NHL Playoffs
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Metropolitan Division playoff race is going to leave one very good team out

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It is no secret that the Metropolitan Division has been the deepest, most competitive division in the NHL this season. Take a quick look at the league standings table entering play on Saturday and you see that six of the top-14 teams in the league in points percentage all reside in the Metro (Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, and Carolina Hurricanes). By comparison, only four of the top-14 teams are from the Atlantic, only three are from the Central, and only one is from the Pacific.

When you’re in the top half of the league standings into the second half you have to like your chances of making the playoffs. But given the NHL’s divisional playoff format (top-three teams from each division and two Wild Card teams) it is a given that at least one of those six Metro is going to miss the playoffs this season.

As things stand entering play this weekend the Capitals are in the best position with the league’s best record.

The Penguins (69 points in 51 games) and Islanders (64 in 50 games) are also in a strong spot.

That leaves the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, and Flyers all very much on the bubble.

The Hurricanes and Flyers entered play on Saturday just barely on the outside of the picture.

All of them have at least 61 points and are on pace for at least 98 this season.

In almost any other season that sort of start is a near-lock to result in a playoff spot. Since the start of the 2010-11 season there have been 87 teams teams had recorded at least 61 points through the first 51 games of the season (all six of the aforementioned Metro teams will be there). Only five of them ended up missing the playoffs (only 5 percent), and it was never more than one in any season.

It has created an environment in the Metropolitan where there is almost no margin for error at the moment as everyone keeps collecting points.

The Flyers gained a point in an overtime loss against the Penguins on Friday and are 5-2-2 in their past nine games, beating some of the NHL’s best during that stretch — and they still have not been able to climb into a playoff spot.

The Islanders and Blue Jackets (one of the league’s hottest teams for the past two months) each collected points on Saturday afternoon in their overtime losses to Vancouver and Buffalo respectively.

There are going to be a lot of X-factors the rest of the way that are going to determine how this shakes out, from a ton of head-to-head matchups between every team involved, to various injury situations. The Flyers need Carter Hart healthy and playing like he did in his rookie season. The Hurricanes are without their best defenseman. The Blue Jackets need to keep getting the type of goaltending they are from Elvis Merzlikins. The Islanders need to reverse their now two-plus month regression.

Right now, all six teams are good enough to be a playoff team and should expect to be there.

Only five of them can get in.

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.

Maple Leafs’ Muzzin out for rest of series vs. Blue Jackets

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There’s some good news for Jake Muzzin.

The defenseman has left a local Toronto hotel after leaving Game 2 on a stretcher following a collision late in the third period. Muzzin was cross-checked by Columbus forward Pierre-Luc Dubois and sent off-balance, causing his head to collide with Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s knee.

According to the Maple Leafs, Muzzin will miss the rest of the series and remain in quarantine until he’s ready to return.

“No question, seeing one of your teammates go down, especially a guy like ‘Muzz,’ you know the type of warrior he is.” said Maple Leafs captain John Tavares. “I think what he brings to our team is unmeasurable, obviously very tough. All signs are very positive being around him, and nice to close it out for him. But certainly tough to see, especially just how much we love that guy.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

When Muzzin is ready to return, the Toronto Hub Medical Director will decide quarantine/testing protocols before he’s allowed to practice and play again.

“He does a big part for this team, penalty kill, even strength against the best players against the other team,” said Mitch Marner said. “He really does mean a lot to us. So being beside when he did go down and stayed down, obviously it’s a little worrisome. And when you see the stretcher come out, a lot of things run through your mind. We’re all on his side and all praying for him. We just want to make sure that when he does come back he’s 100 percent, and there’s a lot bigger things than hockey.”

The series is tied 1-1 with Game 3 Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

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

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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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.

Aye Captains: Crosby, McDavid provide Penguins, Oilers spark

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TORONTO (AP) — The C’s have it: Crosby and Connor, that is.

It didn’t take long for the two captains – Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid – to make their presence felt three days into the NHL’s expanded playoffs.

With each of their teams facing 1-0 deficits, and both to their respective conference’s 12th- and last-seeded opponents no less, Crosby and McDavid provided much-needed sparks to even their best-of-five preliminary round elimination series, which resume Wednesday.

First, it was Crosby giving the Penguins a lift by beating Carey Price on a partial break to open the scoring in a 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens in Toronto on Monday night.

A few hours later in the league’s other playoff hub city, Edmonton, Alberta, McDavid put on an eye-popping display – even by his standards – with his first three-goal playoff performance in a 6-3 win over Chicago.

”I’ve seen it for years with Sidney Crosby. I mean, he dictates the work ethic and pace of the game. Last night Connor was the guy to do that for us,” Oilers coach Dave Tippett said Tuesday.

”Connor’s not a big ‘Rah-rah’ guy, but he inspires players by how he plays,” he added. ”And last night, he certainly led the way for us, and the rest of our team followed suit.”

In Sid, the Penguins trust, veteran defenseman Kris Letang said.

”When Sid is leading your team, you know you’re in good hands,” Letang said. ”If it was not the case, right now we would be in trouble.”

The Penguins and the Oilers aren’t out of trouble just yet, given how only 15 of 83 NHL teams which lost Game 1 of a best-of-five series have gone on to advance.

Both teams are back in prime-time, with the Penguins facing Montreal (8 p.m. EDT, NBCSN), and Edmonton facing Chicago (10:30, NBCSN), while breathing just a little easier.

