The Eastern Conference playoff race will still carry at least a little more drama after the New York Rangers lost to the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Tuesday.
The Winnipeg Jets lost in regulation to the Washington Capitals earlier, opening the door for the Rangers to lock things up with a win of any kind. The Rangers still have a major advantage to get things done, but it’s not a sure thing.
They also greatly increased their chances of facing the Pittsburgh Penguins instead of the fading winner of the Northeast Division in the first round:
7. Ottawa – 52 points with three games left (19 regulation/OT wins)
8. NY Rangers – 52 points with two games left (20 ROW)
9. Winnipeg – 51 points with one game left (22 ROW)
The Jets hold the league’s first tiebreaker (ROW), which means that the Rangers wouldn’t necessarily guarantee a spot with a single charity point. Two would work, even though it might make John Tortorella reach a new level of unpleasant.
The Senators also lack that ROW advantage over Winnipeg, although they’d have to fall apart in a near-historic way to fail. You never know, though.
Let’s take a look at the closing schedule for the three teams fighting for the final two spots:
Thursday: at Washington
Saturday: Home vs. Philadelphia
Sunday: at Boston
Thursday: at Carolina
Saturday: at New Jersey
Thursday: at Montreal
So, basically, this potentially frenetic finish should be a lot of hockey devotees who aren’t Senators, Rangers and Jets fans.
The New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings prefer to lean on workhorse goalies Cory Schneider and Jonathan Quick respectively, but Sunday presents a change of pace.
In the Kings’ case, Jhonas Enroth is playing in part because of (what Los Angeles hopes is) a minor injury to Quick.
It’s true that the under-sized goalie sports a mediocre 4-4-1 record, but he’s given the Kings legitimate chances to win games considering his impressive (especially for a backup) save percentage of .925. Perhaps he can earn a few more reps if he plays well in what may be a tight game?
Speaking of earning more reps, Keith Kinkaid must continue to work to prove that he’s able to make the jump from AHL goalie to at least an NHL backup. The Kings aren’t likely to make it easy for him, either.
Avalanche at Sabres: Semyon Varlamov vs. Robin Lehner
Bruins at Red Wings: Possibly Tuukka Rask vs. Petr Mrazek
Blues at Lightning: Best guess – Brian Elliott vs. Ben Bishop
Flyers at Rangers: Steve Mason vs. (possibly) Henrik Lundqvist
Bummed out on this holiday? Look on the bright side: at least you’re not as sore as Florida Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic likely is right now.
Not long after suffering three defeats at the hands/fists of Evander Kane, Petrovic likely lost another bout to Nashville Predators tough guy Anthony Bitetto.
(Note: some might consider this more of a draw, for what it’s worth. You can watch that latest fight in the video above.)
Hey, at least Bitetto didn’t taunt Petrovic after their fight …
It was a rough night for the Panthers overall, as they suffered a gruesome injury or two and fell to the Predators by a score of 5-0.
Love is in the air on Valentine’s Day, and so are rumors about hockey fans bundling up for outdoor games next season.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman went over two possible outdoor matchups coming for 2016-17 during Saturday’s Headlines segment.
A smart move for a potential game in Winnipeg: Imagine the Jets hosting a game in Winnipeg in February? Ilya Bryzgalov almost turned off his TV in protest.
Instead, Sportsnet’s John Shannon reports that the Jets are likely to host the Edmonton Oilers in October. That would be a smart logistical move, as long as it isn’t too hot.
(Also, playing it then would hopefully increase the odds of the mainstream sporting public seeing Connor McDavid in an outdoor game.)
Toronto’s turn: Friedman reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs are likely to host the Detroit Red Wings in the 2017 Winter Classic (or at least an outdoor game), almost certainly on New Year’s Day 2017.
The two teams combined for a great Winter Classic at Ann Arbor in 2014, so that could be a fun time.
Keep in mind these are reports (and well-placed ones at that) rather than official announcements for the NHL. These things could always change.
Related: Could the Penguins host the Flyers outdoors next season, too?
“Costly victories” may have been one of the themes of Saturday night, as some teams paired impressive wins with worrisome injuries.
The good news is that, in each case, it appears that the early word is optimistic about those players (Tyler Seguin got stitched up in the Stars’ win, for example).
The Anaheim Ducks are reportedly readying to recall Anton Khudobin on Sunday after John Gibson suffered an upper-body injury during a collision with Chicago Blackhawks forward Richard Panik.
Again, so far the hope/expectation is that this might not be a major issue:
The pessimistic take would be to wonder “Uh oh, is the Ducks goalie carousel starting again?”
Frederik Andersen has seen some runs as Anaheim’s No. 1 guy, so maybe this issue is a reminder that the Ducks may be better off keeping both Gibson and Andersen around … at least while they can.