NHL Push for the Playoffs: Avalanche aim to thrive, Kings to survive

nhl push for playoffs
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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2021-22 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.

In the simplest of terms, you can separate NHL teams into three levels of urgency at this point in the season:

  • Teams building for the future, possibly tanking, and almost certainly thinking about golf/vacation.
  • Clear playoff teams that want to make a good thing better with home-ice advantage. Greedy ones may even just want to chase records, or to finish strong.
  • Those who are still battling for their “playoff lives.”

When you get a titan vs. a tanking team, it can be a little dreary. Meanwhile, those rooting against a team on the playoff bubble can really feel some angst watching that team face a squad that’s checked-out (or, you know, just flat-out bad).

Every now and then, you get the two broad flavors of possible playoff teams, though.

On Wednesday night, a rested Avalanche powerhouse team faces a more desperate Kings squad that took care of business against the Blackhawks on Tuesday.

[Check out where the Kings and Avs place in PHT’s Power Rankings]

With the Panthers absolutely on fire, the Avalanche are no longer alone in their chase for the Presidents’ Trophy. Colorado’s hot in its own right, having won six in a row. Considering that the Avalanche have dealt with injuries, they probably want to get as close to full speed as possible.

(Granted, those brushes with injuries also should remind them that you don’t necessarily need to throw punches after every whistle.)

No doubt, the Avalanche’s ambitions translate to “champagne problems” from the Kings’ perspective. Overall, the Kings are still very much in a battle for playoff survival, and can’t feel too comfortable with Drew Doughty done for the season.

Lately, there have been plenty of ups and downs. The absolute most recent trend is upward, with the Kings winning, the Oilers losing, and the Golden Knights dropping a crucial contest to the Canucks in OT.

Granted, for all the talk about the higher stakes for the Kings, there’s at least some room for higher ambitions. The gap between the Oilers and Kings isn’t that large, so there’s an outside chance Los Angeles may even gain home-ice advantage. That would be a step up from merely surviving.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY (sorted by points percentage)

ATLANTIC DIVISION
Panthers vs. Capitals
Maple Leafs vs. Lightning

METROPOLITAN DIVISION
Hurricanes vs. Bruins
Rangers vs. Penguins

CENTRAL DIVISION
Avalanche vs. Stars
Wild vs. Blues

PACIFIC DIVISION
Flames vs. Predators
Oilers vs. Kings

TODAY’S KEY GAMES

Kings vs. Avalanche, 9:30 p.m. ET

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Panthers – clinched
Maple Leafs – clinched
Lightning – 100%
Bruins – 100%
Red Wings – eliminated
Sabres – eliminated
Senators – eliminated
Canadiens – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Hurricanes – clinched
Rangers – clinched
Penguins – 100%
Capitals – 99.98%
Islanders – 0%
Blue Jackets – 0%
Flyers – eliminated
Devils – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Avalanche – clinched
Wild – 100%
Blues – 100%
Predators – 92.1%
Stars – 83.9%
Jets – 0.5%
Blackhawks – eliminated
Coyotes – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Flames – 100%
Oilers – 96.6%
Kings – 85.3%
Golden Knights – 35.9%
Canucks – 5.7%
Ducks – eliminated
Sharks – 0%
Kraken – eliminated

nhl push for playoffs
Getty Images

DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE (via Tankathon)

16.6% – Coyotes
12.1% – Canadiens
10.9% – Kraken
9.7% – Flyers
8.5% – Devils
7.6% – Blackhawks (*conditional)
6.7% – Senators
5.8% – Sabres
5.4% – Red Wings
4.5% – Sharks
3.1% – Ducks
2.7% – Blue Jackets
2.2% – Islanders
1.8% – Jets
1.4% – Canucks
1% – Golden Knights (*conditional)

ART ROSS TROPHY RACE

Connor McDavid, Oilers – 108 points
Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers – 105
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 102
Johnny Gaudreau, Flames – 101
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 99
Matthew Tkachuk, Flames – 92

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 58 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 51
Chris Kreider, Rangers – 50
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 46
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 42
Kyle Connor, Jets – 42
Kirill Kaprizov, Wild – 42

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

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    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.