Push for the Playoffs: Blue Jackets need results

NHL Playoffs
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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2019-20 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.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dropped another key game in the Stanley Cup Playoff race on Saturday night by losing a 4-1 decision to the Edmonton Oilers.

It certainly was not for a lack of effort or chances.

They peppered Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen with 47 shots on goal, but were unable to beat him until late in the third period when the result was all but decided. With that loss they have just two wins in their past 14 games over the past month, and are barely clinging to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The past month — and this entire season — has been a tale of bad luck in Columbus.

The injury situation has been a never-ending run of madness and robbed them of some of their best players for significant stretches. Even with that, they have done an admirable job hanging in the race. Overall, their process has not been terrible despite the lack of results. They are on the positive side of the numbers when it comes to the possession game and scoring chances, and they have been in pretty much every game with a chance to win on most nights. Six of their 12 losses during this most stretch have come in overtime or a shootout (1-6 in games beyond regulation during that stretch).

As frustrating as it might be, there are a lot of positives to take from that. But that’s not going to be enough. They need wins, and they need them now.

Even though the Blue Jackets enter Sunday occupying a playoff spot, their current points pace and the number of games they have remaining (only 13; every team in competition with them has at least 15 games remaining) leaves their current playoff probability under 30 percent.

Assuming it takes at least 96 points to secure a playoff spot in the East, Columbus would need to go at least 8-4-1 in its remaining games to reach it. Only five of their remaining games are at home, and each of their next six games overall are against Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Boston, Washington, and Toronto. That is a brutal stretch they have to get through.

It all has to start tonight in Vancouver against the Canucks.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Bruins vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Islanders
Flyers vs. Penguins
Lightning vs. Maple Leafs

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Blues vs. Predators
Oilers vs. Canucks
Avalanche vs. Stars
Golden Knights vs. Flames

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS 

Penguins vs. Hurricanes, 1:30 p.m. ET
Lightning vs. Red Wings, 5 p.m. ET
Golden Knights vs. Flames, 7 p.m. ET
Blues vs. Blackhawks, 7:30 p.m. ET
Wild vs. Ducks, 9 p.m. ET
Blue Jackets vs. Canucks, 10 p.m. ET
Avalanche vs. Sharks, 10 p.m. ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

Boston Bruins — 100 percent
Tampa Bay Lighting — 100 percent
Washington Capitals — 100 percent
Philadelphia Flyers — 100 percent
Pittsburgh Penguins — 97 percent
Toronto Maple Leafs — 75.3 percent
Carolina Hurricanes — 70.4 percent
New York Islanders — 65.2 percent
Florida Panthers — 38.7 percent
Columbus Blue Jackets — 28.3 percent
New York Rangers — 23.9 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 1.2percent
Buffalo Sabres — Out
Ottawa Senators — Out
New Jersey Devils — Out
Detroit Red Wings — Out

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

St. Louis Blues – 100 percent
Colorado Avalanche – 99.9 percent
Dallas Stars – 97.9 percent
Edmonton Oilers: 96.9 percent
Vegas Golden Knights – 93.7 percent
Calgary Flames – 77.3 percent
Vancouver Canucks – 76.0 percent
Nashville Predators — 46.4 percent
Winnipeg Jets – 40.4 percent
Minnesota Wild — 40.2 percent
Arizona Coyotes – 26.0 percent
Chicago Blackhawks 5.3 percent
Ducks – Out
Sharks – Out
Kings – Out

THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE

Detroit Red Wings — 18.5 percent
Los Angeles Kings — 13.5 percent
Ottawa Senators — 11.5 percent
Ottawa Senators* — 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 8.5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 7.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — 6.5 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 6 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 5 percent
New Jersey Devils** — 3.5 percent
Minnesota Wild — 3 percent
Winnipeg Jets — 2.5 percent
Florida Panthers — 2 percent
New York Rangers 1.5 percent
Carolina Hurricanes — 1 percent

(* SJ’s 2020 first-round pick owned by OTT)
(** ARZ’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick owned by NJ. If top three, moves to 2021)

ART ROSS RACE

Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 110 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 96 points
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins — 94 points
Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers — 93 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche — 90 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins — 48 goals
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 47 goals
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs — 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 43 goals
Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers — 39 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.

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    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

    Kris Letang Penguins
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

    UP NEXT

    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.

    Deal for Coyotes’ proposed arena approved by Tempe council

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
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    TEMPE, Ariz. — The Tempe City Council has unanimously approved a proposal for a new Arizona Coyotes arena and entertainment district, clearing the way for a public vote on the project next year.

    The City Council approved the proposal 7-0 after a lengthy meeting that included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

    The $2.1 billion project would include a 16,000-seat arena, practice rink, 1,600 apartments, two hotels and a theater. Approval of the project was the final step before it goes to referendum on May 16.

    The team is currently playing at Arizona State’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena, by far the NHL’s smallest arena.

    The Coyotes have been searching for a permanent home since the city of Glendale pulled out of a multimillion-dollar lease at Gila River Arena. Arizona had been playing on an annual lease until Glendale said it would not be renewed for the 2022-23 season.