Push for the Playoffs: Lightning continue chasing ’95-96 Red Wings

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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.

As the the Tampa Bay Lightning hold a 16-point lead on the San Jose Sharks with 12 games remaining, the Presidents’ Trophy is just about locked up. An historic regular season could be added to should they win a majority of the rest of their schedule.

After the Presidents’ Trophy, next in the Lightning’s sights is the 62-win feat achieved by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings. It’s fitting that Tampa is in Detroit tonight, looking to win their 54th game of the season, which would tie a franchise record. There is also the monstrous challenge of earning 23 of 24 points to close out the season to set an NHL record for most points in a season (132), which is currently held by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens.

But the challenge of winning 10 of their final 12 games to top that Red Wings team will also serve as a test. Thursday’s game in Detroit is only one of two games remaining for the Lightning that come against teams out of the Stanley Cup playoff picture (They play Ottawa on April 1).

“I think if we get to 59, maybe we’ll start talking about it,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper via the Tampa Bay Times. “But we’re not talking about it right now.”

Since Tampa is firmly in the top spot in the Atlantic Division and will have home ice throughout the playoffs, at what point does Cooper begin resting players like goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who’s started 44 games, and not worry about history? Presidents’ Trophy winning teams already don’t have the greatest of luck in the postseason. Of the 32 times its been awarded, only eight teams have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Only 11 have even been able to reached the Cup Final. There’s the target on your back aspect and the pressure that comes with being the NHL’s best regular season team.

What the Lightning have done this season — especially as a contender for the last few years — has made it Stanley Cup or bust in 2019. Two Eastern Conference Final disappointments to the eventual Cup champion in the last three seasons hasn’t sat well with them. The only history that should be on their minds is adding a second championship come June.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Sharks vs. Coyotes
Jets vs. Stars
Flames vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS
The Sharks can clinch a playoff berth in one of two ways:

• If they beat the Panthers and the Wild lose in regulation to the Stars.

• If they beat Florida and the Wild get one point against Dallas and the Coyotes lose in regulation against the Ducks in regulation.

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Penguins at Sabres, 7 p.m. ET
Canadiens at Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
Capitals at Flyers, 7 p.m. ET
Blues at Senators, 7:30 p.m. ET
Lightning at Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET
Stars at Wild, 8 p.m. ET
Bruins at Jets, 8 p.m. ET
Ducks at Coyotes, 10 p.m. ET
Predators at Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET
Panthers at Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning – In
Bruins – 100 percent
Maple Leafs – 99.7 percent
Capitals – 98.8 percent
Islanders – 98.5 percent
Penguins – 95 percent
Hurricanes – 89.7 percent
Blue Jackets – 59.6 percent
Canadiens – 49.9 percent
Flyers – 8.1 percent
Panthers – 0.6 percent
Sabres – 0.1 percent
Rangers – 0 percent
Devils – Out
Red Wings – Out
Senators – Out

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Sharks – 100 percent
Flames – 100 percent
Jets – 99.8 percent
Predators – 99.1 percent
Blues – 97.7 percent
Golden Knights – 97.6 percent
Stars – 87.7 percent
Coyotes 50.4 percent
Wild – 37.9 percent
Avalanche – 19.7 percent
Blackhawks – 7.4 percent
Oilers – 1.9 percent
Canucks – 0.8 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
Canucks – 7.5 percent
Rangers – 6.5 percent
Oilers – 6 percent
Sabres – 5 percent
Blackhawks – 3.5 percent
Avalanche – 3 percent
Panthers – 2.5 percent
Wild – 2 percent
Flyers – 1.5 percent
Canadiens – 1 percent
(*OTT’s 2019 first-round pick owned by COL)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning – 111 points
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 100 points
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 99 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Flames – 90 points
Sidney Crosby, Penguins – 90 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 42 goals
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 41 goals
John Tavares, Maple Leafs – 39 goals
Cam Atkinson, Blue Jackets – 38 goals
Alex DeBrincat, Blackhawks – 38 goals

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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.

