NHL week ahead: 10 games that can change the playoff field
With the season entering its final week, we're switching up the format a bit to recognize the wealth of meaningful games on the schedule. So set your DVRs, adjust your picture-in-picture viewing, or simply slide a second TV into the den and hunker down for 10 games that could change everything.
Tuesday, April 5: Sharks at Wild (8:00 ET; CSN-CA+, FS-N)
All they have to do is collect two points in any fashion and the Wild will eliminate the Avalanche from contention and seal the second wild-card berth in the Western Conference. Sounds easy, but after suffering three consecutive losses in regulation, Minnesota can't afford to take anything for granted, especially against a team that still harbors hopes of moving up in the Pacific Division standings. These two teams have met twice previously this season, with each winning once in San Jose.
Wednesday, April 6: Flyers at Red Wings (8:00 ET; NBCSN, TVAS)
Both enter the week with 91 points and holding down a playoff berth, but neither is guaranteed anything with Boston just one point back. A win in regulation all but seals the deal for one of them. A loss in regulation leaves them vulnerable to the Bruins. This one promises postseason intensity or your money back.
Thursday, April 7: Red Wings at Bruins (7:00 ET; FS-D, NESN, NBCSN, TVAS)
Tough spot here for the Wings, who have to play what could be the pivotal game of their season on the road and on the second night of a back-to-back. Tough on the Bruins, as well. They enter the week not just a point behind Detroit, but one game back in regulation/OT wins as well. They need to win this inside of 60 minutes in order to cover their bases.
Thursday, April 7: Islanders at Rangers (7:00 ET; MSG+ 2, MSG)
Nothing worse than dropping one to their hated rivals, but this seems like a game the injury riddled Isles would be better served by losing, no? They still have a shot at overtaking the Rangers for the third spot in Metropolitan Division, but all that does is buy them a first-round meeting with the red-hot Penguins, who starched them 5–0 on Saturday. Stay in the wild card, and they're looking at a date with the solid, but less imposing Panthers. Then again, you know the Isles won't roll over when they see those blue shirts at the other end of the ice at hostile Madison Square Garden. Should be a dandy.
Thursday, April 7: Penguins at Capitals (7:00 ET; ROOT, CSN-DC, SN360)
Think of this one as the weigh-in before a highly anticipated heavyweight bout. Maybe, with nothing on the line, it goes by quietly. Or maybe both teams will puff out their chests and step up in order to send a message before their inevitable postseason showdown. I'm betting on the latter.
Thursday, April 7: Blues at Blackhawks (8:30 ET; FS-MW, CSN-CH)
Their 6–4 win over Boston on Sunday assured the Hawks of finishing no lower than third in the Central. Now they have their sights set on the Blues and the second spot in the division. Chicago is four points back and both teams have three games remaining, so the Hawks must win this one, and get a little help along the way, in order to leapfrog St. Louis and gain home ice for what seems like an inevitable first-round matchup.
Saturday, April 9: Senators at Bruins (12:30 ET; NESN, RDS, SN1)
It could come down to the finale for a Bruins team that enters the week one point out of the wild card. The B's dug themselves a deep hole by losing seven of their last 10 games, then covered themselves in dirt by allowing 11 goals over the past two. Fortunately, they're up against a Senators squad that has nothing to play for and could be icing a youth-heavy roster. If the Bruins don't maul this team, they don't deserve a shot at the postseason.
Saturday, April 9: Penguins at Flyers (3:00 ET; NBC)
Nothing the Pens would love more than to help send their rivals packing for the summer. They helped pull Philly's suitcases out of the closet with a soul-crushing 6–2 win in Pittsburgh on Sunday. If the Flyers are going to stay in the hunt, they'll have to make a better showing in the first period. They were outshot 16-6 in the opening frame in Sunday's loss and 11-4 when these two teams met on March19. They can't afford another slow start against a team that is 12-1 in its past 13 games.
Sunday, Apr. 10 Flyers at Islanders (7:00 ET; TCN-PH, MSG+, NBCSN, SN360)
This is the one that could make, or break, Philadelphia's season. The two teams enter the week holding down the East's two wild-card berths and separated by just two points. Philly won their most recent meeting, 4–1, back on March 21 on the strength of a 23-save performance by Steve Mason, who also shut the Isles out on Jan. 9. And they might catch a break in meeting a tired, battered New York squad that will be playing in the finale of a five-game week.
Sunday, April 10: Ducks at Capitals (7:30 ET; PRIME, CSN-DC, SN)
This one won't matter much to the Capitals beyond, perhaps, a chance for Braden Holtby to set the single-season wins mark by a goaltender (49). And by this point the Ducks may have wrapped up the top spot in the Pacific and secured a first-round meeting with the Nashville Predators. But as a potential preview of the Stanley Cup Final, this could be an opportunity for both teams to set the table. The Caps won their previous meeting, 2–1 in a shootout on March 7, suggesting this one could be the perfect tune-up for next week's festivities.
The numbers game
• The Panthers' postseason berth is their first since 2011-12 and the fifth in the franchise history.
• Patrick Kane is now the first Blackhawk to score 100 points in a season since Jeremy Roenick put up 107 in 1993-94, and the first U.S.-born NHL player to do it since Doug Weight of the Oilers in 1995-96 (he scored 104).
• The Penguins have bagged 100 points for the seventh time in their last 10 seasons.
• Boston's season may be sliding into the abyss, but it would be a mistake to fire coach Claude Julien as a result.
• Mark Spector shares some of his favorite memories from Rexall Arena just ahead of the building's closure.
• Martin Broduer talks about the possibility of losing his single-season wins record to Washington's Braden Holtby.
• Patrick Roy ripped Matt Duchene for celebrating a meaningless goal in a loss. Seems like we have a bit of a disconnect between coach and star here.
• The Winnipeg Jets are facing a number of make-or-break choices this offseason. How would you fix them?
• If rumors of Pavel Datsyuk's imminent departure for Russia are true, it would leave Detroit's offense and salary cap in a terrible mess.