NHL Playoff Push: Avalanche meet Ducks in massive game Sunday

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Sunday is a fun day in the NHL as far as the race for playoff spots and finishing positions goes, with two teams battling it out for the Atlantic Division lead and a colossal matchup in the Western Conference in the race for a wildcard spot.

Eastern Conference

There are two marquee matchups in the Atlantic Division on Sunday, with the Boston Bruins visiting the Philadelphia Flyers (live on NHL on NBC) and the Tampa Bay Lightning hosting the Nashville Predators.

Boston retook first place in the division on Saturday with a 5-1 thumping of the Florida Panthers after Tampa regained their top spot in the night before. Boston holds a game in-hand between the two. A win today would see them retain their top spot, no matter what Tampa does. If Tampa wins in regulation or overtime and Boston manages just a point, Tampa would retake the top spot on ROWs.

The Boston game is particularly noteworthy given they’re facing the Flyers, who could move into a tie for third place in the Metropolitan Division with the idle Columbus Blue Jackets. Philly also has to look in the rearview mirror, with the New Jersey Devils just a point back and playing against the Montreal Canadiens later in the day.

Speaking of the Devils, they can distance themselves further from the idle Florida Panthers, who have taken a nosedive recently and sit five points back of New Jersey with a game in-hand. Florida can achieve a maximum of 10 points in five remaining games. A win by the Devils would put them seven points ahead and Florida’s playoff hopes would be hanging by a thread.

In other games, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins meet in a game that will either see a one-point gap at the top of the Metropolitan or the Capitals securing first place for good.

A regulation loss for Pittsburgh would ensure the Capitals win their third consecutive divisional crown as Pittsburgh will only have two remaining games while Washington would have a five-point cushion between them.

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

Western Conference


I said colossal in the lede, and I wasn’t lying.

The Colorado Avalanche and the Anaheim Ducks will lock horns in a massive game on Sunday night.

The Avs sit in ninth place, just outside the playoff line with 92 points — tied with the St. Louis Blues. The Ducks are sitting in the first wildcard spot with 93 points. So a regulation win by Colorado on Sunday would see both teams exchange positions in what’s become an intense four-way battle for three playoff spots.

A point by the Avs in any fashion would also see them take over the final wildcard. As an added bonus for winning, the Avs would move just two points back of the Minnesota Wild for third place in the Central Division.

Colorado will have to do all of this without their No. 1 goalie and top-pairing defenseman.

Semyon Varlamov was ruled out for the rest of the regular season on Saturday after getting barrelled into by Chicago Blackhawks forward Tomas Jurco in a game on Friday. Erik Johnson, meanwhile, will be sidelined for the next six weeks due to a fractured patella.

The weight on Nathan MacKinnon‘s shoulders just got a lot heavier.

A win for the ducks, meanwhile, would lift them past the Los Angeles Kings into third place in the Pacific Division.

It’s worth repeating: this game is pretty damn huge.

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

Sunday’s Key Games

Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers @ 12:30 p.m ET
Nashville Predators vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 6 p.m. ET
New Jersey Devils vs. Montreal Canadiens, 7 p.m. ET
Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 7:30 p.m. ET
Colorado Avalanche vs. Anaheim Ducks, 9 p.m. ET

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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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

caufield surgery
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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

matty beniers
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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.