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NHL Playoff Push: Avalanche meet Ducks in massive game Sunday

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Sunday is a fun day in the NHL as far as the race for playoff spots and finishing positions goes, with two teams battling it out for the Atlantic Division lead and a colossal matchup in the Western Conference in the race for a wildcard spot.

Eastern Conference

There are two marquee matchups in the Atlantic Division on Sunday, with the Boston Bruins visiting the Philadelphia Flyers (live on NHL on NBC) and the Tampa Bay Lightning hosting the Nashville Predators.

Boston retook first place in the division on Saturday with a 5-1 thumping of the Florida Panthers after Tampa regained their top spot in the night before. Boston holds a game in-hand between the two. A win today would see them retain their top spot, no matter what Tampa does. If Tampa wins in regulation or overtime and Boston manages just a point, Tampa would retake the top spot on ROWs.

The Boston game is particularly noteworthy given they’re facing the Flyers, who could move into a tie for third place in the Metropolitan Division with the idle Columbus Blue Jackets. Philly also has to look in the rearview mirror, with the New Jersey Devils just a point back and playing against the Montreal Canadiens later in the day.

Speaking of the Devils, they can distance themselves further from the idle Florida Panthers, who have taken a nosedive recently and sit five points back of New Jersey with a game in-hand. Florida can achieve a maximum of 10 points in five remaining games. A win by the Devils would put them seven points ahead and Florida’s playoff hopes would be hanging by a thread.

In other games, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins meet in a game that will either see a one-point gap at the top of the Metropolitan or the Capitals securing first place for good.

A regulation loss for Pittsburgh would ensure the Capitals win their third consecutive divisional crown as Pittsburgh will only have two remaining games while Washington would have a five-point cushion between them.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Western Conference

 

I said colossal in the lede, and I wasn’t lying.

The Colorado Avalanche and the Anaheim Ducks will lock horns in a massive game on Sunday night.

The Avs sit in ninth place, just outside the playoff line with 92 points — tied with the St. Louis Blues. The Ducks are sitting in the first wildcard spot with 93 points. So a regulation win by Colorado on Sunday would see both teams exchange positions in what’s become an intense four-way battle for three playoff spots.

A point by the Avs in any fashion would also see them take over the final wildcard. As an added bonus for winning, the Avs would move just two points back of the Minnesota Wild for third place in the Central Division.

Colorado will have to do all of this without their No. 1 goalie and top-pairing defenseman.

Semyon Varlamov was ruled out for the rest of the regular season on Saturday after getting barrelled into by Chicago Blackhawks forward Tomas Jurco in a game on Friday. Erik Johnson, meanwhile, will be sidelined for the next six weeks due to a fractured patella.

The weight on Nathan MacKinnon‘s shoulders just got a lot heavier.

A win for the ducks, meanwhile, would lift them past the Los Angeles Kings into third place in the Pacific Division.

It’s worth repeating: this game is pretty damn huge.

If The Playoffs Started Today

Boston Bruins vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Anaheim Ducks
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Sunday’s Key Games

Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers @ 12:30 p.m ET
Nashville Predators vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 6 p.m. ET
New Jersey Devils vs. Montreal Canadiens, 7 p.m. ET
Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 7:30 p.m. ET
Colorado Avalanche vs. Anaheim Ducks, 9 p.m. ET


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

WATCH LIVE: Boston Bruins at Philadelphia Flyers

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NBC’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Sunday, as the Philadelphia Flyers will host the Boston Bruins at 12:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

[CLICK HERE TO WATCH AT 12:30 P.M. ET]

PROJECTED LINES

Bruins: 

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak

Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciRyan Donato

Danton HeinenTommy WingelsDavid Backes

Tim SchallerNoel AcciariBrian Gionta

Zdeno CharaNick Holden

Torey KrugAdam McQuaid

Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Starting goalie: Anton Khudobin

 [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Flyers: 

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny

Oskar LindblomNolan PatrickJakub Voracek

Jordan WealValtteri FilppulaWayne Simmonds

Jori LehteraScott LaughtonMatt Read

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere

Travis SanheimAndrew MacDonald

Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Petr Mrazek

WATCH LIVE: NHL All-Star Skills Competition

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Fastest skater challenge:

