I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
Sunday’s events will determine their opponents, but the Edmonton Oilers made it certain that they’ll begin the playoffs at home.
Let that sink in for a moment: they’ll get at least a round of home-ice advantage in their first playoff run since 2005-06, when they fell a win short of a Stanley Cup.
The Oilers defeated a pesky Vancouver Canucks team 3-2 on Saturday, with Connor McDavid getting an assist for his 98th point of the season and Milan Lucic‘s great effort leading to the clincher:
Edmonton handed a big deal to Lucic because he’s capable of imposing his will in moments like those. Wow.
With this win, the Oilers give themselves a chance to win the Pacific Division if Sunday breaks the right way. Edmonton needs to win tomorrow (vs. Vancouver, again) and they need the Anaheim Ducks to lose. On the bright side for the Oilers … the Kings would likely relish spoiling things for Anaheim, providing a decent send-off for a lost season.
The San Jose Sharks beat the Calgary Flames 3-1, but they’ll settle for the third seed in the Pacific. To recap, here’s how the West “bracket” looks like after tonight:
- The Chicago Blackhawks will face the Nashville Predators (more here).
- The Minnesota Wild take on the St. Louis Blues (full post).
- The Calgary Flames will face the Pacific Division champ.
- The Sharks will begin the playoffs on the road against the Pacific runner-up.
Yes, a lot has already been decided, but teams still have plenty to play for on Sunday. The Oilers made it certain that they’ll either finish up in a good or great situation.
Jarid Lukosevicius’ hat trick ended up being the decisive factor as Denver won the 2017 NCAA national championship game against Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday.
Denver won 3-2, clinging to its lead in the third period.
With this win, the Pioneers are eight-time national champions, tying North Dakota for the second-highest total. (Michigan owns the most with nine.)
In case you’re wondering, Lukosevicius is a 22-year-old undrafted forward who scored 13 goals and 29 points in 42 games for Denver this season. All three of his goals came in the second period tonight.
His first two tallies came in a 16-second flurry.
Saturday was a rough night for the Nashville Predators.
First, the St. Louis Blues locked down the third spot in the Central Division. Mere moments later, a late Blake Wheeler shorthanded goal pushed Nashville to a 2-1 regulation loss against Winnipeg, so now the Predators will finish behind the Calgary Flames.
So, to recap:
- The Flames will be the first wild card in the West. They’ll face the Pacific Division champ, whether that be the Anaheim Ducks or, by a longer shot, the Edmonton Oilers.
- The Chicago Blackhawks will hold home-ice advantage against the Nashville Predators in a first-round series since the Preds finished as the second wild card.
As a reminder, the Minnesota Wild will face the St. Louis Blues as the West series start to really shake out.
Mike Yeo admitted that it felt good when his St. Louis Blues beat his former team, the Minnesota Wild, in the regular season. Imagine how he might feel if they can take their upcoming series.
By getting to overtime in a 4-4 game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Blues locked down the third seed in the Central Division. Minnesota locked down second some time ago, so they’ll hold home-ice advantage in a series between the two teams.
The two franchises have only met in the postseason on one occasion, with the Wild taking a 4-2 first-round series in 2014-15.
St. Louis edges Nashville for the third seed, so the Predators now turn their focus to one of the West’s wild card positions.
First, the Ottawa Senators made sure that they’ll make the playoffs by clinching a spot. By beating the Boston Bruins 2-1 via a shootout, they put themselves in a solid position to grab home-ice for a round.
While the contest hasn’t been a thrill ride, the Senators deserve some credit for getting this key win with Erik Karlsson out of the lineup.
As a bonus, Viktor Stalberg also returned during OT after a hard hit by Adam McQuaid. Senators GM Pierre Dorion has to love that Alex Burrows‘ goal was the tying tally.
A lot of things came up in Ottawa’s favor on this one. They managed a sweep of the Bruins, a swing that may just make the difference in the race for second in the Atlantic.
Granted, there are still plenty of variables that can play out during the final few days of 2016-17.
Here’s an update on the race for second:
2. Senators – 96 points (37 ROW, 43 W) in 80 games
3. Bruins – 95 points (42 ROW, 44 W) in 81 games
Leafs – 93 points in 80 games after loss to Lightning.
That’s quite the edge for the Sens, especially if Toronto ends up losing. The Senators host the Rangers on Saturday and then visit the Islanders on Sunday. The Bruins close out 2016-17 by facing the Capitals at home on Saturday.