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.

Report: Wings, Hawks, Preds in mix to sign ‘strong two-way center’ Ejdsell

2 Comments

Keep an eye on Swedish forward Victor Ejdsell in the coming days.

Ejdsell, 21, caught the eye of several NHL clubs following a standout year with Bofors of the Swedish first division — including Detroit (where he visited earlier this week, per MLive.) Reports suggest that Chicago and Nashville are also interested in securing Ejdsell’s services.

It’s easy to see why.

He racked up 25 goals and 57 points in 60 games this year, and he’s got terrific size. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, the physical presence is there to potentially make the shift to the NHL next season.

“He’s evolved into a strong two-way center,” Detroit assistant GM Ryan Martin told MLive. “His move from wings to center helped his defensive game. He’s got good hands and offensive ability.”

Vlasic joins Canada for Worlds, extending marathon campaign

Getty
Leave a comment

Marc-Edouard Vlasic is putting in work this year.

On Friday, Hockey Canada announced that Vlasic — along with Mitch Marner, Brayden Schenn and Chad Johnson — has been added to the 22-player roster for the upcoming World Hockey Championship in France and Germany.

Vlasic’s season started early as a member of Canada’s World Cup of Hockey squad. He appeared in all six games, which included his tournament high TOI (24:04) in final against Team Europe.

From there, the 30-year-old rejoined the Sharks and appeared in 75 contests, averaging 21:14 per evening. He was part of a remarkably durable San Jose defense that saw Brent Burns play all 82 games, while Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun appeared in 81.

In the playoffs, Vlasic was once again a busy guy. He finished second only to Burns in time on ice (23:16 per) and was often tasked with trying to shut down the Connor McDavid line. The Sharks would eventually bow out to the Oilers in six games.

And Vlasic might have even more to do this summer.

During his end-of-year media availability, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said getting Vlasic signed to an extension prior to September’s training camp was a big priority.

Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — expires next summer, and carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

Getty
Leave a comment

Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

Getty
2 Comments

The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.