Tuesday was jam-packed with action, particularly for the competitive Metropolitan Division, and none of the proceedings went well for the Pittsburgh Penguins, including a humbling 4-1 loss to the bumbling New York Islanders.
Being able to dust yourself off and persevere can sometimes be the difference between failure and success when chasing division titles, at least a round of home-ice advantage, or even just cozier playoff positioning.
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
To the Penguins’ credit, they’ve done a solid job of fighting through back-to-back sets after that was a justifiably noted weakness earlier in 2017-18.
Specifically, the Penguins have been far more successful in the closeout game of back-to-backs recently, and the most recent example comes against Wednesday’s opponents, the Montreal Canadiens. Last week, Pittsburgh shook off a loss the previous night to the Rangers to beat the Habs, even though Montreal raced out to a lead.
They’ll aim to show similar resilience tonight. There’s incentive, too, as the Penguins don’t have a very firm grasp on the Metro’s second spot any longer:
Yes, they have a game in hand and ROW advantages over Columbus, and even more of an edge against the Flyers. If they lose to Montreal, the margin of error gets even slimmer.
The other key game for the Eastern Conference playoff races comes when the Boston Bruins face the Blues in St. Louis. (Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET; you can watch that matchup on NBCSN and stream it via this link.)
The Lightning were able to rally for a comeback win against the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, so the B’s see steeper odds to try to win the Atlantic Division crown. If that ends up out of reach, the Bruins still want to tune up for the playoffs, including getting Ryan Donato up to speed after a sensational NHL debut earlier this week.
That Bruins – Blues game is bigger for St. Louis than it is for Boston, as you can see above. While the Blues are out of playoff position today, the Stars’ stumbles and some games in hand advantages gives the fledgling Blues some hope.
The other big Western matchup comes as the Anaheim Ducks take on the Flames in Calgary. With 86 points in 73 games played, the Ducks are in the final wild-card spot, and they could jump back into the Pacific’s top three with a win. On the other hand, they could see much of their room for error evaporate if they lose and the Blues win.
The Ducks’ opponent shouldn’t lack for urgency, either. The Flames are barely clinging to playoff hopes thanks to recent struggles. To some extent, they’ll need other teams to stumble. Beyond that, Calgary needs to nail these head-to-head games against other bubble opponents.
While much of tonight’s focus is on teams trying to improve their playoff hopes, one game features fans who might be rooting against their own squads when the Arizona Coyotes visit the Buffalo Sabres.
As of this moment, the NHL’s bottom three looks like this:
Coyotes: 59 points in 72 games, 22 ROW
Canucks: 59 points in 73 GP, 25 ROW
Sabres: 58 points in 72 GP, 22 ROW
The Coyotes’ upward trend is pushing them ahead of the Canucks and Sabres lately, yet a Buffalo regulation win would push Vancouver to the bottom and Buffalo beyond Arizona.
The air could be thick with cognitive dissonance in Buffalo tonight.
If the playoffs started today
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Nashville Predators vs. Anaheim Ducks
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings
Montreal Canadiens at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET
Arizona Coyotes at Buffalo Sabres, 7 p.m. ET
Boston Bruins at St. Louis Blues, 8 p.m. ET (stream link)
Anaheim Ducks at Calgary Flames, 9:30 p.m. ET
NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues on Wednesday, as the St. Louis Blues host the Boston Bruins at 8:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.
The Boston Bruins are coming off an overtime loss to the red-hot Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night. Sure, the Bruins would liked to have collected two points, but the fact that they managed to force overtime without Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Rick Nash in their lineup is still pretty impressive.
One of the players that stepped into the lineup on Monday was rookie Ryan Donato, who the team signed on Sunday night. The former second-rounder made an instant impact offensively, as he recorded a goal and two assists in the defeat.
Funny enough, Donato skipped Bruins practice on Tuesday to attend a class at Harvard.
“I plan on finishing this semester academically,” Donato said on Monday, per WEEI. “Obviously it’s gonna be difficult, but for me it was a dream to graduate from Harvard. Obviously I’m putting that off a little bit, but for me I need to finish this semester to have that opportunity and not put it off an extra couple years.”
Donato will play in tonight’s game.
Although their playoff spot is all but secure, the Bruins still have plenty to play for. With Tampa Bay beating Toronto on Tuesday, Boston is now five points out of top spot in the Atlantic Division with two games in hand.
Heading into this clash against the Bruins, St. Louis finds themselves just three points out of a Wild Card spot with a game in hand.
