Push for the Playoffs: Predators look to clinch; Will Hurricanes rest stars?

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.

Even a few days ago, it seemed like the Predators would have a lot on the line on Saturday, while the Hurricanes would maybe at least need to clinch the Central Division title. Instead, we’ll see a truly profound difference in desperation.

Despite being idle on Friday, the Stars’ regulation win vs. the Lightning clinched the Central Division title for the Hurricanes. Now, they merely need to wait and see if they’ll face the Predators or Stars in Round 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, depending upon how that do-or-die battle ends.

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Ultimately, the Hurricanes could play a central role in determining if it’s the Predators or Stars who finish with that final Central Division playoff spot.

The Predators finish their season with two games against the Hurricanes: one on Saturday, then another on Monday. If Nashville takes care of business early, that first one will be the only one that truly matters. It’s straightforward: if the Predators beat the Hurricanes on Saturday, then they’ll clinch a playoff spot, and the Stars would be eliminated.

Anything less than a win, and things get a little more complicated.

Speaking of complicated, the Hurricanes must gauge how much they want to put into one or both of these regular-season games vs. the Predators. After all, they could open the door for a lot of hockey vs. Nashville:

It wouldn’t be sporting of the Hurricanes to just roll over against the Predators, even if they might prefer them over a Round 1 series vs. the Stars. But the Hurricanes’ spot is set, and they’re a forward-thinking franchise. So, getting some rest would be wise. Whether that means sitting top stars, or merely managing their minutes, it’s the sort of luxury you can enjoy when you’ve clinched the No. 1 seed in your bracket.

Frankly, even a diluted version of the Hurricanes wouldn’t necessarily be an easy out for the Predators. So, this should be a fascinating watch for hockey fans — particularly some nervous Predators and Stars fans.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY (matchups by total points)

EAST DIVISION
1. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 4. New York Islanders
2. Washington Capitals vs. 3. Boston Bruins

CENTRAL DIVISION
1. Carolina Hurricanes vs. 4. Nashville Predators
2. Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 3. Florida Panthers — series official, seeding to be determined

NORTH DIVISION
1. Toronto Maple Leafs vs. 4. Montreal Canadiens
2. Edmonton Oilers vs. 3. Winnipeg Jets

WEST DIVISION
1. Vegas Golden Knights vs. 4. St. Louis Blues
2. Colorado Avalanche vs. 3. Minnesota Wild

SATURDAY’S KEY GAMES
Rangers vs. Bruins, 3 p.m. ET (NBC; livestream)
Hurricanes vs. Predators, 8 p.m. ET

SATURDAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS

• If the Predators win vs. the Hurricanes, they will clinch the final playoff spot in the Central Division.

• The Montreal Canadiens clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Toronto Maple Leafs and an Edmonton Oilers win over the Vancouver Canucks OR if they get one point against Toronto and Edmonton beats Vancouver in regulation.

• The Toronto Maple Leafs clinch the North Division if they get at least one point against Montreal or if Vancouver beats Edmonton.

• The Pittsburgh Penguins will clinch the East Division if they beat the Buffalo, and if the Washington Capitals lose to the Philadelphia Flyers, or if the Capitals beat the Flyers in overtime or a shootout. They can also win if the get at least one point against Buffalo and Washington loses to Philadelphia in regulation and the New York Rangers defeat the Boston Bruins.

• The Washington Capitals will clinch the East Division if they beat the Flyers in regulation and the Penguins lose to the Sabres in regulation and the Bruins lose to the Rangers in regulation.

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Capitals – Clinched
Penguins – Clinched
Islanders – Clinched
Bruins – Clinched
Rangers – eliminated
Flyers – eliminated
Devils – eliminated
Sabres – eliminated

Push for the Playoffs: Predators can clinch playoff spot; Will Central champ Hurricanes rest stars? May 8

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Hurricanes – Clinched division title
Panthers – Clinched
Lightning – Clinched
Predators – 91.3%
Stars – 8.8%
Blackhawks – eliminated
Red Wings – eliminated
Blue Jackets – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Maple Leafs – Clinched
Oilers – Clinched
Jets – Clinched
Canadiens – 99%
Flames – 1%
Canucks – 0%
Senators – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Golden Knights – Clinched
Avalanche – Clinched
Wild – Clinched
Blues – Clinched
Kings – eliminated
Coyotes – eliminated
Sharks – eliminated
Ducks – eliminated

draft lottery
Getty Images

DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE (via MoneyPuck)

Sabres – 18.5%
Ducks – 13.5%
Devils – 9.9%
Blue Jackets – 9.4%
Red Wings – 8.8%
Canucks – 7.3%
Senators – 6.4%
Sharks – 6.4%
Kings – 5.1%
Coyotes – 3.6%
Blackhawks – 3.3%
Flames – 3.1%
Flyers – 1.8%
Rangers – 1.5%
Stars – 1.1%

ART ROSS TROPHY RACE

Connor McDavid, Oilers – 96 points
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 77
Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs – 66
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 65
Brad Marchand, Bruins – 65

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 40 goals
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 31
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 30
Alex DeBrincat, Blackhawks – 29
Tyler Toffoli, Canadiens – 28
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 28

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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