Push for the Playoffs: Avs look to gain ground in West race

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

Out east, all eyes will be on the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN), but in the Western Conference, a Central Division matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars has quite of bit of playoff intrigue.

The Avs visit the Stars knowing a win could put them in a good spot. The Stars sit in the first wild-card spot on 73 points, following by the Minnesota Wild in the final playoff seed on 72 points and the Avalanche sitting on the periphery with 70 points.

Given that the Wild are in Tampa to face the nearly-unbeatable Lightning, a win for the Avs, who meet the streaking Stars — winners of their last three games — would be a huge boost to their playoff chances if Tampa can take care of business a few states over in Florida.

“For us, it’s not really pressure,” Avs forward Sven Andrighetto told the Avs’ website on Wednesday. “It’s a position we want to be in. We’re playing meaningful hockey, hockey that matters. Every single point, every game matters… to make the playoffs or not.”

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning vs. Canadiens
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs
Capitals vs. Penguins
Islanders vs. Hurricanes

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Flames vs. Wild
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Stars
Jets vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Panthers at Bruins, 7 p.m. ET
Blue Jackets at Penguins, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream)
Islanders at Senators, 7:30 p.m. ET
Wild at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET
Sabres at Blackhawks, 8:30 p.m. ET
Avalanche at Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
Canucks at Oilers, 9 p.m. ET
Flames at Coyotes, 9 p.m. ET
Blues at Kings 10:30 p.m. ET
Canadiens at Sharks 10:30 p.m. ET

Here are today’s Stanley Cup Playoff clinching scenarios:

The Lightning will clinch a playoff berth:
• If they defeat the Wild in any fashion AND any of the following occurs:
• The Canadiens lose in regulation at the Sharks
• The Blue Jackets lose in regulation at the Penguins (NBCSN; live stream)
• Both Montreal and Columbus lose in any fashion

OR

• If they get one point against Minnesota and both Montreal and Columbus lose in regulation.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Lightning – 100 percent
Bruins – 100 percent
Maple Leafs – 100 percent
Islanders – 98.6 percent
Capitals – 98 percent
Penguins – 90.6 percent
Hurricanes – 85.5 percent
Canadiens – 68.4 percent
Blue Jackets – 56 percent
Flyers – 2 percent
Sabres – 0.5 percent
Panthers – 0.5 percent
Rangers – 0 percent
Devils – 0 percent
Red Wings – 0 percent
Senators – 0 percent
WESTERN CONFERENCE
PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Sports Club Stats)
Flames – 100 percent
Sharks – 100 percent
Jets – 99.9 percent
Predators – 99.8 percent
Golden Knights – 98.4 percent
Blues – 97.2 percent
Stars 82.8 percent
Avalanche – 45.6 percent
Wild – 41.8 percent
Coyotes 28 percent
Oilers – 3.5 percent
Canucks – 2.1 percent
Blackhawks – 0.9 percent
Ducks – 0 percent
Kings – 0 percent

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators – 18.5 percent*
Red Wings – 13.5 percent
Kings – 11.5 percent
Devils – 9.5 percent
Ducks – 8.5 percent
Blackhawks – 7.5 percent
Canucks – 6.5 percent
Rangers – 6 percent
Oilers – 5 percent
Panthers – 3.5 percent
Sabres – 3 percent
Avalanche 2.5 percent
Coyotes – 2 percent
Flyers – 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets – 1 percent**
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)
(**CBJ’s 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick is owned by OTT. If top three, moves to 2020)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – 108 points
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 94 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 92 points
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 86 points
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 85 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 84 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 41 goals
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 40 goals
John Tavares, Maple Leafs – 37 goals
Brayden Point, Lightning – 37 goals
Jeff Skinner, Sabres – 36 goals


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

Devils, Hischier agree to seven-year, $50.75 million extension

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While the Devils don’t know yet if Taylor Hall will sign an extension to remain in New Jersey or find a new home next summer in free agency, GM Ray Shero has young locked down one of the team’s core pieces.

On Friday, Nico Hischier agreed to a seven-year, $50.75 million extension that carries a $7.25 million cap hit through the 2026-27 NHL season. The deal buys three unrestricted free agent years since the Devils forward has been playing since he was 18, per Cap Friendly.

