I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
Mike Yeo admitted that it felt good when his St. Louis Blues beat his former team, the Minnesota Wild, in the regular season. Imagine how he might feel if they can take their upcoming series.
By getting to overtime in a 4-4 game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Blues locked down the third seed in the Central Division. Minnesota locked down second some time ago, so they’ll hold home-ice advantage in a series between the two teams.
The two franchises have only met in the postseason on one occasion, with the Wild taking a 4-2 first-round series in 2014-15.
St. Louis edges Nashville for the third seed, so the Predators now turn their focus to one of the West’s wild card positions.
First, the Ottawa Senators made sure that they’ll make the playoffs by clinching a spot. By beating the Boston Bruins 2-1 via a shootout, they put themselves in a solid position to grab home-ice for a round.
While the contest hasn’t been a thrill ride, the Senators deserve some credit for getting this key win with Erik Karlsson out of the lineup.
As a bonus, Viktor Stalberg also returned during OT after a hard hit by Adam McQuaid. Senators GM Pierre Dorion has to love that Alex Burrows‘ goal was the tying tally.
A lot of things came up in Ottawa’s favor on this one. They managed a sweep of the Bruins, a swing that may just make the difference in the race for second in the Atlantic.
Granted, there are still plenty of variables that can play out during the final few days of 2016-17.
Here’s an update on the race for second:
2. Senators – 96 points (37 ROW, 43 W) in 80 games
3. Bruins – 95 points (42 ROW, 44 W) in 81 games
Leafs – 93 points in 80 games after loss to Lightning.
That’s quite the edge for the Sens, especially if Toronto ends up losing. The Senators host the Rangers on Saturday and then visit the Islanders on Sunday. The Bruins close out 2016-17 by facing the Capitals at home on Saturday.
The Pittsburgh Penguins secured home-ice advantage against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.
Pittsburgh will be the Metro’s second seed while Columbus comes in third. (Allows people to understandably grumble about two top teams meeting in the first round thanks to the divisive playoff format.)
The Penguins hobble into the postseason with some significant injuries, most obviously with Kris Letang out until next year and Evgeni Malkin hopeful to play. At least they get to open the postseason at home (and would get a Game 7 in Pittsburgh if necessary).
Pittsburgh won the only playoff meeting between the two teams, taking a 4-2 series back in 2013-14. It was an entertaining, contentious series that may serve as a solid preview of what could come this time around, even with a superior cast of characters.
Injuries have been brutal to the Tampa Bay Lightning, so Vladislav Namestnikov can’t complain too much. At least not in that specific locker room.
Still, it’s been a bumpy season – literally and figuratively – for the young forward, and that trend continued with a painful moment on Thursday.
Namestnikov was the unlucky, bloodied recipient of a William Nylander shot to the face, as you can see in the video above.
With Auston Matthews also suffering from a few painful moments, the Leafs and Lightning may both need extra ice packs/bandages after this game.
The beauty of having a player’s parents on hand is that you can capture reactions in real-time. In many cases, that means happiness (or even tears of joy) following a big success. Of course … there’s always the chance you’ll film a moment of righteous anger, too.
Toronto Maple Leafs fans were holding their breath after star Auston Matthews was shaken up by a knee-to-knee hit via Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin. You can see that check in the video above.
While Leafs fans were worried, his parents were justifiably angry (and worried):
The good news is that Matthews is at least seemingly OK.
It’s been a long night for Matthews already.