Mike Halford

Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin (91) yells after scoring a goal agains the Montreal Canadiens during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Stars, Ducks, Sharks can all clinch playoff spots tonight, and here’s how…

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Only two teams — Washington and Los Angeles — have punched their tickets to the postseason thus far, but that number could grow to as many as five teams by the end of Tuesday night’s action.

The Dallas Stars, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks all have playoff clinching scenarios at hand. For Dallas and San Jose, it would represent a return to the postseason after missing last year and, for Anaheim, it would mark the franchise’s fourth consecutive invite to the dance.

The scenarios, courtesy NHL.com:

The Stars will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Blackhawks in any fashion OR if they get one point against the Blackhawks AND the Wild lose to the Kings in any fashion OR if the Wild lose to the Kings in regulation.

The Ducks will clinch a playoff berth if they get at least one point against the Canadiens OR if the Coyotes lose to the Oilers in any fashion.

The Sharks will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Blues in any fashion OR if they get one point against the Blues AND the Coyotes lose to the Oilers in any fashion OR if the Coyotes lose to the Oilers in regulation.

It’s also worth noting that Washington can clinch the Metropolitan Division and top seed in the Eastern Conference if it beats Ottawa in any fashion tonight. The Caps also need just three more wins to match their franchise record of 54, set during the 2009-10 campaign.

Torchetti to (again) scratch Vanek, who’s not ‘at the level I think he can play at’

Minnesota Wild's Thomas Vanek, of Austria, right, works for the puck against Columbus Blue Jackets' Brandon Dubinsky during the first period of an NHL preseason hockey game in Columbus, Ohio, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
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Thomas Vanek can’t get a game.

Prior to Tuesday’s Wild-Kings game in Minnesota — a huge one for the Wild’s playoff chances — Vanek was out getting extra work following the morning skate, a sure indication he’d be made a healthy scratch for a third straight time tonight.

And if the morning skate wasn’t enough of a telltale sign, there was what interim head coach John Torchetti said afterward.

Vanek was parked after Minnesota’s 7-4 loss to New Jersey on Mar. 17, a game in which the veteran went goalless — for the 10th straight contest — and finished with a minus-2 rating in just 13:55 of ice time.

The Wild have played twice since then, and won both — shootout victories over the ‘Canes and ‘Hawks. So it makes sense Torchetti would keep the winning lineup intact, and keep Vanek in the press box.

What doesn’t make sense, however, is Vanek’s overall situation.

This is the second coach that’s healthy scratched him this season, as ex-Wild bench boss Mike Yeo did it back in February. And while Vanek’s overall numbers on the season aren’t that bad — 18 goals and 41 points in 70 games — this trend of scratches has to be alarming, especially since he’s got one more year on a deal that pays $6.5 million annually.

The Wild head into tonight sitting one point back of Colorado for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. The Avs are off until Thursday, when they’ll host the Flyers.

NCAA standout Guentzel skips senior year, signs with Penguins

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 30:  Jake Guentzel, 77th pick overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins, poses for a portrait during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center on June 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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University of Nebraska-Omaha forward Jake Guentzel — Pittsburgh’s third-round pick at the 2013 draft — has opted against returning to school for his final season, opting instead to sign an AHL amateur tryout contract with the Pens’ affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Guentzel, 21, finished 11th in the country in scoring this season, tied with Hobey Baker candidate Jimmy Vesey (among others) on 46 points. He also captained UNO this season and, last year, led the Mavericks to their first ever berth in the NCAA Frozen Four.

By signing an AHL ATO, Guentzel can start playing professional hockey immediately, without having to “burn” a year of any entry-level contract (which he’s yet to sign). It does sound as though an ELC could be on the horizon:

A diminutive skater — listed at just 5-foot-10, 170 pounds — it’ll be interesting to see how Guentzel adapts to the professional game. Pittsburgh has received a boost from NCAA products this year, as the likes of Bryan Rust (Notre Dame), Scott Wilson (UMass-Lowell) and Conor Sheary (UMass-Amherst) have all been nice additions to the lineup.

No Filppula, Callahan for Bolts in key Atlantic clash with Detroit

Detroit Red Wings v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Seven
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The Tampa Bay Lightning have a shot to move atop the Atlantic Division tonight with a win over the Red Wings.

That victory won’t be easy to come by, though.

On Tuesday morning, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper confirmed that veteran forwards Valtteri Filppula and Ryan Callahan wouldn’t be available for selection. Filppula has been dealing with an upper-body ailment that’s kept him out of the lineup recently, while Callahan is suffering from an undisclosed injury.

Though Filppula and Callahan have had down years offensively — just 28 points each — they both see pretty regular minutes, with Callahan getting 17:17 per night. Filppula’s at 18:22.

As mentioned in the headline, this is a key clash for both clubs.

The Lightning could move past Florida into first in the division — via the ROW tiebreaker — after the Panthers lost last night to the Rangers.

Detroit, meanwhile, will be looking to secure two points to stay clear of the hard-charging Flyers. The Red Wings are just one point clear for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, but the Flyers have a game in hand — and, after beating the Isles 4-1 on Monday night, they’re back in action this evening against Columbus.

Sens owner Melnyk says ‘there’s nobody safe’ after disappointing year

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The Ottawa Senators are going to miss the playoffs for the second time in three years, and the guy in charge isn’t happy about it.

What’s more, it sounds like heads might roll.

“I’m looking at all of it, right across the board, nobody is safe when you have a year like we just did,” Sens owner Eugene Melnyk said on Tuesday, per the Ottawa Citizen. “The status quo would just get us there again next year and this team cannot survive not making the playoffs.”

In meeting with the media today, Melnyk sounded off on a number of problems he’s seen with the club this year.

He cited inconsistent play and the inability to get on a winning streak as a chief culprit. Ottawa never won more than four games in a row this year, and only did that twice, to which Melnyk said “I don’t think we ever had a streak of any significance.”

As for head coach Dave Cameron? He can’t be feeling much job security after this:

Melnyk hasn’t liked what’s happened with the Senators since Day 1. He was mystified by Cameron’s decision to sit starter Craig Anderson in the club’s home opener in October and give O’Connor, a raw rookie the net, in a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. 

He was asked why it went so badly?

“No idea. Bryan and I sit there and we just nod our head. We can’t get it. We get it now. I remember back in December some of those games, three in a row that we lost by a goal we were leading. It was inconsistency and some stupidity,” said Melnyk, who then pointed at Cameron’s decision.

“I go back to the very first game. You put in the second goalie. What was that about? On opening night and the guy gets clobbered. It’s not fair to him, not fair to the fans. Just a lot of little tiny mistakes that all of a sudden escalate and get serious and get in people’s heads.”

As for players, Ottawa doesn’t have a ton to do on the contract front. There are no key unrestricted free agents needing contracts and, of the RFAs needing deals — Mike Hoffman, Alex Chiasson, Matt Puempel, Ryan Dzingel, Patrick Wiercioch and Cody Ceci — the Hoffan one could get interesting, given he leads the team in goals (26) but has also clashed with Cameron on occasion.

Finally, there’s GM Bryan Murray.

The 73-year-old has won respect and admiration throughout the league for continuing to work through prostate cancer, and reports had suggested this would be his last season on the job.

However, in September, Murray suggested he might not be ready to step away.

Per NHL.com, Murray’s contract with the Senators calls for him to be a consultant next year, which could pave the way for assistant GMs Pierre Dorion and/or Randy Lee to be promoted to the head gig. Or Melnyk could bring in a new GM entirely, one with a fresh set of eyes for the organization.

Whatever the case, it promises to be an interesting offseason in the Canadian capital.