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Push for the Playoffs: Can Panthers pull off the impossible?

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Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2018-19 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.’

We can agree to file this one under ‘Long Shots,’ but the Florida Panthers have a spark at the moment.

Yes, they are eight points back. Yes, that’s a pile of points to overcome in 11 remaining games. Yes, their odds resemble that of a snowball’s chance in hell (Hockey Reference currently has them at a 2.7 percent chance to play an 83rd game this season). But if the Philadelphia Flyers are still getting some playoff love, putting the Panthers — winners of four straight heading into Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks — in the same conversation is perfectly acceptable.

And they’re playing the Ducks on Sunday, so if they keep it simple, there are another two points to be bagged and a deficit to be decreased. With a game in hand on the Columbus Blue Jackets, a win could quickly shift to six points — a number that at least appears more manageable.

“We’re not dead yet, and we can make things interesting,” Florida coach Bob Boughner told NHL.com after Saturday’s win. “We’ve just got to keep on winning, and tomorrow is another big day for us.”

Sam Montembeault has come out of nowhere and has been a revelation in his short time in the Panthers crease, winning his past four starts and beginning his life in the NHL with a 4-0-1 record. Perhaps we have another Jordan Binnington story right before the season ends?

Aleksander Barkov has been flying, scoring twice and adding nine assists in a five-game point streak. He’s got a career-high 81 points now.

With the Montreal Canadiens fluttering, and the Jekyll and Hyde Blue Jackets unsure what they want, the time is now for a team seemingly out of it to take charge. Florida’s going to need a season-long — and a perhaps franchise-record — win streak to get the job done. And that’s what makes this time of the year so much fun.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Flames vs. Coyotes
Jets vs. Stars
Sharks vs. Golden Knights
Predators vs. Blues

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Devils vs. Avalanche (3 p.m. ET)
Blues vs. Sabres (5 p.m. ET)
Islanders vs. Wild (6 p.m. ET)
Canucks vs. Stars (7 p.m. ET)
Flyers vs. Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET — Watch Live on NBCSN)
Panthers vs. Ducks (9 p.m. ET)
Oilers vs. Golden Knights (10 p.m. ET — Watch Live on NBCSN)

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS

WESTERN CONFERENCE

The Calgary Flames, who are idle, can clinch a playoff berth if:

* The Minnesota Wild lose in any fashion to the New York Islanders

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey-Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — 100 percent
Maple Leafs — 99.8 percent
Capitals — 99.8 percent
Islanders — 99.8 percent
Penguins — 98.2 percent
Hurricanes — 93.6 percent
Blue Jackets — 80.3 percent
Canadiens — 23.7 percent
Panthers — 2.7 percent
Flyers — 2.1 percent
Sabres — Out
Rangers — Out
Devils — Out
Red Wings — Out
Senators — Out

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey-Reference)
Jets — 100 percent
Flames — 100 percent
Sharks — 100 percent
Predators — 99.9 percent
Golden Knights — 99.4 percent
Blues — 97.4 percent
Stars — 89.9 percent
Coyotes — 55.1 percent
Wild — 32.4 percent
Blackhawks — 12.9 percent
Avalanche — 9.1 percent
Oilers — 3.5 percent
Canucks — 0.4 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Out

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Red Wings — 11.5 percent
Devils — 9.5 percent
Ducks — 8.5 percent
Canucks — 7.5 percent
Rangers — 6.5 percent
Sabres — 6 percent
Oilers — 5 percent
Avalanche — 3.5 percent
Blackhawks — 3 percent
Wild — 2.5 percent
Panthers — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Canadiens — 1 percent
(*Senators pick belongs to the Colorado Avalanche)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lighting — 117 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 103 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 99 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 92 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames — 91 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 48 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 42 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 40 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 38 goals
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks — 38 goals
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets — 38 goals


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: McDavid, Crawford should’ve given spoiler alerts

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Three Stars

1. Corey Crawford leads a group of spoiler goalies

Quite a few goalies made life miserable for teams in desperate situations, and Crawford topped the list. He generated an impressive (and, for the Canadiens, deeply annoying) 48-save shutout on Saturday, absolutely stealing a win for the Blackhawks. Even with Chicago now on a five-game winning streak, it would be surprising if we look back at that shutout as anything more than the Blackhawks spoiling a chance for Montreal to improve its playoff chances.

