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