Saturday: Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (3 p.m. ET)
On NBC. Streaming live, too. Neither side yet knows its opponent in the first round of the playoffs. The Flyers could finish third in the Metropolitan and take on the Rangers, or they could end up with a wild-card spot and meet Boston or — *rubs hands together* — Pittsburgh. For the Penguins, the Red Wings and Blue Jackets are the two other potential match-ups. While I don’t typically like to read too much into what happened during the regular season, if it’s Pittsburgh and Columbus, expect to hear that the Penguins beat the Jackets in regulation all five times they met, and by a combined score of 16-7.
Saturday: Chicago at Nashville (8 p.m. ET)
On NBCSN. Streaming live, too. Obviously, it hasn’t been a great season for the Predators, who will miss the playoffs for a second straight time. Will Barry Trotz be back as head coach? No shortage of speculation his long run is over. But consider what he said here: “I would say this is — and I’ve been here a long time — one of the best [coaching jobs we’ve done]. This staff did a really good job. I’m talking as a staff — we put a lot of work into stuff. We were on the ball. … This staff pulled together. I’m really proud of this staff, actually.” When you don’t have a goalie like Pekka Rinne for most of the season, it’s going to be tough sledding. Especially for a team that has trouble scoring. In fact, Trotz said the Preds had to completely “reinvent” themselves after Rinne went out of the lineup. “We changed everything from the forecheck to the neutral zone system … we had to change everything, almost … and [we were] doing it under fire.” It’s also worth noting that the Preds actually have 34 regulation/overtime victories, the 16th most in the NHL, and more than Detroit (33).
Sunday: Detroit at St. Louis (12:30 p.m. ET)
On NBC. Streaming live, too. It was in this space, all the way back at the beginning of November, that I first started touting a Ryan Miller-to-St. Louis trade. Today, I still think the trade was a good idea, but I’ll admit I’m starting to feel some doubt creep in. I wonder if Doug Armstrong is, too. “I’ve got to find a way to make a save. It’s been two weeks of this,” Miller said yesterday after his third straight shaky performance. Moreover, in seven of his last nine outings, he’s finished with a save percentage below .900. All but one of those seven sub-.900 performances were Blues losses.
Sunday: Colorado at Anaheim (8 p.m. ET)
Yes, I’ve written a lot about the Avalanche’s reliance (over-reliance?) on goalie Semyon Varlamov. No, I don’t necessarily think (like some do) that Colorado is bound to flame out in the playoffs. And Varlamov is exactly the reason why. A goalie can absolutely steal a postseason series. Just ask the 2010 Washington Capitals. Or the 2010 Pittsburgh Penguins. Both those teams ran into a red-hot Jaroslav Halak, before he came back to earth against the Flyers. There’s no question, though, that the stats community is watching the Avs even closer now. At the same time, a lot of Colorado fans are getting pretty defensive about their team’s success, and how that success is being perceived. But hey, at the very least, people are talking about the Avs again.
Sunday: Dallas at Phoenix (9 p.m. ET)
On NBC. Streaming live, too. And possibly for the final wild-card spot in the West. Dallas could clinch beforehand with a win tonight versus St. Louis. And failing that, the Coyotes could be eliminated tomorrow if they don’t get the right result against San Jose. Safe to say missing the playoffs wouldn’t help the Coyotes’ attendance issues, not to mention the lost postseason revenue. Phoenix currently ranks last in the NHL in crowd size, averaging just 13,697 per game at Jobing.com Arena. We hesitate to bring up that “out clause,” but it’s hard to ignore when the best way to build positive buzz in any market is winning.