Evening games to hold more drama
What an afternoon of hockey!
The Boston Bruins won their fourth straight game, defeating the Florida Panthers 5-2 to pass the Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division in the early game.
In the later game, the Minnesota Wild lost 3-0 to the Nashville Predators, which allowed the Chicago Blackhawks to clinch the Central Division title and the top seed in the Western Conference bracket of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With six games left on the Saturday schedule, other teams can make moves of their own. Here is a look at what is still to come:
Ottawa Senators at Winnipeg Jets (7 p.m. ET; SN, NHL.TV) - The Senators will be without top defenseman Erik Karlsson and will start backup goalie Mike Condon. They have a one-point lead on Boston for second place in the Atlantic and a two-point lead on fourth-place Toronto, which holds the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
Toronto Maple Leafs at Detroit Red Wings (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, FS-D, NHL.TV) - The Maple Leafs have won five of their past six, but could use another win in their final visit to Joe Louis Arena, with the Bruins having won.
Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning (7 p.m. ET; CITY, TVA Sports, SUN, NHL.TV) - The Lightning are chasing the Maple Leafs, at least temporarily. Tampa Bay will have Nikita Kucherov back, but not Steven Stamkos or Tyler Johnson .
New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m. ET; CSN-PHI, MSG+, NHL.TV) - The Flyers would be eliminated from playoff contention with a regulation loss combined with the Maple Leafs getting one point against the Red Wings. The stretch starts against the Devils, who are playing a road game for the second straight day.
Dallas Stars at Carolina Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET; FS-CR, FS-SW, NHL.TV) - Carolina has earned at least one point in 13 straight games (9-0-4), the most in Hurricanes history. Goalie Cam Ward will start, but Eddie Lack could play again soon after injuring his neck two games ago.
Anaheim Ducks at Edmonton Oilers (10 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, PRIME, NHL.TV) - The winner will be in first place in the Pacific Division; the Ducks have 96 points and the Oilers have 95. Each team has 39 regulation or overtime victories. Anaheim is 2-1-1 in the season series; Edmonton is 2-2-0.
Blackhawks on top of Western heap
We have our first of four division champions and our top seed in the Western Conference for the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Chicago Blackhawks (107 points) clinched the conference's top spot and the Central Division title by virtue of the 3-0 victory by the Nashville Predators against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.
The Wild, in second place in the Central and the conference, have 98 points with four games remaining. The Anaheim Ducks, who lead the Pacific Division, are third in the conference 96 points with five games remaining.
The Blackhawks, who play the Boston Bruins on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC, TVA Sports, NHL.TV), will play the second wild card from the Western Conference in the first round, a spot currently held by the Predators.
The Predators and St. Louis Blues each have 91 points, but the Blues have a game in hand on Nashville and are in third place in the Central. St. Louis and Nashville play Sunday at Scottrade Center (4 p.m. ET; FS-TN, FS-MW, NHL.TV).
The win by Nashville also means it needs more point to clinch a playoff berth. The Los Angeles Kings, who are 10 points behind the Predators, must win their final five games without Nashville getting a point in its remaining four, and at least four of Los Angeles' victories must come in regulation or overtime.
Bruins ratchet up pressure
The Boston Bruins won again, 5-2 against the Florida Panthers at TD Garden on Saturday, passing the Toronto Maple Leafs for third in the Atlantic Division.
The Bruins staggered to finish off the game before a power-play goal by Brad Marchand, his 39th goal of the season, and an empty-net goal by Patrice Bergeron in the final two minutes allowed them to pull away.
Boston is one point behind the Ottawa Senators, who play the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, for second place in the Atlantic and one ahead of Toronto, which plays the Detroit Red Wings. Toronto and Ottawa each has two games in hand on Boston. The Maple Leafs would jump back ahead of the Bruins with a win, moving Boston into the second wild card.
The Bruins, who play their final road game of the season Sunday against the Blackhawks, have a five-point lead on the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are four points behind Toronto for the second wild card. The Lightning host the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
Elliot is key to Flames' success
There are lots of reasons why the Calgary Flames are back in the postseason, having clinched by defeating the San Jose Sharks 5-2 on Friday, but few are as important as goaltender Brian Elliott, as NHL.com staff writer Lisa Dillman explained in her column from Calgary. Elliott is 15-2-1 in his past 18 decisions.
