Race for the playoffs: Bruins can clinch division, Rangers looking to bounce back

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 102 pts
x-2. Washington 99 pts
x-3. Boston – 96 pts
x-4. Pittsburgh – 98 pts
5. Tampa Bay – 93 pts
6. Montreal – 89 pts
7. Buffalo – 87 pts
8. NY Rangers – 87 pts
9. Carolina – 84 pts
10. Toronto – 80 pts
11. Atlanta – 76 pts

z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot

Toronto @ Boston – 7 p.m. ET

It’s virtually a must-win game for the Leafs and for the Bruins, they can lock up the Northeast Division with a win. The last two outings for the B’s against Toronto have not gone well and Boston would love to see Tomas Kaberle snap out of it against his old team. Since joining the Bruins Kaberle has one goal and six assists in 18 games. The Bruins power play isn’t clicking the way they’d like but yet through all this they stay on top of things. Getting things figured out before the playoffs would ease coach Claude Julien’s mind a bit. For the Leafs, Buffalo’s win last night hurt their chances badly and now they’ve got to try and win out to get a shot at the postseason. Beating Boston one more time would suit them just fine.

NY Rangers @ NY Islanders – 7 p.m. ET

These two rivals go into tonight’s game with only pride on the line for the Isles and playoffs on the minds of the Rangers. After losing to the Sabres last night, the Rangers technically fell into eighth place in the Eastern Conference as the Sabres tied them with 87 points. Getting one over on the Isles tonight would do the Rangers a lot of good as Carolina is lurking in ninth just three points out. The Isles would like nothing more than to make life more uncomfortable on the Rangers.

Atlanta @ Philadelphia – 7 p.m. ET

A loss tonight by the Thrashers eliminates them from postseason contention. They’re barely hanging on as it is and they’ll need to win their final six games just to keep hope alive. Fortunately for them, they’ve beaten Philly the last two times they’ve played this year in the shootout and in overtime. They’ll need that kind of fortune the rest of the way. Philly, meanwhile, needs to win to keep Pittsburgh off their back and close in on trying to clinch the division.

Pittsburgh @ Tampa Bay – 7:30 p.m. ET

This is shaping up to be a very likely first round match-up in the playoffs. While Pittsburgh seems destined to have home ice in the first round, the Lightning could cut into that advantage with a win. Winning in regulation would get Tampa to within three points of Pittsburgh. The Pens would like to catch Philly for the lead in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. With Sidney Crosby skating with the team, perhaps the captain can rally the guys on game day into taking the number one seed.

Columbus @ Washington – 7 p.m. ET

The Jackets are just playing out the string while the Capitals get to try to keep their offense alive without Dennis Wideman who’s out week-to-week with a lower body injury. The Caps can get to within a point of Philly for the top spot in the East with a win and coming off a shootout loss to Carolina the other night, they could stand to see the offense pick up a bit. Doing so against Columbus is a questionable process as you never know if you’ll get the easy to score on Blue Jackets or not. At the very least, scoring two goals is a virtual automatic thing for the Caps in this one. Columbus has given up two or more goals in 14 straight games. That’s… Not good.

Strong third period start helps Panthers stave off elimination

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Mike Hoffman and Brian Boyle scored twice in the opening three minutes of the third period to lift the Panthers to a 3-2, Game 3 win over the Islanders.

New York leads the series 2-1 with Game 4 Friday.

The Islanders gave Florida five power plays Wednesday and the Panthers’ special teams unit made sure to take advantage.

Erik Haula started the scoring with his first of the postseason following an Islanders’ too many men penalty. Hoffman’s shot from the point was blocked by Semyon Varlamov, but the rebound popped out to Evgenii Dadonov. The Panthers forward drew the attention of Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield, opening up space to feed a pass to Haula.

Given the opportunity to end the series, the Islanders kept pushing for an equalizer. It finally came with 3:34 to go in the second as Jean-Gabriel Pageau netted goal No. 2 of the series. But any momentum New York took into the intermission was gone after Varlamov played the puck outside of the trapezoid and was whistled for delay of game seven seconds into the third.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Hoffman fired home a shot 34 seconds later and Brian Boyle doubled the lead shortly after.

“Yeah, I made a mistake on that play, very simple,” Varlamov said afterward. “It cost us a goal.”

New York would cut the lead to one when Brock Nelson scored with 1:27 to go, but it wasn’t enough. Sergei Bobrovsky finished with 20 saves.

