Ryan Smyth, George Parros

Race for the playoffs: Western Conference seeding up for grabs tonight

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

pz-1. Vancouver – 115 pts (1 GR)
y-2. San Jose – 103 pts (1 GR)
y-3. Detroit – 102 pts (1 GR)
x-4. Nashville – 99 pts (1 GR)
x-5. Phoenix – 99 pts (1 GR)
x-6. Los Angeles – 98 pts (1 GR)
x-7. Anaheim – 97 pts (1 GR)
8. Chicago – 97 pts (1 GR)
9. Dallas – 95 pts (1 GR)

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

While the final playoff spot won’t be decided until tomorrow, the seeding can get settled out a little bit tonight. Bear with us as we try to explain things as simply as possible. The chances of a three-point game erupting in any of tonight’s games makes things get a little nutty.

San Jose: The Sharks wrap up the second seed with a win over Phoenix tonight. A point from an overtime or shootout loss would move them two ahead of Detroit as the Wings play tomorrow afternoon against Chicago. Should things break down that way, a Detroit win in regulation or in overtime would make them the two seed. A win in the shootout would make San Jose the second seed because the Sharks went 3-1-0 against Detroit this year.

Detroit: The Red Wings seem destined to be the three seed given how the Sharks are playing. They can earn the second seed with a Sharks loss tonight and a win tomorrow against Chicago. The Wings can also end up in second if San Jose gets just one point tonight and they win in regulation or overtime against Chicago.

Nashville: Home ice in the first round is in Nashville’s hands tonight. A non-shootout win by the Predators over St. Louis locks up the fourth seed. A shootout win coupled with Phoenix not getting two points against San Jose would also do the trick. If the Predators get a win in the shootout and Phoenix wins in regulation/overtime, then Nashville would end up fifth behind Phoenix.

Phoenix: The Coyotes can wind up fourth in the West with a win over San Jose and a loss by Nashville. Phoenix can also wind up first with a non-shootout win coupled with a Predators shootout win. They’d be even in points but the Coyotes would then have the tiebreaker on Nashville for regulation/overtime wins. Currently they each have 38 of those.

Los Angeles and Anaheim: The winner of tonight’s game, at the very least, will be the sixth seed. If the Kings win and Nashville and Phoenix both lose in regulation, they can end up as high as fourth. The Kings won’t have a tiebreaker against either Nashville or Phoenix with regard to regulation/overtime wins so a Kings win and a overtime/shootout loss by either Nashville or Phoenix would slot them in behind those teams.

Should L.A. lose in regulation they could wind up either seventh or eighth depending on what happens with Chicago tomorrow. A Kings win tonight helps solve their playoff picture one way or another, a loss makes them wait it out another day to see whether they’ll end up playing Detroit, San Jose, or Vancouver.

An Anaheim win regardless of situation and regulation losses by the Preds and Coyotes would vault them into fourth thanks to owning the tiebreaker on both of those teams with 42 regulation/overtime wins. A Ducks loss makes them sweat it out til tomorrow to see whether they’ll be seventh or eighth.

Chicago: If Chicago wins, they’ll be in the playoffs and could wind up as high as fifth provided Nashville and Phoenix both lose in regulation and the Blackhawks win in non-shootout fashion.

Dallas: Should Dallas get into the playoffs, they’ll be the eighth seed no matter what and have a date with Vancouver. The Stars will need to beat Minnesota and have Chicago lose in regulation to do it.

With Kucherov day-to-day, Lightning recall Conacher

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The Tampa Bay Lightning announced that Nikita Kucherov is considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury after Thursday’s unfortunate spill.

(You can see that crash in the video above.)

That’s a bummer, no doubt, especially if there are a lot of “days” missed. On the bright side, the Lightning have some reasonable depth to help stem the tide; in this case, that means recalling familiar face Cory Conacher.

The 26-year-old has been bouncing around hockey a bit lately, playing in the Swiss league last season. He’s something of an AHL/NHL ‘tweener at this point, but Bolts fans can look back fondly at him scoring 24 points in 35 games with the Bolts back in 2012-13, a span that inspired enough interest in Conacher that he was the main piece Ottawa received in the Ben Bishop trade.

So, hey, if you’re a Bolts fan feeling sad about Kucherov … just take a look at Conacher. It will probably remind you that you have, you know, one of the best GMs in hockey.

Get this: Bruins aren’t happy with Pastrnak’s suspension


You’re not going to believe this, but the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers don’t see eye-to-eye on David Pastrnak‘s two-game suspension for a hit on Dan Girardi.

