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Playoff Buzz: Maple Leafs go for clincher

Toronto can earn second wild card in East by defeating Penguins

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

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 one remaining spot in the postseason, as well as final playoff positioning. There are two days remaining in the season. If the playoffs were to start today, this is what the bracket would look like. Here is all the playoff news for Saturday:

 
Clinching scenarios
 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

The Toronto Maple Leafs will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in any fashion.

The New York Islanders are out:

* If they lose to the New Jersey Devils in any fashion

* If Toronto wins in any fashion

* If Toronto gets one point AND the Islanders fail to win in regulation or overtime

 

The Tampa Bay Lightning (idle) are out:

* If Toronto wins in any fashion

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

The Anaheim Ducks (idle) will clinch the Pacific Division title:

* If the Edmonton Oilers lose to the Vancouver Canucks in any fashion

 

The St. Louis Blues will clinch the No. 3 seed in the Central Division:

* If they get at least one point against the Carolina Hurricanes

OR

* If the Nashville Predators lose to the Winnipeg Jets in any fashion

 

The Calgary Flames will clinch the No. 1 wild card in the Western Conference:

* If they defeat the San Jose Sharks in any fashion

OR

* If they get one point against the Sharks AND the Predators lose to the Jets in any fashion

OR

* If the Predators lose to the Jets in regulation

 

The Nashville Predators will clinch the No. 1 wild card in the Western Conference:

* If they defeat the Jets in any fashion AND the Flames lose to the Sharks in any fashion

OR

* If they get one point against the Jets AND the Flames lose to the Sharks in regulation

 

6:20 p.m.
Evening action begins

The Eastern Conference bracket remains unsettled after the Boston Bruins failed to clinch third place in the Atlantic Division, losing 3-1 to the visiting Washington Capitals.

Boston, which finished the regular season with 95 points and has already clinched a playoff berth, has a two-point lead on the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have yet to clinch the final berth in the East and have two games remaining, beginning Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Tampa Bay Lightning, who are idle, and New York Islanders, who just started playing against the New Jersey Devils, need to win out and get help.

There are 11 games remaining Saturday. Here is a look at the six with playoff implications:

New York Islanders at New Jersey Devils (6 p.m. ET; MSG, MSG+, NHL.TV) - It's simple for the Islanders: They need to win to have a chance to fight another day. 

Nashville Predators at Winnipeg Jets (7 p.m. ET; CITY, FS-TN, NHL.TV) - If the Predators lose, they finish in the second wild card from the Western Conference and play the Chicago Blackhawks. With a win, the first wild card and maybe even third place in the Central Division could be in play.

Pittsburgh Penguins at Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET; CBC, NHLN, ROOT, NHL.TV) -  A win by the Maple Leafs would knock the Lightning and Islanders out of playoff contention and make third place in the Atlantic a possibility. With a loss, Toronto's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday could become a win-or-go-home scenario.

St. Louis Blues at Carolina Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET; FS-CR, FS-MW, NHL.TV) - The Blues need one point to assure themselves of third place in the Central Division and a first-round series against the Minnesota Wild. They have two games in which to do it. St. Louis can also finish third if Nashville loses to Winnipeg in any fashion.

Edmonton Oilers at Vancouver Canucks (10 p.m. ET; CBC, NHL.TV) - The Oilers need to win to keep hopes of a Pacific Division title alive. They trail the idle Anaheim Ducks by four points. A win, or even a loss in overtime or the shootout, would guarantee Edmonton second place in the Pacific and home-ice advantage in the first round.

Calgary Flames at San Jose Sharks (10 p.m. ET; SN, NHLN, NBCS CA+) - The Flames earn the first wild card with a win, a non-regulation loss coupled with a loss by Nashville or a loss by Nashville in regulation on Saturday. The Sharks can keep alive their slim hopes for second in the Pacific with a victory.

