NHL Push for the Playoffs: Wild might have league’s best goalie tandem

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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.

It is time to start paying attention to the Minnesota Wild as a major contender in the Western Conference. And if you already were, congratulations you are ahead of the game.

The Wild have been one of the best teams in the league in recent weeks and are in a fight with the St. Louis Blues for home ice advantage in the First Round. No matter where that series starts it is going to be an awesome matchup between two of the NHL’s more exciting teams.

Minnesota took a huge step forward a year ago with the arrival of Kirill Kaprizov, immediately transforming the team into a high-powered, must-see team. He and Mats Zuccarello have become one of the best top line duos in the league and still are this season. Add in the development of Matt Boldy and Kevin Fiala and the Wild have two dominant scoring lines to go with a rock solid defense.

They also have an outstanding goalie duo thanks to the trade deadline acquisition of Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury and Cam Talbot give the Wild two legitimate starting goalie options and could be the final puzzle piece this team needs this season to potentially make a meaningful playoff run.

Fleury has looked rejuvenated since joining the Wild and getting away from the mess that was the Chicago Blackhawks and both goalies seem to be thriving on the internal competition for playing time. It remains to be seen which goalie will emerge as the primary start in the playoffs (smart money is on Fleury given his track record and experience) but having two capable goalies is a very big advantage. It not only gives you a Plan B and a safety net in case of an injury, but it also creates the flexibility to keep goalies fresh and give you multiple options.

Since the NHL trade deadline Talbot is 6-0-3 in his nine starts with a .927 save percentage and two shutouts. Fleury is 6-1-0 with a .922 save percentage. For the season both goalies are over .910 in all situations and playing their best hockey of the season right now. You can win with that level of goaltending. Especially when the rest of the team is so solid from top to bottom.

The Wild’s long-term outlook is a little cloudy given the upcoming salary cap situation (Fiala needs a new contract after this season and that will be tight) so this was a perfect year for the Wild to go all in on trying to win. The Fleury addition helps them do that and makes them a very intriguing team going into the playoffs.

Minnesota hosts a Vancouver Canucks team on Thursday night that is clinging to its slim playoff hopes.

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

Bruins vs. Penguins, 7 p.m. ET
Jets vs. Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ET
Rangers vs. Islanders, 7:30 p.m. ET
Canucks vs. Wild, 8 p.m. ET
Maple Leafs vs. Lightning, 8 p.m. ET
Stars vs. Flames, 9 p.m. ET
Blackhawks vs. Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

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

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Hurricanes – clinched
Rangers – clinched
Penguins – clinched
Capitals – clinched
Islanders – eliminated
Blue Jackets – eliminated
Flyers – eliminated
Devils – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Avalanche – clinched No. 1 seed in Western Conference
Blues – clinched
Wild – clinched
Predators – 96.9%
Stars – 78.7%
Jets – eliminated
Blackhawks – eliminated
Coyotes – eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via MoneyPuck)

Flames – clinched
Oilers – 99.99%
Kings – 90.2%
Golden Knights – 28%
Canucks – 6.2%
Ducks – eliminated
Sharks – eliminated
Kraken – eliminated

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DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE (via Tankathon)

18.5% – Coyotes
13.5% – Canadiens
11.5% – Flyers
9.5% – Kraken
8.5% – Devils
7.5% – Blackhawks (*conditional)
6.5% – Senators
6.0% – Sabres
5.0% – Red Wings
3.5% – Sharks
3.0% – Ducks
2.5% – Blue Jackets
2.0% – Jets
1.5% – Islanders
0.5% – Canucks
0.5% – Golden Knights (*conditional)

“Beginning this season there will be a limit on the total number of selections (10) a team participating in the lottery can move up in the event it wins one of the lottery draws, a change announced by the NHL on March 23, 2021. Only the top 11 seeds will be eligible to receive the No. 1 selection in the 2022 draft.”

The 2022 NHL Draft Lottery drawing will be held May 10

ART ROSS TROPHY RACE

Connor McDavid, Oilers – 113
Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers – 111 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Flames – 108
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 106
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 102
Matthew Tkachuk, Flames – 99

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 58 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 54
Chris Kreider, Rangers – 50
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 50
Kyle Connor, Jets – 43
Kirill Kaprizov, Wild – 43
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 43

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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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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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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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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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.