Participants:
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning
Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets
Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks
Noah Hanifin, Carolina Hurricanes
Josh Bailey, New York Islanders
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

[NHL All-Star Game: Top moments from the Fastest Skater competition]

Passing challenge:

Participants:
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes
Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

[A simple request for future NHL All-Star Skills Competitions]

Save streak:

Participants:
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers, vs. Central Division
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets, vs Pacific Division
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators, vs. Metropolitan Division
Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights, vs. Atlantic Division
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning, vs. Central Division

[NHL All-Star Game: Fun Skills Competition moments]

Puck control relay:

Participants:
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
John Tavares, New York Islanders
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

[NHL All-Stars see lack of Olympic participation as ‘missed opportunity’]

Hardest shot:

Participants:
John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

[NHL All-Star Game: Top moments from the Hardest Shot competition]

Accuracy shooting:

Participants:
Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils
Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
James Neal, Vegas Golden Knights
Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

[NHL All-Star Game: Top moments from the Accuracy Shooting competition]

The Tampa Bay Lightning, who are celebrating their 25th season, and the city of Tampa will host the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend. The League’s midseason showcase will take place at AMALIE Arena and will include the 2018 GEICO NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Saturday, Jan. 27 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS) and 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Sunday, Jan. 28 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

WATCH LIVE: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Chicago Blackhawks

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH

Projected Lines

Tampa Bay Lightning

Nikita KucherovBrayden PointTyler Johnson

Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosChris Kunitz

Alex Killorn — Matthew Peca — Yanni Gourde

Michael Bournival — Cedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Jake DotchinAnton Stralman

Mikhail SergachevDan Girardi

Braydon CoburnAndrej Sustr

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

NHL on NBCSN: ‘Out of sync’ Lightning look to end three-game losing skid against ‘Hawks

Chicago Blackhawks

Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsAnthony Duclair

Patrick SharpNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatArtem AnisimovRyan Hartman

Tomas Jurco — David Kampf — Vinnie Hinostroza

Duncan KeithJordan Oesterle

Erik Gustafsson — Brent Seabrook

Michal KempnyConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Jeff Glass

Rick Nash scores twice as Rangers edge Sabres 4-3

Prior to Tuesday’s win, New York Rangers forward Rick Nash had gone 12 games without a goal.

They had lost three straight and the man they needed to start scoring again simply couldn’t.

But on Tuesday in a 5-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers, Nash found his stride.

And on Thursday night he notched two more in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on NBCSN.

Nash opened the scoring for the Rangers 1:24 into the game, taking advantage of a defensive mishap by Jake McCabe, who couldn’t handle a puck as the last man back and allowed Nash in on a breakaway.

The Sabres would respond by periods’ end, starting their first of three comebacks on the night.

Kyle Okposo brought the game to level terms with 1:19 remaining in the first period, completing a tic-tac-toe play on the power play.

The Sabres came into the game with the 31st ranking on the man-advantage, but managed to score twice with it in Thursday’s game.

The Rangers regained the lead through J.T. Miller in the second period.

New York just went through a power play without registering a shot on goal, but Miller was able to grab the puck at the right circle moments after the Sabres’ penalty had expired and rifled a wrist shot bar down behind Lehner at 8:26.

The Sabres engineered their second comeback of the game, tying it 2-2 the game later in the period from an unlikely source.

Justin Falk had gone 101 games without putting a puck in the back of the net. Not since March 6, 2015 had Falk seen his name in that category on the scoresheet.

But he shed that monkey off his back on a point shot low along the ice that beat Lundqvist through the five-hole with 2:50 remaining in the frame.

Nash scored his second at the 6:49 mark of the third period, following by Buffalo’s third successful comeback attempt at 14:59 when Rasmus Ristolainen’s shot found its way through a crowd and behind Lundqvist for a 3-3 tie.

Pavel Buchnevich scored the winner 1:03 later, finishing off a nice feed from Mika Zibanejad for his 12th and the Rangers second straight win.


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