This is Florida’s first postseason win since April 20, 2016 — a span of 1,568 days — when they beat the Islanders in their First Round series.

The Islanders will get a second chance to close out the series in Game 4 on Friday (NBCSN).

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 1
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Coyotes-Predators stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Coyotes and Predators. Live look-in coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Coyotes-Predators Game 2 stream at 2:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Coyotes don’t have long to dwell on Tuesday’s loss. Back at it Wednesday for Game 3 and a series tied 1-1, Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet is telling his players to have a short memory.

“We’ll tweak a couple of things, but you have to get a good meal in and get a good night’s rest,” he said. “You win, everything’s great, you lose, everything stinks. That’s the way the playoffs are. The teams that are even-keel are the teams that are successful. We’ll move past this in two minutes and get ready for tomorrow.”

Darcy Kuemper may have a new backup Wednesday as Antti Raanta left Game 2 midway through the second period. The team says he is “unfit to play,” opening the door for Adin Hill to don the baseball cap on the bench.

WHAT: Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, August 5, 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN (live look-in)
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Coyotes-Predators live look-in stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (live look-in stream)
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Maple Leafs’ Muzzin out for rest of series vs. Blue Jackets

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There’s some good news for Jake Muzzin.

The defenseman has left a local Toronto hotel after leaving Game 2 on a stretcher following a collision late in the third period. Muzzin was cross-checked by Columbus forward Pierre-Luc Dubois and sent off-balance, causing his head to collide with Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s knee.

According to the Maple Leafs, Muzzin will miss the rest of the series and remain in quarantine until he’s ready to return.

“No question, seeing one of your teammates go down, especially a guy like ‘Muzz,’ you know the type of warrior he is.” said Maple Leafs captain John Tavares. “I think what he brings to our team is unmeasurable, obviously very tough. All signs are very positive being around him, and nice to close it out for him. But certainly tough to see, especially just how much we love that guy.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

When Muzzin is ready to return, the Toronto Hub Medical Director will decide quarantine/testing protocols before he’s allowed to practice and play again.

“He does a big part for this team, penalty kill, even strength against the best players against the other team,” said Mitch Marner said. “He really does mean a lot to us. So being beside when he did go down and stayed down, obviously it’s a little worrisome. And when you see the stretcher come out, a lot of things run through your mind. We’re all on his side and all praying for him. We just want to make sure that when he does come back he’s 100 percent, and there’s a lot bigger things than hockey.”

The series is tied 1-1 with Game 3 Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Aye Captains: Crosby, McDavid provide Penguins, Oilers spark

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TORONTO (AP) — The C’s have it: Crosby and Connor, that is.

It didn’t take long for the two captains – Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid – to make their presence felt three days into the NHL’s expanded playoffs.

With each of their teams facing 1-0 deficits, and both to their respective conference’s 12th- and last-seeded opponents no less, Crosby and McDavid provided much-needed sparks to even their best-of-five preliminary round elimination series, which resume Wednesday.

First, it was Crosby giving the Penguins a lift by beating Carey Price on a partial break to open the scoring in a 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens in Toronto on Monday night.

A few hours later in the league’s other playoff hub city, Edmonton, Alberta, McDavid put on an eye-popping display – even by his standards – with his first three-goal playoff performance in a 6-3 win over Chicago.

”I’ve seen it for years with Sidney Crosby. I mean, he dictates the work ethic and pace of the game. Last night Connor was the guy to do that for us,” Oilers coach Dave Tippett said Tuesday.

”Connor’s not a big ‘Rah-rah’ guy, but he inspires players by how he plays,” he added. ”And last night, he certainly led the way for us, and the rest of our team followed suit.”

In Sid, the Penguins trust, veteran defenseman Kris Letang said.

”When Sid is leading your team, you know you’re in good hands,” Letang said. ”If it was not the case, right now we would be in trouble.”

The Penguins and the Oilers aren’t out of trouble just yet, given how only 15 of 83 NHL teams which lost Game 1 of a best-of-five series have gone on to advance.

Both teams are back in prime-time, with the Penguins facing Montreal (8 p.m. EDT, NBCSN), and Edmonton facing Chicago (10:30, NBCSN), while breathing just a little easier.

”He comes out and he’s flying like that the first couple of shifts, you want to follow right along,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said of McDavid. ”We know he can do that at any given moment. And for him to do that in a huge game like last night, it raises your energy level.”