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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.

NHL on NBCSN: Oilers look to make up ground vs. Golden Knights

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Like the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader on NBCSN, the second features a team whose playoff hopes are on life-support at the moment.

The Edmonton Oilers scored a big win last night, 3-2 in overtime against the Arizona Coyotes — but only gained a point after not being able to close Arizona out in regulation. The Oilers are seven points back of the idle Coyotes and have a game in hand, so theoretically, a win vs. Vegas in the second half of a back to back would place them within five points.

“I’ve liked our game coming back from the bye week, minus a couple of hiccups here and there,” Connor McDavid said after the game. “We haven’t necessarily been rewarded by it, but we are starting to now.”

McDavid will be featured on Star Sunday. He had his hand in all three of Edmonton’s goals on Saturday, including potting the game-winner in overtime. Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock called it a “typical Connor game” and said, “he wasn’t going to be denied.”

McDavid is on a run of seven straight multi-point games, matching the longest streak of the season, which is shared by Auston Matthews and Nikita Kucherov. The 22-year-old is average 1.54 points per game, which would be a career-high. Thus, he’s on pace to set a new career-high in points. He had 108 last season and enters Sunday with 103. He’s set a new career-high in points in every season he’s played in the NHL.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Vegas enters the day firmly entrenched in third place in the Pacific Division, where they sit five points up on the Arizona Coyotes with a game in hand. Their current form has seen them win of seven of their past eight, erasing a spell prior to it where they lost six-of-seven.

The reason for the turn around has been an uptick in scoring and a downtick in goals allowed — usually a pretty good mixture for finding success.

“When we play our best hockey, it starts in the defensive end, and that’s really important to our group,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said after their win against Dallas on Friday. “I don’t want us to be a high-flying team. I want us to be a good, solid team and find ways to grind out wins like we did tonight.”

Part of the scoring has come from Mark Stone, who went from having one assist in his first four games with his new team to having two goals and three assists in over his past four outings.

“I’m starting to settle in,” Stone said. “It’s been pretty easy so far. Teammates have been really good with me. You almost get that feeling that you’ve been here for a lot longer than you have. Even though I’ve been here for two weeks, I’m starting to get a lot of familiarity.”

Marc-Andre Fleury will be the focus of Star Sunday for the Golden Knights.

Fleury leads the NHL with 35 wins and eight shutouts this season and is currently riding a six-game winning streak.

Inside Fleury’s 6-game winning streak
– 0.83 GAA, .973 SV%, 2 shutouts
– 5 goals allowed on 183 shots
– Has not allowed more than 2 goals in a game
– Wins over DAL (2x), VAN (2x), CGY, ANA

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Shane Hnidy (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.


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: 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.

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.