our defensive zone. We were a little bit slow there tonight. We need to be more aggressive and on the puck,” said head coach Phil Housley after the game.

While the Sabres were badly outplayed, one of the deciding moments in this game was a controversial video review in the second period. Vancouver took the lead on a goal from Daniel Sedin, although Housley challenged for a potential offside after it looked like Jake Virtanen didn’t have control of the puck as he entered the zone.

The linesmen looked over the play for a lengthy review before officials came to the conclusion that Virtanen did have control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line. The goal stood and the Canucks controlled the remainder of the game.

“I disagree with the call, totally,” said Housley. “In my opinion, he knocks the puck out of the air. He never has possession.

“But I call that 10 out of 10 times offside and I would continue to challenge that again.”

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Roberto Luongo leaves game with apparent injury, as Panthers fall to Penguins

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The Florida Panthers lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Making matters worse was the fact their goalie Roberto Luongo left the game in the third period with an apparent hand injury.

The injury occurred after a collision in the crease with Penguins forward Conor Sheary.

Luongo immediately went down to the ice in pain. A replay from above the net showed Luongo’s right hand getting caught in an awkward position against the post after coming into contact with Sheary as he cut through in front of the crease in pursuit of the puck.

The injury forced James Reimer off the bench and into the game with the Panthers trailing by a goal. MacKenzie Weegar tied the game for Florida before Sheary scored the eventual winner about eight minutes later, on a night when the Penguins fired 48 shots on the two Panthers goalies.

Luongo gave up three goals on 36 shots before leaving the game. The Panthers now head out on the road. They’ll visit the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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