Will streaky Calgary stay hot or flame out in playoffs?

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The Calgary Flames know they’re in the playoffs. Now comes the hard part.

Despite being idle on Sunday, the Flames became the first Western Conference team to clinch a postseason berth due to the New York Islanders’ win over the Minnesota Wild. But the Flames know better than most teams that nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs. Since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2004, Calgary has won just one postseason series. A Canadian team has not won the Cup since the 1993 Montreal Canadiens. The Flames won their only championship 30 years ago. Will this finally be the year that the C of Red celebrates into the summer?

Even the Flames would have to admit they’ve been inconsistent over the last month. After winning seven straight games from February 16 to 27, Calgary dropped their next four in regulation, followed by another three-game winning streak with a jaw dropping 20 total goals during that three-game stretch. Obviously, no team can afford a prolonged lull in the playoffs.

Calgary’s chances to make a run deep into spring begin between the pipes, as both David Rittich and Mike Smith have been up and down this year. While Rittich is enjoying a career season (his third in the NHL) with 25 wins, he owns just a .910 save percentage, which ranks tied for 24th in the NHL among qualified goaltenders (21 or more games played). The veteran Smith has just an .896 save percentage on the year and has dropped three consecutive starts in March. While he once brought the Phoenix Coyotes to the Western Conference Final in 2012, Smith has not been back to the postseason since. The Flames boast the fourth best offense in the NHL this season (3.56 goals per game), but when scoring inevitably dries up in the playoffs, a reliable netminder is vital in the march toward the Cup.

Calgary’s top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm is one of the best trios in the league. Gaudreau is a Hart Trophy candidate this season with a career-best 91 points, Monahan has already secured his third career 30-goal season and Lindholm has been a rousing success story in Calgary, blowing past any of his previous five seasons with Carolina. It’s also easy to forget just how good Monahan was the last time the Flames were in the playoffs. Though Calgary was quickly swept in four games by the Anaheim Ducks in 2017, Monahan scored a power play goal in all four games. He is one of eight players in League history to tally a power play goal in four consecutive postseason games.

Aside from the top line, Calgary does have depth with the likes of Matthew Tkachuk (73 points), Norris Trophy-hopeful Mark Giordano (67 points) and Mikael Backlund (44 points). They could also get a boost if James Neal returns to form. Neal is getting closer to returning from a lower body injury that has kept him out over a month. The 31-year-old signed a 5-year, $28.75 million deal this off-season, but has been a disappointment with just 15 points in 55 games. Still, Neal has shown the ability to be a big-time player throughout his career and has loads of experience, having played in the postseason each of the last eight years.

Several other statistics from this season bode well for the Flames entering the playoffs. They have a whopping plus-49 goal differential in the third period and lead the NHL with 105 goals in the third period. They are also 21-14-2 on the road and need just two road wins to set a single-season franchise record.

Despite their success away from Alberta, clinching home ice advantage would be huge for Calgary’s chances. There is little doubt that the Scotiabank Saddledome will be rocking come playoff time, but even more importantly, winning the Pacific Division would ensure that the Flames avoid playing the reigning Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights in the First Round. Giordano, however, took the diplomatic approach, saying the opponent won’t matter.

“Well…the team that gets in as the wildcard is going to be playing really well and playing really hard,” Giordano told the Calgary Sun. “I’ve never been a fan of trying to pick and choose who you want to playoffs because the league’s so tight. The team that’s usually in the wildcard is feeling good and playing well. And if you want to go all the way, you’re going to have to go through a lot of great teams.”

To this point, Calgary has proven to be great in the regular season. But they’ll need to find more consistency to end their – and Canada’s – Stanley Cup drought.

Push for the Playoffs: Coyotes look to continue impressive stretch

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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.

The Arizona Coyotes have overcome several hurdles this season. They’ve been hit hard by injuries, but that hasn’t stopped them from being in a playoff spot during the final stretch. Heading into tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the ‘Yotes have a one-point lead and a game in hand on the Minnesota Wild in the race for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.

They could have given up when they lost their starting goalie, Antti Raanta, back in late-November, but they didn’t. They also traded away Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini to Chicago earlier this season for Nick Schamltz, who has been out since the start of 2019, and only recently has Jason Demers returned to their lineup from a knee injury.

