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Push for the Playoffs: Can Wild keep playoff hopes alive?

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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 Minnesota Wild have picked a poor time to go on a multi-game slide. They’ve won just one of their last six games, and that’s led to them falling out of a playoff spot.

The bad news, is that the schedule doesn’t get a whole lot easier from here. They’ll travel to play two tough road games in Washington (tonight) and in Carolina on Saturday, which is less than ideal for a club struggling to keep their head above water right now. If we take a deeper dive into their schedule, we’d see that they have matchups against Nashville, Vegas, Arizona, Winnipeg, Boston and Dallas. Of all the teams on that list, only the Coyotes aren’t in the playoffs (they’re tied for the last Wild Card spot but Colorado owns the tie-breaker).

“We can’t (get frustrated). If we do that, we might as well throw the season away,” forward Zach Parise said after Tuesday’s loss to Colorado, per NHL.com. “We don’t have a lot of time to do that and feel bad. Hopefully, we can scoreboard watch and get some help maybe. Let’s see if we can correct things offensively before the games on the weekend.”

As Parise mentioned, scoring goals has been a major issue for the Wild this month. Since Mar. 3, Minnesota has scored more than two goals in a game just three times in nine games.

The good news, is that a win tonight would vault them right back into the final Wild Card spot in the West.

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

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

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Wild at Capitals, 7 p.m. ET
Sharks at Ducks, 10 p.m. ET

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — 100 percent
Maple Leafs — 99.9 percent
Capitals — 99.8 percent
Penguins — 99.6 percent
Islanders — 99.3 percent
Hurricanes — 92.2 percent
Blue Jackets — 53.5 percent
Canadiens — 52.7 percent
Flyers — 2.9 percent
Panthers — 0.1 percent
Sabres — Out
Rangers — Out
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

WESTERN CONFERENCE (via Hockey Reference)

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Flames — Clinched
Sharks — Clinched
Jets — 100 percent
Predators — 100 percent
Golden Knights — 100 percent
Blues — 99.7 percent
Stars — 92.2 percent
Avalanche — 42.3 percent
Coyotes — 37.8 percent
Wild — 16.9 percent
Blackhawks — 7.5 percent
Canucks — 2.3 percent
Oilers — 1.3 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Eliminated

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
Sabres — 6.5 percent
Oilers — 6 percent
Canucks — 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Wild — 3 percent
Panthers — 2.5 percent
Coyotes — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Blue Jackets — 1 percent**
(*COL owns OTT’s 2019 first-round pick)
(**OTT owns CBJ’s 2019 first-round pick)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 120 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 107 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 101 points
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 94 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 93 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 — 41 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 39 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.

Frustrated Senators owner talks rebuild, arena future

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Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has picked an interesting time to go on a media tour. With just eight games remaining in the Sens’ season and the team sitting in the basement of the NHL standings, Melnyk decided it was a good idea to rip journalists and other teams over the last 24 hours.

“You don’t do a rebuild with a short-term view. You’ve got to have, and it’s tough in sports, a five-year outlook and if you don’t all you’re doing is patching up. I know a team that you know that’s done it for 53 years,” Melnyk said of the Toronto Maple Leafs on CFRA 580 radio in Ottawa. “They’ve been selling out, but all they do is they’ve been patching up. Finally, they collapsed the team, said ‘We’ve got to a rebuild,’ but mistakes were made and somebody forgot about defence.

“They’re going to have a tough time winning a Stanley Cup without defence. They’re hitting the cap. They can’t bring anybody new in, so they’re stuck. And that’s where you have to be extremely careful. [The Senators have] something like 17 draft picks in the next three years in the first three rounds and that’s a huge inventory of draft picks, plus everything we have in Belleville, plus, plus, plus.”

Last time we checked, only five teams in the league have more points than the Maple Leafs, while no team has fewer points than the Sens. Again, it’s an interesting time for him to be saying stuff like this.

During that same interview, Melnyk made sure to put his general manager, Pierre Dorion, on notice too.

