I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Thornton sure thinks he’ll play for Sharks in playoffs; Couture skates

There’s nothing vague about Joe Thornton‘s update about the playoffs: he said there’s “no doubt” he’ll be ready to go for the San Jose Sharks.

Jumbo Joe’s claim comes after very positive news from NBC Sports California’s Kevin Kurz that both Thornton and Logan Couture returned to the ice on Wednesday.

While Thornton deals with a lower-body issue that might not be as bad as some feared (he considers it a day-to-day thing), Couture is coming to grips with the facial protection he’ll need following his grisly mouth injury.

“It’s tough to look down and find the puck on the ice,” Couture said. “But, that’s what I’m going to have to get used to. It’s all about protection right now, protecting my mouth area. That thing is going to do the job, so have to deal with it.”

Here’s hoping such difficulties don’t put the talented forward in a position to receive a big hit during the playoffs. Maybe he can get in a little game experience before the postseason begins just to acclimate himself to such changes?

Eh … the risk may outweigh the reward a bit in that regard.

Anyway, this is promising stuff for a Sharks team that leans heavily on their top guys. It’s important to note that it’s early … but again, Thornton sure seems confident.

WATCH LIVE: Rangers at Capitals – Wednesday Night Rivalry

The latest edition of Wednesday Night Rivalry features the New York Rangers visiting the Washington Capitals on NBCSN.

Each team likely has April 12 (and beyond) in mind as much as tonight’s match itself, although the Capitals are still eyeing the Presidents’ Trophy. The Rangers, wisely, are resting a slew of players while the Caps deal with John Carlson‘s absence.

No one wants to stagger into the playoffs on a losing streak, so watch as these two teams try to maintain their momentum tonight.

You can watch on NBCSN, online and via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream.

Ailing Ducks defense could be down Fowler as he undergoes MRI


There’s always a chance that Cam Fowler‘s MRI will turn up positive results.

It sure doesn’t feel that way going in, however, after the Anaheim Ducks defenseman was in clear anguish following a knee-to-knee by Mark Giordano, which won’t prompt a hearing for the Calgary Flames blueliner.

If Fowler misses serious time, the Ducks will walk into the postseason very vulnerable on defense. They’re already dealing with the loss of Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen.

Here’s the hit that is keeping Fowler out day-to-day … for now.

Bruins end playoff drought, deal enormous blow to Lightning’s hopes


Considering all the Boston Bruins went through lately, it has to feel good to see Zdeno Chara score the goal that really made it clear that they’d clinch a playoff spot on Tuesday.

That 3-0 tally made a Tampa Bay Lightning rally unlikely, with the Bruins ultimately winning 4-0. In doing so, they punched their ticket to the postseason after two lost seasons.

Now, while the Bruins checked off the most important box in actually making it to the playoffs, there are still other matters to settle:

  • Will Brad Marchand face a suspension through the Bruins’ final two games of the season … and maybe even see his punishment extend into the playoffs? (More on that here.)
  • Who will they face in the playoffs? There’s a serious logjam in the Atlantic Division rankings, so we’ll see if the Bruins manage a round of home-ice or if they’ll settle for the third spot or fall to the wild card.
  • There’s no chance to move all the way to the top of the Atlantic, however. The Montreal Canadiens clinched the division title on Monday.

So, the Bruins still have a few pages to write in the story of their regular season, but they already know there will be a “To be continued” to the playoffs.

The Lightning, meanwhile, find themselves in a real bind. At 88 standings points and with just three games remaining on their schedule, it might just be a matter of time before the Lightning are eliminated.

If this game ends up being their undoing, then it will be a bitter way for Tampa Bay’s mad rush to end.

The Bruins can relate in falling just a few strides short of the playoffs … but they’re glad not to share in the Lightning’s misery in 2016-17.

Penguins take big step in earning home-ice advantage over Blue Jackets


(Note: this is under the fairly safe assumption that the Washington Capitals will win the division.)

If things don’t change drastically during the rest of the week – and they could – then the Pittsburgh Penguins earned home-ice against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the best way you could ask for.

They did so in a direct manner: by beating the Blue Jackets 4-1 on Tuesday.

There was an if there, mind you. This win increases Pittsburgh’s edge for the Metro Division’s second spot to three points. Let’s take a quick look at the road ahead for each team.

Penguins: 109 points, three games remaining, 45 ROW

Thursday: at Devils
Saturday: at Maple Leafs
Sunday: at Rangers

Blue Jackets: 106 points, three games remaining, 47 ROW

Thursday: vs. Jets
Saturday: at Flyers
Sunday: at Maple Leafs

So, yes, the Blue Jackets could still pass the Penguins and take the second spot (and thus a round of home-ice) in the Metro. Still, this was a significant swing in Pittsburgh’s favor, especially since the win came in regulation.

In a dream scenario for the Penguins, the injury-ravaged team might even make like the Rangers on Sunday and rest some tired players.

Right now, this is merely a nice win for the Pens, with some confidence-boosting moments.

The Blue Jackets? Well, they might have some soul-searching to do after dropping four straight games, with tonight’s being arguably the biggest.