The Coyotes are 10-2-1 in their last 13 contests, which has increased their odds of making the playoffs by a wide margin. As well as they’ve played lately, they’re going to have to sustain that during a tough upcoming road trip that will see them travel to Tampa, Florida, New Jersey and New York (Islanders).

“McDavid is an elite player, and anything can happen 3-on-3. I’m proud of the guys, with five games in the last (eight) nights,” head coach Rick Tocchet said after Saturday’s OT loss to Edmonton, per NHL.com. “I thought the guys gave us juice (on Saturday). We’re fine. We got a point. We’re OK.”

They’ll have their work cut out for them tonight, but they’ve been playing so well that it’s difficult to count them out, even against the best team in the league.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Islanders vs. Hurricanes
Capitals 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
Coyotes at Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET
Canucks at Blackhawks, 8:30 p.m. ET
Jets at Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET
Golden Knights at Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS
• The Lightning (55-13-4, 114 points) will clinch the Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference and Presidents’ Trophy if they defeat the Coyotes in any fashion.

• The Sharks (43-21-8, 94 points) will clinch a playoff berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they get at least one point against the Golden Knights.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — 100 percent
Maple Leafs — 99.9 percent
Capitals — 99.6 percent
Islanders — 99.6 percent
Penguins — 98.5 percent
Hurricanes — 92.8 percent
Blue Jackets — 81 percent
Canadiens — 23 percent
Flyers — 4.6 percent
Panthers — 1 percent
Sabres — Out
Rangers — Out
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

WESTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey-Reference)
Flames — Clinched
Jets — 100 percent
Sharks — 100 percent
Predators — 99.8 percent
Golden Knights — 99.7 percent
Blues — 98.1 percent
Stars — 87.3 percent
Coyotes — 61.2 percent
Wild — 25..9 percent
Avalanche — 14.7 percent
Blackhawks — 11.7 percent
Oilers — 1.2 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
Rangers — 7.5 percent
Canucks — 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
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 91 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames — 91 points
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche — 91 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 48 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 43 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

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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

Push for the Playoffs: Wild getting close to must-win territory

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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.

In Bruce Boudreau’s first 11 seasons as an NHL head coach he missed the playoffs just one time, the 2011-12 season that he split between the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks (he was fired mid-season by the Capitals, then hired one week later by the Ducks).

Every year in which he has coached a full season behind a team’s bench, he has not only made the playoffs, but has also won eight division titles. His teams win. His teams make the playoffs.

If his Minnesota Wild do not once again start stacking some wins together over their remaining 11 games, he is danger of missing the playoffs for what would be his first time in a full-season as a coach.

Saturday could end up playing a decisive role in whether or not that happens.

The Wild, losers of three in a row and five of their past six, will be home to take on the New York Rangers in what is as close to a must-win game as you can get at this point in the season. They enter the day three points back of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, trailing a surging Arizona Coyotes team that gets to play at home against the Edmonton Oilers.

When you look at the remaining schedules for the two teams it is pretty clear that the Coyotes have an easier path down the stretch. Only four of Arizona’s remaining games come against likely playoff teams, while the Wild have to play nine such teams in their remaining 11 games, including one head-to-head matchup with the Coyotes.

So Saturday is probably a pretty big deal for the Wild given that they are playing a struggling Rangers team that just played the night before (and got crushed in the process) and have a pretty daunting schedule still ahead of then.

First, that matchup alone is a situation where the Wild have to come away with two points. Anything less than that would be a huge disappointment given the circumstances of where the Rangers are, where the Wild are, what they have in front of them, and everything that is at stake.

You simply can not drop this game if you are Minnesota.

A Wild win, combined with a Coyotes regulation loss, would bring Minnesota back to within a single point of that playoff spot and totally change the outlook for the final 10 games. Suddenly, you are right back in it.

But a loss, combined with a Coyotes win, would push them to five points out, and might be enough to crush their remaining playoff chances that are already looking slim.

It is also another huge day in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race as Columbus, Carolina, and Montreal are all back in action. After shutting out the Hurricanes on Friday night, the Blue Jackets visit the Boston Bruins, for what is the second of three games against them in a two-week span, while Carolina gets to what has been a dreadful Buffalo Sabres team. The Canadiens, who sit two points back of both the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets, are playing host to a Blackhawks team that enters the game having won four in a row.

