Push for the Playoffs: Stars on brink of postseason return

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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.

Jim Lites’ chewing out of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin seems like it happened ages ago. For the Dallas Stars, their season, which was highlighted by their CEO calling out his team’s best forwards in separate interviews in late December, could take a turn in a new and brighter direction Tuesday night.

With just as single point against the Philadelphia Flyers (or a Coyotes loss to the Kings), the Stars will return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2016.

Since Dec. 28, when Lites went off, the Stars have accumulated the fourth-most points in the Western Conference. Seguin has 20 goals and 43 points in 41 games, while Benn has netted 12 goals and recorded 22 points in 38 games. But the biggest heroes of this season for the franchise have been their goaltenders.

Both Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin have been phenomenal between the pipes for the Stars. Their play is a reason why Dallas is battling the New York Islanders for the William Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed (194). Head coach Jim Montgomery has split their time in net, some of that having to do with the injury bug biting Bishop several times.

Khudobin has played 39 games and posted a .934 even strength save percentage. Bishop has suited up for 45 and has a .936 ESSV%. Those numbers put both in the top five of that category among net minders with 30 appearances, with Bishop leading the league.

Bishop is also third in the NHL with six shutouts, and you wonder if injuries hadn’t hit him in the last few weeks how much of a favorite would he be for the Vezina Trophy? Montgomery said on Monday that he expects Bishop to get in a game before the end of the regular season on Saturday, so that’s a good sign as they hope to be prepping for their Round 1 opponent by then.

“We want to play him, and he needs a game before we start the playoffs and it’s not good for (Anton Khudobin) to play every game, either,” Montgomery said.

The Stars are also waiting on Mats Zuccarello, who played a whole 13:35 after being dealt from the New York Rangers before breaking his arm. There’s an outside chance he returns this weekend as well.

TODAY’S GAMES WITH PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
Bruins at Blue Jackets, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream link)
Hurricanes at Maple Leafs, 7:30 p.m. ET
Lightning at Canadiens, 7:30 p.m. ET
Penguins at Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET
Jets at Wild, 8 p.m. ET
Flyers at Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
Oilers at Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET
Kings at Coyotes, 10 p.m. ET

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY

Lightning vs. Hurricanes
Capitals vs. Blue Jackets
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

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

TODAY’S CLINCHING SCENARIOS
The Penguins will clinch a playoff berth:

• If they defeat the Red Wings in any fashion
OR
• If they get one point against the Red Wings AND either of the following occur:
-The Canadiens lose to the Lightning in any fashion
-The Hurricanes lose to the Maple Leafs in regulation
OR
• If the Canadiens lose to the Lightning in regulation

The Blue Jackets will clinch a playoff berth:

• If they defeat the Bruins in any fashion AND the Canadiens lose to the Lightning in regulation

The Dallas Stars will clinch a playoff berth:

• If they get one point against the Flyers
OR
• If the Arizona Coyotes lose to the Kings in any fashion

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)
Lightning — Clinched
Bruins — Clinched
Capitals — Clinched
Islanders —  Clinched
Maple Leafs — Clinched
Penguins — 99.9 percent
Blue Jackets — 94.1 percent
Hurricanes — 75.4 percent
Canadiens — 30.6 percent
Flyers — Eliminated
Panthers — Eliminated
Sabres — Eliminated
Rangers — Eliminated
Devils — Eliminated
Red Wings — Eliminated
Senators — Eliminated

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES (via Hockey Reference)

Flames — Clinched
Jets — Clinched
Sharks — Clinched
Predators — Clinched
Blues — Clinched
Golden Knights — Clinched
Stars — 99.5 percent
Avalanche — 77.5 percent
Coyotes — 22.3 percent
Wild — 0.6 percent
Blackhawks — 0.1 percent
Oilers — Eliminated
Canucks — Eliminated
Ducks — Eliminated
Kings — Eliminated

JACK OR KAAPO? THE DRAFT LOTTERY PICTURE

Senators — 18.5 percent*
Kings — 13.5 percent
Devils — 11.5 percent
Sabres — 9.5 percent
Red Wings — 8.5 percent
Rangers — 7.5 percent
Ducks — 6.5 percent
Oilers – 6 percent
Canucks — 5 percent
Blackhawks — 3.5 percent
Wild — 3 percent
Flyers — 2.5 percent
Panthers — 2 percent
Coyotes — 1.5 percent
Canadiens — 1 percent
(*COL owns OTT’s 2019 first-round pick)

ART ROSS RACE

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning — 125 points
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 115 points
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 105 points
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 102 points
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins — 98 points

ROCKET RICHARD RACE

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals — 51 goals
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers — 47 goals
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs — 46 goals
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning — 42 goals
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks — 41 goals
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets — 41 goals
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning — 41 goals
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 41 goals

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Kane scores late winner as Blackhawks down Bruins 3-1

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For the Chicago Blackhawks to avoid a three-game losing skid, they’d have to beat a team that had just won six straight at home.

Luckily for the Blackhawks, the schedule lured the Boston Bruins away from the comfortable confines of TD Garden on Sunday and killed two birds with one stone, simultaneously ending both streaks in a 3-1 triumph at United Center in the Windy City.

The Blackhawks regrouped quickly, going 50-plus minutes without allowing a goal on Sunday, a day after allowing seven goals to the same Bruins team, including four unanswered en route to a 7-4 loss.

