NHL Playoff Push: Crucial games for Flyers, Avs, Panthers

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The New Jersey Devils essentially drove in the final nail on the Carolina Hurricanes’ playoff hopes by beating them in regulation last night, so the East’s playoff races now truly boil down to nine teams vying for eight spots.

Despite a modest slate of four games, Wednesday presents some big matchups in the bubble battles in both conferences, with the East in particular boasting an intriguing slate.

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

East

In the biggest game of the night, the Philadelphia Flyers (first wild card, East) take on the Avalanche (ninth place, one point out of West’s final WC) in Colorado.

It hasn’t always been pretty, but Philly has really been gutting out key points. While they’ve lost three of four games, they’ve generated a standings point in each contest, going 1-0-3 during that span. They face a driven Avalanche team that’s more rested, while the Flyers lost to the Stars in overtime last night. Philly can go empty the tank here, as the Flyers don’t play again until Sunday.

The Panthers trail the idle Devils by three points, so they need to take advantage of their two games in hand. Doing so won’t be particularly easy tonight as they face the Maple Leafs in Toronto. The Buds don’t have as much on the line with the Atlantic’s third spot essentially locked up, but they probably want to get things going as the playoffs near. Drawing the Lightning or Bruins means that they better enter the postseason with their best foot forward.

With a five-point lead for the Metropolitan Division crown, the Capitals are nearing a third consecutive division title. They have a game in hand on second-ranked (and idle) Pittsburgh, too, so beating the Rangers would give them what would likely be an insurmountable lead. You can watch that game on NBCSN with puck drop slated for 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

[Rangers – Capitals preview]

West

Again, tonight’s game is huge for the Avalanche, even bigger than the Flyers’ implications.

After losing to the Golden Knights on Monday, the Avalanche slipped out of the West’s top eight. Tuesday proved to be a mixed bag, as the Blues won while the Ducks laid an egg against the lowly Canucks. (The Stars kept their slim hopes alive with that OT win against the Flyers.)

Colorado can hop over the Ducks and Blues with a win tonight, while a charity point would push them above Anaheim. Beating a playoff-desperate team like Philly isn’t easy, yet with rest and home-ice advantages, a loss – especially in regulation – would cause the Avs to lose sleep.

[West playoff races come down to final games.]

Much like the Capitals against the Rangers, the Golden Knights aim to beef up their Pacific Division lead against a Coyotes team with incentive to lose.

If the playoffs started today

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

Nashville Predators – Anaheim Ducks
Winnipeg Jets – Minnesota Wild
Vegas Golden Knights – St. Louis Blues
San Jose Sharks – Los Angeles Kings

Wednesday’s games

Panthers at Maple Leafs, 7:30 p.m. ET
Rangers at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET
Coyotes at Golden Knights, 10 p.m. ET
Flyers at Avalanche, 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.