Some NHL news and notes as we head into the last week of the regular season
The Columbus Blue Jackets have surged into the first wild card spot with a perfect 5-0 week outscoring their opponents 24-4. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky pitched the shutout today against Buffalo 4-0 and has pitched 3 shutouts in his last 5 starts. Bobrovsky has been one of the most talented goalies in the NHL but there has been plenty of off ice issues with him including a team in house suspension this year and talk of possibly trading him in the off season. The big win this week was the 6-2 thrashing of the Montreal Canadiens and the Blue Jackets now own a 1 point lead over the Carolina Hurricanes and 2 point lead over the Canadiens for a wild card spot. The Blue Jackets have a favorable schedule for their last 3 games as they play the Boston Bruins at home who have pretty much clinched the 2nd spot in the Atlantic Division and finish at non-playoff teams the NY Rangers and Ottawa Senators.
The Montreal Canadiens despite the critical loss at Columbus on Thursday bounced back with a huge road win at Winnipeg 3-1 Saturday night to keep themselves alive. Some very interesting scheduling dynamics for the Canadiens for their last 3 games. They play the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night at home who have nothing to play for and are nursing injuries on defense. On Thursday they play at Washington who also might have nothing to play for since they have a chance to clinch the Metropolitan Division on Tuesday night with a win and an Islanders loss. They conclude the season at home against Toronto who unless they have a total collapse are locked in the 3rd spot in the Atlantic and also might have nothing to play for as well.
The big 3-1 victory by the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Carolina Hurricanes today all but assures the Penguins of a playoff spot as they finish the regular season with a home and home against the Detroit Red Wings and a home game against the NY Rangers. The Pens will have to win out and hope for the Islanders to stumble to get home ice in the 1st round of the playoffs. Carolina has now lost 3 of 4 but if they win out they will claim the last playoff spot. A tough road game Tuesday night at Toronto, a home against the New Jersey Devils Thursday night, and close with a Saturday night road game at the Philadelphia Flyers.
Can the Toronto Maple Leafs just flip the switch when the playoffs start? They have lost 7 of 10 and have only beat 1 current playoff team since February 14th. In March they have lost 2 games to the worst team in the league in the Ottawa Senators and goaltender Frederick Andersen is in terrible form. This team is talented enough to turn it around and have 4 games this week to maybe establish some momentum going into the playoffs with a looming 1st round matchup against the Boston Bruins.
A great race between the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Avalanche have a 1 point lead and a game in hand against the Coyotes heading into the last week. The Avalanche won at home Friday night in a shootout against the Coyotes to maintain their lead. Goaltender Phillip Grubauer continues to be the big story in net for the Avalanche winning his last 6 of 7 giving only 10 goals in regulation during this stretch The Avalanche finish at St Louis, home against Edmonton and Winnipeg and finish at San Jose. Arizona finishes with the LA Kings at home, at Vegas, and home against Winnipeg.
Winnipeg Jets fans have to be concerned about their team as they have lost 4 of 5 including 3 straight at home and now are in a battle to win the division and could possibly lose home ice in the 1st round of the playoffs. The big loss was blowing a 4-2 lead against the offensively suspect NY Islanders giving up 2 goals in the last 2 minutes to lose 5-4. It should be a wild finish in the Central Division with Winnipeg and Nashville tied at 94 points and St Louis with 92. Winnipeg and St Louis have 4 games this week and Nashville only has 3. All of Winnipeg's games are on the road playing at Chicago, Minnesota, Colorado, and Arizona. St Louis has Colorado at home, at Chicago, and finish with Philadelphia and Vancouver at home. Nashville finishes at Buffalo, and have Vancouver and Chicago at home to finish.
The Dallas Stars now with 89 points finished an impressive Canadian swing winning at Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton before losing in a shootout to Vancouver to conclude the trip. They would have to have a major collapse not to get in the playoffs and finish with all non playoff teams Philadelphia at home, at Chicago, and Minnesota at home. Still concerns with starting goaltender Ben Bishop who left the game against Calgary Wednesday night with a lower body injury. Anton Khudobin has filled in nicely but the Stars need a playoff tested veteran like Bishop to have a chance in the playoffs.
You can pretty much put a fork in the playoff hopes for the Minnesota Wild as they get shutout today by the Arizona Coyotes 4-0 and now trail Colorado by 4 points who have a game in hand and trail Arizona by 3 with 3 games to play. They have lost 8 of 11 and have only scored 17 goals during that stretch. Coach Bruce Boudreau will probably be the fall guy for missing the playoffs.
What is going on with the San Jose Sharks heading into the playoffs? They have now lost 8 of 9 and and 6 of those losses have been at home and 5 of those losses have been against non playoff teams. They are locked into the 2nd spot of the Pacific Division but like the Toronto Maple Leafs are in very poor form. I considered them a possible favorite to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals but right now I would pick the Vegas Golden Knights to beat them in the 1st round of the playoffs.