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)

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

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

TODAY’S KEY GAMES
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

SATURDAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIO

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

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

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

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

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

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

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

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

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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DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE (via MoneyPuck)

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%

ART ROSS TROPHY RACE

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

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

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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