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Push for the Playoffs: Wild getting close to must-win territory

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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.

In Bruce Boudreau’s first 11 seasons as an NHL head coach he missed the playoffs just one time, the 2011-12 season that he split between the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks (he was fired mid-season by the Capitals, then hired one week later by the Ducks).

Every year in which he has coached a full season behind a team’s bench, he has not only made the playoffs, but has also won eight division titles. His teams win. His teams make the playoffs.

If his Minnesota Wild do not once again start stacking some wins together over their remaining 11 games, he is danger of missing the playoffs for what would be his first time in a full-season as a coach.

Saturday could end up playing a decisive role in whether or not that happens.

The Wild, losers of three in a row and five of their past six, will be home to take on the New York Rangers in what is as close to a must-win game as you can get at this point in the season. They enter the day three points back of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, trailing a surging Arizona Coyotes team that gets to play at home against the Edmonton Oilers.

When you look at the remaining schedules for the two teams it is pretty clear that the Coyotes have an easier path down the stretch. Only four of Arizona’s remaining games come against likely playoff teams, while the Wild have to play nine such teams in their remaining 11 games, including one head-to-head matchup with the Coyotes.

So Saturday is probably a pretty big deal for the Wild given that they are playing a struggling Rangers team that just played the night before (and got crushed in the process) and have a pretty daunting schedule still ahead of then.

First, that matchup alone is a situation where the Wild have to come away with two points. Anything less than that would be a huge disappointment given the circumstances of where the Rangers are, where the Wild are, what they have in front of them, and everything that is at stake.

You simply can not drop this game if you are Minnesota.

A Wild win, combined with a Coyotes regulation loss, would bring Minnesota back to within a single point of that playoff spot and totally change the outlook for the final 10 games. Suddenly, you are right back in it.

But a loss, combined with a Coyotes win, would push them to five points out, and might be enough to crush their remaining playoff chances that are already looking slim.

It is also another huge day in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race as Columbus, Carolina, and Montreal are all back in action. After shutting out the Hurricanes on Friday night, the Blue Jackets visit the Boston Bruins, for what is the second of three games against them in a two-week span, while Carolina gets to what has been a dreadful Buffalo Sabres team. The Canadiens, who sit two points back of both the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets, are playing host to a Blackhawks team that enters the game having won four in a row.

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

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

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Blues vs. Penguins (1 p.m. ET)
Islanders vs. Red Wings (1 p.m. ET)
Flames vs. Jets (7 p.m. ET)
Blue Jackets vs. Bruins (7 p.m. ET)
Blackhawks vs. Canadiens (7 p.m. ET)
Maple Leafs vs. Senators (7 p.m. ET)
Capitals vs. Lightning (7 p.m. ET)
Sabres vs. Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET)
Rangers vs. Wild (8 p.m. ET)
Oilers vs. Coyotes (10 p.m. ET)
Predators vs. Sharks (10:30 p.m. ET)

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS
EASTERN CONFERENCE

The Lightning will clinch the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference:

• If they defeat the Capitals in any fashion and the Bruins lose in regulation to the Blue Jackets.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

The Flames will clinch a playoff berth:

• If they get at least one point against the Jets.

OR

• If the Wild lose to the Rangers.

The Sharks will clinch a playoff berth:

• If they defeat the Predators in any fashion

OR

• If they get one point against Nashville and Minnesota loses to New York in any fashion.

OR

• If Minnesota loses to New York in regulation and the Blackhawks lose in any fashion to the Canadiens.

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey-Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Maple Leafs — 100 percent
Bruins — 99.9 percent
Capitals — 99.7 percent
Islanders — 99.4 percent
Penguins — 97.9 percent
Hurricanes — 86.4 percent
Blue Jackets — 76.1 percent
Canadiens — 36.8 percent
Flyers — 2.5 percent
Panthers — 1.3 percent
Sabres — Out
Rangers — Out
Devils — Out
Red Wings — Out
Senators — Out

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey-Reference)
Jets — 100 percent
Flames — 100 percent
Sharks — 100 percent
Predators — 99.7 percent
Golden Knights — 99.4 percent
Blues — 96.1 percent
Stars — 91. 4 percent
Coyotes — 68.6 percent
Wild — 22.3 percent
Avalanche — 10.8 percent
Blackhawks — 9.3 percent
Oilers — 2.3 percent
Canucks — 0.1 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Out

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
Sabres — 6 percent
Oilers — 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Avalanche — 3 percent
Wild — 2.5 percent
Panthers — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Canadiens — 1 percent
(*Senators pick belongs to the Colorado Avalanche)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lighting — 115 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 100 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 99 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 92 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames — 91 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 42 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 39 goals
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets — 38 goals

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.

