Push for the Playoffs: Last head-to-head game huge for Predators, Stars

Push for the Playoffs: Last head-to-head game huge for Predators, Stars
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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.

Prepare for something that sounds like hyperbole, but is probably true. When the Predators and Stars face off on Saturday, they’ll square off in what will likely be the biggest regular season game remaining on the 2020-21 NHL schedule. It represents the final time the Predators and Stars will face each other in 2020-21.

While teams like the Blackhawks, Rangers, and Coyotes can cling to razor-thin playoff hopes, most of the top four playoff positions look set. Barring some truly unlikely situations, the Predators and Stars are almost certainly going to engage in the only do-or-die, head-to-head battle for a playoff spot. Everything else is gravy, as teams will shoot for seeding, or even the Presidents’ Trophy.

This is the last opportunity for the Stars and Predators to “control their own destiny” in the most direct way: against each other. Stars coach Rick Bowness even used the phrase “control our own destiny” in comments regarding Saturday’s crucial bout vs. the Predators.

“If they win, we’re still in it because of the game in hand, but then we need some help, and we don’t want to put ourselves in that position,” Bowness said on Friday. “Even though we lost [Thursday night], we still have a game in hand and we still have a game with them, so we still control our own destiny. We don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we have to rely on other teams to help us.”

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

As Bowness noted, and as you can see if you scroll, the Stars indeed have a game in hand (50 games played) over the Predators (51 GP). Meanwhile, the Predators sit two standings points (56 points, 27-22-2) ahead of the Stars (54 points, 21-17-12).

In particular, Saturday’s head-to-head game could be huge if the Predators or Stars win in regulation.

Following Saturday’s game against the Predators, the Stars face the Lightning twice, the Blackhawks twice, and the Panthers once. On the other hand, Nashville takes on the Blue Jackets twice, and then the Hurricanes twice.

Will one of the Stars or Predators benefit if teams like the Hurricanes, Lightning, and Panthers decide to rest players down the stretch? By May 9 and 10, the Blackhawks might not have much more motivation than the Blue Jackets.

With all of that in mind, it’s just easier to take care of business on Saturday — ideally in regulation.

(Although, considering how tortured Dallas has been by overtime losses for much of the 2020-21 NHL season, there might be something poetic to it coming down to 3-on-3 OT play, or a shootout.)

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY (matchups by total points)

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

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

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

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

Penguins vs. Capitals, 7 p.m. ET
Blues vs. Wild, 8 p.m. ET
Stars vs. Predators, 8 p.m. ET
Golden Knights vs. Coyotes, 10 p.m. ET


– The Islanders can clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Rangers in regulation.


Capitals – Clinched
Penguins – Clinched
Bruins – 99.8%
Islanders – 99.7%
Rangers – 0.5%
Flyers – eliminated
Devils – eliminated
Sabres – eliminated


Hurricanes – Clinched
Panthers – Clinched
Lightning – Clinched
Predators – 68.4%
Stars – 31%
Blackhawks – 0.6%
Red Wings – eliminated
Blue Jackets – eliminated


Maple Leafs – Clinched
Oilers – 100%
Jets – 98.4%
Canadiens – 86.3%
Flames – 14.6%
Canucks – 0.8%
Senators – 0%


Golden Knights – Clinched
Avalanche – Clinched
Wild – Clinched
Blues – 90.6%
Coyotes – 7.3%
Kings – 1.7%
Sharks – 0.4%
Ducks – eliminated

draft lottery
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Sabres – 18.2%
Ducks – 13.2%
Devils – 10.6%
Red Wings – 9%
Blue Jackets – 8.8%
Senators – 7.6%
Canucks – 6.1%
Sharks – 6%
Kings – 5.6%
Coyotes – 3.5%
Blackhawks – 3.3%
Flames – 2.4%
Flyers – 2.3%
Stars – 1.2%
Rangers – 1.1%


Connor McDavid, Oilers – 84 points
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 67
Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs – 62
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 61
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 61


Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 36 goals
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 28
Brad Marchand, Bruins – 27
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 27
Tyler Toffoli, Canadiens – 26

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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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

    Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.