Enjoy the games and then get some rest because we will do it all again Sunday in an extended edition of the Playoff Buzz. We will be with you from the first post in the morning straight through the final game of the regular season and until the schedule is announced for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It should be a memorable day. See you then.

 

5:15 p.m.
Struggles continue for Columbus

The Columbus Blue Jackets lost again Saturday, dropping a 4-2 decision to the already eliminated Philadelphia Flyers on the road.

Columbus is 0-5-1 in its past six games and looking for answers. It is the longest losing streak during coach John Tortorella's tenure.

Leading goal scorer Cam Atkinson (34 goals) was benched in the third period because of his struggles. "The way Cam was playing at the time, it wasn't helping him [to play]," Tortorella said. "I'm trying to save him."

Columbus plays at Toronto on Sunday (6 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, FS-O, NHL.TV) in a game that could mean a good deal for the Maple Leafs, who have not yet qualified for the playoffs.

On the good-news front, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen told NHL.com staff writer Adam Kimelman the Blue Jackets expect rookie defenseman Zach Werenski to be ready for the postseason. Werenski has missed the past three games with an upper-body injury sustained April 2.

The Blue Jackets will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference First Round. The Stanley Cup Playoffs start Wednesday.

 

3:55 p.m.
Senators lock down second place in Atlantic

We have one of the many answers we need before the end of the season: the Ottawa Senators are the second-place team in the Atlantic Division and will have the home-ice advantage in their Eastern Conference First Round series.

The Senators earned their spot with a 3-1 victory against the New York Rangers on Saturday. The Rangers were already locked into the first wild card from the East and dressed a lineup that was without six regulars.

Still to be decided in the East is which team will finish third in the Atlantic and play Ottawa in the first round, and which team will get the second wild card and play the Washington Capitals.

The Boston Bruins, playing now against the Capitals, are in third. The Toronto Maple Leafs, who play against the Pittsburgh Penguins later Saturday, hold the wild card and are two points behind the Bruins. The Tampa Bay Lightning, idle Saturday, and the New York Islanders, who play the New Jersey Devils later Saturday, are still alive but need to win out and get help.

 

12:25 p.m.
Here we go!

We hope you are properly fortified with snacks and beverages. Our 13-hour, 14-game marathon is just about to start with an important game for the Ottawa Senators against the visiting New York Rangers (12:30 p.m. ET; SN, NHLN, RDS, MSG, NHL.TV).

Remember, the Senators can lock up the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic Division in one of three ways:

1. A win against the Rangers.

2. A non-regulation loss against the Rangers and the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs each lose in any fashion.

3. Losses by the Bruins and Maple Leafs in regulation.

Ottawa will use the same lineup it deployed Thursday against the Bruins on Thursday, meaning Craig Anderson will be in goal and defenseman Erik Karlsson will not play. Coach Guy Boucher said Saturday that it is unlikely Karlsson would play Sunday, even if Ottawa was still fighting for playoff positioning.

The Rangers, locked into the first wild card in the East and a matchup with the Montreal Canadians, are without six regulars: forwards Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan and Jesper Fast and defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal.

We'll check back in after this game or if there is breaking news.

Enjoy!

 

12:10 p.m.
Penguins loose as playoffs approach

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been dealing with injuries throughout the season. As the Stanley Cup Playoffs approach, center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Trevor Daley may be returning to active duty, but top defenseman Kris Letang is out until next season with a herniated disc.

Yet, the Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, are loose and confident heading into the playoffs, where they will host the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round.

Want proof? Look at the prank war between Malkin and teammate Phil Kessel, which, by the way, Malkin won a TKO on Friday.

Tweet from @penguins: Coach Sullivan on today's locker room prank: "It's all in good fun. And Phil always seems to be in the center of all that." pic.twitter.com/Go70z6deYY

 

11:10 a.m.
Tough blow for Boston

Defenseman Torey Krug is not available for the Bruins' afternoon game against the Washington Capitals because of a lower-body injury. Krug was injured Thursday in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators; he was seen leaving TD Garden on crutches after the game and did not practice Friday.

