NHL Playoff picture after Monday: Blackhawks survive — barely

For the final week of the 2018-19 NHL regular season we will take an updated look at the Stanley Cup Playoff picture — what the standings look like, the potential matchups, who clinched, and set the stage for Tuesday’s biggest games.

The Maple Leafs locked down a spot, and a series with the Bruins. The Central races are still a puzzle. The Avalanche managed to grind out a point, keeping the West bubble situation interesting. It’s not the end of the line for the Blackhawks, but it is for the Oilers.

For some big numbers and highlights, check The Buzzer.

X – Clinched Playoff Spot, Y – Clinched Division, Z – Clinched Conference

Sunday’s East playoff clinchers

  • It felt like a foregone conclusion, but the Maple Leafs clinched a playoff spot for the third season in a row. With that, we know for sure what we suspected for a while: the Maple Leafs will engage in a rematch with the Bruins, who they faced in a series during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
  • Nothing else was clinched. The Capitals had a chance to clinch the Metropolitan Division title, but both Washington and the Islanders lost on Monday. The most heated East races in the longer ranks were all idle.

X – Clinched Playoff Spot, Y – Clinched Division, Z – Clinched Conference

Sunday’s West playoff clinchers

  • The Blackhawks avoided being mathematically eliminated. They’re at least technically alive … barely, but technically they are alive.
  • The Oilers, meanwhile, are officially eliminated.
  • The Central Division is very much up for grabs. The Jets (96 points in 79 GP) maintained their slight edge by winning, while the Blues have a chance to a) win the division or b) at least gain a round of home-ice advantage, as St. Louis (94 points in 79 games, 41 ROW) matches Nashville’s 94 points while having one more ROW (Predators also have played 79 games). Those race may indeed go down to the wire.

MONDAY’S SCORES
Panthers 5, Capitals 3
Devils 4, Rangers 2
Maple Leafs 2, Islanders 1
Lightning 5, Senators 2
Blues 3, Avalanche 2 (SO)
Jets 4, Blackhawks 3 (OT)
Golden Knights 3, Oilers 1
Flames 7, Kings 2

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

Flames vs. Avalanche
Jets vs. Stars
Sharks vs. Golden Knights — series matchup clinched
Predators vs. Blues

TUESDAY’S BIGGEST GAMES

Bruins at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN): The first of two games featuring a playoff team with its spot already confirmed (in this case, Boston), against the Blue Jackets, who are absolutely still fighting for both their position in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and, if things go especially well, their position in seeding. The Bruins seem especially wise to rest players, as they’ve been pretty banged up this season.

The Blue Jackets are currently on a five-game winning streak, so we’ll see if they can stay hot going into the postseason — you know, if they make it that far.

Hurricanes at Maple Leafs (7:30 p.m. ET): Here’s the second of those matchups, with Toronto possibly resting after clinching the postseason, while the Hurricanes want to strengthen their spot, both to stay in the top eight, and ideally to move back up. Toronto played on Monday, so there’s that much extra inspiration to let players rest. Maybe Auston Matthews makes extra sense, as he seemed to smart from blocking a shot during that win against the Islanders?

Lightning at Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET): As you can see, the Canadiens head into Tuesday two points behind Columbus for the first wild-card spot, and one behind Carolina for the second one. All three teams have played 79 games so far this season.

Like Carolina and Columbus, the Canadiens face an Atlantic team that already has things locked up. Tampa Bay played on Monday, but they’re also chasing lofty numbers, so who knows who will be rested? And, really, even if the Lightning rest players, the team is deep enough that they could give the Habs headaches.

Penguins at Red Wings (7:30 p.m. ET): The Pens are close to clinching a spot, even if they haven’t technically locked one up yet. Still, they’re trying to at least maintain the third spot in the Metro, with a chance to even move up and possibly grab the second seed after the Islanders lost on Monday.

