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NHL playoff picture after Friday: Last but not least

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For the final week of the 2018-19 NHL regular season we will take an updated look at the Stanley Cup Playoff picture — what the standings look like, the potential matchups, who clinched, and set the stage for Saturday’s biggest games.

The only game that mattered in the playoff race on Friday was the game the Columbus Blue Jackets played in. Win and they were in, and that’s exactly what they did

For some big numbers and highlights, check The Buzzer.

z – clinched conference x – clinched playoff berth (via NHL.com)

Friday’s East playoff clinchers

  • Just one: Columbus, as aforementioned. They make the playoffs for the fifth time in team history and for the third straight year. They’ve never won a playoff series.
z – clinched conference x – clinched playoff berth (via NHL.com)

Friday’s West playoff clinchers

  • None. All eight playoff teams in the West are decided. Where some of them finish will be determined on Saturday.
  • It should be noted that Colorado could climb into the first wildcard with a win on Saturday and a Dallas loss in regulation.

FRIDAY’S SCORES

Blue Jackets 3, Rangers 2 (SO)
Blackhawks 6, Stars 1
Ducks 5, Kings 2

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs — series clinched

Flames vs. Avalanche
Jets vs. Blues
Sharks vs. Golden Knights — series clinched
Predators vs. Stars

SATURDAY’S BIGGEST GAMES (with all 16 teams set, Saturday becomes a day of seeding battles)

Canucks at Blues (4 p.m. ET):

The easy math is that the Blues finish first in the Central if they win and both Nashville and Winnipeg lose. Basically, if they win, it’s cross your fingers time as they watch the two later games.

Blue Jackets at Senators (7 p.m. ET):

The Blue Jackets, who clinched on Friday, will finish in the first wildcard with a win and a Carolina loss in any fashion. They can also clinch providing they get a point and Carolina loses in regulation.

Hurricanes at Flyers (7 p.m. ET):

The Hurricanes can overtake the Pittsburgh Penguins for third in the Metropolitan if they win and Pittsburgh loses in regulation.

Rangers at Penguins (7 p.m. ET):

The Penguins need a single point to ensure they keep first place. They can also finish as high as second if they win and the New York Islanders loss in regulation in Washington. The Penguins can also finish as low as the first wildcard if Carolina wins and Pittsburgh loses in regulation.

Islanders at Capitals (7 p.m. ET):

The Capitals have won the Metro, but a point by the Islanders will ensure they finish second. Pittsburgh can overtake them with a win and an Islanders regulation loss.

Wild at Stars (8 p.m. ET):

Dallas keeps their first wildcard seed providing they get a point at home to Minnesota. If they lose, Colorado could overtake them with a win.

Blackhawks at Predators (8 p.m. ET):

The Predators will win the Central Division title with a win. Things get dicey if they manage only a point or lose in regulation. See Blues game above and Jets game down below.

Jets at Coyotes (10 p.m. ET):

Winnipeg will retake the Central lead and the division title if they win and Nashville loses in any fashion. They will also get it if they pick up a loser point and Nashville loses in any fashion.

Avalanche at Sharks (10:30 p.m. ET):

The Avs can finish in the first wildcard spot providing they beat San Jose and Dallas loses in regulation.


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

NHL Playoff picture after Thursday: Only one spot left

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For the final week of the 2018-19 NHL regular season we will take an updated look at the Stanley Cup Playoff picture — what the standings look like, the potential matchups, who clinched, and set the stage for Friday’s biggest games.

The Avalanche clinched the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, while the teams above them in the Central Division are jockeying for positioning, with the Predators on top, at least for now. The Penguins and Hurricanes clinched spots out East, while the Capitals locking down the Metropolitan Division was rough on Montreal, who lost to the Capitals in regulation. That Habs loss made it a big day for the Blue Jackets … who didn’t even play on Thursday.

For some big numbers and highlights, check The Buzzer.

p – Presidents’ Trophy y – division x – clinched (via NHL.com)

Thursday’s East playoff clinchers

  • The Carolina Hurricanes clinched a spot, their first since 2008-09. They are currently ranked as the first wild-card team, but have a chance to pass Pittsburgh and take the third Metro spot, depending upon how the final days of the season pan out. It’s also possible that Columbus could push Carolina to the second wild-card spot.
  • For the 13th season in a row, the Penguins clinched a playoff spot. As mentioned before, they could lose their current spot (third in the Metro) to Carolina. That said, the Penguins also have a chance to jump to second in the Metro, though the Islanders reduced those odds by beating the Panthers on Thursday.
  • The Capitals clinched the Metropolitan Division title, and left the Canadiens’ playoff hopes dreadfully wounded.
z – clinched conference x – clinched playoff berth (via NHL.com)

Thursday’s West playoff clinchers

  • The Avalanche clinched the final playoff spot in the West. As you can see above, the Coyotes stand at 86 points, so they’d max out at 88 if they won their last game. It’s unlikely, but there’s a slight chance the Avs could overtake the Stars for the first wild-card spot. Considering how much of a grind it was for Colorado to lock this spot down, the Avs would probably be wiser just to rest Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog (with Landeskog’s health being easy to question, considering that he seemed to return to the lineup far earlier than expected).
  • Nothing clinched beyond spots there, but the Central Division title race is coming down to the wire. The Predators have the edge after winning and the Jets losing in overtime. The Blues took care of their end by winning, giving them a shot at either the division crown or a round of home-ice advantage.

