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Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz: Bruins one point from clinching berth

Penguins look to climb in Metropolitan; Ducks can claim third place in Pacific @NHLdotcom

Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, a daily look at the races for the 2018 NHL postseason. There are 19 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.


What's on Tap

There are three games Wednesday that could have an impact on the race for positioning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: 

Boston Bruins at St. Louis Blues (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS, NHL.TV) -- The Bruins can clinch a playoff berth with one point against the Blues, who have won four of their past five and are three points behind the Anaheim Ducks for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. Boston, coming off a 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, is second in the Atlantic Division, five points behind the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning and six ahead of the third-place Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins are 4-2-3 in their past nine games at St. Louis. 

Montreal Canadiens at Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m. ET; SN, ATTSN-PT, RDS, NHL.TV) -- The Penguins, who lost 4-1 at the New York Islanders on Tuesday, are second in the Metropolitan Division, four points behind the first-place Washington Capitals. Pittsburgh is tied with the third-place Columbus Blue Jackets with 87 points, but the Penguins have a game in hand. The Canadiens, 1-6-2 in their past nine games, are 18 points behind the New Jersey Devils for the second wild card in the East.

Anaheim Ducks at Calgary Flames (9:30 P.M. ET, SN360, SNW, FS-W, NHL.TV) -- The Ducks, who have won three straight and are 10-4-1 in their past 15 games, are one point behind the Los Angeles Kings for third place in the Pacific Division and two points ahead of the Dallas Stars for the second wild card in the West. The Flames have lost three straight, outscored 16-6. They are six points behind Anaheim for the second wild card spot.


Need to know

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning are trying to hold off the Boston for first place in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference, but they will be without an important cog for the next two games.

Dallas Stars: Six road games without a win during the playoff push can leave a team pretty frazzled. Tom Gulitti examines the "trip from hell" endured by the Stars.

Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin scored Tuesday in the win against Dallas and, as a result, reclaimed the lead in the most compelling Rocket Richard Trophy race in recent memory.

NHL: Who makes the playoff field when the dust settles? Are the Florida Panthers in? What about the St. Louis Blues? Dan Rosen consults his crystal ball in thelatest mailbag.

Colorado Avalanche: All the focus has been on Nathan MacKinnon as the Avalanche have made their playoff push. But Mikko Rantanen has been nearly as good, writes Tracey Myers.

NHL: Everything is on the line in the Wednesday Night Rivalry game this week on NBC. The Boston Bruins can clinch a spot in the playoffs and close on the Lightning for first place in the Atlantic. The Blues can move a step closer to playoff qualification in the West with a win. But there are even more reasons to watch the game, says John Kreiser.


Thought of the Day

The San Jose Sharks are peaking at the right time, winning five in a row and six of their past seven games. Despite being without center Joe Thornton (knee) since Jan. 24 and forward Joel Ward (shoulder) since Feb. 9, the Sharks have found a rhythm, especially offensively. In their five straight victories, San Jose has outscored its opponents 27-15.

Forward Evander Kane, who the Sharks acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in a trade for forward Daniel O'Regan and conditional first- and fourth-round picks in the 2019 NHL Draft on Feb. 26, has made the desired impact. Kane has 10 points (five goals, five assists) in his 10 games with the Sharks, including an NHL personal-high four goals in a 7-4 victory against the Calgary Flames on Friday.

Center Joe Pavelski is on a five-game point streak (goal, five assists). So is defenseman Brenden Dillon (two goals, four assists). 