“Nico is a special person who possess a team-first mentality combined with an inner drive to succeed,” said Shero in a statement. The entire organization is thankful to him and his family for believing in our future. We are excited that he will continue to play a prominent role with us for many years to come.”

According to the Devils, here’s the year-by-year breakdown:

2020-21: $7,000,000 (includes $3 million signing bonus)
2021-22: $7,250,000
2022-23:  $4,500,000
2023-24:  $7,750,000
2024-25:  $7,750,000
2025-26:  $8,000,000
2026-27:  $8,500,000

The extension also features a modified no-trade clause in the final three years.

In 157 NHL games, Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, has 37 goals and 101 points while averaging over 17 minutes a night. His offense has been just fine with a 20 and 17 goals in his first two seasons, but his two-way game is what’s really boosted his talent.

The 20-year-old center joins the list of NHLers who passed on restricted free agency in 2020 to put pen to paper on a new deal, joining the likes of Alex DeBrincat, Clayton Keller, Thomas Chabot, and Sam Girard.

Mathew Barzal, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Dylan Strome, and Mikhail Sergachev are some of the other potential 2020 RFAs who will be looking for extensions before next season.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Helm fined $5K for slash on Flames’ Lindholm

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Darren Helm and Elias Lindholm had a little battle in the third period of Thursday’s 5-1 Flames win and it has resulted in a $5,000 fine for the Red Wings forward.

It all began during a face-off when Lindholm got taken down by Helm. The Flames forward took exception and skated after Helm as the puck entered the Calgary zone. The tiff continued on with Lindholm throwing an elbow at Helm, who responded by getting up off the ice and slashing Lindholm in the back of the leg.

“Their guy comes with an elbow that should have probably been called right away,” said Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill. “Then Darren reacts to that as most guys would, you get an elbow to the face for no reason you’re going to react. We got to be more disciplined in those situations, but he slashed him. I don’t think the slash was that super-hard, but it sure looked hard the way he went down.”

The fine is the maximum amount allowable under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Helm was given a major for slashing and a game misconduct, while Lindholm got off with just an interference minor. Lindholm was helped to the dressing room and there’s been no update yet on his condition.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

LA Kings set Guinness World Record for ‘Largest Laser Show’

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The Los Angeles Kings may have dropped their third in a row Thursday night and fell to 2-5-0 on the season, but they set a world record during the first intermission.

The Kings’ game presentation department used 642 lasers as part of the Guinness Book of World Records “Largest Laser Show” at STAPLES Center. So, yeah, they were shutout, but they made history.

For the record, the first-period goals by Casey Mittelstadt and Conor Sheary did not, in fact, count toward the final laser total.

With Thursday being the 20th anniversary of the opening of the arena, which featured a Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band concert back in 1999, the Kings wanted to do something special, so they went and shattered the previous record of 342, per the team.

Now, if only one of those lasers could have destroyed the “cursed” Taylor Swift banner

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Kempny returns to Capitals’ blue line for first time since March

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Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer doing the ceremonial puck drop honors won’t be the only thing Capitals fans can look forward to Friday night. Defenseman Michal Kempny will make his long-awaited return to the ice against the Rangers after tearing his hamstring in March.

Kempny, who was paired with Radko Gudas during Friday’s morning skate, was given a four-to-six month timeline after undergoing surgery right before the end of last season.

“Yeah, I’m playing tonight. It’s been a long time. I’m very excited,” Kempny said. “There was a lot of hard days, especially from the beginning of the rehab, small steps make me happy. I think it’s part of rehab and all the bad is behind me and I’m just focusing now [on] today’s game.”

Kempny knows he won’t be logging heavy minutes just yet and wants to focus on getting back into the normal routine of a regular player. How his ice time is managed will be something his head coach has to worry about.

“We have a range we’d like to have him in and we’ll see how the game goes,” said Todd Reirden. “Obviously he’s fresh, he’s skating really well, he’s in unbelievable condition, so now it’s just to see how it transfers into game action and how his wind is and his conditioning.”

Braden Holtby is back between the pipes are being given a one game “reset,” as Reirden put it. How he fares against the Rangers will either pause the goalie controversy talk with Ilya Samsonov for now or only add more fuel to the fire.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.