THURSDAY’S SCORES

BUF 5 – OTT 2
TBL 3 – TOR 1
NYI 2 – FLA 1 (SO)
PIT 4 – DET 1
WSH 2 – MTL 1
CAR 3 – NJD 1
STL 7 – PHI 3
NSH 3 – VAN 2
BOS 3 – MIN 0
COL 3 – WPG 2 (OT)
SJS 3 – EDM 2
ARI 4 – VGK 1

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs — series clinched

Flames vs. Avalanche
Jets vs. Blues
Sharks vs. Golden Knights — series clinched
Predators vs. Stars

FRIDAY’S BIGGEST GAMES

Blue Jackets at Rangers (7 p.m. ET): If the Blue Jackets win any of their next two games, they’re in. They can also crawl in by gaining two points over those final two games, but considering the exhausting few months they’ve had — both on and off the ice — it sure would be more pleasant to just win on Friday, right? The Rangers have every incentive to lose out, as maybe they’d fall behind the Sabres and/or Red Wings and improve their draft lottery odds. It’s tough to imagine there being a lot of incentive to spite John Tortorella (did Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist like Torts??), but then again, the Red Wings were just on a six-game winning streak, so it’s also not so easy to get players to tank.

Stars at Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET): This could be a tricky “trap” game in that the Blackhawks are a proud bunch, and also because as flawed as Chicago has been this season, that offense can often be explosive. If the Blackhawks make this about trading goals, consider that the Stars have only averaged 2.56 goals per game this season, the fourth-worst average in the NHL. They’re the only team in the bottom 12 to secure a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs because they’re even better at preventing goals, but just saying. As mentioned earlier in this post, there’s a remote chance Colorado overtakes Dallas for the higher wild-card spot, so Dallas has at least some motivation. Enough to value “staying sharp” over resting key, leaned-upon players? That’s up to Jim Montgomery.

(Personally, I’d rest the likes of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, so they’re less likely to be horse-blank when the games matter.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Playoff picture after Sunday: Flames win West; Movement in East

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For the final week of the 2018-19 NHL regular season we will take an updated look at the Stanley Cup Playoff picture — what the standings look like, the potential matchups, who clinched, and set the stage for Monday’s biggest games.

On Sunday, the Flames clinched both the Pacific Division title and the top spot in the West overall. With Calgary confirmed as the number one seed in the Pacific, we get an official playoff matchup: San Jose Sharks (two seed) vs. Vegas Golden Knights (three seed). Yes, that is indeed very exciting.

Those ended up being the only clinching moments, but there was significant movement in the East, with Pittsburgh beating Carolina and Columbus smoking the Sabres. Pittsburgh remains in the third Metro spot, while Columbus takes the first wild-card spot, seeing Carolina drop to the second wild card — for now.


X – Clinched Playoff Spot, Y – Clinched Division, Z – Clinched Conference

Sunday’s playoff clinchers

  • Nothing new clinching-wise in the East, but the lower ranks of the playoff standings shuffled.
  • Pittsburgh beat Carolina in regulation, putting them in the driver’s seat to lock down the Metro’s third seed.
  • Columbus battered Buffalo in regulation, so with Carolina producing zero points, the Blue Jackets leapt to the first wild-card spot on Sunday.
  • Carolina’s loss pushes them to the final wild-card spot, and leaves the idle Canadiens only back one point, with both teams down to three games remaining apiece. Is it all because the Hurricanes killed the “Storm Surge?” (Checks earpiece) Scientifically? Yes.


X – Clinched Playoff Spot, Y – Clinched Division, Z – Clinched Conference

Sunday’s playoff clinchers

  • The Flames clinched the Pacific Division, and also the top spot in the West.
  • With that, it’s Sharks – Golden Knights in the first round.
  • The Coyotes won, so the Stars will have to wait to clinch.

SUNDAY’S SCORES
New York Rangers 3, Philadelphia Flyers 0 (more)
Arizona Coyotes 4, Minnesota Wild 0 (more)
Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Carolina Hurricanes 1
Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Buffalo Sabres 0
Detroit Red Wings 6, Boston Bruins 3 (more)
Calgary Flames 5, San Jose Sharks 3

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
Sharks vs. Golden Knights — series matchup clinched
Predators vs. Blues

MONDAY’S BIGGEST GAMES

Washington Capitals at Florida Panthers (7 p.m. ET): The Panthers are already out, so they’ll try to spoil Washington’s bid to really lock down the Metro title. The Capitals have won four games in a row, and with Alex Ovechkin already beyond the 50-goal mark, locking down the top spot might just give them the leeway

Maple Leafs at New York Islanders (7 p.m. ET): The Maple Leafs don’t have much of a chance to take the second seed in the Atlantic from Boston, and the Isles face a tough challenge in trying to win the Metro from Washington, but both teams are in the hunt enough that this game holds some relevance. Oh yeah, and it’s not like emotions will be stagnant; a certain John Tavares is once again set to get a very warm welcome from Islanders fans on Monday.