Want more reasons? NHL.com writer Tim Campbell has five reasons the Flames are headed back to the playoffs.
Also, coach Greg Gulutzan was pretty chuffed about his team's performance and their journey from a slow start to a playoff berth.
Season of change for Blues ends in playoff berth
The St. Louis Blues only tangentially represent the team that went to the Western Conference Final last season before losing to the San Jose Sharks.
The coach is different; Mike Yeo replaced Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1. Goaltender Jake Allen became the undisputed No. 1 when Brian Elliott was traded to Calgary on June 24. Captain David Backes is gone, having signed with the Boston Bruins as a free agent last July 1. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk left in-season, going to the Washington Capitals in a trade on Feb. 27.
Yet the Blues persevered throughout all the alterations and qualified for the playoffs Friday by earning a point in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche in Denver.
How did they do it? NHL.com columnist Nick Cotsonika has the answers in his look at the five reasons why the Blues clinched.
Big loss for Islanders
If the New York Islanders are going to make a late run for a Stanley Cup Playoff berth, they'll have to do it without their best player, center John Tavares.
The Islanders said Saturday that Tavares is week to week with a lower body injury sustained Friday in a 2-1 win against the New Jersey Devils. The New York captain was battling for control of the puck behind the New Jersey net late in the third period and tried to avoid defenseman Steven Santini, but fell to the ice holding the back of his left leg. He needed two teammates to help him get to the locker room.
Tavares leads the Islanders with 66 points (28 goals, 38 assists) and plays in all situations. New York began Saturday four points behind the Boston Bruins, who hold the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. The regular season ends April 9, meaning that Tavares might have played his final game of the season unless the Islanders go on a roll.
No reinforcements for Lightning
There was hope that the Tampa Bay Lightning, in a desperate race to get one of the final spots in the Eastern Conference portion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, would get some lineup help in the form of forwards Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson for their game against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
That hope was dashed Saturday morning when coach Jon Cooper said neither injured forward will be in the lineup.
Now the attention turns to Sunday, when the Lightning host the Dallas Stars.
The Lightning did get some good news: Leading scorer Nikita Kucherov is likely to return after missing the previous game with an illness.
Tampa Bay enters Saturday trailing the Boston Bruins by three points in the race for the second wild card from the East, but has one game in hand. Boston plays an afternoon game at home against the Florida Panthers.
Early start to important Saturday of hockey
Things get started early, as the Boston Bruins face the Florida Panthers in a 1 p.m. ET matinee at Boston Garden.
It's the first of an eight-game slate that will have a huge impact on what the Stanley Cup Playoffs qualification picture looks like.
Here is a look at the games and what they mean:
Florida Panthers at Boston Bruins (1 p.m. ET; SN, NESN, FS-F, NHL.TV) -- Two of the three teams (the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes) chasing the Bruins for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference play later, so Boston wants to lay down the challenge with a win against the shorthanded Panthers.
Minnesota Wild at Nashville Predators (2 p.m. ET; FS-TN, FS-N, FS-WI, NHL.TV) - Each team is desperate for points. A loss by Minnesota assures the Chicago Blackhawks of first place in the Central Division. The Predators are two points behind the St. Louis Blues for third place in the Central Division and play the Blues at Scottrade Center on Sunday.
Ottawa Senators at Winnipeg Jets (7 p.m. ET; SN, NHL.TV) -- The Senators, who are likely to be without injured defenseman Erik Karlsson, face a Jets team that is doing a good job playing spoiler. Ottawa has a two-point lead on the Toronto Maple Leafs for second in the Atlantic Division.
Toronto Maple Leafs at Detroit Red Wings (CBC, NHLN, FS-D) - The Maple Leafs make their last visit to Joe Louis Arena; however, a victory, more than nostalgia, is the purpose of this trip, A win coupled with a loss of any kind by the Senators would put Toronto in second place in the Atlantic.
Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning (7 p.m. ET; CITY, TVA Sports, SUN, NHL.TV) - The Lightning have won seven of 10 games but still trail the Bruins by four points for the second wild card in the East. Forward Nikita Kucherov took line rushes during the morning skate and is likely return for the Lightning after missing one game because of illness. Montreal has a six-point lead atop the Atlantic.
