NHL Playoff Push: Ducks, Kings can clinch tonight

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Only three games on the NHL schedule Wednesday night but all of them have some level of importance, even if it is for very different reasons.

When it comes to the playoff races all of the big games are taking place in the Western Conference with the St. Louis Blues hosting the Chicago Blackhawks (you can watch that game on NBCSN) and the Anaheim Ducks hosting the Minnesota Wild.

Let’s see why it all matters.

First, the standings.

After winning six in a row (and eight out of nine games) the St. Louis Blues have dropped three games in a row and really need to pick up two points against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night. They are getting a bit of a break in that game because not only have the Blackhawks won just five of their past 17 games, they will be without Jonathan Toews on Wednesday night and will be starting Jean-Francois Berube in net.

[NHL On NBCSN: Blues need to pick up valuable points against Blackhawks]

Of the Blues’ remaining three games two of them are against this Blackhawks team (Wednesday and Friday) and then they close the regular season at Colorado (the team directly ahead of them in the standings for the second Wild Card spot as of Wednesday afternoon) on Saturday. They also still have that game in hand on the Avalanche. So while they open the day on the outside looking in, they are still in control of a lot. The matchups are also pretty favorable in the sense that they are getting two games against a struggling team and a head-to-head against the team they are chasing. The Avalanche are also without Semyon Varlamov and Erik Johnson in their remaining two games (as well as most, if not all, of the playoffs if they make it) due to injury.

For that reason the Avalanche will almost certainly be keeping a close eye on the outcome of the Blues-Blackhawks game on Wednesday.

They will not be the only team.

The Los Angeles Kings will be watching closely as well.

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

A Blues loss to the Blackhawks on Wednesday night would officially clinch a playoff berth for the Kings.

A St. Louis loss would also open the door for the Ducks to get in as well if they can also beat the Wild. Anaheim is one of the teams that have been hit hard by injuries over the past few days and will be without its top defenseman, Cam Fowler, and starting goalie, John Gibson.

The Wild are also without, Ryan Suter, their top defenseman due to an ankle injury.

If The Playoffs Started Today

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

Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Anaheim Ducks
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Wednesday’s Key Games

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks, 8 p.m. ET
Minnesota Wild vs. Anaheim Ducks, 10 p.m. ET

The Tank Watch!

Well, we said all three games on Wednesday are important, and that is kind of true. It is just that the third game is important because it could impact the NHL draft lottery. The two worst teams in the NHL — the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres — will be facing off in Buffalo and a Sabres loss would clinch the worst record in the league, guaranteeing them a top-five pick in the draft and the best odds to win the No. 1 overall pick and the right to select defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.

It would be the third time in five years the Sabres would finish with the worst record in the league. The previous two times they did not win the draft lottery, ending up with the No. 2 pick both times. They selected Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel, missing out on Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid.

Maybe this will be the year, Buffalo. Maybe this will be the year.

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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

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

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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.