Again, that was in the air on Saturday.

Red Wings fans are likely reading through prospect rankings and wondering who will run the team in the future right now, but getting wins at this time of year? They might be rooting for the opposite, at least those who cross their fingers for higher draft lottery odds.

With that in mind, Jonathan Bernier wasn’t just a spoiler for the Islanders in making 41 out of 42 saves; he was, to an extent, a spoiler for his own team … depending upon how you look at things.

Blues goalie Jordan Binnington is doing the opposite of spoiling the Blues’ season, but he certainly robbed the Penguins often, making 40 of 41 saves. (Also of note: Anders Nilsson generated 35 saves as the Senators upset the Maple Leafs.)

2. Alex Killorn

It’s difficult to differentiate some strong three-point performances from Saturday, except one stands out as pretty tough to deny. Killorn generated a hat trick as the Lightning beat the Capitals in a testy game.

Killorn now has 16 goals in 2018-19, leaving him three behind his career-high of 19.

If you want to bring it back to playing spoiler again: the Lightning have basically everything locked up right now, so they messed up the Capitals’ chances of fattening their lead for the Metropolitan Division title.

3. Connor McDavid

Again, this is tough. Among other candidates, two Panthers (Evgenii Dadonov and Aleksander Barkov) enjoyed three-point games.

Like Dadonov, McDavid generated two goals and one assist for his three points (Barkov had thre assists).

McDavid gets the edge in some ways, and no, it’s not just that he’s Connor McDavid. For one thing, McDavid nabbed a game-winning goal with his overtime-winner. For another, McDavid scored this way for his other goal, generating arguably the highlight of the night:

So, slight advantage: number 97.

(Oh yeah, and the Oilers beat the Coyotes in OT, spoiling Arizona’s efforts to get a full two points.)

Highlight of the Night

Actually, I’m call it: that McDavid goal was the highlight of the night. So, with that, enjoy a bonus: the latest Hurricanes win celebration goes the “curling” route.

Question: does this mean they’re only getting more ingenious with their celes, or are they running out of ideas?

Factoids

  • McDavid now has multiple points in seven-consecutive games. Only two other Oilers have done that: Wayne Gretzky (15 times!) and Mark Messier (once). McDavid’s seven-game streak ties two other players for the longest run in 2018-19: Nikita Kucherov and Auston Matthews.
  • Connor Hellebuyck hits the 30-win mark once again. This makes for a nice feat for him, and quite the indictment on those who came before him, as he’s the only Thrashers/Jets goalie to post consecutive 30-win seasons.
  • Jordan Staal scored his 500th point, allowing him to join his brother Eric Staal on a select list of siblings:

Scores

STL 5 – PIT 1
DET 2 – NYI 1
FLA 4 – LAK 3
WIN 2 – CGY 1
BOS 2 – CBJ 1 (OT)
CHI 2 – MTL 0
OTT 6 – TOR 2
TBL 6 – WSH 3
CAR 4 – BUF 2
MIN 5 – NYR 2
EDM 3 – ARI 2 (OT)
NSH 4 – SJS 2

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.

The Buzzer: Matthew Tkachuk gets first hat trick before Keith did

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Three Stars

1. Matthew Tkachuk

Matthew generated his first NHL hat trick at age 21 … and 89 days. His father, Keith Tkachuk, generated his first hat trick at age 21, but at 209 days. Getting to that mark sooner than Keith? That’s impressive stuff.

Tkachuk’s third goal was an empty-netter, but he also had an assist in Calgary’s 6-3 win against Vegas, so that’s an impressive four-point night overall. He now has 29 goals and 67 points in 69 games this season, lining himself up for a substantial second contract.

The Flames were so potent offensively, they deserve at least two of the top three spots. At least since no one else really produced on the same scale on Sunday.