Trade: Penguins send Olli Maatta to Blackhawks for Dominik Kahun and draft pick

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Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford made it clear that changes were coming to his team this offseason.

On Saturday evening he made his first one.

The Penguins announced that they have traded defender Olli Maatta to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for forward Dominik Kahun and a 2019 fifth-round draft pick that originally belonged to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It is a trade that accomplishes quite a bit for both teams.

First, from the Pittsburgh side, it clears up a log-jam the team had on its blue line with as many as eight NHL defenders either under contract or under team control (Marcus Pettersson is a restricted free agent) for this season. That alone made it seem likely that someone was going to be on the move, and especially after the team’s defensive play regressed again this past season and had a particularly brutal playoff run against the New York Islanders. By trading Maatta, it not only clears a roster spot but also sheds more than $3 million in salary cap space given that Kahun is still on an entry-level contract and counts only $925,000 against the cap for the 2019-20 season.

It also gives them some much-needed youth at forward.

Even after Maatta’s departure the Penguins still have a lot of questions to deal with on defense, where Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson are still taking up more than $7 million in salary cap space over the next few seasons (not ideal!), while Justin Schultz is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Will more players be on the move to address that position? Or does this just make it more likely the returning players take on bigger roles and are more set in the lineup? Based on what we have seen the past few seasons more changes are going to be needed.

The 23-year-old Kahun scored 13 goals and added 24 assists for the Blackhawks in 82 games this past season, his first full year in the NHL.

The addition of the draft pick also gives the Penguins six picks in this year’s draft: A first, a fourth, two fifths, and two sevenths.

As for Chicago, Maatta joins a defense that has needed an overhaul for a few years now and provides a fresher, younger face in the lineup. Even though Maatta has six years of NHL experience under his belt he will still only be 25 years old when the 2019-20 season begins. His career has gone through some extreme ups and downs. When he made his debut during the 2013-14 season he looked like a player that had legitimate top-pairing potential in the NHL could be on his way to becoming a cornerstone player in Pittsburgh. But in the years that followed he had to overcome cancer and an extensive list of injuries that sidetracked his career and led to some pretty significant regressions across the board. Injuries have still been an issue before him in recent seasons, but he seems to have understood his limitations and adjusted to the sort of game he has to play to make a positive impact.

He is not going to bring much speed to the Blackhawks’ blue line, and he tends to play a more conservative game when it comes to defending entries at the blue line, but he is a sound player in his own end and while he lacks top-end speed, is still very good with the puck on his stick. When he is at his best, he plays a clean, quiet game that will not get noticed (and there is nothing wrong with that; not everyone is going to be Erik Karlsson).

The problem is he is still prone to getting beat by faster forwards and when it happens it can at times look bad, which then leads to criticism.

He appeared in 60 games for the Penguins in 2018-19, scoring one goal and 14 total points. He averages around five goals and 25 total points over 82 games.

He has three years remaining on a contract that carries a salary cap hit of just over $4 million per season. He alone is not going to fix all of the Blackhawks’ shortcomings on defense, but he is not a bad addition, either.

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.

Blues parade Stanley Cup down streets of downtown St. Louis

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Rain or shine, as they say. And the rain wasn’t going to put a damper on this parade.

And while the wet stuff poured down prior to the parade proper in St. Louis on Saturday, it let up as to allow quite the sight, one a half-century in the making.

St. Louis fans lined Market Street just days after their Blues hoisted their first Cup in franchise history after defeating the Boston Bruins 4-1 in the Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The parade route began at the intersection of 18th and Market, went down past Enterprise Center — the home of the Blues — and ended at Broadway and Market, a couple blocks from the famed Gateway Arch along the Mississippi River.

The celebrations continued as players, coaches and alumni led a ceremony under the Arch.

“This is incredible,” Craig Berube said. “I knew that there was going to be a lot of support out here today. People are excited and happy and deserving because they love the game of hockey here. The fans are unbelievable. And they finally got a championship.