“This next six months are going to be critical for [general manager] Pierre [Dorion] and his team, and the whole operations [staff] to get their act together in a big way to be able to use these assets – all the 17 picks we have in the first three rounds for three years, plus all of the other prospects. This core group, that’s sitting in Belleville and playing up already are going to stay. And yes, they’re all going to need those big contracts and I’m prepared to step up for that.”

Melnyk also took a shot at TSN 1200 radio host Ian Mendes.

At what point does the NHL have to get involved in this? Even if they don’t want to force him to sell the team, they have to find a way to keep him quiet. The situation in Ottawa has become embarrassing enough that they don’t need the owner to come out and say controversial things about reporters and other teams.

During an interview on the FAN 590 in Toronto, Melnyk also discussed the possibility of the team building that downtown arena everyone’s been talking about.

“It’s dead as far as the process is concerned. They’re now talking about all sorts of different machinations of things and they’re looking at dividing it up into six little projects. I think it’s very fluid right now especially in an election year.

“If there’s an opportunity there, we’ll listen to them. At this point, we’re not in any hurry. I’m still trying to pursue it, but if it doesn’t happen, I’m just as happy to stay in Kanata and do what we’re doing out there and actually expand upon what we’re doing and what we have.”

On the ice, the Sens have some solid youngsters like Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Colin White, Erik Brannstrom and a few others, but it takes more than that to be a legitimate Stanley Cup threat. By their own admission, they’re in rebuild mode, but Melnyk is convinced that this team can turn things around fast. Really fast.

“The whole objective is that three years out we have a true Stanley Cup contender and that we don’t have the gaps that some teams have and that we stay within the cap,” he said. “We know what the cap is going to be but my worry is you’re going to be bumping into that if you have five or six real starts that you’re paying $10 million to.”

Good luck with that, Eugene.

And, oh yeah, the bots are back!

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Oilers need wingers; Isles lack center depth

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Henrik Lundqvist has had a major influence on young teammate Alexandar Georgiev. (NHL.com)

Darcy Kuemper has been huge for the Arizona Coyotes this season. (The Hockey News)

• If the Oilers want to get back to the playoffs, they’ll have to find a way to improve on the wings. (TSN)

• The Toronto Maple Leafs signed Nic Petan to a two-year extension. (NHL.com/MapleLeafs)

• Miami University has fired head coach Enrico Blasi after 20 years on the job. (Dayton Daily News)

• Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog received a letter from a young fan. The anti-bullying advocate went out of his way to leave a positive impression on this fan. (Yahoo)

• Sunday’s game between the Hurricanes and Canadiens will be the first NHL game will be called in the Plains Cree language. (CBC)

• The United Center will get an impressive new scoreboard and sound system next season. (NHL.com/Blackhawks)

• 2020 draft-eligible prospect Alexis Lafreniere isn’t interested in being compared to Sidney Crosby. (New York Times)

• Now that he’s back in the Bruins lineup, expect David Pastrnak to give the Maple Leafs nightmares. (WEEI)

• What’s Nikolay Goldobin‘s future in Vancouver? (Canucks Army)

• The injury to Valtteri Filppula has exposed the Islanders lack of depth at center. (New York Post)

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.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Jets taking off at right time

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The expectations were for the Jets coming into this season. Even though they’re not at the top of the Western Conference standings like most people expected, it doesn’t mean that this campaign will be a failure. What happens during the regular season doesn’t really matter to Winnipeg. They’ll be judged on their performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In 2018, a trip to the Western Conference Final was more or less a success. This year, that won’t be the case. Anything short of the Stanley Cup will be a disappointing end to a promising season.

The Jets are deep at every position, which means they can survive injuries come playoff time. Dustin Byfuglien, who is sidelined by an ankle injury right now, has played in just 37 games this season, but they’ve found a way to make it work without him. Of course, getting him back before the start of the postseason would be huge for their chances of going all the way.

“Our back end is deep,” head coach Paul Maurice said, per the Winnipeg Sun. “We have two really, really important defensemen out of our lineup — one of them for half the season in Dustin Byfuglien — and when everyone is healthy I’m gonna have 10 NHL defensemen that can play and three more in the minors that have played for us at some point this year.”

