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Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins

Renewed hostilities dominate tonight’s Game 1 matches

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Last night’s five Game 1 contests began the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs nicely. On one hand, you had familiar foes from 2010 in Coyotes-Red Wings and Blackhawks-Canucks. There was also another meeting between the Rangers and Capitals with an ’09 series fresh on each others minds. Still, there were a couple “getting your feet wet” games as the Predators-Ducks and Lightning-Penguins met each other in a postseason version of a blind date.

There won’t be many stammering self-descriptions and awkward silences in tonight’s three Game 1 matchups, though, as all three series boast an uncomfortable amount of familiarity. Maybe the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks haven’t beaten each other up in a playoff series before, but they obviously know each other well from Pacific Division skirmishes. Let’s take a look at the three games on Thursday night’s schedule.

All start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).

Montreal @ Boston – 7 p.m. (Versus)

If you’re asking for a continuation of that bad blood theme, it doesn’t get much better than the 33rd playoff meeting between the Canadiens and the Bruins. Anyone who paid attention to the regular season knows that this historic rivalry was given another push based on the controversy surrounding Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty.

Of course, the most dynamic(/dangerous?) reaction to that situation will come when the series shifts to Montreal for Game 3 on Monday, but the vitriol should be there from the first dropped puck tonight.

That being said, the potential carnage must be dialed down a notch or two since so much is on the line. In the end, it might come down to a more palatable story: which goalie will come out on top – Tim Thomas or Carey Price?

Buffalo @ Philadelphia – 7:30 p.m.

This game is even more of a toss-up with Chris Pronger out of the Flyers lineup for at least Game 1.

Without that Pronger-sized security blanket, Philadelphia must find a way to use its superior offensive skill (on paper, at least) to give Sergei Bobrovsky a chance to best world-class goalie Ryan Miller. That’s a pretty tall order for a rookie goaltender, especially with the Flyers’ recent downward trend and the Sabres’ solid finish to the season.

Will Danny Briere torment his former team? Can the Sabres continue their hot run under new ownership? Those and many other questions will begin to receive answers tonight.

Los Angeles @ San Jose – 10 p.m. (Versus)

Thursday night marks the first “Battle of California” in the playoffs between these two teams.

It would have been a tougher one to handicap if Anze Kopitar could play for the Kings, but some think that Los Angeles is bringing a knife to a gun fight in this one. On paper, the Sharks’ star forwards might be too much for the Kings to handle.

That being said, Terry Murray’s troops still include all-world defenseman Drew Doughty (off-year or not), wildcard blueliner Jack Johnson, steady goalie Jonathan Quick and some other solid players. They might have to dumb the games down a bit, but don’t count out the Kings entirely.

I still think the Sharks will manhandle them, though.

Race for the playoffs: Inside the stretch run for Anaheim, Chicago and Dallas

Chris Stewart, Jamie Benn

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

Western Conference playoff race

p – 1. Vancouver – 113 pts (3 GR)
y-2. San Jose – 103 pts (2 GR)
y-3. Detroit – 102 pts (2 GR)
4. Nashville – 97 pts (2 GR)
5. Los Angeles – 98 pts (2 GR)
6. Phoenix – 97 pts (2 GR)
7. Anaheim – 95 pts (2 GR)
8. Chicago – 95 pts (2 GR)
e-9. Calgary – 93 pts (1 GR)
10. Dallas – 91 pts (3 GR)

p- clinched Presidents’ Trophy
z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
e- eliminated from playoffs

Colorado @ Dallas – 7:00 pm ET

Being that it’s plainly obvious the Stars need to win this game and no other West teams play in important games (the Canucks play against the Wild), let’s instead take a look at the stretch run for the Stars, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks. To keep it reasonable, we’ll go in order of highest record to lowest.

7. Anaheim Ducks (45-30-5 for 95 pts with two games left)

Home vs. Los Angeles (Friday) and away vs. Los Angeles (Saturday).

Thoughts: All the Ducks need is two points – not even a win – to clinch a playoff spot because they already hold six more non-shootout wins than the Stars. The Kings will be slightly less motivated having already clinched a spot, although their final two games should have a big impact on their playoff seed.

Besides, they hate their division rivals, and spite is often a solid motivator. Back-to-back games will make this tough for the Ducks, although it will also encourage the Kings to take it easy and possibly even rest a player or two.