In discussing the decision, the NHL provided the following explanation:

“Rather than staying low and hitting through his opponent’s body, Pastrnak unnecessarily extends up and into this hit, picking the head and making it the main point of contact,” the Department of Player Safety explained.

Claude Julien provided the Bruins’ side of the argument, as CSNNE.com reports.

“To me I see a guy [in David Pastrnak] whose feet are still on the ice,” Julien said. “I just think that was an attempt to finish his check, but certainly not to injure.”

Julien insists that Pastrnak didn’t go “full-tilt.”

The Rangers, meanwhile, believe that it is the sort of check that needs to be eliminated.

“Initially when watching it, we didn’t feel it was the type of hit that the game wants, and the league took a stand,” Alain Vigneault said, according to Newsday’s Steve Zipay.

Now, if the roles were reversed, would we see Vigneault griping about a suspension and Julien backing it up? Perhaps.

Ultimately, what we know for sure is that the top-heavy Bruins will be without a red-hot performer in Pastrnak for two games.

Announcing USA versus Canada, outdoors in Buffalo

ORCHARD PARK , NY - JANUARY 01:  Photo 210 hours into a nine day time lapse on the conversion of Ralph Willson Stadium from football to an ice rink for the 2008 NHL Winter Classic played on January 1, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images for the NHL)
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It’s official — outdoor hockey is returning to the home of the Buffalo Bills, and it’s a great matchup to boot.

From USA Hockey:

The U.S. and Canada will make history when the two rivals battle outdoors on Dec. 29, 2017, in a preliminary round game of the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

The outdoor game, one of 31 total in the 2018 World Juniors, will be staged at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Never before has an outdoor game been played at any top-level IIHF world championship.

This game has been rumored since late last year when Buffalo was awarded the 2018 World Juniors. Ticket packages for the tournament will go on sale to the general public on Nov. 28. Expect plenty of Canadians to make the quick trip over the border to attend.

The first NHL Winter Classic was played on Jan. 1, 2008, at New Era Field, then called Ralph Wilson Stadium. Attendance was 71,217 for the Sabres-Penguins affair, won 2-1 in a shootout by Pittsburgh.

Help on the way? Rask practices, could return during Bruins road trip

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 20:  Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins in goal against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on February 20, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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BOSTON (AP) The Boston Bruins have been outscored 14-4 during their current three-game losing streak. Help might be on the way just in time for the Bruins to start a difficult road trip against three Atlantic Division rivals.

Goaltender Tuukka Rask practiced with the Bruins on Friday and should be available to at least serve as the backup against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. Rask hadn’t been on the ice with his teammates because of an undisclosed injury since he made 28 saves in a 2-1 win against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 20.

Rask isn’t completely healed so he and the Bruins are trying to strike a balance between being able to play and not risking further damage.

“That’s the thing we’re kind of talking about, we talked about last week, risk/reward, what it is and how should be proceed,” Rask said. “It feels good enough now that I can comfortably practice.”

Coach Claude Julien saw enough Friday to have confidence Rask could dress against the Red Wings and be in consideration to start. The Bruins were expected to send one of their other goaltenders, Zane McIntyre or Malcolm Subban, to Providence of the American Hockey League before departing for Detroit.

“If he’s great, and he practiced well today, and if he’s good (Saturday) and there’s no issues there (he can play),” Julien said. “He looked good to me today. So we’ll make that decision but I think we’ve gone this far, we’re going to make sure we make the right decision, not the reckless one.”

Rask started the season 3-0-0 for the first time in his career and had a 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. But he was hardly healthy. The injury began to bother him on opening night in a 6-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 13. Two nights later he didn’t start against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Rask said he felt fine when made 34 saves in a 4-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 17. But he had to battle through the injury against the Devils three nights later.

“The Jersey game was the toughest one. It wasn’t too tough. It’s just nagging, painful sometimes, but I didn’t feel like I hurt anything,” he said.

With forward David Backes still out after elbow surgery and forward David Pastrnak suspended two games for an illegal check to the head in the 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, the Bruins needed some positive news before leaving for their road trip, which continues against the Florida Panthers (Tuesday) and Tampa Bay Lightning (Thursday) after Detroit.

“I’m excited to get back out on the road with this team,” Julien said. “You control what you can and we can control our enthusiasm, our commitment and everything else. And then go about our business that way and I think that’s all we can do right now.”