As a bonus, there’s this remarkable photo from Getty Images, with also includes Brady Tkachuk, who’s basically unmistakable:

via Getty Images

2. Michael Frolik

As is often the case with the three stars, your preference likely comes down to what you weigh the heaviest. It seems too boring to just reward the entire “3M Line” with all three stars, really, so we’re going to need to make a distinction here.

Again, Mikael Backlund has a strong case. He scored two goals and one assist, with his helper being a primary assist. All of those points came before Tkachuk’s empty-netter.

One of Frolik’s four assists were on that empty-netter, but … four assists, everyone. That’s quite impressive.

It’s been an up-and-down season for Frolik, as this four-point outburst ended what was a six-game pointless streak. Frolik has been a healthy scratch this season, and has generally struggled to convince Bill Peters that he should maintain the 3M-edness of “The 3M Line.” Nights like Sunday argue that, maybe, Peters should take the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid) approach here.

3. Pheonix Copley

No goalie generated a shutout on Sunday, but there were some nice performances nonetheless.

Both Jaroslav Halak and Matt Murray provided strong performances in an exciting Penguins win against the Bruins, with Murray stopping 39 out of 41 shots. It’s tempting to give Murray something of a “weekend achievement” award after he made some astounding stops on Saturday, too.

Yet, Copley gets the slight nod. Copley made 33 out of 34 saves to help the Capitals beat the Jets on Sunday. As sparsely used as Copley is, he’s now on a five-game winning streak.

Highlight of the Night

From the great Sidney Crosby pass to the fantastic goal by Jake Guentzel, the GWG from the Penguins – Bruins game gets the nod:

Factoids:

Scores

FLA 6 – DET 1
WSH 3 – WPG 1
PIT 4 – BOS 2
CGY 6 – VGK 3
LAK 3 – ANA 2

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.

The Buzzer: Barkov’s record-setting game; Holtby still hot

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Three stars

1. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

Barkov had a heck of a night, producing five assists and getting in on five of the Panthers’ six goals in the game.

You can read more about that here.

And here’s one of Barkov’s apples:

2. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

Holtby just wins these days, and it’s certainly helping the Washington Capitals keep pace with the New York Islanders.

Washington’s No. 1 netminder recorded his third shutout of the season in a 25-save effort against the New Jersey Devils, his fifth straight win — and Washington’s six straight triumph as they regained top spot in the hotly-contested Metropolitan Division.

3. Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets

It was Ehlers streaking through the Carolina Hurricanes zone that found Kevin Hayes some space and set up the first goal for the Winnipeg Jets in a landslide 8-1.

Ehlers set the tone early in the game with his assist just 2:58 into the game. By the end of the period, Hayes returned the favor, finding Ehlers for his first goal of the game and 17th of the season. Ehlers would cap off his three-point night with an assist with 19 seconds remaining in the game.

The 23-year-old did this all in 12:25.

Highlights of the night

Kevin Hayes batted 1.000 on Friday:

Barkov’s record-setting assist:

Max Jones‘ first NHL goal:

Connor:

Factoids

Scores

Panthers 6, Wild 2
Capitals 3, Devils 0
Jets 8, Hurricanes 1
Ducks 8, Canadiens 2


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Panthers’ Barkov explodes for five assists, sets franchise record

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Aleksander Barkov was already having a remarkable season for the Florida Panthers prior to Friday night.

His five-assist effort against the Minnesota Wild just added another chapter to the tale he’ll be able to tell and another passage in the Panthers’ history book.

You see, five assists are the most any one Panther has ever recorded in a game. Barkov was magical, his hands in on five of Florida’s six goals in a 6-2 win, including four primary apples.

Barkov came into Friday with 70 points, eight back of his career-high. He’s now just three off 78-point season he had last year. His 29 goals this season were already one more than his previous career-high, and his 46 assists now are five shy of the 51 he has last season.

The Finn has scored some ridiculous goals this year, too.

The Panthers, nine points out of a playoff spot coming into the night, chased Devan Dubnyk after one period. Jonathan Huberdeau had four points, Evgeni Dadonov had three assists, and MacKenzie Weegar and Mike Matheson each had a brace.

Sam Montembeault, making his second NHL start, picked up his first NHL win after stopping 25 shots.

This weird thing also happened:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck