Push for the Playoffs: Key East, Central Division matchups on Tuesday

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.

Tuesday might end relatively early for NHL action, but it’s jam-packed with games. If you’re a fan of teams in the East and/or Central Divisions, you might want to keep an eye on a scoreboard (or take advantage of picture-in-picture/multiple screens).

In the case of the Central Division, you’re seeing a mix of playoff positioning and also do-or-die stakes. Tuesday basically presents a sequel of Monday’s action. In one game, you have the Stars fighting for their playoff lives, while the Hurricanes hope to pad their lead for the Central Division title. In another, the Predators try to hold off the Stars, and the Panthers aim for that Central Division title. (The Lightning are also in action, and absolutely have a chance to stay in the Central Division title race.)

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

At the other end of the aisle, you have the top four East Division teams squaring off. (Frankly, the Predators and Stars might view their squabbles as “champagne problems.”)

The Capitals hope to move back up to the top spot in the East Division, and massively reduce the Islanders’ chances of a surge. That game airs on NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET. Being that the Bruins have only played in 47 games, that 60-point team could make up ground on the Penguins (67 points in 49 games played), Capitals (66 in 48 GP), and Islanders (63 in 48 GP). No doubt, the Bruins would need some luck to make a leap instead of a smaller hike up the East Division’s top four, but taking care of the Penguins — in regulation — would be a substantial step.

If you need a little activity to kill some time, ask yourself: which of the top four East Division teams would you most and least want to play against in Round 1? Not an easy call, right?

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. Oilers vs. 3. Jets

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

(NOTE: Dallas currently holds a better points percentage than Nashville — .563 to .560.)

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

TODAY’S KEY GAMES
Bruins vs. Penguins, 7 p.m. ET
Islanders vs. Capitals, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN livestream)
Lightning vs. Blackhawks, 8 p.m. ET
Panthers vs. Predators, 8 p.m. ET
Hurricanes vs. Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET

TUESDAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS
• Florida will clinch a playoff berth if they beat Nashville or they earn one point AND Carolina beats Dallas.

• Tampa Bay will clinch a playoff berth if they beat Chicago or Florida beats Nashville in regulation or they earn at least one point AND Florida beats Nashville or Carolina tops Dallas in regulation.

• Pittsburgh will clinch a playoff berth if they beat Boston AND Buffalo beats the New York Rangers in regulation.

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Penguins – 100%
Capitals – 99.91%
Islanders – 97.8%
Bruins – 94.6%
Rangers – 7.5%
Flyers – 0.2%
Devils – eliminated
Sabres – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Maple Leafs – 100%
Oilers – 99.95%
Jets – 99.6%
Canadiens – 89.7%
Flames – 8.2%
Canucks – 2.5%
Senators – 0%

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Hurricanes – Clinched
Panthers – 100%
Lightning – 100%
Predators – 61.7%
Stars – 37.5%
Blackhawks – 0.8%
Red Wings – eliminated
Blue Jackets – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Golden Knights – Clinched
Avalanche – Clinched
Wild – Clinched
Blues – 68.9%
Coyotes – 20.3%
Kings – 7.3%
Sharks – 3.6%
Ducks – 0%

draft lottery
Getty Images

DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE (via MoneyPuck)

Sabres – 17%
Ducks – 13.9%
Devils – 10.9%
Blue Jackets – 9.9%
Senators – 8.1%
Red Wings – 7.7%
Sharks – 5.7%
Kings – 5.3%
Canucks – 5.3%
Coyotes – 3.5%
Blackhawks – 3.1%
Flames – 3.1%
Flyers – 2.1%
Blues – 1.2%

ART ROSS TROPHY RACE
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 81 points
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 66
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 60
Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs – 59
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 58
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 58

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 34 goals
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 28
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 26
Brad Marchand, Bruins – 25
Tyler Toffoli, Canadiens – 25
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 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.

Scroll Down For:

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

    austonmatthews
    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    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
    0 Comments

    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

    matty beniers
    Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    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.

    Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

    Andrei Kuzmenko
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

    The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

    The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

    Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

    His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

    Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

    He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

    He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

    A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

    Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.