Flames vs. Sharks: Who wins Pacific, avoiding Vegas in Round 1?

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Generally speaking, the most exciting parts of the Push for the Playoffs comes in watching teams scratch and claw for postseason survival. There’s a natural draw to do-or-die moments in sports, and jobs could very well be on the line depending upon where teams end up in the wild-card races.

But, for all we know, those teams are merely battling it out to get booted out of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the juggernauts at the top of the NHL.

Also, it’s definitely worthwhile to win your division, and thus avoid tough No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchups in the first round. (Hot take: the complaints aren’t going to die down from fans of such teams, including the Maple Leafs.)

That contrast is pretty stark in the Pacific Division, actually.

Avoiding a gamble against Vegas

The Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks are currently in quite a battle for that division title. Calgary’s up a point, but San Jose has a game in hand. The two teams meet just one more time this season (March 31, in San Jose), and it could be so close that it might come down to that contest.

And there’s quite a lot at stake.

With all due respect to the scrappiness of the Wild and other bubble teams (the Pacific Division will most likely draw the second wild-card team), facing Minnesota is a lot more comfortable a thought than trying to get beyond Vegas.

The Golden Knights have often been better than their solid record has indicated for much of this season, and that was before they traded for a true star in Mark Stone. For all we know, the Golden Knights could once again be a force in the games that matter the most, so Calgary and San Jose have some serious incentive to put off such a matchup.

Naturally, winning the division also confers home-ice advantage, likely for the West’s bracket of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

So, there’s quite a bit on the line. Let’s break down the future for each team to get an idea of what’s ahead.

Pacific 1: Flames: 41-20-7, 89 points, 68 games played, 41 regulation/OT wins

20-7-5 at home; 21-13-2 away

Games remaining split: nine home, five road

Recent play: Calgary’s been very streaky lately. They’re currently on a four-game losing streak, and they’re usually-explosive offense has been bottled up, with just five goals combined during that stretch.

Before the four-game losing streak, the Flames had won seven games in a row. The streakiness stretches back further than that, too (they had four in a row from Feb. 7-14 after winning four of five from Jan. 18 – Feb. 3). So maybe this team is just going to be hot and cold, which would be especially good news for people who want to talk about the Flames being on fire/getting “doused” when they’re losing.

Remaining schedule, with head-to-head matchup bolded:

Sun., Mar. 10: vs. Vegas
Tue., Mar. 12: vs. New Jersey
Fri., Mar. 15: vs. Rangers
Sat., Mar. 16: @ Winnipeg
Tue., Mar. 19: vs. Columbus
Thu., Mar. 21: vs. Ottawa
Sat., Mar. 23: @ Vancouver
Mon., Mar. 25: vs. Los Angeles
Wed., Mar. 27: vs. Dallas
Fri., Mar. 29: vs. Anaheim
Sun., Mar. 31: @ San Jose
Mon., Apr 1: @ Los Angeles
Wed., Apr 3: @ Anaheim
Sat., Apr 6: vs. Edmonton

Some thoughts on that schedule: The rest of March is full of opportunities. The Flames play their next three games at home, but it goes beyond that, with five of six and eight of their next 10 games at home.

With both the Flames and Sharks, it figures to be interesting to see how “checked out” some of their lesser opponents end up being. Calgary faces the lowly Kings and Ducks twice, then finish out against an Oilers team that might not be as hot on April 6 as it is today.

Pacific 2: Sharks: 40-19-8, 88 points, 67 GP, 40 ROW

22-5-5 at home; 18-14-3 away

Games remaining split: nine home, six road

Recent play: The Sharks are currently on a three-game winning streak, and they’ve generally been on an upward trajectory. Going back to a 7-6 OT win against the Capitals on Jan. 22, the Sharks are on an impressive 12-3-1 run in their last 16 games.

One thing to consider is that San Jose is wisely playing it safe with Erik Karlsson‘s injury issues. That’s a smart big-picture move, but it might hurt their chances of winning this race.