Coach Bruce Cassidy says he does not know how long Krug, who has an NHL career-high 51 points (eight goals, 43 assists), will be out of the lineup, but admits the Bruins will miss him.

"We're not going to be able to replace what he does," Cassidy said. "He's a special talent -- power play, first pass, breakout, neutral-zone transition, all of those things -- so the onus will be on us to make sure we make the necessary reads in our breakout."

One option could be to call up defenseman Charlie McAvoy from Providence of the American Hockey League. McAvoy signed with the Bruins 10 days ago, joining Providence on a tryout contract with the plan being to start his three-year entry-level deal next season. If the Bruins recall McEvoy now, it would use up the first year of his contract and the 19-year-old defenseman would reach free agency one year sooner.

But desperate times may call for desperate measures. McAvoy, who left Boston University after his sophomore season to sign with the Bruins, has two assists in three games with Providence. According to reports, he has seen time on the top defensive pairing in Providence. Mark Divver of the Providence Journal reports that Cassidy was at the Providence Bruins' game against Bridgeport on Friday, a 2-1 win.

The Bruins finish their season Saturday and will have at least three days to make a decision before the Stanley Cup Playoffs start on Wednesday. Boston will face the Ottawa Senators, the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference First Round.

 

10:40 a.m.
Super Saturday starts early

Hope you have had your coffee (order an extra cup!) and a hearty breakfast, because the marathon of games on Saturday starts early and runs late. Lots remains to be decided as well.

The New York Rangers visit the Ottawa Senators to kick things off at 12:30 p.m. Things won't end until approximately 1 a.m. on Sunday when the two late games finish.

Here is a look at the 14 games on the docket for Saturday and what they mean. Eight have direct consequences on what the final playoff matchups will look like.

New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators (12:30 p.m. ET; SN, NHLN, RDS, MSG, NHL.TV) -- The Senators clinch second place in the Atlantic Division and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a win of any kind. But they will have to do it without star defenseman Erik Karlsson, who is being rested for the playoffs.The Rangers are locked into the first wild card and will play the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.

Columbus Blue Jackets at Philadelphia Flyers (3 p.m. ET; NBC, NHL.TV) -- Win or lose, the Blue Jackets will finish third in the Metropolitan Division and open the postseason on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Columbus needs to get its game in order quickly; it has lost four straight and is 3-5-2 in the past 10.

Washington Capitals at Boston Bruins (3 p.m.; NBC, NHL.TV) -- Boston has a lot to play for in its last game of the regular season. If Ottawa loses earlier in the day, a shot at second place in the Atlantic, and home ice, would still be attainable. A win would give the Bruins 97 points and assure them of finishing no worse than third in the Atlantic. A loss and the No. 2 wild card, held by Toronto, could be their fate, meaning a first-round matchup against these same Capitals.

Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings (6 p.m. ET; FS-W, SCSN-CH, NHL.TV) -- The Blackhawks own the top seed in the West and are still waiting on their first-round opponent. They have been resting players since they were eliminated from the race for the Presidents' Trophy earlier in the week. That will likely continue against the eliminated Kings.

New York Islanders at New Jersey Devils (6 p.m. ET; MSG, MSG+, NHL.TV) --  It's simple for the Islanders; they need to win to have a chance to fight another day. They will have to do so against an emotional Devils team that is honoring the retiring Patrik Elias.

Nashville Predators at Winnipeg Jets (7 p.m. ET; CITY, FS-TN, NHL.TV) -- The Predators still have three postseason fates as they enter their final regular-season game. Lose and they're the second wild card from the West and play the Blackhawks. Win and they could still finish in the first wild card, passing the Calgary Flames, or even third place in the Central Division, passing the St. Louis Blues if they lose their final two games.