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
Blues vs. Penguins (1 p.m. ET)
Islanders vs. Red Wings (1 p.m. ET)
Flames vs. Jets (7 p.m. ET)
Blue Jackets vs. Bruins (7 p.m. ET)
Blackhawks vs. Canadiens (7 p.m. ET)
Maple Leafs vs. Senators (7 p.m. ET)
Capitals vs. Lightning (7 p.m. ET)
Sabres vs. Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET)
Rangers vs. Wild (8 p.m. ET)
Oilers vs. Coyotes (10 p.m. ET)
Predators vs. Sharks (10:30 p.m. ET)

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS
EASTERN CONFERENCE

The Lightning will clinch the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference:

• If they defeat the Capitals in any fashion and the Bruins lose in regulation to the Blue Jackets.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

The Flames will clinch a playoff berth:

• If they get at least one point against the Jets.

OR

• If the Wild lose to the Rangers.

The Sharks will clinch a playoff berth:

• If they defeat the Predators in any fashion

OR

• If they get one point against Nashville and Minnesota loses to New York in any fashion.

OR

• If Minnesota loses to New York in regulation and the Blackhawks lose in any fashion to the Canadiens.

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey-Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Maple Leafs — 100 percent
Bruins — 99.9 percent
Capitals — 99.7 percent
Islanders — 99.4 percent
Penguins — 97.9 percent
Hurricanes — 86.4 percent
Blue Jackets — 76.1 percent
Canadiens — 36.8 percent
Flyers — 2.5 percent
Panthers — 1.3 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 — 99.7 percent
Golden Knights — 99.4 percent
Blues — 96.1 percent
Stars — 91. 4 percent
Coyotes — 68.6 percent
Wild — 22.3 percent
Avalanche — 10.8 percent
Blackhawks — 9.3 percent
Oilers — 2.3 percent
Canucks — 0.1 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Out

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE
Senators — 18.5 percent*
Red Wings — 13.5 percent
Kings — 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
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Avalanche — 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 — 115 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 100 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 — 46 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 42 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 39 goals
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets — 38 goals

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Bob posts huge shutout; Tkachuk owns Rangers

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Three stars

1. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

When the elite, Vezina-caliber Sergei Bobrovsky shows up on any given night, the Columbus Blue Jackets are nearly unbeatable. Such was the case on Friday.

‘Bob’ stopped a whopping 46 shots from the Corsi Kings (Carolina Hurricanes), who pelted Columbus’ No. 1 at every juncture, including 22 shots in the second period.

Bobrovsky was up to the task on each and every one of them, including multiple 10-bell saves to keep the clean sheet — the 30th of his career. Columbus, meanwhile, scored three times on 20 shots, including a shorthanded goal in the third period to win their second straight game.

They’re now on 83 points, tied with the Hurricanes and two points ahead of the idle Montreal Canadiens.

2. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames

Five goals for the Calgary Flames and Tkachuk was in on each of them, following up on Johnny Gaudreau‘s six-point game three nights ago.

Keith’s son scored twice and assisted on the other three in a 5-1 win for the Flames over the New York Rangers.

Tkachuk has 10 points now in his past three games, which is insane. He’s got 32 goals and 73 points now in 71 games.

3. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto has a litany of weapons at its disposal, but the one they have in Matthews is by far the most clutch.

And Matthews came through in that clutch scenario on Friday, scoring twice in 2:11 in the third period to give the Maple Leafs a 6-5 and 7-5 lead. His second (which may have been a hat-trick goal if not for this) stood as the game-winner after James van Riemsdyk completed his own hat trick late (honorable mention to JvR, who was a force for the Flyers).

Toronto is two points back of the struggling Boston Bruins now for second in the Atlantic. Given that these teams are likely to play each other in the first round, there’s a mini-battle here now for who gets home-ice advantage.

Highlights of the night

We’ve seen several of this flip passes lately, and this one is just as nice as the others:

Pettersson’s shot is so smooth:

Pettersson has filthy hands, too:

Factoids

Scores

Maple Leafs 7, Flyers 6
Blue Jackets 3, Hurricanes 0
Golden Knights 2, Stars 1
Flames 5, Rangers 1
Ducks 5, Avalanche 3
Devils 3, Canucks 2 (SO)


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