The Sharks are solidifying their hold on a playoff spot; they're second in the Pacific Division, eight points behind the first-place Vegas Golden Knights, who they'll play two more times, including at SAP Center on Thursday (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NHL.TV). San Jose is four points ahead of the third-place Kings with a game in hand. Their remaining schedule isn't easy: A four-game road trip beginning Monday includes games at the Blues, Nashville Predators and Vegas. -- Tracey Myers, staff writer


If playoffs started Wednesday

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

Eastern Conference

(1A) Tampa Bay Lightning vs (WC2) New Jersey Devils
(1M) Washington Capitals vs. (WC1) Philadelphia Flyers
(2M) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (3M) Columbus Blue Jackets
(2A) Boston Bruins vs. (3A) Toronto Maple Leafs

Western Conference

(1C) Nashville Predators vs. (WC2) Anaheim Ducks  
(1P) Vegas Golden Knights vs. (WC1) Colorado Avalanche
(2C) Winnipeg Jets vs. (3C) Minnesota Wild
(2P) San Jose Sharks vs. (3P) Los Angeles Kings


About last night

There were 11 games Tuesday and each of them had playoff implications.

Florida Panthers 7, Ottawa Senators 2 -- The Panthers moved one point from an Eastern Conference wild card with the win. James Reimer made 33 saves for the Panthers, who are 11-2-1 in their past 14 games and trail the New Jersey Devils by one point for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs with two games in hand.

Detroit Red Wings 5, Philadelphia Flyers 4 (SO) -- The Flyers lost in a shootout and dropped to fourth place in the Metropolitan, one point behind the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins and third-place Columbus Blue Jackets. The Flyers hold the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference, four points ahead of the Devils, who have a game in hand.

Winnipeg Jets 2, Los Angeles Kings 1 (OT) -- Kyle Connor scored both goals, including in overtime, and the Jets moved eight points ahead of the Minnesota Wild for second place in the Central Division. The Kings moved one point ahead of the Anaheim Ducks for third place in the Pacific Division, but have played one more game.

Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 3 -- Andrei Vasilevskiy made 27 saves for his NHL-high 41st win of the season and set a Lightning record to help Tampa Bay extend its lead on the second-place Boston Bruins to five points in the Atlantic Division. The Maple Leafs, third in the Atlantic, stayed six points behind the Bruins, who have two games in hand on the Maple Leafs and the Lightning.

Edmonton Oilers 7, Carolina Hurricanes 3 -- The Hurricanes remained nine points behind the Devils for the second wild card in the East. Leon Draisaitl had a goal and three assists for Edmonton, which is 17 points behind the Anaheim Ducks for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.

Washington Capitals 4, Dallas Stars 3 -- The Capitals extended their lead in the Metropolitan Division on the Pittsburgh Penguins to four points behind Alex Ovechkin's 44th goal of the season. Dallas, which finished a six-game road trip without a win (0-4-2), remained two points behind the Anaheim Ducks for the second wild card from the Western Conference; the Ducks have one game in hand.

New York Islanders 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 -- Matt Murray made 36 saves for Pittsburgh in his first start since Feb. 23, but the Penguins fell four points behind the first-place Capitals in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders moved within 10 points of the Devils for the second wild card in the East.

Columbus Blue Jackets 5, New York Rangers 3 -- Artemi Panarin had a hat trick to help the Blue Jackets move into third place in the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the Flyers and tied in points (87) with the Penguins, who have played one fewer game and have four more regulation/overtime wins. The Rangers are 10 points behind the Devils for the second wild card in the East.

Colorado Avalanche 5, Chicago Blackhawks 1 -- Tyson Barrie, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen each had multipoint games for the Avalanche, who moved within two points of the third-place Minnesota Wild in the Central Division and two points ahead of the Anaheim Ducks, who hold the second wild card from the West. The Blackhawks were eliminated, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08. Their nine-season playoff run was the second-longest active streak, behind the Penguins (11 seasons).

Vegas Golden Knights 4, Vancouver Canucks 1 -- Malcolm Subban made 22 saves in relief of injured Marc-Andre Fleury to help Vegas stay eight points ahead of the second-place San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division. Fleury made seven saves in the first period but did not start the second because of an undisclosed injury. He was hit in the mask by a Brandon Sutter shot 10 minutes into the first.

San Jose Sharks 6, New Jersey Devils 2 -- The Sharks won their season-best fifth straight game to open a four-point lead on the third-place Kings in the Pacific. The Devils' lead for the first wild card was the cut to one point on the Panthers, who have two games in hand.

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