Remaining schedule, with head-to-head matchup bolded:

Sat., Mar. 9: vs. St. Louis
Mon., Mar. 11: @ Minnesota
Tue., Mar. 12: @ Winnipeg
Thu., Mar. 14: vs. Florida
Sat., Mar. 16: vs. Nashville
Mon., Mar. 18: vs. Vegas
Thu., Mar. 21: @ Los Angeles
Fri., Mar. 22: @ Anaheim
Mon., Mar. 25: vs.Detroit
Thu., Mar. 28: vs. Chicago
Sat., Mar. 30: vs. Vegas
Sun., Mar. 31: vs. Calgary
Tue., Apr. 2: @ Vancouver
Thu., Apr. 4: @ Edmonton
Sat., Apr. 6: vs. Colorado

Some thoughts on that schedule: Broadly and subjectively speaking, the Sharks’ schedule might be a little bit tougher than Calgary’s remaining slate.

They face some challenges in their next six games, as they face five teams currently positioned in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, plus a Panthers team that’s been pesky. That said, the Sharks could get a nice break to end their regular season, as it’s quite possible that all of the Canucks, Oilers, and Avalanche might have little to play for by April.

It’s worth noting that the Sharks face the Golden Knights twice, while Calgary only draws Vegas one more time before the postseason.

***

Overall, it’s pretty tough to pick a favorite to win the Pacific. Again, it might come down to who wins on March 31, particularly if that game ends in regulation.

As important as it is to be as fresh and healthy as possible come playoff time, the threat of the Golden Knights as a first-round opponent definitely makes it easier to understand why the Flames and Sharks might really step on the gas to win this race.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Kraken hire Everett Fitzhugh as club’s first broadcaster

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SEATTLE (AP) — The Seattle Kraken have hired Everett Fitzhugh as the club’s first broadcaster, the team announced Friday.

Fitzhugh is believed to be the first Black team broadcaster hired by an NHL franchise. He has spent the past five seasons as the director of media relations and broadcasting for the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL. Fitzhugh served as the play-by-play broadcaster for the club.

”As someone who’s worked in hockey for over a decade and who has a long-held passion for broadcasting hockey, to be named a part of the broadcast and content team for a brand-new NHL franchise – particularly one with an organization as strong as the Kraken – is a dream come true,” Fitzhugh said in a statement. ”Getting to the NHL has always been my goal.”

Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke said Fitzhugh came highly recommended by those the team consulted with in making the hire. Fitzhugh’s exact role will be determined at a later date.

Fitzhugh was one of three front-office hires announced by the team. Seattle also hired Jonny Greco as the senior vice president of live entertainment and game presentation, and Lamont Buford will serve as vice president of game presentation.

The Wraparound: First Round seeding up for grabs Saturday

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 NHL Return to Play. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• The NHL Bubble Wrap has your roundup of Friday’s wild postseason action.

• Friday was Elimination Day as the Oilers, Penguins, Predators, Panthers, and Wild all exited the postseason.

NHL GAMES TODAY

Round-robin: Avalanche vs. Golden Knights, 3 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream: Two of the hottest teams so far in these playoffs will face off for a chance to earn the top spot in the West. The winner of this matchup will earn the West’s #1 seed; the loser will be #2. Through two games, Vegas has scored 11 goals (by eight different players) while Colorado has allowed just one goal. Even without their regular season leading scorer Max Pacioretty (undisclosed), the Golden Knights have scored 11 goals in two round robin games. Seven have come in the third period. The Avs have been spreading the love on offense. Through two round robin games, each of Colorado’s six goals have been scored by a different player – two from defensemen (Cale Makar and Ryan Graves) and four from players in their first season with the Avalanche.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Round-robin: Flyers vs. Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestreamThe winner of this game will become the #1 seed in the East; the loser will be the second seed. Tampa, owner of the league’s best regular season offense (3.47 goals/game) has scored five goals in its first two games… and they’re without Steven Stamkos, who will not play against the Flyers after missing Tampa’s first two round robin games with a lower-body injury. He has been ruled out indefinitely. Carter Hart, who will turn 22 on Thursday, is expected to start after Brian Elliott got the nod in Philly’s last game vs Washington. Hart stopped 34 of 35 shots in their 4-1 win vs Boston last Sunday in his postseason debut, becoming the youngest Flyers goalie to win a playoff game.

