NHL Playoff Push: Blues go for 7 in a row; Ducks-Kings meet in huge game

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There are really only three playoff spots that are still up for grabs in the Western Conference (Minnesota and San Jose have not officially clinched, but their spots are pretty secure) with four teams — St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings — competing for them.

All four of those teams are in action on Saturday night.

Two of them, the Kings and Ducks, are playing each other in what might be one of the biggest games of the night.

Let’s take a look at the standings in the Western Conference before we dive into the games.

As mentioned above one of the biggest games of the night is Anaheim where the Kings are looking for their third win in a row. After going more than a month alternating wins and losses, the Kings have finally won consecutive games thanks to back-to-back wins over the Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes. That has helped them climb back into the third spot in the Pacific Division and put them three points clear of the first non-playoff team.

This is the classic “four-point game” in the standings because a regulation win for either team will have a pretty big impact on the playoff race. If the Kings win in regulation, it puts them four points clear of the Ducks with a week to go in the regular season. That is a tough gap to make up. A Ducks win pulls them back even and sets up what would be a frantic finish down the stretch.

Meanwhile, the suddenly surging Blues go for their seventh win in a row when they take on the Vegas Golden Knights. The Blues have won eight of their past nine and are 9-1-1 since snapping a seven-game losing streak that could have easily knocked them out of the race. Now they are sitting in the first Wild Card spot and look to keep things rolling on Friday night against a Vegas team that is still trying to wrap up the Pacific Division crown.

Colorado enters the day on the outside of the playoff picture sitting one point back of both the Blues and Ducks. The Avalanche have slumped a bit recently with losses in three of their past four games, a stretch that has seen them score just four goals in regulation (they have literally scored one goal every game. Their only win during this stretch has been  a 2-1 shootout win over Vegas).

Depending on what happens with their game and the St. Louis and Anaheim-Los Angeles games the Avalanche could either find themselves back in the first wild card spot or really facing a tough deficit down the stretch.

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

As for the Eastern Conference.

The only thing really up for grabs on Friday night in the East is division titles.

The Capitals can take a big step toward securing their third consecutive Metropolitan Division crown with a win over the Carolina Hurricanes. They would give them a seven-point edge over the Pittsburgh Penguins with only four games remaining on each team’s schedule, including a head-to-head meeting on Sunday.

After losing to the Boston Bruins on Thursday night and falling into second place in the Atlantic Division the Tampa Bay Lightning have a chance to reclaim the top spot on Friday night if they can beat the New York Rangers.

If The Playoffs Started Today

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

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

Friday’s Key Games

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Rangers, 7 p.m ET
Carolina Hurricanes vs. Washington Capitals, 7 p.m. ET
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Colorado Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Kings vs. Anaheim Ducks, 10 p.m. ET
St. Louis Blues vs. Vegas Golden Knights, 10:30 p.m. ET

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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.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.