With 34 days left in the regular season the playoff races in each conference are simply on fire. Every game has added significance with points at such a premium as teams jockey for positioning. NHL.com is here to give you a Down the Stretch daily that will highlight what you need to know about that night's games.
Here is the installment for Tuesday, March 8:
View from the outside:
The Stanley Cup Playoff dreams that are still very much alive for the Maple Leafs, Devils, Wild and Predators could take a step closer to reality Tuesday as all four are in action.
The level of urgency is high for all of them; but the Devils, who host Ottawa, are in the most precarious position. They're eight points behind the eighth-place Sabres, who play Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
New Jersey has gone 20-2-2 during its past 24 games to become one of the most fascinating stories in the NHL, but the fact is it still needs a ton of help to get into the dance.
Toronto is in a similar predicament, though it trails the Sabres by five points and is in 10th. The Maple Leafs play at the Islanders, but Nassau Coliseum has not been an easy place to win lately. The Isles have points in eight of their past 11 home games, including each of the last three (2-0-1). Toronto has beaten the Islanders twice in the past month.
The Wild and Predators each have 75 points, but while that would make them a lower seed in the Eastern Conference it's not good enough to crack the top eight in the Western Conference. Minnesota, which hosts Colorado, has lost three of its past four games but has points in each of its past two. Nashville has lost six out of eight (2-5-1) and is closing out a road trip in San Jose.
Minnesota is in a better spot than Nashville because of the shootout wins tiebreaker. The Wild have just two shootout wins vs. six for the Predators. The first tiebreaker at the end of the season is wins, but shootout wins are not counted in that total.
With three games in hand on Carolina entering this past weekend and the knowledge that the Hurricanes were idle until Wednesday, Buffalo knew it was pretty much now or never. The Sabres are living in the now.
Buffalo has already won two of its games in hand on the 'Canes to take over eighth in the East, and a win in Pittsburgh would move the Sabres into seventh. Carolina could be three points behind the Sabres by the end of the night after holding a three-point lead on Buffalo just five days ago.
If Toronto also wins, Carolina would actually be closer to 10th than it would be to eighth. The good news for Carolina and for Buffalo is after Tuesday each will still have two games in hand on the Rangers, who are heading West to play Anaheim on Wednesday and San Jose on Saturday.
Buffalo is 0-3 against Pittsburgh this season, but hasn't faced the Penguins since both Evgeni Malkin
and Sidney Crosby
exited the lineup due to injury.
Concern in South Philly:
On paper it would appear that the Flyers four-game losing streak should end Tuesday with the out-of-the-race Oilers visiting Wells Fargo Center. Well, the Oilers, while still last in the Western Conference, haven't been such pushovers lately. In fact, Tom Renney's team has been quite impressive with three consecutive wins since last week's Trade Deadline.
The Flyers' lead in the Eastern Conference is down to two points and they're coming off Sunday's 7-0 loss to the Rangers. They've given up 19 goals during the four-game losing streak, but it's not like they've lost to any of the top teams in the East either. Ottawa (15th), Toronto (10th), Buffalo (8th) and New York (7th) have taken some of the shine off the Flyers.
While alarming, an optimist will look at the losing streak as just a minor blip in a season that, until now, had been going along so swimmingly. The Flyers had two prior losing streaks reach three games, but until this streak they hadn't lost two in a row since late December, and those were separated by eight days across the Christmas holiday.
However, a pessimist will look at the losing streak as a sign of what's to come for the Flyers. Their goaltending, an area some pundits felt could have -- and maybe should have -- been addressed by the Trade Deadline, has been abysmal. Brian Boucher
and Sergei Bobrovsky
have combined to give up 18 goals on 132 shots (.864 save percentage) during the past four games.
Speaking of the Flyers…:
The Eastern Conference could have a new leader after Tuesday.
The Bruins would have to win in Montreal and the Flyers must lose in regulation to the Oilers for it to happen, though. Boston and Philadelphia would then be tied with 86 points and 38 non-shootout wins through 66 games, but since the Bruins have taken five points from the Flyers in their season series they would jump into first because of the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Boston beat the Canadiens in that wild 8-6 game at TD Garden on Feb. 9, but prior to that the Canadiens had won five straight against the Bruins dating back to last season. Montreal appears to have a pretty firm grip on at least the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference, but a regulation win puts it only three points back of the Bruins.
The Bruins and Habs will play again -- for the final time this season -- on March 24.
The Flyers losing streak has given Vancouver a chance to build a seven-point lead in the President's Trophy race.
The Canucks, who continue a five-game road trip Tuesday at Phoenix, have won two in a row and three out of their past four behind some stellar defense and goaltending. Roberto Luongo
and Corey Schneider combined to give up just one goal during a weekend sweep in Southern California.
Vancouver is still missing two of its top six defensemen with Kevin Bieksa
and Andrew Alberts
on injured reserve, but it appears the Canucks' defense corps was able to survive the rash of injuries it suffered last month. The Canucks also hold a seven-point lead against the Red Wings in the Western Conference.
The Blackhawks will move within four points of the idle Red Wings for first in the Central Division and a top-three seed if they win Tuesday in Florida. Isn't it amazing what a timely winning streak can do for a team that not too long ago was foundering?
Chicago carries a League-best eight-game winning into BankAtlantic Center to take on its former GM's squad. Dale Tallon
is trying to build the Panthers the same way he built the Blackhawks, from the draft up, and South Floridians will get a chance to see the finished product up close Tuesday.
The Blackhawks are clearly playing their best hockey of the season thanks to their overall balance. They've found the right line combinations and are getting contributions from each line.
Their defense has been active and is both getting into position and moving the puck faster than they have all season. It helps to get solid goaltending, and that's exactly what Corey Crawford
is delivering. His confidence spills over into the rest of the team. Crawford will be starting his 10th straight game.
Chicago had a scare Saturday in Toronto when Duncan Keith
suffered an injury to his right hand after blocking a shot early in the third period, but Keith was cleared to play against the Panthers.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl