Author: Jason Brough

David Pastrnak, Chris Kelly, Torey Krug

Playoff watch — what the bubble teams need to do


Using Sports Club Stats, here are the records each bubble team needs down the stretch to earn a better-than-50-percent shot of making the playoffs…

Eastern Conference (five bubble teams, three spots available)

Detroit Red Wings — 1-6-0
Washington Capitals — 1-5-0
Boston Bruins — 2-3-1
Ottawa Senators — 5-2-0
Florida Panthers — 5-0-1

We’ve added the Wings to the list — just a little wake-up call, even if it’s very unlikely they or the Caps miss. This is still a two-team race for one spot between the B’s and Sens, except with the hunted and hunter roles reversed compared to Friday. Ottawa, losers of two this weekend, plays three playoff teams this week: at Detroit Tuesday, then home to Tampa Bay and Washington on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. Boston, which won twice this weekend, has it a touch easier, hosting Florida Tuesday, then traveling to Detroit Thursday before hosting Toronto Saturday.

Western Conference (four bubble teams, three spots available)

Vancouver Canucks — 2-5-0
Calgary Flames — 3-3-0
Los Angeles Kings — 4-3-0
Winnipeg Jets — 3-3-0

No more Wild on the list; they’re pretty much in. No more Stars either; that loss Friday in Edmonton all but officially doomed them. Of the four remaining teams, none is particularly safe. Not even Vancouver, which starts a tough four-game trip against Central Division opponents today in St. Louis. The Flames, meanwhile, got a huge win Sunday in Nashville to displace the Kings from third spot in the Pacific. The way Calgary keeps hanging around, you have to wonder if a playoff spot could be on the line when the Jets host the Flames on the final day of the regular season. Speaking of the Jets, who lost a heart-breaker yesterday to Chicago, here’s what their remaining schedule looks like:


Not an easy finish.

Video: Berube defends how he’s deployed Lecavalier

Craig Berube

Craig Berube doesn’t think “it’s an effort thing” with Vincent Lecavalier; the Flyers’ head coach just doesn’t believe the 34-year-old is well-suited to playing center in Philadelphia’s system.

Because playing that role requires a lot of effort, you see.

“In the middle of the ice in our system, it’s a lot of work,” Berube said. “You have to skate and get back and play both ends of the ice.”

Possible translation: Lecavalier’s trying. He just can’t do it like he used to. 

Saturday versus San Jose, Lecavalier will play the right side of a line centered by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, with Chris VandeVelde on the left side.

And after being a healthy scratch for three straight games, all it took for him to get back into the lineup was for Wayne Simmonds to break a leg.


Is Lecavalier offering to retire early to facilitate trade out of Philly?

Much to his relief, Lecavalier will start season at center


Five big games to watch this weekend

Derek Stepan, Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask

Only three weekends to go before the NHL playoffs start. Here are five games to watch this weekend, each with at least one desperate team involved:

Tonight — Calgary at Minnesota (8 p.m. ET)

Now one point back of the surging Kings, and with just eight games to go (six on the road), Calgary could really use a win here. The Wild, meanwhile, could open a six-point playoff cushion with a regulation victory. And while it’s unlikely, there’s still an outside shot Minnesota could catch Chicago for third spot in the Central.

Saturday — NY Rangers at Boston (1 p.m. ET)

Spend the afternoon watching the Bruins fight for their playoff lives, versus the only team that’s officially clinched. The B’s, winless in their last six, know there will be “consequences” if they don’t get the job done. And lately, well, they just haven’t been getting the job done. Oh, and this could also be Henrik Lundqvist’s first game back. In case that interests anyone.

Saturday — Los Angeles at Minnesota (8 p.m. ET)

Even after three impressive road wins, the Kings could still become the first defending champs since the 2006-07 Hurricanes to miss the playoffs. Regulation losses Saturday to the Wild and Monday in Chicago are certainly plausible, no? That could leave the Kings in need of four wins in their final six games to qualify. Best for them they get a point or two against the Wild and ‘Hawks.

Sunday — Florida at Ottawa (5 p.m. ET)

A Panthers loss here would basically be it for them, even if they manage to upset the Habs Saturday in Montreal. Florida also plays Tuesday in Boston. Win all three and maybe we’ll find some optimism, but the end seems near for a Panthers side that’s gamely hung around all season. (Obviously, a big game for Sens too. They play in Toronto Saturday against the sideshow Leafs.)

Sunday — Boston at Carolina (5 p.m. ET)

Do not look at the standings and expect the Bruins to roll over the Hurricanes. Carolina soundly outplayed the B’s the last time they met, Jan. 4 in Raleigh, where Boston didn’t get its first shot until 17 minutes into the first period. It was that loss, in fact, that preceded the infamous warning from Charlie Jacobs.

Video: Kessel, Booth get into altercation at Leafs practice

Kessel, Booth

That was Toronto teammates Phil Kessel and David Booth, getting into a bit of a skirmish this morning at practice.

It wasn’t much of a fight, really. And predictably, after practice was over, the altercation was spun into a positive.

“It happens,” Booth said, per “Guys get frustrated all year. I think that was just a drill that promoted competition. It’s actually good to see that. Hopefully we can take some of that competitive nature into the game tomorrow.”

The Maple Leafs have lost seven straight by a combined score of 29-11. So we suppose they’ll take a positive wherever they can find one.

They host the Senators tomorrow.

Related: ‘In Kessel’s case, I firmly believe he’s going to be traded’

After tough start, Stars have been one of NHL’s best

Buffalo Sabres v Dallas Stars

Since Dec. 13, the Dallas Stars have been one of the best teams in the NHL.

That may be surprising to those who haven’t followed them closely. The Stars, after all, are pretty much assured of missing the playoffs.

But it’s true — the Stars are 26-15-5 in their last 46 games, a 102-point pace over a full season. And based on score-adjusted Fenwick, they’ve been the league’s fifth-best possession team during that stretch, below only the Kings, Islanders, Blues and Penguins.

It was the 10-13-5 start that killed their playoff hopes. The Stars were the 18th-ranked possession team through that stretch, and their goaltending — a position GM Jim Nill may still need to address this offseason, even though starter Kari Lehtonen has been better lately — made things even worse.

“We’ve gone on a pretty good run here,” forward Shawn Horcoff said earlier this week, “but we’ve had a tough time making up ground. Given the situation here, we really feel like we are going to have to win out.”

Possible. But unlikely.

At the very least, the Stars can look forward to next year. While it may not have surprised Nill when his team started poorly this season, assuming the goaltending can improve, his expectations for 2015-16 should be high.

Related: Nichushkin, out since November, moves closer to rejoining red-hot Stars