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Playoff Buzz: Predators can clinch

Nashville gets in with at least one point against Blues or Kings loss to Coyotes

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Welcome to the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, your daily look at the stories impacting the sprint to the finish line of the 2016-17 regular season and the mad scramble for the four remaining spots in the postseason. There are eight days remaining in the regular season. If the playoffs were to start today, this is what the bracket would look like. Here is all the playoff news for Sunday:

 

Predators can clinch

Here is the Stanley Cup Playoffs clinching scenario for April 2:

The Nashville Predators will clinch a playoff berth if they get at least one point against the St. Louis Blues, or if the Los Angeles Kings lose to the Arizona Coyotes in any fashion.

 

5:14 p.m.
A big night still to come

We've already had one big ending, with the Boston Bruins defeating the Chicago Blackhawks and shooting from the second wild card in the Eastern Conference into second place in the Atlantic Division.

The puck already has dropped for crucial games for the New York Islanders at the Buffalo Sabres, and for the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, including a chance for the Predators to clinch their berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Pittsburgh Penguins at home against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Three more games start at 6 p.m., then the night really gets cooking. Let's take a look at what's at stake:

Colorado Avalanche at Minnesota Wild (6 p.m. ET; FS-N, ALT, NHL.TV) -- The Wild need a win to feel good about themselves as they start getting ready for the postseason. Look Devan Dubnyk to be in goal for the Wild.

Dallas Stars at Tampa Bay Lightning (6 p.m. ET, SUN, FS-SW+, NHL.TV) -- The Bruins' win leaves the Steven Stamkos-less Lightning five points behind the Ottawa Senators for the second wild card in the East. Lightning center Tyler Johnson will be game-time decision.

Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets (6 p.m. ET; FS-O, CSN-DC+, NHL.TV) -- It likely will be a Vezina Trophy showdown between Braden Holtby of the Capitals and Sergei Bobrovsky of the Blue Jackets. Columbus still has hope of catching the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals, but they're one point ahead of the Penguins for second place in the division. The Capitals can stretch their Metropolitan Division lead to six points with a win.

San Jose Sharks at Vancouver Canucks (7 p.m. ET; SN, CSN-CA+, NHL.TV) -- The Sharks believe they're better than their recent record indicates (they're 1-8-0 in their past nine) and are out to show it. They also need a win to stay in third place in the Pacific Division; they have a one-point lead on the fourth-place Calgary Flames.

Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV) -- Who's in goal for the Flyers tonight? That question might not get answered until game time. Whoever is in net needs to help the Flyers get a win, since they're seven points behind the Senators with four games to play. The Rangers will be without No. 1 defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

Anaheim Ducks at Calgary Flames (9:30 p.m. ET; SN1, PRIME, NHL.TV) - Each team has a chance to move up the standings. The Ducks can retake the Pacific Division lead with a win. The Flames could move into third place in the division with a win and a loss by the Sharks. The Flames also need a win to stay ahead of the Predators, who are one point behind them for the first wild card in the West.

Arizona Coyotes at Los Angeles Kings (10:30 p.m. ET; FS-W, FS-A PLUS, NHL.TV) -- The Kings will know if the playoffs remain a possibility before the puck drops at Staples Center. A win by the Predators would give Nashville the final berth in the West. If the Predators lose, the Kings still need to win to keep their postseason hopes alive.

 

4:27 p.m.
Big day for Bruins

Kevan Miller's solo effort in the third period was the difference on the scoreboard and Anton Khudobin made a season-high 41 saves in a big day for the Bruins.

Their 3-2 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center moved Boston past the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators into second place in the Atlantic Division. They're one point ahead of each team with three games remaining, including a game at home against the Senators on Thursday. Ottawa and Toronto each have five games to play.

 

3:44 p.m.
Sharks trying to stay ahead of Flames

The San Jose Sharks looked to be cruising to first place in the Pacific Division but they've hit a major bump in the road. They're 1-8-0 in their past nine games and have been outscored 35-16. 

Now they need a win to stay in third place in the division; a loss at the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; SN, CSN-CA+, NHL.TV) and a win by the Calgary Flames at home against the Anaheim Ducks (9:30 p.m. ET; SN1, PRIME, NHL.TV) would see the Flames jump into third place and knock the Sharks into a wild-card spot. The Flames also can pass the Sharks if they win in regulation and the Sharks get one point against the Canucks; the Flames would move ahead of them based on better head-to-head record, the third tiebreaker.

"We know we're a better team than the record indicates," coach Peter DeBoer said after 5-2 loss to the Flames on Friday. "It was only two weeks ago we were playing some great hockey and we did for a long time so it's fixable."

They'll have to fix it fast because the Flames are 15-4-0 in their past 19 games. And though they're watching the Sharks ahead of them, they also have the Nashville Predators one point behind him for the first wild card from the Western Conference.

