Saturday: Washington at Boston (1 p.m. ET)
The first two teams that came to mind after it was reported that Ryan Kesler had requested a trade out of Vancouver were Detroit and Columbus, mostly because he’s from Michigan and went to Ohio State. But if I had to pick one team that really needs a player like Kesler, Washington would be right up there. Possibly at the top of the list. For the most part, the Capitals’ postseason failures have been put on the shoulders of their captain, Alex Ovechkin. And while I don’t believe Ovechkin’s beyond criticism — sometimes his commitment to defense is abysmal, bordering on unfathomable — the Caps’ lack of playoff success is more about the players they don’t have than the ones they do. And right now they don’t have an elite two-way center like Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, or Pavel Datsyuk, all of whom have put their names on Stanley Cups in recent seasons. Kesler nearly did in 2011, the year he won the Selke Trophy. I’m not sure the Caps have the pieces to get Kesler, and I’m not sure he’d agree to go to DC. But if I’m George McPhee, I’m at least giving Mike Gillis a call.
Saturday: Pittsburgh at Chicago (8 p.m. ET, NBC)
I’m curious to see how the Blackhawks do down the stretch and into the playoffs, particularly from a motivational standpoint. They’re already the defending Stanley Cup champs, and three of their key players — Duncan Keith, Toews, and Patrick Sharp — just won Olympic gold. I still remember Keith saying during the 2011 playoffs, not long after he’d helped Canada win Olympic gold in Vancouver and the ‘Hawks their first Cup since 1961, that he’d struggled with keeping focus and “just was not really … interested for whatever reason” during the 2010-11 season. Chicago lost in the first round to the Canucks soon after he said it. To me, teams like Pittsburgh, St. Louis and San Jose have so much more to prove than the ‘Hawks. It’s tough to say how much of a factor that could be, if any. But there’s no denying it takes a massive physical and emotional commitment to win the Cup.
Sunday: Philadelphia at Washington (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Thursday’s 7-3 loss to San Jose was the Flyers’ 13th of the season by three goals or more. Only four teams — Edmonton, Florida, Buffalo, and Ottawa — have lost big more often than Philly. And that’s bad. But on the flip side, the Flyers have also won a good number of games (11) by three goals or more. In the entire NHL, Dallas (14W, 10L) is the only other team to hit double digits in both categories. All of which helps explain the feeling a lot of people have about the Flyers should they make the playoffs. Defensively, there are issues. But if they get decent goaltending from Steve Mason, with all the scoring ability they have, they could make a run.
Or, they could get swept in the first round.
Sunday: Ottawa at Vancouver (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
After shutting out the Blues on Wednesday, Eddie Lack will make his second straight start in goal for the Canucks Friday against Minnesota. Roberto Luongo will probably get the nod Sunday at BC Place, but the decision by coach John Tortorella to go with Lack against the Wild already has at least one Vancouver media member smelling another goalie controversy. I’m not sure I’d go that far — yet — but Lack does have better numbers (.924 save percentage) than Luongo (.917) this season. Hey, here’s a question: is a Luongo compliance buyout a complete non-starter for Canucks ownership this summer? To do it would cost just over $22 million, spread over 16 years, and that’s a lot of money. But if I were Gillis and I got the green light, I’d do it.
Sunday: Boston at NY Rangers (7 p..m. ET)
I definitely feel like Glen Sather is using the media to put a scare into Ryan Callahan. The Rangers’ general manager knows his captain wants to stay with the club, so it makes sense to threaten a trade to bring down his asking price. While I don’t believe Sather’s threat is an entirely empty one, it’s interesting that the two sides have been talking this week. Callahan has scored 20-plus goals three times, and we all know the way he sacrifices his body to block shots and get in on the forecheck. Which, in a bit of a Catch 22, is why he’s a risk to give a long-term deal. But, ultimately, you want to keep guys like that. I know it’s been reported there’s a “99 percent chance” he’ll be traded, but I’m more optimistic they’ll come to an agreement.