Round-robin standings (ties broken by regular-season points percentage)

EAST
Lightning (2-0-0, 4 points)
Flyers (2-0-0, 4 points)
Capitals (0-1-1, 1 point)
Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

WEST
Avalanche (2-0-0, 4 points)
Golden Knights (2-0-0, 4 points)
Blues (0-2-0, 0 points)
Stars (0-2-0, 0 points)

SUNDAY‘S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Round-robin: Bruins vs. Capitals, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Round-robin: Stars vs. Blues, 3 p.m. ET – NBC
Game 5: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN

NHL Return to Play: Round-robin standings, scenarios

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While the 16 teams in the qualifying round play for the right to move on, the No. 1 seeds in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference are still up for grabs in the round-robin format of the NHL’s return to play.

The round-robin schedule resumes on Saturday with a pair of games (Lightning vs. Flyers and Golden Knights vs. Avalanche) and here we take a look at the impact those games can have on the standings.

Below is a look at the current round-robin standings and everything at stake on Saturday.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Current standings (tiebreaker is regular-season points percentage)

Tampa Bay Lightning (2-0-0, 4 points)
Philadelphia Flyers (2-0-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (0-1-1, 1 point)
Boston Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
:
Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Flyers 3, Capitals 1 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 8:
Flyers vs. Lightning,  8 p.m. ET – NBC
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN

• Winner of TB/PHI will be #1 seed; the loser will be #2
• Winner of BOS/WSH will be #3 seed; the loser will be #4

• Carolina will face either Boston or Washington in First Round.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Standings (tiebreaker is regular-season points percentage)

Colorado Avalanche (2-0-0, 4 points)
Vegas Golden Knights (2-0-0, 4 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-0, 0 points)
Dallas Stars (0-2-0, 0 points)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Avalanche 2, Blues 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Golden Knights 4, Stars 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche 4, Stars 0
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights 6, Blues 4 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, 3 p.m. ET – NBC
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, 3 p.m. ET – NBC

• Winner of COL/VGK will be #1 seed; the loser will be #2
• Winner of STL/DAL will be #3 seed; the loser will be #4

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule


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.

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers in league’s Return to Play

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It’s time to focus on the NHL games, including the 2020 NHL playoffs schedule. The 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers began on Saturday, Aug. 1 in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto.

The top four teams in both conference will play a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The Stanley Cup Qualifiers will be best-of-5 series with the losing teams being entered into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery.

Below is a full 2020 NHL playoffs schedule of both the round-robin and the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Scotiabank Arena)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
:
Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Flyers 3, Capitals 1 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 8:
Flyers vs. Lightning,  8 p.m. ET – NBC
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (MTL won series 3-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Canadiens 4, Penguins 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canadiens 2, Penguins 0 (recap)

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (CAR won series 3-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Hurricanes 3, Rangers 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI won series 3-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders 5, Panthers 1 (recap)

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 2-2)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Blue Jackets 4, Maple Leafs 3 (OT) (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs 4, Blue Jackets 3 (OT) (recap)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Rogers Place)

Round-robin [Standings, scenarios]

Sunday, Aug. 2: Avalanche 2, Blues 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Golden Knights 4, Stars 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche 4, Stars 0
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights 6, Blues 4 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, 3 p.m. ET – NBC
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, 3 p.m. ET – NBC

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (CHI won series 3-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks 6, Oilers 4 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Oilers 6, Blackhawks 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Blackhawks 4, Oilers 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Blackhawks 3, Oilers 2 (recap)

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (ARZ won series 3-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Coyotes 4, Predators 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (OT) (recap)

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild (VAN won series 3-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild 3, Canucks 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Canucks 4, Wild 3 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks 3, Wild 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks 5, Wild 4 (OT) (recap)

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets (CGY won series 3-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Flames 4, Jets 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets 3, Flames 2 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames 6, Jets 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames 4, Jets 0 (recap)

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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.