Saturday: Boston at Washington (12:30 p.m. ET)
Huge weekend for the Caps. Saturday they host Boston; Sunday they’re in Nashville. Little tip for the Bruins and Preds: stay out of the penalty box. Washington’s top-ranked power play has scored seven times in the Caps’ last six games, during which the team has gone 4-1-1 and vaulted itself right back into the playoff race. Stat to consider: Marcus Johansson leads Washington with a plus-13 penalties drawn/taken rating. (The NHL leader in that category is Colorado’s Matt Duchene, at plus-24.) Despite being on the ice for almost 1,300 minutes this season, Johansson has only been penalized twice. Not surprisingly, Alex Ovechkin is the Caps’ leader in overall penalties drawn, with 23; however, he’s also taken 21, so his rating is only plus-2.
Saturday: Detroit at Toronto (7 p.m. ET)
The game of the weekend, as far as I’m concerned. So much at stake for both teams. Be sure to watch how both the Leafs and Wings start this one. Because here’s Phil Kessel, after Toronto was dominated early by St. Louis on Tuesday: “We’re starting games terribly. We’re getting down a couple goals. They’re outplaying us for the first half of the game then all of a sudden we wake up and it’s just too late.” And here’s Mike Babcock, after the Wings fell behind early and lost 5-4 to Montreal on Thursday: “Catch-up hockey is losing hockey. You’ve got to get prepared, you’ve got to play right and you have to do it for 60 minutes and be patient. When you start chasing the game like we were tonight anything can happen. It’s entertaining and all that for the fans but it’s not a recipe for success whatsoever.”
Saturday: Minnesota at Phoenix (9 p.m. ET)
Sports Club Stats estimates Minnesota will need to gain six points in its final eight games in order to have a better-than-50/50 shot of making the playoffs. So really, we’re only talking about a record of 3-5-0, or 2-4-2, or even the rare 0-2-6 stretch. Not hard, right? Until you consider the Wild have serious goaltending concerns and these are the eight teams they’re scheduled to play: Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Winnipeg, Boston, St. Louis, and Nashville. Of those eight teams, only the Jets and Preds are out of the playoff picture, and five of them are legitimate Stanley Cup threats. (Prove me wrong, Coyotes!)
Sunday: Boston at Philadelphia (12:30 p.m. ET)
On NBC. Streaming live, too. Unless the Flyers fall into the second wild-card spot (possible, but unlikely) the only way these two teams can meet in the playoffs is in the Eastern Conference Final. I don’t think anyone doubts the Bruins’ ability to get that far. The Flyers, on the other hand, draw much more varying opinions, with some saying they’re the second-best team in the East behind Boston and others saying they’d be hard-pressed to get past the Rangers in the first round, especially if New York gets home-ice advantage. For what it’s worth, I’m still skeptical, with the blue line and goaltending leading my list of concerns. Which is funny, because I have the exact same two main concerns about their rivals from Pittsburgh. I think I’ll avoid reading the comments section this week.
Sunday: Chicago at Pittsburgh (7:30 p.m. ET)
On NBCSN. Streaming live, too. Here’s the thing about Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s enjoying another fine regular season, with a 34-17-4 record and .915 save percentage. This guy could stop every single shot he faced in the regular season and there would still be doubts about his ability to stop the puck in the playoffs. Which is crazy in a way, given he was good enough to win the Stanley Cup in 2009, but totally sane when you consider his numbers the last four postseasons. In August, it was reported that Fleury was seeing a sports psychologist, which while far from unusual for a pro athlete, only lent credence to the theory that the pressure of the postseason had become a factor in his performance.