Unfortunately for them, they’ll likely have to take care of business without Vladimir Tarasenko, who is expected to miss tonight’s contest with an upper-body injury. Alexander Steen will take Tarasenko’s spot on the top line with Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn.
“Obviously we’d love to have him in the lineup,” head coach Mike Yeo said of Tarasenko, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We know what he is and what he means for our team so it’s no question, it’s a significant loss, but we don’t have the opportunity or even the possibility for our team to sit around and think about what could be right now. We have to look at the group we have and we believe we still have a capable group.”
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Not only has Marc-Andre Fleury been an important figure on the ice for the Vegas Golden Knights, he’s also emerged as a key leader on an expansion team that has exceeded expectations. (Associated Press)
• After scoring a goal and two assists in his NHL debut, Boston Bruins froward Ryan Donato skipped practice to attend class at Harvard. (WEEI)
• Ellen Show executive producer Andy Lassner is a huge Los Angeles Kings fan. He’s also been able to forge a relationship with a few of the team’s players. (NHL.com/Kings)
• The University of Minnesota men’s hockey team will be looking for a new head coach for the first time in a long time, as Don Lucia called it quits after 19 years on the job. (Pioneer Press)
• New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero went out and got Patrick Maroon from Edmonton on deadline day. The trade has worked out relatively well for him team. Even though he isn’t as fast as some of the other players on the roster, Maroon has been a useful asset. (All About the Jersey)
• The Carolina Hurricanes won’t be making the playoffs this season, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had players step up in 2017-18. Here are their top five MVPs from this season. (Cardiac Cane)
• Former Minnesota Wild prospect Brett Bulmer is finding his game in the ECHL with the Florida Everblades. (The Sin Bin)
• Up top, check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Flyers and Red Wings. Petr Mrazek‘s return to Detroit didn’t exactly go as planned.
Let’s hope that Tuesday presents dodged bullets instead of long-lasting injuries.
- You can read more about Patrik Laine not returning to the Jets’ eventual overtime win against the Kings here. The early word is that it “isn’t sinister,” whatever that means.
Here is video of the unfortunate moment:
- The Vegas Golden Knights must hold their breath again with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. “MAF” took a shot off of his mask and did not return to Vegas’ eventual win against Vancouver. Considering his struggles with concussion issues, this is a big concern.
For what it’s worth, the team provided no official update, yet similarly to the Jets with Laine, the Golden Knights appear optimistic about Fleury avoided something serious. Either way, it puts a damper on this milestone.
For the first time since the 2007-08 season, the Chicago Blackhawks won’t participate in the playoffs.
Chicago joins the Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, and Buffalo Sabres as teams with the dreaded “e-” next to their names. The Red Wings postponed that fate by beating Philly. Edmonton delayed their own, too; they match the Blackhawks’ 69 standings points but hold a game in hand.
So, expect more names to get officially crossed off the list very soon. The Canadiens and Senators also see their days numbered.
Players of the Night
- Artemi Panarin is a key figure in the Blue Jackets’ nine-game winning streak (read about how they’ve congested the Metro races in this post). Tuesday served as one of his best nights yet with Columbus, as “The Bread Man” collected a hat trick and also generated an assist. With 68 points on the season, it looks like he’ll hit 70+ points for his third season in a row, meaning he’s done so every year in the NHL. Perhaps he doesn’t need Patrick Kane to produce points, after all?
- Leon Draisaitl collected a goal and three assists in the Oilers’ surprisingly bombastic 7-3 win against the Hurricanes, which didn’t really require Connor McDavid to dominate (he finished with one assist). Draisaitl’s quietly been showing that, while his contract is expensive, he’s probably the last of the Oilers’ worries.
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
Matt Benning was basically enjoying batting practice during that Oilers win:
Tremendous pass from Thomas Vanek, who now has eight points in 11 games with Columbus.
Nathan MacKinnon continues to tear up the NHL, as he’s second in league scoring with 91 points in just 65 games after collecting two assists on Tuesday. It really feels like he’s adding to his Hart Trophy argument every single game.
- The Winnipeg Jets set a new Thrashers/Jets record with 43 wins. Tired or not, Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s 41 wins represents a new all-time season record for the Lightning.
Islanders 4, Penguins 1
Blue Jackets 5, Rangers 3
Capitals 4, Stars 3
Oilers 7, Hurricanes 3
Panthers 7, Senators 2
Red Wings 5, Flyers 4 (SO)
Lightning 4, Maple Leafs 3
Jets 2, Kings 1 (OT)
Avalanche 5, Blackhawks 1
Golden Knights 4, Canucks 1
Sharks 6, Devils 2