Blues, Flames can clinch
Here are the clinching scenarios for Friday:
The St. Louis Blues will clinch a playoff berth:
1) If they get at least one point against the Colorado Avalanche
2) If the Los Angeles Kings lose to the Vancouver Canucks in any fashion
The Calgary Flames will clinch a playoff berth:
1) If they defeat the San Jose Sharks in any fashion
2) If they get one point against the Sharks AND the Kings lose to the Canucks in any fashion
3) If the Kings lose to the Canucks in regulation
Time to rock!
Puck drop on the first of seven games is in about 30 minutes and begins six hours of high drama to start the weekend.
So much is at stake, and you will have to do some planning to see all the action Friday, but we have you covered here at the Playoff Buzz.
Here's a look at the seven-game slate, focusing on the six games with major playoff implications and what is important about each game. Make sure the remote batteries are fresh and the laptop and phones and fully charged.
Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET, SN, MSG2, ROOT, NHL.TV)
The Rangers could move within four points of the Penguins for third place in the Metropolitan Division with a win and can guarantee they finish no worse than the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders (7:30 p.m. ET; MSG+, MSG+2, NHL.TV)
The Islanders face a win-or-be-in-big-trouble scenario against their Metropolitan Division rival.
Columbus Blue Jackets at Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET; CSN-CH, FS-0, NHL.TV)
The Blue Jackets had mechanical issues with their plane that caused a delay in getting to Chicago, but they won't use that as an excuse in this measuring-stick game.
St. Louis Blues at Colorado Avalanche (9 p.m. ET; ALT, FS-MW, NHL.TV)
The Blues can clinch a playoff berth if they get at least one point in this game or the Los Angeles Kings lose to the Vancouver Canucks in any fashion on Friday (10 p.m. ET; SN360, SNP, FS-W, NHL.TV).
San Jose Sharks at Calgary Flames (9 p.m. ET; SNW, CSN-CA, NHL.TV)
The Flames can clinch a playoff berth in one of three ways and also move within one point of the Sharks for third place in the Pacific Division with a victory.
Washington Capitals at Arizona Coyotes (10 p.m. ET; FS-A, CSN-DC+, NHL.TV)
The Capitals go for their seventh straight win and will look to solidify their place at the head of the race for the Presidents' Trophy.
Enjoy the games and join us again Saturday for another edition of the Playoff Buzz.
McDonagh out for Rangers
The New York Rangers can guarantee they'll be at least the first wild card into playoffs from the Eastern Conference with a win of any kind against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday at Madison Square Garden.
But, as NHL.com Senior Writer Dan Rosen points out in his preview, to do that, they will have to end a seven-game home losing streak (0-5-2) and do it without defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who is out with an undisclosed injury. Coach Alain Vigneault said the injury is not serious.
Blue Jackets struggling to score
You can't win if you can't score. The Columbus Blue Jackets are learning that as they chase the Washington Capitals for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Metropolitan Division title and the Presidents' Trophy.
As NHL.com correspondent Craig Merz points out in his preview, the Blue Jackets have seven non-empty net goals in their past five games and have 13 power-play goals in their past 100 opportunities.
Look back to predict future
Virtually every team remaining in the playoff race made a transaction leading up to the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline on March 1 in an attempt to address a weakness or shore up a strength.
Some trades have worked out better than others; defenseman Jordie Benn has had success with the Montreal Canadiens, and forward Martin Hanzal has had a negligible impact with the Minnesota Wild.
So, who made the best of the deadline deals? It remains to be seen, but NHL.com Staff Writer Tom Gulitti assessed where the big trades stand with the one-month anniversary approaching Saturday.
Bernier has huge impact for Ducks
Earlier this season, few would have expected goaltender Jonathan Bernier to have such a big say in the playoff race.
The backup for the Anaheim Ducks was a bit of an afterthought before starter John Gibson sustained a lower-body injury Feb. 20 against the Arizona Coyotes. But in 15 starts since Feb. 22, Bernier is 11-2-2 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. He is a major reason why the Ducks have taken the lead in a very tight Pacific Division.
How did Bernier develop from the goalie traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Ducks in July to become the hottest goalie of the spring? A big part of it was his reunion with two mentors, as Kevin Woodley explains in his most recent "Unmasked" column.
NBC has playoff races covered
Hockey fans in the United States won't be lacking for playoff hockey on national TV during the sprint to the finish of the regular season. In the final eight days of the season, NBC will have 10 games on its networks.
The coverage begins Sunday with two games; the NHL Game of the Week between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) and the game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Tuesday is another doubleheader: a huge game for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN), as well as the Edmonton Oilers against the Los Angeles Kings (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
The final Wednesday Night Rivalry features the New York Rangers visiting the Washington Capitals (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN). The Rangers could be in a fight for third place in the Metropolitan Division and the Capitals are closing in on the Presidents' Trophy.
A doubleheader Thursday has the Bruins hosting the Ottawa Senators in an Atlantic Division battle (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the Blackhawks playing at the Anaheim Ducks (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN). The Ducks are in a four-team scramble for positioning in the Pacific Division.
The Lightning visit the Montreal Canadiens on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN) in a game that could go a long way in determining the Lightning's playoff fate.
The Bruins host the Capitals on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBC) in a game that could have playoff implications for each team.
