Push for the Playoffs: Key battles for Central Division top four spots

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2020-21 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.

With the Panthers facing the Predators and the Hurricanes squaring off vs. the Stars, Monday features key Central Division matchups with plenty on the line. The difference is that one team in each match wants to thrive (Panthers, Hurricanes) while their opponents are desperate to survive (Predators, Stars).

The Stars and Predators look likely to be locked into a very tight battle for the final playoff spot in the Central Division. Players aren’t denying that they’re eyeing the scoreboards and standings, either.

“We don’t have a lot of time left, and we’re doing a bit of standings watching, but we know we’ve got to take care of business in our end,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said, via Field Level Media.

The Panthers won the last four consecutive games vs. the Predators, so Nashville indeed needs to “take care of business” in their end.

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

As you can watch on NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN livestream), the Hurricanes can clinch their playoff spot on Monday, depending upon how things go against a desperate Stars team.

When you’re nearing that clinch level this soon, it’s probably a matter of time. So, ultimately, the Hurricanes are most interested in building their lead for the Central Division title. Currently, Carolina holds a game in hand over Tampa Bay, and two more than Florida. With 68 standings points, the Hurricanes also hold a one-point advantage over the Panthers, and two more than the Lightning.

Overall, the Hurricanes are in a strong position — unless they can’t exploit those games in hand. The Stars have even more on the line, and both teams have been hot, so this should be a real test for both teams.

We could see some of the better moments of this Push for the Playoffs.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY (matchups by total points)

EAST DIVISION
1. Penguins vs. 4. Bruins
2. Capitals vs. 3 Islanders

NORTH DIVISION
1. Maple Leafs vs. 4. Canadiens
2. Jets vs. 3. Oilers

CENTRAL DIVISION
1. Hurricanes vs. 4. Predators
2. Panthers vs. 3 Lightning

(NOTE: Dallas currently holds a better points percentage than Nashville — .553 to .551.)

WEST DIVISION
1. Golden Knights vs. 4. Coyotes
2. Avalanche vs. 3. Wild

(NOTE: St. Louis currently holds a better points percentage than Arizona — .511 to .490.)

TODAY’S KEY GAMES
Canadiens vs. Flames, 6:30 p.m. ET
Avalanche vs. Blues, 7 p.m. ET
Hurricanes vs. Stars, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN livestream)
Panthers vs. Predators, 8 p.m. ET
Oilers vs. Jets, 9 p.m. ET
Coyotes vs. Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET

MONDAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS
• Carolina will clinch a playoff spot if they earn at least one point vs. Dallas or Florida beats Nashville.

• Florida will clinch a playoff spot if they beat Nashville or they earn at least one point vs. Nashville and Carolina tops Dallas in regulation.

• Tampa will clinch a playoff spot if Florida beats Nashville in regulation.

East Division standings update April 26

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Penguins – 99.99%
Capitals – 99.94%
Islanders – 97.4%
Bruins – 94.5%
Rangers – 7.5%
Flyers – 0.2%
Devils – eliminated
Sabres – eliminated

Push for the Playoffs: North Division standings April 25

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Maple Leafs – 100%
Jets – 99.7%
Oilers – 99.6%
Canadiens – 72.3%
Flames – 21.2%
Canucks – 7.2%
Senators – 0%

Central screen

Push for the Playoffs: Key battles for Central Division top four spots

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Hurricanes – 100%
Panthers – 100%
Lightning – 100%
Predators – 60.2%
Stars – 38.5%
Blackhawks – 1.3%
Red Wings – 0%
Blue Jackets – eliminated

Push for the Playoffs: West Division standings April 25

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Golden Knights – Clinched
Avalanche – Clinched
Wild – Clinched
Blues – 50.4%
Coyotes – 38.6%
Kings – 7.7%
Sharks – 3.3%
Ducks – 0%

draft lottery
Getty Images

DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE (via MoneyPuck)

Sabres – 17.2%
Ducks – 13.1%
Devils – 10.8%
Blue Jackets – 10.1%
Senators – 8.7%
Red Wings – 7.5%
Sharks – 6.3%
Kings – 5.6%
Canucks – 4.5%
Blackhawks – 3.2%
Coyotes – 2.6%
Flames – 2.5%
Flyers – 2.1%
Blues – 2%

ART ROSS TROPHY RACE
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 77 points
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 64
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 59
Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs – 59
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 58
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 58

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 34 goals
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 26
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 25
Brad Marchand, Bruins – 25
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 24
Tyler Toffoli, Canadiens – 24

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.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

    caufield surgery
    David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.