8. Chicago Blackhawks (43-28-9 for 95 pts with two games left)

Away game vs. Detroit Red Wings (Friday), then a home game against Detroit in the NBC Game of the Week on Sunday.

Thoughts: It’s exciting to see that both the Blackhawks and Ducks must make the playoffs by beating their hated division rivals. Much like the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference, the ‘Hawks could clinch a playoff spot by earning three points.

Then again, Chicago could also clinch the spot with one non-shootout win. One more would leave them with 38 regulation or overtime wins and 44 overall, while the Stars can only max out with 38 regulation or overtime wins and 43 overall.

If the ‘Hawks lose tomorrow – especially in regulation – and the Stars take care of business, then Chicago’s last game of the season might really be their first “playoff” game.

The ninth place Calgary Flames have been eliminated.

10. Dallas Stars (40-28-11 for 91 points with three games left)

Home vs. Colorado today, away against Colorado on Friday and away against Minnesota on Sunday.

Thoughts: On paper, this is a a pretty manageable group of games, but three games in four days isn’t exactly an effortless draw. It’s an interesting scheduling quirk that the Stars also face a home-and-home series against a hated rival, with back-to-back games against Colorado today or tomorrow. They might not be division rivals, but they don’t like each other either.

Again, Dallas needs to win every game (probably in regulation or overtime) and get some help from Detroit and/or Los Angeles to make a breathtaking gallop to the playoffs.

Obviously, the odds are against the Stars, but a late run remains possible. We’ll keep you informed as the last days of the season determine who will make the playoffs and who gets an early vacation.

Race for the playoffs: Rangers try to distance themselves, Habs hope to avoid slide

New York Rangers v Atlanta Thrashers

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

Eastern Conference playoff race

y-1. Washington – 107 pts (1 GR)
x-2. Philadelphia 103 pts (2 GR)
y-3. Boston – 101 pts (2 GR)
x-4. Pittsburgh – 102 pts (2 GR)
x-5. Tampa Bay – 99 pts (2 GR)
x-6. Montreal – 93 pts (2 GR)
7. Buffalo – 92 pts (2 GR)
8. NY Rangers – 91 pts (2 GR)
9. Carolina – 89 pts (2 GR)

y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
GR – games remaining

Atlanta @ NY Rangers – 7:00 pm ET

If the Rangers earn three points in their last two games, they could boot the Hurricanes out of the playoffs regardless of how well Carolina plays. Both teams are locked in at 34 non-shootout wins, so earning a regulation or overtime victory against the Thrashers would go a long way toward giving the Rangers enough breathing room to make the postseason.

Interestingly enough, Atlanta is in an unusual spoiler role being that they will play a home game against those same Hurricanes on Friday night. This isn’t the way the team wanted to be relevant late in the season, but they will make an (indirect) impact on the playoffs nonetheless.

Montreal @ Ottawa – 7:00 pm ET

While the Canadiens already clinched a playoff spot and won’t have a chance to win the Northeast Division, this game is still relevant to Montreal. They have 93 points and two games left with some tiebreaker advantages, but both the Buffalo Sabers and Rangers could pass them by if the Habs lose both of their games. (Although Montreal would need to lose one of those contests in regulation for New York to bump them down to eighth place.)

So, yes, they’ll make the playoffs … but they could also slip all the way down to the eighth seed. The Habs won’t enjoy a stroll in the park, either, because the Senators have been a handful late this season.

Race for the playoffs: Three West teams could clinch, Blackhawks and Stars face tests

Michael Cammalleri, Troy Brouwer

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

Western Conference

p-1. Vancouver – 113 pts (3 GR)
y-2. San Jose – 103 pts (3 GR)
y-3. Detroit – 102 pts (3 GR)
4. Phoenix – 96 pts (3 GR)
5. Los Angeles – 96 pts (3 GR)
6. Nashville – 95 pts (3 GR)
7. Anaheim – 93 pts (3 GR)
8. Chicago – 92 pts (4 GR)
9. Calgary – 91 pts (2 GR)
10. Dallas – 89 pts (4 GR)

p- clinched Presidents’ Trophy
z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot

Chicago @ Montreal – 7:30 pm ET

This is a big one for the two Original Six teams, as the Canadiens can clinch a playoff berth against a Blackhawks team hoping to cling to the eighth seed in the West. Chicago must mop up as many points as they can between this game and tomorrow’s contest against the Blues, because they face an intimidating home-and-home with the Red Wings to close out the season. The Flames are reasonably close behind but only have two games left while the Stars are short points but face a relatively easy closing schedule.