"Obviously we're very, very happy we've clinched [a playoff berth] but I don't think we take our foot off the pedal just yet," Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau said. "We have an important four games here to go and they're big games for us."

Here's correspondent Kevin Woodley previewing the Sharks and Canucks, and correspondent Aaron Vickers has all the news for the Flames and Ducks.

 

3:20 p.m.
Islanders road just got harder

The New York Islanders play at the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; SN, MSG-B, MSG+, NHL.TV) and need a win to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive. They're seven points behind the Ottawa Senators with five games remaining but will have to play them without center John Tavares.

"You probably won't see him until the end of the year, that's for sure," Islanders coach Doug Weight said. "We'll continue to monitor … but yeah, he won't be playing in the regular season for sure."

Video: BOS@NYI: Tavares weaves into zone and nets wrister

Tavares sustained a lower-body injury against the New Jersey Devils on Friday. He leads the Islanders with 66 points and is second with 28 goals, and his all-around play will be nearly impossible for them to replace.

 

1 p.m.
Who's in goal for Flyers?

It seems like there's always a question about goaltending with the Flyers, doesn't it? But this weekend has been a bit different, even for them.

Steve Mason was sick and unable to play Saturday against the New Jersey Devils, so Michal Neuvirth started and Anthony Stolarz was recalled from Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League. But Stolarz was on a bus for a game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton when he got the call, so when the team arrived in Scranton, he got off the bus and jumped into a car for a two-hour drive to Philadelphia. To cover themselves the Flyers called Eric Semborski to serve as the emergency backup. It's a role Semborski memorably has played before.

Stolarz arrived moments before puck drop, but he wasn't sitting long. Neuvirth collapsed during a stoppage in play during the first period and was taken to Pennsylvania Hospital for observation. Stolarz went into the game while Semborski watched in full gear in the locker room. In a memorable moment, coach Dave Hakstol tried to get Semborski into the game, but the referees said he could play only if Stolarz was injured.

Tweet from @NHLFlyers: Per GM Ron Hextall, No update on Neuvirth yet. Mason is joining the team in NY tonight. Gudas is day-to-day with an upper body injury.

General manager Ron Hextall said Sunday that Mason would be joining the team in New York for its game against the Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV), but there was no word if he would be able to play. If Mason is unavailable, the Flyers would have to find a backup for Stolarz. That could be problematic because Lehigh Valley has a game at Hershey on Sunday.

The Flyers said Neuvirth has been released from Pennsylvania Hospital and is resting at home. He will be re-evaluated on Monday.

 

12 p.m.
Early start to busy day

The first puck drops at 12:30 p.m. ET in Chicago, where the Blackhawks host Boston Bruins.

It's the first of 11 games on the schedule, all of which have bearing on the playoff chase, either for teams looking to clinch postseason berths and those looking to improve their places in the standings.

Here is a look at the games and what they mean:

Boston Bruins at Chicago Blackhawks (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) -- The Bruins could go from the second wild card in the East to second place in the Atlantic Division with a win. A win by the Blackhawks could get them within one point of the NHL-leading Washington Capitals.

New York Islanders at Buffalo Sabres (3 p.m. ET; SN, MSG-B, MSG+, NHL.TV) -- The Islanders will try to keep their playoff hopes alive in their first game without injured captain John Tavares. He's listed as week to week because of a lower-body injury. New York is six points behind the Bruins for the second wild card with five games remaining.

Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues (4 p.m. ET; FS-MW, FS-TN, NHL.TV) -- To the winner goes third place in the Central Division. There's more on the line for the Predators, who can clinch a playoff berth with at least one point or a loss by the Los Angeles Kings later Sunday.

Carolina Hurricanes at Pittsburgh Penguins (5 p.m. ET; NHLN, ROOT, FS-CR, NHL.TV) -- The Penguins can leapfrog the Columbus Blue Jackets for second place in the Metropolitan Division with a win and a regulation loss by the Blue Jackets to the Washington Capitals. The Hurricanes, who had their 13-game point streak ended Saturday, are six points behind the Bruins with five games remaining.

Colorado Avalanche at Minnesota Wild (6 p.m. ET; FS-N, ALT, NHL.TV) -- A home game against the 30th-place team in the NHL standings could be just what the Wild need to get out of a funk that has seen them go 4-11-2 since the start of March.

Dallas Stars at Tampa Bay Lightning (6 p.m. ET, SUN, FS-SW+, NHL.TV) -- The Lightning won't have captain Steven Stamkos, but center Tyler Johnson and defenseman Jason Garrison could be in the lineup. Tampa Bay certainly could use them, seeing as how the Lightning are four points behind the Bruins with five games to play.

Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets (6 p.m. ET; FS-O, CSN-DC+, NHL.TV) -- The top two teams in the Metropolitan Division face off. The Blue Jackets need a win to hold onto second place in the division and potentially get within two points of the first-place Capitals.