Seguin, Benn become difference makers as Stars keep rolling

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Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn were certainly difference makers on Saturday.

One week after being the focal point of post-game criticism from their coach (which he later apologized for), the Stars’ top duo played a massive role in a come-from-behind 5-4 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday afternoon to continue the team’s recent surge up the Western Conference standings.

Trailing by two goals with 15 minutes to play, Blake Comeau started the rally with his second goal of the season and set the stage for Seguin and Benn to take over later in the game, turning what looked to be a sure loss into two more points in the standings.

Seguin scored the equalizer — his fifth goal of the season — with less than two minutes to play and then set up Benn for the winner just 1:14 into overtime.

“They’re stud players in this league and when they play like that, our team is going to be elite all the time,” Stars coach Jim Montgomery said after the game.

They were both outstanding on Saturday. Seguin finished with three points (one goal, two assists) and now has seven points in his past six games. This was also his second straight multi-point game.

Benn, meanwhile, desperately needed some kind of a break to go his way having entered the day with just a single goal on the season and riding what had been a 15-game goal-scoring drought.

Here is a look at his game-winning goal.

This year’s internal criticism of Seguin and Benn was a little more justified than it was around this time a year ago, but even with their early struggles you still had to believe things were going to turn around for them at some point. Even if their production has started to slide as they get older they are not yet totally washed up and still have the ability to be top line players and take over games like they did on Saturday.

The great news for the Stars is that after starting the season with a 1-7-1 record through nine games they are now on a 10-1-1 run over their past 12 games. And they are doing all of this lately without John Klingberg (their best defenseman) and Roope Hintz (still their leading goal-scorer this season). With the goaltending back on track, the depth players starting to produce (especially big free agent acquisition Joe Pavelski), and now a couple of big games from Seguin there is reason to believe in this team again.

More on the Stars

Seguin, Benn focal point of more internal criticism
Stars coach apologizes for criticism
Ben Bishop is back on track and so are the Stars

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.

Darcy Kuemper slams Matthew Tkachuk to ice, nearly sparks goalie fight (Video)

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You can add Arizona Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper to the lengthy list of players around the NHL that has snapped in the presence of Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk.

Late in the second period of the Coyotes’ 3-0 win on Saturday afternoon, Kuemper came to the defense of his teammate, defenseman Jason Demers, and slammed Tkachuk to the ice setting off a chaotic line brawl that nearly ended with a goalie fight.

It all started when Demers knocked Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau to the ice away from the play.

Gaudreau responded by skating up behind Demers and cross-checking him in the back, knocking him to the ice. While Demers was down on the ice, Gaudreau and Tkachuk each got in a little extra shot and it was at that point that Kuemper decided to enter the situation.

Once that happened, Flames goalie David Rittich stormed the length of the ice and tried to come to the defense of his teammate. The two goalies never actually fought, but they did both receive their share of penalties. Kuemper was assessed two roughing minors, while Rittich was given a two-minute penalty for leaving the crease to join an altercation.

Kuemper now has 20 penalty minutes since the start of the 2017-18 season which is by far the highest total of any goalie in the league. Rittich (now with 10) is the only other goalie with more than eight.

Tkachuk was also given four minutes for roughing, while Gaudreau received two minutes for cross-checking and Demers was assessed two for roughing.

You can see the entire sequence in the video above.

As for the actual game itself, it was a huge day for Kuemper as he stopped 38 shots to record the shutout and help the Coyotes improve to 12-7-2 on the season.

It is his second shutout of the season and improved his save percentage to an outstanding .937 in 14 appearances.

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.

 

Paul Bissonnette to get chance to back up lacrosse boast

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Paul Bissonnette will have a chance to back up his lacrosse boast.

Two days after tweeting that he could make a National Lacrosse League team without having ever played a game, the former NHL player signed a professional tryout Friday with the Vancouver Warriors.

