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NHL Games of the Week, April 5-10

TUESDAY, APRIL 5TH

Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators

This game could easily be Colorado’s last stand for the 2015-16 regular season, as the Avalanche have lost three in a row and five of their last six games, dropping them five points behind the Minnesota Wild for the final playoff position in the Western Conference.  The Avs got pasted 5-1 at home by the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night, and the only reason they haven’t been officially eliminated yet is because of Minnesota’s loss in Winnipeg by the same score on Sunday.  Colorado has three games remaining, one more than the Wild.  Semyon Varlamov allowed three goals on 14 shots in the first period to the Blues, and he was yanked before the start of the second period in favor of Calvin Pickard.  Although the Predators have clinched the first wild card spot in the west and will likely play the Pacific Division champion in the first round, they have struggled following a 12-2-2 run, going 0-3-1 in their last four games and needing a 3-2 shootout loss at home to the Sharks on Saturday in order to pick up the lone point they needed to nail down a playoff berth.  Backup goalie Carter Hutton made 38 saves in the loss, but Nashville still blew a 2-0 lead going in the third period.  They’ll look to gain some positive momentum going into the postseason with three games left.  This will be the fifth and final meeting between these two teams, with Colorado holding a 3-1-0 edge.

San Jose Sharks at Minnesota Wild

The Sharks have locked up a playoff spot in the very top-heavy Pacific Division, as they clinched with their victory over the L.A. Kings at home eight days ago.  Since then, San Jose has split a home-and-home with the lottery-bound Vancouver Canucks, followed by a 3-2 win in Nashville in a shootout on Saturday.  With three games left, the Sharks trail the second-place Kings by three points and the division-leading Anaheim Ducks by four points.  Both Los Angeles and Anaheim have a game in hand on San Jose, so if the Sharks are to get home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, they’ll probably need to win out and hope one of their California rivals falls into a slump in the final week of the season.  San Jose is just 3-4-0 in their last seven games, so a win in Minnesota would go a long way in moving up a spot in the standings.  But at this point, they’re more than likely looking at a first round matchup against whoever finishes in second place, whether that be the Ducks or the Kings.  This game is even more important for the Wild, who lead the Avalanche by five points for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and can punch their ticket to the postseason with a victory in this game.  After winning six in a row and going 15-6-1 in their first 22 games under interim head coach John Torchetti, Minnesota has lost three in a row.  They dropped back-to-back games against Ottawa and Detroit before suffering a baffling loss in Winnipeg by a 5-1 score against the struggling Jets, denying Minnesota a spot in the playoffs.  There’s only one position left open in the West, and it’s essentially Minnesota’s to lose at this point.  After this game, the Wild will close out the season on Saturday against Calgary at home.  The Wild and Sharks split their first two meetings this season, both in San Jose.

 

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 6TH

Philadelphia Flyers at Detroit Red Wings

Two teams fighting each other tooth and nail for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference meet up at Joe Louis Arena in a huge showdown that will have major implications in the final standings in the East.  Philadelphia has won four of their last six games and are currently sitting at 91 points at the time of this writing, just one ahead of the Boston Bruins for the final wild card position in the Eastern Conference with four games left.  They were one of the hottest teams in the league for March and have a game in hand on Boston.  The Flyers will have had a few days to regroup from Sunday’s 6-2 defeat in Pittsburgh, so don’t be surprised if Philly comes out flying early on in this game.  That loss to the Penguins came on the heels of a three-game winning streak that saw them beat the Jets in overtime, the Capitals in a shootout, and the Senators in regulation, all on home-ice.  Steve Mason made 33 saves for the Flyers on Sunday in his ninth straight start.  Don’t be surprised if Mason makes his 10th consecutive appearance in net for Philadelphia in this one.  After getting blown out by the Penguins 7-2 at home on March 26th, the Red Wings have won three of their last four and are 6-4-0 in their last 10.  Jimmy Howard has started Detroit’s last two games, a 3-2 home victory over Minnesota on Friday and a 3-2 win in Toronto against the Maple Leafs on Saturday.  Detroit was able to move into third place in the Atlantic Division with that win over the Leafs.  However, they only hold a one-point edge on the fourth-place Boston Bruins with three games remaining.  They will have had three days rest heading into Wednesday’s match-up with the Flyers who have won the first two meetings against Detroit this year, one of them in a shootout.