Colorado Avalanche at St. Louis Blues (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN): The Avs beat the Coyotes via a shootout on Friday, so they have some breathing room, but Arizona made sure that Colorado cannot just mosey into the last stretch of the season. The Avs’ edge is one standings point and one game in hand on Arizona, so losing here – particularly in regulation – would really hurt. The Blues have a ton of motivation, too, as they have a shot at winning the Central Division outright if they continue their hot streak. This should be a heated one on NBCSN.

Winnipeg Jets at Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET): With 94 standings points, the Jets have a two-point edge on the Blues, while they hold a game in hand over Nashville. That’s not a large margin of error for the Central Division title. They’ll be facing a Blackhawks team with very, very slim playoff hopes, so expect desperation from Jonathan Toews & Co.

Edmonton Oilers at Vegas Golden Knights (10 p.m. ET): The Golden Knights are locked in to the third seed, and might be wise to rest some players. The Edmonton Oilers’ hopes are even slimmer than Chicago’s, so they’ll be desperate … but they’re also kind of a mess.

Then again, aren’t we all?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Frustrations boil over for Duncan Keith and the 11th place Chicago Blackhawks

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If you ask me, the Chicago Blackhawks front office made a clear decision heading into the 2009-10 season that reverberates today and may continue to do so for some time. Rather than giving themselves future breathing room, the team decided to bring in Marian Hossa and (briefly) retain Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker, a gamble that absolutely paid off in the short term with a Stanley Cup victory.

Of course, you probably know what happened last summer. Barker was already traded during the 09-10 season while the Blackhawks were forced to part with valuable commodities such as Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Antti Niemi.

The Blackhawks won their Cup thanks to two big picture reasons: 1) the high-end players who remain on their roster and 2) the staggering depth that no other NHL team could match.

Removing reason number two seemingly took away the Blackhawks’ ability to overwhelm opponents and store easy wins over the cold winter. They now find themselves in a scary place (11th in the West, to be exact) and face the disturbing reality that even their still-potent power play is beginning to falter. Jesse Rogers captured the frustrations of Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith.

“[Expletive] the power play,” Keith said after the game. “Nobody goes to the net to score goals. That’s why we don’t win.”

Keith played on both power-play units Monday, as Joel Quenneville changed personnel when the poor attempts piled up. But given the chance again to comment on their man-advantage play, Keith went back to even-strength.

“The other team had power plays, too,” he said. “They didn’t score. They got it 5-on-5. If we start relying on 5-on-5, we might win, instead of relying on the power play and blaming the power play or the penalty kill. We start doing better 5-on-5, we’ll win hockey games then.”

Quenneville didn’t like just about anything the Hawks did in the game and certainly didn’t disagree with his defenseman’s assessment.

Of course, the team’s need to get someone in front of the net probably makes the loss of a crease clogging and goalie-maddening presence like Byfuglien stand out that much more. It’s unfair to assume that Byfuglien would achieve the same results in Chicago as he is producing in Atlanta – after all, he is given a longer leash with the Thrashers since they possess far less options than the Hawks – but it’s tough to dispute the notion that his absence is glaring.

The Hawks most find improvement from within considering the fact that they only possess about $354K of cap space (according to CapGeek.com), less than one minimum NHL contract.

Keith, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were able to make themselves league darlings last season as the team’s depth made life much easier for their stars. Now the Blackhawks are a lot like many other top-heavy NHL teams and the results haven’t been flattering.

That being said, the team still possesses a talented group at its core, so you can’t totally count them out. We cannot help but ask: do you think the Blackhawks are a playoff team? Let us know in this poll.

Capitals end their losing skid with 3-2 win against Ottawa; Washington gets Southeast lead back

Sure, the Western Conference is far more tumultuous than the East, but that doesn’t mean that things cannot change in a single evening. And yes, beating the Ottawa Senators shouldn’t be a cause for celebration, but the Washington Capitals will gladly take any win they can get after losing 8 in a row (0-6-2 in that stretch).

Washington 3, Ottawa 2

Perhaps the best thing about this win was that the Capitals finally came back from a deficit after occasionally shrinking under the pressure of being behind by a goal or two.

Ryan Shannon and Chris Kelly gave Ottawa a 2-0 lead after one period, but a three goal second gave Washington all they needed to win. Mathieu Perreault was the unlikely hero, scoring the Caps’ first and game-winning goals while Eric Fehr also scored for Washington.

Michael Neuvirth earned his 13th win of the season with a 24 for 26 save performance while Brian Elliott kept Ottawa in it, setting aside 31 of the 34 Capitals’ attempts.

While 10th-place Senators are seeing their playoff hopes fade, the Capitals regained everything they lost on Saturday. They’re back to being the second seed in the East and the top team in the Southeast Division, even if those leads are slim because they’ve played more games than their peers.

Still, for a team that was reeling under the HBO spotlight, any win is a beautiful win. They’ll take what they can get.