San Jose Sharks at Vancouver Canucks (7 p.m. ET; SN, CSN-CA+, NHL.TV) -- The slumping Sharks have won once in their past nine games (1-8-0) and are one point ahead of the fourth-place Calgary Flames in the Pacific Division.

Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV) -- The biggest question facing the Flyers is who will be in goal for their latest most important game of the season. It could be rookie Anthony Stolarz, who made 26 saves after replacing Michal Neuvirth, who spent the night in the hospital after passing out during the first period. They need a win to remain alive for a playoff spot.

Anaheim Ducks at Calgary Flames (9:30 p.m. ET; SN1, PRIME, NHL.TV) -- The Ducks can jump back into first in the Pacific with at least one point. The Flames can move into third place in the division with a win and a loss by the Sharks.

Arizona Coyotes at Los Angeles Kings (10:30 p.m. ET; FS-W, FS-A PLUS, NHL.TV) -- It's simple for the Kings; they need a win and a loss by Nashville in regulation to keep their playoff chances alive. Los Angeles is 10 points behind the Predators for the second wild card in the West with five games remaining.

 

11:35 a.m.
Stamkos still out

The Tampa Bay Lightning need all the help they can get to make up the four points between them and the Boston Bruins for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, but it won't come from captain Steven Stamkos against the Dallas Stars on Sunday (6 p.m. ET, SUN, FS-SW+, NHL.TV).

Stamkos told the Tampa Bay Times that he isn't ready to play.

It's been more than four months since Stamkos played a game because of a knee injury, but there's little doubt that he'd be a huge help to a team that also could be missing forwards Tyler Johnson and Cedric Paquette. 

The Lightning will have four games left after Sunday, including what could be a season-defining game at the Boston Bruins on Tuesday.

 

9:22 a.m.
First division title clinched

The first day of April saw the first division champion of the season crowned, plus another division get a new leader. 

With the Minnesota Wild losing to the Nashville Predators on Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Central Division and clinched the top seed in the Western Conference. Fun way to spend a Saturday night off the ice for the Blackhawks.

Video: CBJ@CHI: Panarin buries second of game into empty net

The Edmonton Oilers, playoff outsiders for 11 years, now lead the Pacific Division after their overtime victory against the Anaheim Ducks.

The Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators also won to solidify their holds on the second wild card spots in the Eastern and Western Conference, respectively.

Let's take a look back at all the action Saturday:

Boston Bruins 5, Florida Panthers 2: The Bruins won their fourth straight game and opened a four-point lead on the Tampa Bay Lightning, their closest competitor, for the second wild card in the East. They're still fourth in the Atlantic Division but one point behind the second-place Toronto Maple Leafs.

Nashville Predators 3, Minnesota Wild 0: The Predators are on the precipice of clinching a playoff berth with a 10-point lead on the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings have five games remaining so there's no margin for error. With 91 points the Predators also stayed even with the St. Louis Blues, who are third in the Central and have one game in hand on the Predators. Though the Wild's loss eliminated them from contention for the Central title, they still have a seven-point lead on the Blues for second place in the division with five games left for St. Louis.

Winnipeg Jets 4, Ottawa Senators 2: The Senators lost their second straight and are third in the Atlantic by virtue of having one fewer regulation/overtime win (ROW) than the Maple Leafs (37-36). 

Toronto Maple Leafs 5, Detroit Red Wings 4: The Maple Leafs' third straight win boosted them past the Senators into second place in the Atlantic. Catching the first-place Montreal Canadiens remains possible; they're eight points back with five games remaining.

Montreal Canadiens 2, Tampa Bay Lightning 1 (OT): Alexander Radulov's goal 51 seconds into overtime gave the Canadiens their fourth straight victory and got them closer to their second division title in three seasons. The banged-up Lightning saw their four-game winning streak end and are four points behind the Bruins for the second wild card with five games remaining.

Philadelphia Flyers 3, New Jersey Devils 0: The Flyers shook off the scary sight of goaltender Michal Neuvirth collapsing during a first-period stoppage in play to win their fourth straight and keep their slim playoff hopes alive. However, the calendar is working against them; they are six points behind the Bruins with four games remaining.

Dallas Stars 3, Carolina Hurricanes 0: The Hurricanes lost in regulation for the first time in 14 games (9-1-4). The loss, combined with the Bruins' win, leaves them six points out of the second wild card with five games remaining.

Edmonton Oilers 3, Anaheim Ducks 2 (OT): Just another ho-hum night for Connor McDavid. Scores the first goal of the game, assists on the game-tying goal with 1:58 left in the third period and then sets up Leon Draisaitl's goal at 1:26 of overtime. The Oilers matched the Ducks with 97 points, but are ahead on the first tiebreaker with 40 regulation/overtime wins to 39 for the Ducks. 

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