They’re the only team with motivation, really, on Tuesday but the Red Wings are on a baffling but fairly impressive five-game winning streak, and the Red Wings might want to spoil things for a team they faced in consecutive championship rounds during better, not-that-long-ago times.

Jets at Wild (8 p.m. ET): If Minnesota has any chance to make the playoffs, they need to win this game. The Jets were pushed to overtime by another desperate team (the Blackhawks) on Monday, so they face a challenge in winning again on Tuesday. If they do, they’ll greatly improve their chances of maintaining their grip on the Central Division crown.

Flyers at Stars (8:30 p.m. ET): The Stars probably can’t take their feet off the pedal. They’re close to clinching, but not guaranteed a spot yet. While the other Central teams seem to be pulling away, they’re also not totally out of the running for, say, the third seed in the division.

Then again, they play such a grinding style (just a +6 goal differential) that maybe giving top players a breather would be wise. Maybe they’d even score some cool points with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn! Are they still horse … stuff, by the way? What’s the update, Jim Lites?

Oilers at Avalanche (9 p.m. ET): What’s seemed inevitable for a while ended up happening: the Oilers have officially fallen short of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both the Avalanche and Oilers played (and lost) on Monday, so while Colorado is tired, they don’t have a clear rest disadvantage.

The Avalanche have a slight edge on the team below, but they can’t afford to let up. As much as the Oilers are a mess right now, Colorado hasn’t exactly been winning easily, and Edmonton touts one of the few players better than Nathan MacKinnon in Connor McDavid. So this could be tough for the Avalanche, at least if the Oilers aren’t totally checked out.

Kings at Coyotes (10 p.m. ET): The Kings have been out of it for a while, and have often looked terrible. Maybe a 7-2 humiliation from the Flames on Monday will make the Kings motivated and angry, for pride reasons, on Tuesday?

The Coyotes are two points behind the Avalanche, with each teams having three games to go. If they want to overcome Colorado, the Coyotes very well might need to win out. Like the Avs, Arizona’s had to grind for their wins more often than not lately, but at least the Coyotes have a rest advantage that the Avs lack.

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.

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

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It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

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.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

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The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

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.

Laila Anderson, bone marrow donor attend Blues game

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If it got a “little dusty” at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Saturday, that’s understandable, because the continued story of Laila Anderson meeting Kenton Felmlee, her bone marrow donor, is sure to make most get a case of heightened allergies.

(Is that a leak from the ceiling? /Sobs)

Anyway, Felmlee was Anderson’s guest during Saturday’s Toronto Maple Leafs – St. Louis Blues game, giving the two another chance to bond, and beyond that, for Anderson to thank Felmlee for helping her in her battle with the rare immune disease HLH.

It’s great stuff, even if the actual Blues game isn’t going so great for St. Louis.

This longer clip from their first meeting earlier this week is worth watching, unless you don’t want people to see you openly weeping’n’stuff:

(Personally, I’d say it’s worth it.)

MORE ON LAILA ANDERSON AND THE BLUES:

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.

Canucks’ Miller scored an awesome water bottle breaker in OT

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Over time, you can become jaded as a sports (and specifically hockey) fan.

Stories about abusive coaches, lockouts, fans booing players for simply no longer being on their teams — it can sap some of the joy of the game.

Thankfully, we have highlights, and I can’t think of many simpler joys than someone scoring a goal and absolutely obliterating the goalie’s water bottle in the process. (As long as no one gets too dehydrated in the making of such films.)

Vancouver Canucks winger J.T. Miller did it one better on Saturday: he scored an important goal that way. Miller presented the ultra-rare OTBBGWG (overtime bottle-breaking game-winning goal) as the Canucks beat the Buffalo Sabres 6-5 in OT.

Bask in the glory of that goal in the video above this post’s headline. Here’s a fun alternate angle:

By the way, Miller continues to be a deadly offensive weapon for the Canucks. This one-goal, one-assist output extended his current point streak to an impressive eight games (5G, 6A for 11 points). Overall, Miller has 31 points in 30 games during his first season in Vancouver.

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.