”He comes out and he’s flying like that the first couple of shifts, you want to follow right along,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said of McDavid. ”We know he can do that at any given moment. And for him to do that in a huge game like last night, it raises your energy level.”

Islanders-Panthers stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Islanders-Panthers stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Islanders and Panthers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Islanders-Panthers Game 3 stream at 12 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Florida opened the scoring, and led 2-1 midway through Game 2, but the Islanders scored three unanswered goals to put the Panthers on the verge of elimination.

“If there’s a team that’s able to do so, I think it’s us,” said Panthers forward Mike Hoffman on the Panthers’ chances of a series comeback.

After a difficult regular season, Sergei Bobrovsky hasn’t been able to deliver a win for Florida this postseason. He struggled in the exhibition game, allowing five goals to Tampa, and has come out on the losing end in both games this series. In Games 1 and 2, the goals that really seemed to change the momentum (Anthony Beauvillier’s game-winning goal in Game 1, Ryan Pulock’s game-tying goal in Game 2) were both scored five-hole from distance.

The Isles have been stingy defensively in their first two postseasons under the direction of Barry Trotz. They’ve now played 10 playoff games with him as coach, and allowed just 22 goals.

WHAT: New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Wednesday, August 5, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Mike Tirico, Keith Jones, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Islanders-Panthers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI leads series 2-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

The Wraparound: Panthers keeping faith facing elimination

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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 nightly roundup of all the postseason action.

James Reimer‘s goaltending and Sebastian Aho’s highlight-reel goal helped the Hurricanes complete the sweep of the Rangers.

• Here are the updated round-robin standings and scenarios as of Wednesday.

Facing elimination, Joel Quenneville isn’t learning towards making a change in goal for Game 3 (12 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream). “Very likely,” he said after Tuesdays’ loss to the Islanders about going back to Sergei Bobrovsky.

Bob was their big summer acquisition, a $10 million a season investment. Their season is on the line Wednesday and they’re going to ride with him. Chris Driedger played well in only 12 regular season appearances, but he’s inexperienced. Quenneville has never been one to have much confidence in throwing young players into the fire.

Beyond the goals allowed, the goals for haven’t been helping. Florida has just two even strength goals in two games. There’s also the discipline problem as the Panthers have handed New York 12 power plays, allowing three extra man goals.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Florida isn’t looking past Game 3, knowing there’s plenty of work to be done.

“This is the best time of my life,” said captain Aleksander Barkov. “You get to play playoff games. Our whole team is here. We want to win. We want to play our best game. Obviously, our last two games are not our best. We can do a lot better. We’re going to do a lot better in the next game.

“If I’m disappointed in being here? No. This is a great chance for us. I’ve seen so many teams coming back from 3-0, 2-0, 3-1. It’s not over until …”

“The fat lady sings,” chimed in teammate Keith Yandle.

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 3: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in stream – (Series tied 1-1): A short memory is what Rick Tocchet is pounding home to his players. “We’ll move by this [loss to Nashville] in about two minutes,” he said after the Predators evened the series with a Game 2 win. Getting clean shots through on goal will be one of Arizona’s keys. They sent 26 Juuse Saros‘ way Tuesday, but Nashville blocked 21 shots.

Round-robin: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream: At the end of every round this postseason, teams will be re-seeded – so round robin standings are critical. If Boston loses, the Presidents’ Trophy winners would no longer have a shot at the first seed in the East. Tuukka Rask, who has been dealing with a fractured finger on his glove hand, is expected to start. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos did not take line rushes with the team on Tuesday and has been ruled out.

Round-robin: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live look-in stream: How do you top a buzzer beater? Colorado is going to try. As they look to try and claim the West’s top seed, the Avs take on a Dallas team eager to forget about Monday’s third-period collapse to Vegas. Jared Bednar has no named starting goalie, but Pavel Francouz is expected to play.

Game 3: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (Series tied 1-1): Sidney Crosby has two goals in this series, scoring in each of the first two games. With his goal in Game 2, Crosby tied Gordie Howe for 18th all-time with 68 playoff goals. The only active player with more postseason goals is Crosby’s teammate, Patrick Marleau. The goal also gave Crosby 188 career playoff points, tying Joe Sakic and Doug Gilmour for eighth-most in history.

Game 3: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (Series tied 1-1): Many expected this to be a high-scoring series, and it hasn’t disappointed. Nineteen goals have been scored through two games, with the winning team scoring six goals in each game. The big names on both teams have impressed, including Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who both have six points after consecutive three-point performances. Patrick Kane has three points in the series (1G-2A).

THURSDAY‘S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 3: Wild vs. Canucks, 2:30 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN
Round-robin: Flyers vs. Capitals, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Round-robin: Blues vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET – live look-in NBCSN
Game 3: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 4: Jets vs. Flames, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN

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

EAST
Lightning – 2 pts. (.657)
Flyers – 2 pts. (.645)
Capitals – 1 pts. (.652)
Bruins – 0 pts. (.714)

WEST
Avalanche – 2 pts. (.657)
Golden Knights – 2 pts. (.606)
Blues – 0 pts (.662)
Stars – 0 pts. (.594)

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Eastern Conference top seed round-robin preview
Penguins vs. Canadiens
Rangers vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Panthers
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Western Conference top seed round-robin preview
Jets vs. Flames
Oilers vs. Blackhawks
Predators vs. Coyotes
Wild vs. Canucks