In other words, this is a big one for the ‘Hawks.

Atlanta @ Nashville – 8:00 pm ET

The Predators are almost certain to make the playoffs anyway, but they can put any doubts to bed in one of two ways.

  • They can clinch with a win plus a Stars loss.
  • Or they can clinch by earning a point against the Thrashers while the Stars lose in regulation.

Speaking of the Stars and teams clinching playoff spots …

Columbus @ Dallas – 8:30 pm ET

The Stars are fighting for their playoff lives, but still have a chance of jumping over the Flames (they have four games remaining to Calgary’s two) and Blackhawks for the West’s final spot. It won’t be easy, but all four of their games are against teams outside of their conference’s playoff picture, so going four for four is possible (if unlikely).

The Blackhawks and Predators won’t be the only teams rooting against them, though. Here are two teams who could clinch playoff berths without lifting a finger today.

Phoenix Coyotes: The fourth-ranked Coyotes could guarantee themselves a spot with a Stars loss of any kind.

Los Angeles Kings: The fifth-ranked Kings will earn another playoff berth with a Stars regulation loss.

Race for the playoffs: Flyers and Capitals hope to clinch divisions, Habs go for berth

Washington Capitals v Toronto Maple Leafs

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

Eastern Conference

x-1. Philadelphia 103 pts (3 GR)
x-2. Washington – 103 pts (3 GR)
y-3. Boston – 99 pts (3 GR)
x-4. Pittsburgh – 100 pts (3 GR)
x-5. Tampa Bay – 99 pts (3 GR)
6. Montreal – 91 pts (3 GR)
7. NY Rangers – 91 pts (2 GR)
8. Buffalo – 90 pts (3 GR)
9. Carolina – 87 pts (3 GR)
10. Toronto – 84 pts (3 GR)

y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot

Washington @ Toronto – 7:00 pm ET

The Capitals can clinch the Southeast Division in three different ways: a) a win, b) a point plus a Tampa Bay loss of any kind or c) the Lightning lose in regulation. Ultimately, it’s pretty much a matter of time for the Capitals to win their division, but they have plenty of motivation to keep pace with the Flyers for the top spot in the East.

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs’ slim playoff hopes hang in the balance, being that just one Sabres point would mathematically eliminate them. They need to win out while Buffalo needs to go without a point and the Hurricanes must also cooperate.

Tampa Bay @ Buffalo – 7:00 pm ET

The Sabres need this game more than the Lightning and will be forced to contain Tampa Bay’s talented forwards without Ryan Miller in net. Instead, it’s likely that Jhonas Enroth will be called upon to save the day once again.

While the Sabres hope to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff bubble, the Bolts are likely more focused on gaining the fourth seed from the Penguins than keeping whatever hopes of winning the Southeast alive. They only trail Pittsburgh by one point, so it’s certainly possible.

Philadelphia @ Ottawa – 7:30 pm ET

The Flyers can clinch the Atlantic Division title in two ways: 1) by beating Ottawa while the Penguins lose or 2) earning one point while Pittsburgh loses in regulation. In other words, the division title seems like a mere formality for Philly, so their sights are set on the No. 1 seed in the East.

New Jersey @ Pittsburgh – 7:30 pm ET

Much like Tampa Bay, the Penguins probably don’t expect to stick in their division title race, but must earn as many points as possible to earn at least one round of home ice advantage. The Devils aren’t particularly likely to roll over for them, though.

Chicago @ Montreal – 7:30 pm ET

The Canadiens can clinch a playoff spot with a win of any kind. They must not get too comfortable, though, as their sixth place spot isn’t particularly secure being that both the Habs and Rangers have 91 points. Sure, Montreal has the advantage with an extra game in hand, but a bad week could make them slip to a lower seed.

Obviously, it won’t be easy, as the Blackhawks are in a desperate fight for a playoff spot and face the sobering reality of a very difficult closing schedule. Montreal might be their best chance for easy points.