NHL Playoff Push: Bruins test Blue Jackets; trap games?

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You can divide Monday’s five games into two categories: playoff-positioned teams battling it out and then games where favorites need to take care of business.

In the cases of the Panthers and especially Flames, it’s about catching up to the pack before they run out of time.

West

Let’s begin with the more crowded Western Conference playoff picture:

The lowest-impact “taking care of business” game comes for the Nashville Predators, who currently top the NHL with 104 standings points. Beating the Sabres is all about widening leads in the division, conference, and league; getting a victory here will only embolden Peter Laviolette to rest players for the postseason push.

Meanwhile, the Wild host the Kings in one of tonight’s two “test your might” games. Minnesota has developed a solid cushion for the Central Division’s third spot – granted, facing the Jets isn’t much of a “prize” – but adding more points would help hold off the Avalanche. The Kings have a lot more on the line, as they need to provide themselves with breathing room ahead of the bubble teams in the West.

Delightfully, you can watch Kings – Wild on NBCSN tonight starting at 8 p.m. ET. The game is also available on our Live Stream.

[Preview for Kings – Wild]

Finally, the Flames need to take care of business against a team outside the playoffs more than anyone else tonight. Calgary’s dropped three of four games and face a stretch of three of four games on the road. The Coyotes have been more competitive lately, but perhaps that will make this less of a trap game?

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

East

The Florida Panthers can’t be pleased that they’ve dropped two of their last three games, as they likely wanted to gather momentum heading into a road-heavy end of March. Beginning with tonight’s game in Montreal, the Panthers face a three-game road trip and seven of eight games away from home.

As much as their games in hand seem like points in the making, actually converting those opportunities into wins could be a challenge. Really, it’s all about avoiding falling into traps:

Mon, Mar 19 @ Montreal
Tue, Mar 20 @ Ottawa
Thu, Mar 22 @ Columbus
Sat, Mar 24 vs Arizona
Mon, Mar 26 @ NY Islanders
Wed, Mar 28 @ Toronto
Thu, Mar 29 @ Ottawa
Sat, Mar 31 @ Boston

With a game against the Habs, Islanders, and Coyotes, along with two contests against the Senators, the Panthers need to dig deep, even with a lot of away games coming up.

Finally, in the East’s “test your might” game, we have the resilient Boston Bruins taking on the red-hot Columbus Blue Jackets in Boston. The Blue Jackets are winners of seven straight games while, even with injuries and other hurdles to clear, the B’s have won eight of 10 contests. It should be a great barometer for where both teams are heading into the final weeks of 2017-18.

If the playoffs began today:

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nashville Predators vs. Los Angeles Kings
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Anaheim Ducks

Monday’s games:

Columbus Blue Jackets at Boston Bruins, 7 p.m. ET
Nashville Predators at Buffalo Sabres, 7 p.m. ET
Florida Panthers at Montreal Canadiens, 7:30 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild, 8 p.m. ET
Calgary Flames at Arizona Coyotes, 10 p.m. ET

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.