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.

 

Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

“That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

“It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

“It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

“We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

TAKE NOTE

The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

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TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.