Pittsburgh Penguins at Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET; CBC, NHLN, ROOT, NHL.TV ) -- The pressure is ratcheting up on the Maple Leafs after back-to-back losses at home. They can alleviate it with a victory, which will give them the final playoff spot, eliminating the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Islanders. The Penguins are locked into second in the Metro and will host the Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round.

Montreal Canadians at Detroit Red Wings (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, FS-D, NHL.TV) -- Montreal has clinched first place in the Atlantic Division and a first-round date with the Rangers. Detroit is eliminated, but the long goodbye to Joe Louis Arena continues.

Buffalo Sabres at Florida Panthers (7 p.m. ET; FS-F, MSG-B, NHL.TV) -- A season of promise for each team marches toward its unsatisfying conclusion.

St. Louis Blues at Carolina Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET; FS-CR, FS-MW, NHL.TV) -- The Blues need one point in their last two games to assure themselves of third place in the Central Division and a first-round date with the Minnesota Wild.

Colorado Avalanche at Dallas Stars (8 p.m. ET; FS-SW+, ALT, NHL.TV) -- The Stars wrap up a season of disappointment; they fell from the first seed in the Western Conference in 2015-16 to an 11th-place finish.

Minnesota Wild at Arizona Coyotes (9 p.m. ET, FS-A PLUS, FS-N) -- The Wild are locked into second place in the Central and will play St. Louis or Nashville. Arizona will honor Craig Cunningham, captain of their American Hockey League affiliate who had a heart attack before a game on Nov. 19, in what will be an emotional pregame ceremony.

Edmonton Oilers at Vancouver Canucks (10 p.m. ET; CBC, NHL.TV) -- The Oilers play their game in hand on the Anaheim Ducks and must win to keep their hope of winning the Pacific Division alive. The Ducks, idle Saturday, are four points ahead. A win, or even a loss in overtime or the shootout, also guarantees second place in the Pacific and home-ice advantage against the San Jose Sharks in the first round.

Calgary Flames at San Jose Sharks (10 p.m. ET; SN, NHLN, NBCSN, CA+) -- The Flames have three ways to clinch the first wild card from the West and a first-round matchup against the Pacific champ. A win does it as does a non-regulation loss coupled with a loss of any kind by Nashville. Calgary also the first wild card in if the Predators lose, in any fashion, earlier Saturday.

 

9:15 a.m.
Lightning keep hope alive

Good morning! Hope you enjoyed the one-game NHL schedule for Friday because things get wild now with 14 games on Saturday and 10 more on Sunday, the final day of the regular season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning did their part Friday, defeating theMontreal Canadiens 4-2 at Bell Centre to keep the pressure on the Toronto Maple Leafs, who hold the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

The Lightning are 7-1-1 in their past nine games and have 92 points. The Maple Leafs, who have lost two straight, have 93 points and one more regulation/overtime win, which is the first tiebreaker.

But the permutations wouldn't have mattered if the Lightning didn't do their part on Friday. They did, and now they get to live for at least another day, writes LNH.com columnist Arpon Basu.

Toronto has two games remaining, Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Air Canada Centre (7:30 p.m. ET; CBC, NHLN, ROOT, NHL.TV) and Sunday at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Pittsburgh and Columbus have assured their positions in the postseason. Toronto needs two points from its two games to assure itself of a playoff berth, but the tension has increased overnight and it will be interesting to see how a young team handles the pressure. Veteran coach Mike Babcock said Friday, before the Lightning victory, that he trusts his team to embrace the challenge that lies ahead, says NHL.com correspondent Dave McCarthy.

The New York Islanders are also hanging around. They have 90 points with two games remaining and, like Tampa Bay, can get to a maximum of 94. The Islanders play at the New Jersey Devils on Saturday (6 p.m. ET; MSG, MSG+, NHL.TV) and host the Ottawa Senators on Sunday.

It will be a wild weekend for the fan bases of the Maple Leafs, the Lightning and the Islanders.

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