New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m. ET; CSN-PHI, MSG+, NHL.TV) -- The Flyers need to win each of their final five games to have any shot at the playoffs. It starts against a Devils team playing back-to-back road games.
Dallas Stars at Carolina Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET; FS-CR, FS-SW, NHL.TV) -- The Hurricanes have earned at least one point in 13 straight games (9-0-4), the longest such streak in franchise history. However, they remain four points out of a playoff berth in the East and need to keep rolling.
Anaheim Ducks at Edmonton Oilers, 10 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, PRIME, NHL.TV) - First place in the Pacific Division is on the line here. The Ducks have 96 points; the Oilers have 95. Each team has 39 regulation/overtime victories. The Ducks are 2-1-1 in the season series; the Oilers are 2-2-0.
Tavares injury clouds Islanders triumph
The New York Islanders have little margin for error as they try to leapfrog three other teams to get into the postseason. And now they may need to do it without captain John Tavares.
Tavares, who leads the Islanders with 66 points, left a 2-1 victory against the New Jersey Devils on Friday in the third period and has already been ruled out for Sunday, according to NHL.com staff writer Brian Compton. Tavares' status for the Islanders' game Tuesday at the Nashville Predators is uncertain.
The Islanders moved within four points of the Boston Bruins in the race for the second wild card, but have the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning ahead of them.
Tavares sustained a lower-body injury while battling for a puck behind the Devils' net. When he tried to avoid defenseman Steven Santini, he fell to the ice, holding his left leg. He needed the help of two teammates to get back to the dressing room. He will be re-evaluated Saturday
"It didn't look great," Islanders coach Doug Weight said after the game.
Playoff Party Grows
Happy April Fools' Day people. Be on the lookout for pranks.
This is no joke, though.
The 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs added two more teams Friday: the Calgary Flames and the St. Louis Blues.
The Flames not only clinched a spot, but moved within a point of third place in the Pacific with a 5-2 win against the San Jose Sharks, who currently hold that spot.
The Blues got in with the point they earned in a shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
Of the four remaining playoff spots, three are in the Eastern Conference.
Here's a look at all the action from Friday, when all seven games had at least a modicum of playoff implications.
Pittsburgh Penguins 4, New York Rangers 3 (SO): The Penguins moved to 105 points, one behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for second in the Metropolitan Division and five behind the first-place Washington Capitals. The Rangers, who lost at home for the eighth straight time, fell seven points out of third place and are virtually assured to be the first wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
New York Islanders 2, New Jersey Devils 1: The Islanders needed a win and did just enough to get it. The Islanders, with 84 points, remain four points behind the Boston Bruins for the second wild card, but also have the Lightning (85) and Hurricanes (84) ahead of them.
Chicago Blackhawks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 1: Chicago has a nine-point lead in the Central Division and is virtually assured of the top spot in the West. The Blue Jackets continue to struggle to score (eight non empty-net goals in their past six games) and lead the Penguins by one point for second in the Metro. .
Colorado Avalanche 2, St. Louis Blues 1: The Blues, a Western Conference finalist last season, increased their lead for third place in the Central to two points on the Nashville Predators. Each team has five games remaining and St. Louis holds the first tiebreaker; regulation plus overtime wins (41-37).
Calgary Flames 5, San Jose Sharks 2:The Flames, with 92 points, are one behind the Sharks for third place in the Pacific. The second-place Edmonton Oilers have 95 points and the first-place Anaheim Ducks have 96. The Flames have four games left and could finish anywhere from first in the Pacific to the second wild card.
Los Angeles Kings 2, Vancouver Canucks 0: The Kings stayed alive in the playoff race -- barely. Los Angeles is eight points behind the Predators. Each team has five games remaining. Entering Saturday, the Predators have two more regulation plus overtime wins than the Kings.
Arizona Coyotes 6, Washington Capitals 3: The Capitals got off to a slow start in the desert and never recovered, missing an opportunity to pull further away from the Blue Jackets in the race for the top seed in the East and the Presidents' Trophy. The Capitals have a four-point lead and each team has five games remaining.