Brayden Schenn called it the best day of his life. Schenn wore a firefighter hat, honoring his father who is one and was on the back of one of the fire truck floats.

Rookie sensation Jordan Binnington called the moment surreal, and hardly looked nervous as he let loose and soaked the whole experience in.

Ryan O'Reilly, meanwhile, grabbed the Cup and took it down the street near the thousands of fans lined up, allowing those close enough to touch it as he went by.

Former Blues great Brett Hull, who has two Stanley Cup wins to his name, but never with St. Louis, labelled Saturday as the greatest day in the history of the city.

Hull was one of the first people on stage. Not sober, Hull wanted to change the chant from, ‘Let’s go Blues’ to ‘We went Blues’.

“We don’t have to say, ‘Let’s go’ anymore because we already did it,” Hull said.

Of course, the Blues parade wouldn’t be complete without Laila Anderson, a part of the team’s inspiration during their run to the Cup.

Anderson was surprised with Game 7 tickets and got to watch the Blues hoist Lord Stanley. She told Fox Sports Midwest that she thought her mom was pulling a prank on her when she said she was getting to go and be part of the championship parade.

“I’m just glad I could help them,” she said. ” I don’t know what I do but I’m just glad the whole city supports me so much.

Yesterday, the Blues took the Cup to OB. Clark’s, a neighbourhood sports bar and restaurant.


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

Kings buy out Dion Phaneuf

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Dion Phaneuf‘s time with the Los Angeles Kings has come to an end.

The team announced that they were buying out the 34-year-old’s contract on Saturday afternoon, the first day of the buyout window that lasts until June 30.

[RELATED: Buyout Frenzy: Five candidates to have contracts nixed from the books]

Phaneuf’s name had been circulating in buyout discussions for a while, so it’s hardly surprising that the Kings have elected to do so.

Phaneuf is a shade of the player he used to be and is on the back nine of his career. He’s got two years remaining on a deal and the Kings will save $2,833 million over the course of the buyout, including shedding over $4 million of cap space next year.

Phaneuf’s cap hit over four years will $8.375 million, with the Ottawa Senators retaining 25 percent or $2.791 million per the transaction the two teams made in 2018.

Trading Phaneuf was never likely. He had six points in 67 games last year and the Kings, who were dreadful, healthy-scratched Phaneuf down the stretch.

The Kings acquired Phaneuf prior to the trade deadline in 2018. He’d appear in 93 games over the past two seasons, recording 16 points.

Phaneuf, a first-round pick in 2003, played his 1,000th game during this past season. He’s six points shy of 500 for his NHL career.

The Kings have 10 picks in the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft, including the 5th overall selection in the first round.

MORE: Flyers waive MacDonald, set to buy him out


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

Flyers waive MacDonald, set to buy him out

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Well, that didn’t take long.

The Philadelphia Flyers put defenseman Andrew MacDonald on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying him out, according to the club on Saturday. The Flyers can buy MacDonald out on Sunday after he clears waivers.

Today marks the opening of the buyout window where teams can shed bad contracts (for the most part) and save a little money when it comes to the salary cap. MacDonald’s name was written on the wall on Friday, however, after the Flyers and Washington Capitals swapped Radko Gudas for Matt Niskanen, a defenseman.

[RELATED: Buyout Frenzy: Five candidates to have contracts nixed from the books]

MacDonald had a year remaining on his six-year-, $30 million contract he signed prior to the 2014-15 season. The Flyers will save $3.833 million next year, reducing the cap hit from $5 million to just $1.66 million.

“It was a difficult decision,” Flyers GM Cliff Fletcher said. “It was solely cap related…This guys is a constant professional. He did whatever we asked him to do…He’s just a quality person & a guy who played an effective two-way game for our team.”

MacDonald’s play has tanked in recent times and his minutes followed. He had no goals and nine assists last year in 47 games where he averaged around 16 minutes a night, six less than when he was acquired by the Flyers in 2014 from the New York Islanders.

A shortened season became commonplace for MacDonald, often through injury as well as being healthy scratched. He’s never played a full 82-game schedule in his 10-year NHL career.

MacDonald’s buyout is the first foot to fall.

There are several more candidates who could follow the same path over the next two weeks.


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