 

THURSDAY, APRIL 7TH

Detroit Red Wings at Boston Bruins

The Wings will need that three days of rest, as they’ll immediately follow up Wednesday’s big home game with the Flyers with an equally crucial trip to Boston to take on a Bruins team that has been struggling over the last few weeks, costing them valuable points after briefly being in first place in the division in mid-March.  Boston is only 3-7-1 in their last 11 games, and in their last four games against playoff-bound teams, the Bruins have given up a staggering 20 goals.  Defensive play has not been a strength for Boston this season, as their play in their own end has been problematic all season.  That’s an even bigger problem when you factor in the struggles of starting goalie Tuukka Rask, whose play has been sub-par for Boston this season after being a strength for them over the last couple of years.  In their last game on Sunday in Chicago, the Bruins fell behind 6-0 in the second period before mounting a comeback that fell short in a 6-4 loss.  Those kinds of games have become the norm for the Bruins this season, as their porous defensive play has been balanced out by their offensive prowess, sitting in a tie for fourth-place in the NHL in goals scored.  As of this writing, Boston trails Detroit by one point for third place in the Atlantic Division and Philly by one point for the last wild card spot with three games left.  They’ll have a chance to improve their playoff position before Detroit arrives in town when they host Carolina on Tuesday night.  They’ll close out the season against the Senators at TD Garden on Saturday.  As for Detroit, they will end their regular season on Saturday afternoon against the Rangers in New York.  The Red Wings are 1-1-1 against the Bruins this season.

New York Islanders at New York Rangers

For a stretch of several weeks, it looked as if these two longtime rivals might face off against each other in the playoffs for the first time since 1994, as the Rangers and Islanders maintained a tight grip on second and third place in the Metropolitan Division.  However, with the Pittsburgh Penguins going on an absolute tear in the last month, the possibility of an Isles-Rangers first round series looks less and less likely.  The Islanders currently sit at 95 points in the first wild card spot, four ahead of the Flyers and two behind the Rangers for third place.  At 5-2-0 in their last 7, the Islanders bounced back from Saturday’s 5-0 loss at home to Pittsburgh by beating the Lightning 5-2 at the Barclays Center in the first half of back-to-back games.  They will travel to Washington on Tuesday to take on a Capitals team that has already clinched the Presidents’ Trophy.  The Rangers have 97 points and trail the Penguins by three points for second place in the Metro, and after losing three in a row, found themselves in a must-win situation in Columbus on Monday night.  Needing a win to clinch a playoff spot, the Rangers got the job done, topping the Blue Jackets 4-2 getting goals from four different players while Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves.  It’s the sixth consecutive playoff berth for the Rangers, who will host the Lightning on Tuesday night before welcoming the Islanders and Red Wings in their final two games.  The Isles lead the season series against the Rangers 2-0-1.

St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks

Going into the final week of the regular season, the St. Louis Blues have been one of the hotter teams in the Western Conference, as they’re currently tied with the Dallas Stars atop the Central Division with 105 points after winning seven of their last eight games.  Sunday’s 5-1 win in Colorado came at a price, as both center David Backes and goalie Jake Allen left the game with lower-body injuries and will not return for the rest of the regular season.  The team reported they will be re-evaluated before the playoffs.  How did the Blues fare in their first game without Backes and Allen?  By rallying from a 2-0 first period deficit to beat Arizona on home ice by a 5-2 score.  St. Louis has two games left to overtake the Dallas Stars, who hold the ROW tiebreaker over the Blues.  Whoever, loses out on the top spot in the Central will probably face the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, so this could be a potential first round preview.  Chicago is six points out of first place in the division with three games remaining, and have won four of their last five games after going through an extended slump over the month of March.  Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford hasn’t played since March 14th due to an upper-body injury that has lingered.  Scott Darling has started nine straight games in net and has filled in admirably in Crawford’s absence.  The Blackhawks have regained their offensive mojo, scoring 11 goals in their last two games, a 5-4 overtime win in Winnipeg and a 6-4 victory over the Bruins at home in which they raced out to a 6-0 lead before allowing Boston to score the final four goals of the game.  Patrick Kane had a hat trick and an assist against Boston, giving him 100 points this season.  It’s the first time Kane has gotten to 100 points in nine NHL seasons, and he’s the first Blackhawks player to reach the century mark since Jeremy Roenick in 1993-94.  Kane is the first American player to reach 100 points since Doug Weight in 1995-96.  The Blackhawks will host Arizona on Tuesday, St. Louis on Thursday, and travel to Columbus for the season finale on Saturday night.