Chicago led from the 7:26 mark of the first period as Artem Anisimov deflected a point shot past Bruins netminder Anton Khudobin for a 1-0 lead.

Perhaps a little fatigue caught up with the Bruins and maybe the well ran a little dry.

Boston has had to make due without Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy, both nursing injuries, and David Backes, who is out due to suspension.

On Sunday, Brad Marchand‘s name was added to the list the walking wounded, after he was made a late scratch with an upper-body injury prior to the game.

It was a tad suspect after Marchand clotheslined Anthony Duclair on Saturday if the first game of the home-and-home, leading to an injury for the latter that’s ruled him out for 1-2 weeks. Perhaps the Bruins didn’t want to risk any retribution.

But even a Bruins team hampered by injury is still a good Bruins team as witnessed in Saturday’s win.

Despite all the scoring missing from the lineup, an old friend stepped up just after the mid-way mark of the third period.

Zdeno Chara let a wrist shot go that finally solved Anton Forsberg, who stopped 31-of-32 in the game.

Chara’s impact was felt again minutes later after an ill-advised high-sticking penalty gave the Blackhawks a four-minute power play.

Patrick Kane wasted no time snatching back the lead, firing a snapshot bar down past Khudobin for the go-ahead marker that would eventually be the game-winner.

Brent Seabrook would add the insurance marker with 1:05 left, putting the third goal past Khudobin, who negotiation 36-of-39 shots sent his way.

The Bruins trailed the Tampa Bay Lightning by six points heading into Sunday’s game, but owned three games in-hand. So chalk this one up as a missed opportunity to gain some ground against a team that won’t be playing in the playoffs this season.


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

It’s Carolina Hurricanes day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Carolina Hurricanes.

Despite changing their head coach and general manager, the 2014-15 season was more of the same for the Carolina Hurricanes.

For the sixth season in a row (and eight of their last nine campaigns), the Hurricanes failed to make the playoffs. Much like 2013-14, they were in the cellar of the East.

Granted, there are murmurs of hope; the Hurricanes subtly improved toward the end of the year and Carolina showed some signs of defensive improvement under head coach Bill Peters. Such patter sounds like baby steps in the grand scheme of things.

Despite some significant expenditures on that side of the puck, Peters identified scoring as a particularly glaring issue.

“We like where we are in terms of being able to take a step forward; it will depend on us having the ability to score,” Peters said, according to NHL.com. “We have to find a way to score more at 5-on-5.”

Off-season recap

GM Ron Francis faces tougher decisions soon, yet he was fairly busy this summer.

It was costly, but the organization cut ties with Semin via a pricey buyout.

In trading Anton Khudobin to Anaheim and acquiring Eddie Lack from Vancouver, Francis gives himself flexibility with Ward, as Lack could end up the No. 1 or even combine for a platoon situation. Swapping with Anaheim also netted an expensive upgrade to Carolina’s needy defense in James Wisniewski.

Optimists may cross their fingers that the Hurricanes will opt for a youth movement. Blueline prospect Noah Hanifin joins Elias Lindholm, Justin Faulk, Victor Rask and Ryan Murphy as intriguing young talents who aren’t in limbo like Jordan Staal or Jeff Skinner.

***

This time it really does feel like a fork-in-the-road season for the Hurricanes, even if it also seems like the organization has been procrastinating when it comes to making difficult (yet crucial) decisions.

Will things finally start to turn Carolina’s way in 2015-16?

Ducks re-sign Silfverberg: four years, $15 million

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The Anaheim Ducks locked in one of their talented young forwards on Friday, announcing they’ve signed Jakob Silfverberg to a four-year extension.

Per NHL.com, it’s a $15 million deal with a $3.75M average annual cap hit, a fairly significant bump from the $850,500 he made last season.

Not that Silfverberg didn’t earn it.

The 24-year-old set career-highs across the board last year in games played (81), goals (13) and points (39). But it was in the playoffs where Silfverberg really took his game to the next level; he tied Corey Perry for second on the team in points (18) and finished just four assists back of Ryan Getzlaf — impressive, given Getzlaf is one of the league’s premier table-setters.

The Silfverberg extension is the latest in what’s been a busy summer for Ducks GM Bob Murray. At the draft, he traded for both Anton Khudobin and Carl Hagelin; later, he traded for and gave Kevin Bieksa a two-year, $8 million extension, then inked Ryan Kesler to a monster six-year, $41.25 million extension.

In free agency, Murray added veterans Shawn Horcoff, Chris Stewart, Shane O’Brien and Brian McGrattan.

Ducks goalie Bobkov signs in KHL

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Anaheim netminder Igor Bobkov has signed a two-year pact with Russian club Admiral Vladivostok, per Championat.

Bobkov, 24, was the Ducks’ third-round pick at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. While he never played a regular-season game for the club, he was called up last season when both John Gibson and Frederik Andersen went down to injury (Bobkov briefly backed up Jason LaBarbera, who saw all the action.)

His move to Russia comes after Ducks GM Bob Murray acquired Anton Khudobin from Carolina at the draft. Khudobin is slated to be Andersen’s backup next year — Gibson is expected to get more seasoning in the AHL — which sort of left Bobkov as the odd goalie out, hence him signing in Vladivostok.