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Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz: Sharks can be first to clinch berth in West

Hart returns for Flyers; Stars-Wild matchup highlights 10-game schedule @NHLdotcom

Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, a daily look at the races for the 2019 NHL postseason. There are 24 days left in the regular season and the races in each conference are wide open.

Here is a look at the NHL standings and everything else that could impact the playoff picture.


Stanley Cup Playoffs clinching scenarios 

The San Jose Sharks will clinch a playoff berth:

* If they defeat the Florida Panthers (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSCA, FS-F, NHL.TV) in any fashion and the Minnesota Wild lose in regulation to the Dallas Stars (8 p.m. ET; FS-N, FS-WI, FS-SW, NHL.TV).


* If they defeat Florida in any fashion and Minnesota gets one point against Dallas and the Arizona Coyotes lose in regulation to the Anaheim Ducks (10 pm. ET; FS-A, PRIME, NHL.TV).


On tap

There are 10 games on the schedule Thursday, all with playoff implications:

Pittsburgh Penguins at Buffalo Sabres (7 p.m. ET; SN, MSG-B, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV) -- The Penguins are third in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the second-place New York Islanders and two points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes, who hold the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. The Penguins are 5-1-0 in their past six games, including a 5-3 win against the first-place Washington Capitals on Tuesday. The Sabres are 12 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card in the East.

Montreal Canadiens at New York Islanders (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, RDS, TSN2, NHL.TV) -- The Canadiens enter Thursday out of a playoff position but are tied in points (81) with the Blue Jackets for the second wild card in the East and are two points behind the Hurricanes. The Blue Jackets and Hurricanes each own the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker against the Canadiens. The Islanders would move back into a first-place tie in points in the Metropolitan with a win and a Capitals loss in regulation, but would fall to third in the division if they lose in regulation and the Penguins win in any way.

Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, NBCSP, NBCSWA) -- Rookie Carter Hart, out since Feb. 21 with an ankle injury, will be back in goal for the Flyers, who are five points behind the Blue Jackets for the second wild card. The Capitals are atop the Metropolitan Division by two points on the Islanders, who have a game in hand.

St. Louis Blues at Ottawa Senators (7:30 p.m. ET; RDS2, TSN5, FS-MW, NHL.TV) -- The Blues are trying to hold on to third place in the Central Division. They lead the Dallas Stars, the first wild card, by two points, but Dallas has the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker. St. Louis is four points behind the second-place Nashville Predators with two games in hand. The Senators have been eliminated from playoff contention. 

Tampa Bay Lightning at Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-D, SUN, NHL.TV) -- The Lightning, who lead the NHL by a hefty margin (110 points to the San Jose Sharks' 94) are looking to solidify their hold on the Presidents' Trophy. The Red Wings have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Dallas Stars at Minnesota Wild (8 p.m. ET; FS-N, FS-WI, FS-SW, NHL.TV) -- This is a crucial game for each team, with the Stars holding the first wild card in the West with 77 points and the Wild, who have 74 points, one point behind the Arizona Coyotes for the second wild card. Ben Bishop has recorded shutouts in each of his past three games and can become the first goalie in Stars/Minnesota North Stars history, and the ninth in NHL history, to have a shutout in four straight appearances.   

Boston Bruins at Winnipeg Jets (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, TSN3, NESN, NHL.TV) -- The Bruins have lost their past two games after getting a point in 19 consecutive games. They're looking to hold on to second place in the Atlantic Division and earn home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, likely against the third-place Toronto Maple Leafs, who they lead by four points. The Jets have lost their past two games and three of their past four but lead the Predators by one point for first in Central with two games in hand.

Anaheim Ducks at Arizona Coyotes (10 p.m. ET; FS-A, PRIME, NHL.TV) -- A surprising twist this season has the Ducks 10 points out of a playoff spot and the Coyotes holding the second wild card in the West. The Coyotes are 18-9-3 since Jan. 4 and 9-2-0 in their past 11 games; they lead the Wild by one point for the second wild card.

Nashville Predators at Los Angeles Kings (10:30 p.m. ET; SN, FS-W, FS-TN, NHL.TV) -- The Predators have three wins -- all via the shootout -- in their past eight games. They are one point behind the Jets for first in the Central and are four points ahead of the third-place Blues. The Kings are last in the West, 17 points behind the Coyotes.