Anaheim Ducks at Los Angeles Kings

The Pacific Division will likely come down to the winner of this game on Thursday night, as the Ducks and Kings have gone back and forth for the top spot in the division over the last couple of months, with the Ducks riding a 4-1-0 run in their last five games that has put them ahead of the Kings by one point.  Anaheim is dealing with a bit of an injury bug, though, as forward David Perron is out with a shoulder injury for the next 4-6 weeks while goaltender Frederik Andersen is out with a concussion.  Following a stunning 3-2 loss on home ice to the Canucks last Friday, the Ducks bounced back with a 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars at the Honda Center, scoring a pair of shorthanded goals and getting 24 saves from John Gibson.  They’ll host Winnipeg on Tuesday before playing the Kings at the Staples Center on Thursday night.  Los Angeles has gone 2-6-0 after winning four in a row, a stretch that has included puzzling losses to the Winnipeg Jets and the Vancouver Canucks, the latter happening on Monday night and costing the Kings a chance to nab first place in the Pacific.  L.A. threw 40 shots on net against the Canucks, but Ryan Miller made 40 saves on 42 shots as Vancouver played the role of spoiler for one night.  The Kings have three games left while the Ducks have four games left.  Anaheim has a 3-1-0 edge in the season series.

 

SATURDAY, APRIL 9TH

Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars

This will be the season finale for both of these teams, and this game could end up deciding the champion of the Central Division.  Nashville has the first wild card spot clinched and will await the winner of the Pacific Division due to the NHL’s crossover playoff system rules.  On the other side, the Dallas Stars are in a heated race with the St. Louis Blues for the number-one position in the Central, which has lived up to its reputation as being the toughest in the NHL.  Since Tyler Seguin was injured on March 17th, the Stars have gone 6-2-0, a stretch that included a four-game winning streak that ended on Sunday in Anaheim.  Jamie Benn has picked up the slack for his injured linemate, recently scoring his 40th goal, the first Stars player to reach that mark since Mike Modano scored 50 goals in the 1993-94 season, which was the Stars’ first season in Dallas following their move from Minnesota.  Dallas has two games remaining, one against Colorado on Thursday at home, and this game against Nashville.  The Predators host the Avalanche on Tuesday and the Coyotes on Thursday before finishing the season with this contest.  The Stars are 3-1-0 against Nashville this season.

 

SUNDAY, APRIL 10TH

Philadelphia Flyers at New York Islanders

This was a game that was supposed to originally be played earlier this season, but was postponed due to a severe blizzard that hit the East Coast and did a number on travel in the area at that time.  It will be one of two postponed games played on Sunday, as the Ducks and Capitals game in DC was also shifted to this date because of the inclement weather a few months back.  The season series between the Islanders and Flyers is tied 2-2-0, with one of the Islanders’ victories coming in a shootout.  Since the All-Star break, the Islanders are 10-2-1 at the Barclays Center, outscoring the opposition 44-21 in that time.  After playing the Rangers in the final game of their season series on Thursday night, they’ll host the Sabres on Saturday before the Flyers come into town.  Philadelphia will travel to Detroit on Wednesday, host the Maple Leafs on Thursday and the Penguins on Saturday before the season finale.  This could easily decide who gets the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

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