On April 9, the final day of the regular season, NBCSN will showcase "whip-around" coverage at 7 p.m. ET, providing live look-ins across NHL games with playoff implications. The network will also look ahead to first-round matchups as the playoff picture becomes clearer towards the end of the night.
Don't forget, every remaining game of the regular season is also available on NHL.TV (subject to blackouts)
Fantastic Friday on tap
The beauty of the final two weeks of the season is there is virtually no break from the drama. Almost every game has some sort of playoff impact and the games come fast and furious.
Friday is no different. There are seven games and the results of six of them will have direct impacts on the developing picture of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Let's take a look at the action:
Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET, SN, MSG 2, ROOT, NHL.TV) -- The Penguins are three points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for second in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers could move within four points of the Penguins with a win, although Pittsburgh has a game in hand.
New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders (7 30 p.m. ET; MSG+, MSG+2, NHL.TV) -- The Islanders must rebound from a 6-3 loss at the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday or their playoff aspirations will take a serious hit.
Columbus Blue Jackets at Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET; CSN-CH, FS-0, NHL.TV) -- A marquee matchup between two of the four teams that have reached 100 points so far this season. The Blue Jackets can solidify their hold on second in the Metropolitan with a win. Chicago needs a victory to keep its hopes for the Presidents' Trophy alive.
St. Louis Blues at Colorado Avalanche (9 p.m. ET; ALT, FS-MW, NHL.TV) -- The Blues can clinch a playoff berth and solidify their hold on third place in the Central Division. St. Louis will move three points ahead of the Nashville Predators in the Central race with a victory.
San Jose Sharks at Calgary Flames (9 p.m. ET; SNW, CSN-CA, NHL.TV) - San Jose is playing the second of back-to-back games and need a win to stop its slide down the Pacific Division standings. Calgary can clinch a playoff berth and cut the deficit on third place in the Pacific to one point with a win.
Washington Capitals at Arizona Coyotes (10 p.m. ET; FS-A, CSN-DC+, NHL.TV) - The Capitals, who have won six in a row, hold a four-point lead on the Blue Jackets in race for the Presidents' Trophy and first place in the Eastern Conference and Metropolitan Division.
Canadiens never lost faith
The Montreal Canadiens clinched a playoff spot, and may well win the Atlantic Division, because they never lost faith during a demoralizing slide down the standings in the middle of their season, a slide eerily similar to the one that cost them a berth in the 2016 postseason after a red-hot start.
LNH.com managing editor Arpon Basu has an insightful look at what is different this season, and it goes deeper than just having a healthy Carey Price as their goaltender.
Montreal returns to the playoffs.
Each of the nine games played on Thursday had an impact on playoff positioning, but only one result provided us with another playoff participant.
The Montreal Canadiens punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 6-2 victory against the Florida Panthers at Bell Center, becoming the fifth team from the Eastern Conference, and the 10th team in the NHL, to qualify for the postseason.
Here's a closer look at the action from Thursday:
Montreal Canadians 6, Florida Panthers 2: The Canadians, who will be making their fourth playoff appearance in the past five seasons, own a six-point advantage on the Ottawa Senators for first in the Atlantic Division. Montreal forward Paul Byron had two goals, giving him 22 for the season. He had 28 in his first career 200 games.
Video: Habs clinch playoff berth with 6-2 win vs. Panthers
Philadelphia Flyers 6, New York Islanders 3: This was not the game the Islanders wanted. They allowed five goals in the first period of what was virtually a must-win and fell six points out of the second wild card from the Eastern Conference with six games to play. The Flyers are six points out with five games left.
Carolina Hurricanes 2, Columbus Blue Jackets 1 (OT): Forward Jeff Skinner tied the game with 4:20 left in the third period and set up the winner by Noah Hanifin in overtime as the Hurricanes ran their point streak to a franchise-record 13 games (9-0-4). Carolina is four points out of the second wild card, but has a game in hand on the Boston Bruins, who hold that spot.
Boston Bruins 2, Dallas Stars 0: The Bruins won their third straight game to stay ahead of the chasing pack for the second wild card and remain one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic. Boston has a three-point lead on the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have a game in hand.
Tampa Bay Lightning 5, Detroit Red Wings 3: Victor Hedman set a Lightning record for points by a defenseman (66) as the Lightning won their fourth straight and kept pressure on the Bruins. Tampa Bay is three points out of the second wild card and has a game in hand on Boston.
Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Nashville Predators 1: Rookie Auston Matthews scored his seventh game-winning goal of the season and the Maple Leafs held firm to third in the Atlantic Division. They are two points behind the Senators for second place. It was a tough loss for Nashville, which missed the chance to pass the St. Louis Blues and move back into third place in the Central Division.
Minnesota Wild 5, Ottawa Senators 1: The Wild won for the first time in five games to reinforce their hold on second place in Central. Ottawa, without star defenseman Erik Karlsson, fell six points behind Montreal for first in the Atlantic.
Winnipeg Jets 4, Anaheim Ducks 3: The Ducks earned one point, enough to keep them in first place in the Pacific Division, one point ahead of the Edmonton Oilers. But, the Ducks may yet rue the lost point after leading 3-1 in this game. The Jets tied the game with 12 seconds left in regulation.
Edmonton Oilers 3, San Jose Sharks 2: Forward Connor McDavid extended his point streak to nine games as the Oilers won their seventh straight at home and moved into sole possession of second place in the Pacific, one point ahead of the Sharks and one point behind the Ducks.