NHL Playoff Race: Huge night ahead for Panthers, Blues

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There are nine games on the NHL schedule for Thursday night and four of them have some pretty significant playoff implications in the race for the remaining playoff spots that are still up for grabs.

Let’s take a look what is on the line on Thursday night.

This could be a huge night for the Panthers

When we last checked in with the Panthers they were on the wrong end of a 5-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators, missing a huge opportunity to continue gaining ground in the wild card race. That loss leaves them four points out of a wild card spot behind the Columbus Blue Jackets.

If you’re an optimistic Panthers fan you will probably look at the fact they still have three games in hand on the Blue Jackets, but with the season winding down the margin for error gets slimmer and slimmer.

Even with that games in hand in advantage the Panthers are still on pace for the least number of points among the three teams in the wild card race.

Given their current spots entering play on Thursday the Devils are on a 93-point pace, the Blue Jackets are on a 92-point pace, and the Panthers are on a 91-point pace.

It’s close for sure, but just having three additional games doesn’t mean the Panthers — for as hot as they have been — are going to win all three of them.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

On Thursday, they have to play a Boston Bruins team that has won seven of its past eight games despite dealing with some significant injuries at the moment. Even without Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy they are still running over teams offensively. This is not going to be an easy night for Florida, even with the latest news that Jake DeBrusk and Zdeno Chara will miss their next two games.

Meanwhile, Columbus will be in Philadelphia to take on a Flyers team that has lost seven of its past eight games.

A Panthers win, no matter what happens in Philadelphia, will at least keep them on pace to keep things competitive and close the rest of the way. But a Panthers loss, combined with a Blue Jackets win, would leave them five points out of a playoff spot with only 14 games to play. That would not be a strong spot to be in.

The fact the Panthers still have this sort of an uphill battle in front of them despite going on a 15-4-2 run in recent weeks just goes to show how difficult it is to make up ground in the standings this late in the season.

Make or break night for Blues

It is pretty remarkable that the Blues are still in the playoff race given everything that has happened in recent weeks. They traded one of their top players, went through a 10-game stretch where they could not score, lost a couple of more players to injury, but are still three points back with a chance to really gain some ground on Thursday when they play the Colorado Avalanche.

They won just one game on the aforementioned 10-game stretch (scoring just 14 goals) and then came back with back-to-back wins against Los Angeles and Anaheim, two of the teams they are chasing in the standings, where they scored 11 total goals.

They get another game on Thursday against one of the teams ahead of them and another chance to close the gap.

It is the classic four-point game in the standings as a win in regulation pulls the Blues to within a single point of a playoff spot while a loss … well … a loss might be a devastating blow to what is left of their chances.

Kings need to start stacking some wins

The Kings are one of the many teams in that cluster of bubble teams in the Western Conference and while they are clinging to the third spot in the Pacific Division, they are still tied with Anaheim in total points … and Anaheim is currently on the outside of the playoff picture. That is how close the race is, and the Kings really have not done anything to distance themselves from the pack in recent weeks, winning just five of their past 10 games. They let one point slip away on Tuesday by losing in a shootout to the Arizona Coyotes.

They get another bottom team on Thursday night when they host a Detroit Red Wings team that has lost seven in a row and 11 of its past 14.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.