Nathan Beaulieu, who the club acquired from Buffalo at the trade deadline, has played an important role while Joe Morrow and Byfuglien have been sidelined.

They’re just as deep at every forward position. Down the middle, they have: Mark Scheifele, Kevin Hayes and Adam Lowry. At left wing, they can rely on Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Brandon Tanev, and Matthieu Perreault. On the right side, It’s Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, Bryan Little (he can also play center) and Jack Roslovic. There’s not many teams that can say they have that much depth (the Tampa Bay Lightning might be the only ones).

The Jets are just getting over a stretch in which they lost three of four games, but they’ve bounced back by winning three in a row over Boston, Calgary and Los Angeles. After tonight’s game against the Ducks, they’ll play four consecutive games against teams currently in a playoff spot (the Golden Knights, Predators, Stars and Islanders) and they’ll also take on a Canadiens team that is just one point out of a position in the postseason.

Winnipeg will finish the season with a four-game road trip that will take them to Chicago, Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona.

All that means is that the Jets will have to continue playing this well down the stretch so that they can ride into the playoffs with some positive momentum. This final stretch of games won’t be easy, so going out and finding teams to challenge them shouldn’t be too difficult.

“There’s no panic in our game,” Hayes said. “We keep playing four lines and everyone contributes. It just shows the quality of our team.

“When you think about the Jets, it’s a high-scoring team but these last couple of games we’re playing good defense and squeezing out wins. That’s what it takes at this time of year when you need important points.”

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

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: Caps look to pad lead atop Metropolitan Division

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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.

If you were expecting a Stanley-Cup hangover from the Washington Capitals, you were wrong. Heading into the final stretch of the season, the Capitals have a two-point lead over the New York Islanders atop the Metropolitan Division standings.

As of right now, finishing in top spot in the division means that you’d get a date with the red-hot Carolina Hurricanes, who probably won’t be an easy out. But it also allows you to avoid playing Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and company in Pittsburgh. That’s a first-round matchup no one would look forward to at all.

“We’re in this position and we have to take care of business,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said after last night’s win over the Devils, per NHL.com. “You can’t rely on other teams. We just have to try to win and go from there. So this is a good win for us.”

Tonight’s opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, have been the best record in the league and they’ve already clinched their division, their conference and the President’s Trophy. Even though they have nothing to play for, this will be a good measuring stick game for a Caps team that may be playing their best hockey right now.

“We just need to keep getting better,” forward Brett Connolly said. “We have [the Tampa Bay Lightning] coming in (tonight). They played us well in Tampa and I don’t think we did ourselves any favors in (a 6-3 loss Saturday). It’ll be good to get right back out there. We’re getting closer to the playoffs. It’s getting closer, and we are really excited about what we have here.”

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
Maple Leafs at Sabres, 7 p.m. ET
Lightning at Capitals, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN, live stream)
Senators at Canucks, 10 p.m. ET
Jets at Ducks, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN, live stream)

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Playoff Percentages (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — 100 percent
Maple Leafs — 100 percent
Capitals — 100 percent
Islanders — 99.2 percent
Penguins — 97.1 percent
Hurricanes — 96.2 percent
Blue Jackets — 69.6 percent
Canadiens — 36.3 percent
Flyers — 1.4 percent
Panthers — 0.2 percent
Sabres — Out
Rangers — Out
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Playoff Percentages (via Hockey Reference)
Flames — Clinched
Sharks — Clinched
Jets — 100 percent
Predators — 100 percent
Golden Knights — 99.9 percent
Blues — 99.3 percent
Stars — 95.3 percent
Coyotes — 50.6 percent
Avalanche — 25.6 percent
Wild — 16 percent
Blackhawks — 11.4 percent
Canucks — 0.9 percent
Oilers — 0.9 percent
Ducks — Out
Kings — Eliminated

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
Oilers — 6.5 percent
Sabres — 6 percent
Canucks — 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Wild — 3 percent
Panthers — 2.5 percent
Avalanche — 2 percent
Flyers — 1.5 percent
Canadiens — 1 percent
(*COL owns OTT’s 2019 first-round pick)

ART ROSS RACE
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 117 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 105 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 101 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins — 92 points
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames — 92 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.