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'Hockey Night in Canada': 5 Storylines

Flames continue push for first place against Canucks; Maple Leafs host Rangers

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / NHL.com Managing Editor

The Calgary Flames can take another step toward clinching first place in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference when they play the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena in the second game of a "Hockey Night in Canada" doubleheader on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, SN1, SN360, CITY, ESPN+, NHL.TV).

The Flames (46-21-7) lead the San Jose Sharks by four points in the race for first place in the division and conference. The Canucks (32-32-10) are one of six teams separated by five points in the race for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.

In the first game, the New York Rangers (28-32-13) play the Toronto Maple Leafs (44-25-5) at Scotiabank Arena (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SN1, SNO, MSG, NHL.TV). Toronto is third in the Atlantic Division and headed toward the playoffs for the third straight season. The Rangers have lost five in a row.

Here are 5 storylines to keep an eye on:

 

Finishing first a big prize for Flames

The Flames have plenty of incentive to finish first in the conference and the division. The rewards include getting home-ice advantage through at least the first three rounds of the playoffs and facing the second wild card from the West instead of the first wild card team or the third-place team in the Pacific. In this case, that's a major difference; the second wild card in the West is all but certain to have the poorest record among the 16 playoff teams, while the third-place team in the Pacific Division looks like it will be the Vegas Golden Knights, who have won four in a row and 10 of their past 11 games, and went to the Stanley Cup Final last season.

Video: Discussing the Flames clinching a playoff berth

 

Flames dangerous in all situations

Calgary's 265 goals are third in the NHL, behind the Sharks (266) and Tampa Bay Lightning (292). The Flames have five players with at least 69 points, and each of those five (forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk and Sean Monahan, as well as defenseman Mark Giordano) has set an NHL career high in points. Calgary does its best work in the third period; the Flames are tops in the NHL with 108 goals and a plus-51 goal differential in the third period. Calgary also is the most dangerous team in the NHL when shorthanded; the Flames lead the NHL with 18 shorthanded goals, the most scored by any team since the Ottawa Senators had 18 in 2007-08.

 

Canucks won't give up

Every time it looks like the Canucks are about to fall too far out of the playoff race, they put together enough points to hang around. Vancouver has won three in a row, including a 7-4 victory against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday in the opener of a seven-game homestand. Unlike the Flames, the Canucks rely on three players, all forwards, for most of their scoring. Elias Pettersson leads the Canucks and NHL rookies with 63 points (27 goals, 36 assists) in 63 games. Bo Horvat has 57 points (27 goals, 30 assists) in 74 games, and Brock Boeser has 52 points (24 goals, 28 assists) in 61 games. They are the only Canucks players with more than 14 goals or 31 points. Vancouver's 202 goals scored are tied for 22nd in the NHL, but they've been sufficient for the Canucks to stay close enough that a late surge could get them into the playoffs.

Video: Discussing Elias Pettersson's breakout rookie season

 

Maple Leafs headed for playoffs again

Toronto is third in the Atlantic Division and still has a little more work to do, but a win against the Rangers will get them two points closer to a third straight trip to the playoffs, something that hasn't happened since the Maple Leafs qualified for six consecutive seasons from 1998-99 through 2003-04. They've played much better defensively this week, allowing five goals (one into an empty net) in splitting road games against the Nashville Predators (3-0 loss Tuesday) and Buffalo Sabres (4-2 win Wednesday) after allowing 23 goals in four games (three losses) last week. Toronto has three forwards averaging more than a point per game (Mitchell Marner, 1.16; Auston Matthews, 1.13; John Tavares, 1.09) and the only defenseman in the NHL with 20 goals (Morgan Rielly). But the absence of defensemen Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott has made life more difficult for goalies Frederik Andersen and Garret Sparks -- most notably for Andersen, who has started 54 of Toronto's 74 games but has allowed 16 goals in his past four starts.

Video: Johnston on Montour-Dahlin, Maple Leafs rebounding

 

Rangers looking toward 2019-20

This was going to be a rebuilding season for the Rangers, who will miss the playoffs for the second straight season, but it's finishing on a down note; they are 0-4-1 in their past five games and 1-6-5 in their past 12. Center Mika Zibanejad has set personal NHL-highs in goals (28), assists (39) and points (67), and some of New York's young players, such as 19-year-old forward Filip Chytil, have shown flashes of promise. The Rangers generally have played hard under first-year coach David Quinn despite their record and recent struggles; he and general manager Jeff Gorton will use the remainder of the season to help determine which players they feel can become part of a core group that will help the Rangers return to the playoffs.

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