”Bissonnette will be given every opportunity to make the Vancouver Warriors,” Warriors coach Chris Gill said. ”Paul talks a pretty big game. Let’s see if he can back it up and be a part of our team.”

The 34-year-old Bissonnette, now the radio color commentator for the Arizona Coyotes, played 202 NHL games with Pittsburgh and Arizona. He had seven goals, 15 assists and 340 penalty minutes in his six NHL seasons.

He’s gained notoriety more for his outspoken and often humorous tweets commenting on hockey and others sports.

Bissonnette will join the Warriors for their final week of training camp at Rogers Arena on Nov. 22 and 23.

The Buzzer: Bruins end slump; Blackwood baffles Penguins

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Three Stars

1. Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils

If the Devils are going to dig themselves out of the big hole they made to start 2019-20, it’s highly likely that Blackwood will be the goalie who helps them do it.

Lately, the 22-year-old has been rotating nice wins (.968 save percentage or higher in three victories) with tough losses (.889 or lower in three defeats). Friday represented one of the nicest wins yet, as he stopped 38 out of 39 of the Penguins’ shots to help the Devils steal a 2-1 decision.

Natural Stat Trick places the Penguins’ expected goals at 3.55, and their high-danger chances at 14 at all strengths, so Blackwood was the clear difference-maker in that narrow triumph.

2. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens

The Habs got revenge on the scoreboard after Alex Ovechkin landed that devastating hit on Jonathan Drouin, and Tatar was a big catalyst for that rally.

Yes, his goal was an empty-netter, but Tatar already had a top-three-worthy night when he piled up three assists. If you’d prefer his linemate Phillip Danault (1G, 2A, nothing on that ENG), that’s fine, too. Being boiling up some righteous indignation, the plus side of Drouin getting shaken up might be that Claude Julien went back to Tatar, Danault, and Brendan Gallagher as a line ever so briefly. Via Natural Stat Trick, they generated two five-on-five goals for in just 42 seconds of TOI together. Piping-hot take: maybe keep them with each other a little bit longer?

Overall, Tatar was an absurd possession beast on Friday, generating a ridiculous 80% Fenwick Four. By any measure, he was spectacular, and there’s a compelling case for Tatar being placed above Blackwood as the top star of the night.

3. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Attempting to defense the Bruins’ top line must be agonizing, as Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak just bring so many strengths to the table. It might be especially frustrating to try to contain Marchand, though.

Not only will he trash talk you (and back it up), but he’s also very smart and elusive, finding openings even when there’s just a bit of space to work with. Marchand played a big role in Boston ending its winning streak, and also extending Toronto’s torment, by scoring two goals, including the game-winner.

But, yeah, that troll game is also there.

Highlight of the Night

Zach Werenski had been off to a bit of a slow start scoring-wise for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, but the 22-year-old is gaining some serious steam lately. Werenski scored the overtime game-winner for Columbus on Friday, extending his goal streak to three games (three goals, one assist).

(Some might vote for the Ovechkin hit as the clip of the night, though.)

Factoids

  • Via NHL PR: Zdeno Chara became the fourth defenseman in NHL history aged 42 or older to generate a three-game point streak. Chris Chelios has done it twice, and holds the best run with a four-game tear. The other two (Doug Harvey, Tim Horton) make it quite the list.
  • Another aging defenseman stat from NHL PR: Shea Weber became the third active NHL defenseman to generate at least a five-game point streak at age 34 or older. Chara did it in 2011-12, while Mark Giordano has two streaks of seven games. Weber also scored his 209th goal, placing him 18th all-time among NHL defensemen, via Sportsnet.
  • Saucy one from Sportsnet: the Maple Leafs and Oilers have the same point percentage (.531) in 64 games since Jan. 1, and Edmonton actually has one more win (30 to 29).

Scores

BOS 4 – TOR 2
NJD 2 – PIT 1
MTL 5 – WSH 2
CBJ 3 – STL 2 (OT)
OTT 2 – PHI 1

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.