NHL Playoff Push: Penguins – Devils, Bruins – Bolts, and more

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Thursday features some big games, especially in the Eastern Conference. In fact, Tampa Bay at Boston is crucial enough that the race for the Atlantic Division title gets its own post.

It would probably help to see the standings while considering the big games, so let’s take a gander.

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

East

The Panthers lost in regulation to Toronto last night, opening up opportunities for tonight’s active teams to fatten their leads and possibly move up the ranks. Florida hopes to rebound against the Senators in Ottawa tonight. Losing tonight and seeing other teams win could make for a cruel couple of days for the Cats.

With 92 points in 77 games, the Penguins merely hope to hold off the Blue Jackets (91 in 77 GP) and idle Flyers (92 in 78 GP) as the season winds down. They face a more desperate Devils team that currently holds the final East playoff spot with 88 points in 76 games. While New Jersey has a three-point lead on Florida, the Panthers hold a game in hand.

The Blue Jackets are in a fluid situation, as they could move into the Metro top three but could also risk losing a playoff spot altogether if they flop down the stretch. Columbus must take advantage of a downtrodden Calgary team that’s been eliminated from contention.

[Again, the Bruins and Lightning meet. Read up on the battle for the Atlantic.]

Carolina (idle) is on the verge of being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

West

It sure seems like the Western Conference playoff races will come down to nine teams vying for eight spots. (Click here for more on what could be a spirited final stretch.)

The Dallas Stars need to make a mad rush (and get some help) to prove that the field of contenders is actually at 10. Beating the Wild in a home-and-home set between tonight and Saturday would go a long way in improving their slim playoff odds. You can catch Thursday’s contest on NBCSN, with puck drop set for 8 p.m. ET.  You can also catch the game online by clicking here

[Stars – Wild preview]

Despite incentive to improve their draft lottery odds, the Coyotes have been a pretty dangerous spoiler threat lately, including a win against Vegas last night. A more rested Kings team hopes to fatten its playoff lead against Arizona.

The Sharks and Predators don’t have a ton on the line during their game in Nashville, but that match could be an interesting test for two teams who’ve been hot lately.

If the playoffs started today

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

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

Key games

Lightning at Bruins, 7 p.m. ET
Penguins at Devils, 7 p.m. ET
Panthers at Senators, 7:30 p.m. ET
Stars at Wild, 8 p.m. ET
Blue Jackets at Flames, 9 p.m. ET
Coyotes at Kings, 10:30 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.