Florida Panthers at San Jose Sharks (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSCA, FS-F, NHL.TV) -- San Jose, which has won six straight games, can become the second team to clinch a playoff berth this season. The Sharks will join the Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs with any kind of win combined with a Wild loss in regulation or any kind of win combined with a Minnesota loss in the shootout or overtime and a Coyotes loss in regulation. San Jose leads the Calgary Flames by one point in the Pacific. The Panthers are nine points behind the Blue Jackets for the second wild card in the East.


Need to know

The latest news surrounding the playoff races

Here are the projected lineups and starting goalies for the games tonight.

The Sharks will be without defenseman Radim Simek, who will have knee surgery and is out indefinitely.

The Flyers will play their second game without forward Jakub Voracek, whose two-game suspension was upheld by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman after an appeal.

The Senators have been eliminated, but they will get a glimpse at their future on Thursday when 19-year-old defenseman Erik Brannstrom, acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights in the trade for forward Mark Stone, makes his NHL debut.


Thought of the day

The Montreal Canadiens weren't expected to be among the teams contending for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when the season began. Instead, the Canadiens are fighting for a playoff spot, though they enter Thursday on the outside looking in, tied in points with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card in points (81) and games played, but behind in regulation/overtime wins (38 to 35), the first tiebreaker.

It has been a rough month for the Canadiens, who were one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for second place in the Atlantic Division on Feb. 8. The Canadiens lost in overtime that night against Toronto to start a four-game losing streak and a 6-8-1 stretch over their next 15. 

The Canadiens had been in a playoff spot since Jan. 12 before dropping out on March 8 after an 8-2 loss at the Anaheim Ducks.

The Canadiens, who missed the playoffs last season, have 12 games remaining, starting against the New York Islanders on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, RDS, TSN2, NHL.TV).

Goalie Carey Price, who passed Jacques Plante for the most regular-season wins in Canadiens history (315) on Tuesday, will likely have a significant say in whether the Canadiens continue on in April. He hasn't been his best of late, with an .894 save percentage in his past eight starts, but if anyone can go on a run to help push the Canadiens into the playoffs, it's Price.

It's not an easy road ahead for the Canadiens, who are fighting it out with the Carolina Hurricanes (83 points in 69 games), Blue Jackets (81 in 70), and Philadelphia Flyers (76 in 69) for the two wild card spots, but they're hoping they -- and Price -- have enough to get them in. 

Amalie Benjamin, staff writer


If playoffs started Thursday

Here is a look at the matchups for the first round as they stand entering games Thursday:


Eastern Conference

(1A) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (WC2) Columbus Blue Jackets

(1M) Washington Capitals vs. (WC1) Carolina Hurricanes

(2A) Boston Bruins vs. (3A) Toronto Maple Leafs

(2M) New York Islanders vs. (3M) Pittsburgh Penguins


Western Conference

(1P) San Jose Sharks vs. (WC2) Arizona Coyotes

(1C) Winnipeg Jets vs. (WC1) Dallas Stars

(2P) Calgary Flames vs. (3P) Vegas Golden Knights

(2C) Nashville Predators vs. (3C) St. Louis Blues

About last night

Each of the three games on the schedule Wednesday had playoff implications:

Chicago Blackhawks 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 4: The Blackhawks moved closer to a playoff spot with a wild win in Toronto. Chicago jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the second period, then survived a 29-shot barrage in the third period and held off the Maple Leafs in the final seconds to win their fourth straight. The Blackhawks are four points behind the Arizona Coyotes for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. The Maple Leafs, who have been outscored 11-6 in back-to-back home losses this week, remained four points behind the Boston Bruins for second place in the Atlantic Division.

New Jersey Devils 6, Edmonton Oilers 3: Connor McDavid had two assists to reach the 100-point mark for the third straight season, but the Oilers remained six points behind the Coyotes. The Devils ended their seven-game losing streak and kept alive their hopes of making the playoffs .

Vancouver Canucks 4, New York Rangers 1: The Canucks moved within eight points of the Coyotes for the second wild card in the West with the victory. Tyler Motte scored twice in 11 seconds midway through the second period, and Brock Boeser and Jake Virtanen also scored for Vancouver. The Rangers are 12 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

Video: Motte's two quick goals help Canucks beat Rangers

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