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Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz: Jets look to clinch berth

Penguins, Hurricanes eye third in Metropolitan Division @NHLdotcom

Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, a daily look at the races for the 2019 NHL postseason. There are 17 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.

On tap

There are 12 games on the Thursday schedule, all with playoff implications.

Arizona Coyotes at Florida Panthers (7 p.m. ET; FS-F, FS-A PLUS, NHL.TV) -- Despite being beset with injuries, the Coyotes have a one-point lead on the Minnesota Wild, with one game in hand, for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference, and they're four points behind the Dallas Stars for the first wild card. The Coyotes are playing the second of a four-game road trip that started with a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday.

Boston Bruins at New Jersey Devils (7 p.m. ET; SN360, SNE, SNO, SNP, MSG, NESN, NHL.TV) -- The Bruins have won two straight and can solidify their hold on second place in the Atlantic Division with a win against the Devils, who have been eliminated from playoff contention and are 2-8-1 in their past 11 games. The Bruins lead the third-place Toronto Maple Leafs by four points and have one game in hand.

Tampa Bay Lightning at Carolina Hurricanes (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, TVAS, FS-CR, SUN, NHL.TV) -- The Hurricanes, who have won two straight games, could move into third place in the Metropolitan Division with a victory. They are two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins but have two games in hand. Carolina holds the first wild card in the Eastern Conference, three points ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Lightning, who are going for their seventh straight win, can become the first team with at least 58 victories in a season since the Detroit Red Wings in 2005-06. Tampa Bay already has clinched the Presidents' Trophy.

New York Islanders at Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET; RDS, TSN2, MSG+, NHL.TV) -- The Canadiens can move into the second wild card from the East with a win and a loss by the Blue Jackets. Montreal is one point behind Columbus, but because they lose the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker (39-36), they need the win to move ahead. The Islanders are three points behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals and two points ahead of the third-place Penguins.

Detroit Red Wings at St. Louis Blues (8 p.m. ET; FS-MW, FS-D, NHL.TV) -- The Blues, playing the second of a four-game homestand, are third in the Central Division, five points behind the second-place Nashville Predators, and two points ahead of the Dallas Stars, who hold the first wild card in the Western Conference. The Red Wings have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Pittsburgh Penguins at Nashville Predators (8 p.m. ET; FS-TN, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV) -- The Predators are on a three-game winning streak, which has them within three points of the Central Division-leading Winnipeg Jets, though the Jets have one game in hand. The Penguins have lost three straight (0-1-2) and need a win to stay in third place in the Metropolitan Division and ahead of the Hurricanes, who are one point back with two games in hand. The Penguins are also two points behind the second-place Islanders but can't pass them if each team wins because they've played one more game.

Philadelphia Flyers at Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET; WGN, NBCSP, NHL.TV) -- The Flyers are running out of time to finish their playoff push. With nine games remaining, Philadelphia is six points behind Columbus for the second wild card from the East and would have to climb past Montreal to get there. The Blackhawks are in a similar spot, four points behind the Coyotes for the second wild card from the West and two teams (the Wild and Colorado Avalanche) to get past.

Colorado Avalanche at Dallas Stars (8:30 p.m. ET; FS-SW+, ALT, NHL.TV) -- The Stars, who hold the first wild card in the West, can climb into third place in the Central Division with a win and a regulation loss by the Blues. Dallas is two points behind St. Louis but has the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker (38-37). The Avalanche, who are going for their third straight win, are two points behind the Coyotes for the second wild card, with the Wild between them.

Ottawa Senators at Calgary Flames (9 p.m. ET; SNW, RDS2, TSN5, NHL.TV) -- The Flames will go for their fifth win in six games and try to grow their three-point lead on the San Jose Sharks atop the Pacific Division and the Western Conference. The Senators have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Columbus Blue Jackets at Edmonton Oilers (9 p.m. ET; TVAS, SN1, SNE, SNO, SNP, FS-O, NHL.TV) -- The Blue Jackets are hanging onto the second wild card from the East, one point ahead of the Canadiens, with nine games to go. The Oilers, who are starting a five-game homestand, need to string some wins together. They're seven points behind the Coyotes for the second wild card from the West with nine games remaining.

Winnipeg Jets at Vegas Golden Knights (10 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ATTSN-RM, TSN3, NHL.TV) -- The Golden Knights might be the hottest team in the NHL right now with nine wins in their past 10 games. They're third in the Pacific Division, seven points behind the second-place Sharks. The Jets, who extended their winning streak to four games with a 3-0 win at the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday, can clinch a playoff berth with a win; they lead the second-place Predators by three points in the Central Division and have one game in hand.

San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings (10:30 p.m. ET; FS-W, NBCSCA, NHL.TV) -- The Sharks can get within one point of the Pacific Division-leading Flames with a win, which would end a three-game losing streak. The Kings have been eliminated from playoff contention.


Clinching scenario

The Winnipeg Jets will clinch a Stanley Cup playoff berth if they defeat the Vegas Golden Knights in any fashion


If they get one point against Vegas AND either of the following occurs:

The Arizona Coyotes lose in regulation

Both the Chicago Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche lose in any fashion


Thought of the day

The Toronto Maple Leafs are all but assured of facing the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But home-ice advantage remains up for grabs, with the Maple Leafs four points behind the Bruins for second place in the Atlantic Division with eight games remaining, and the Bruins have one game in hand.

Lately, though, the Maple Leafs have been falling back in the race. They won 4-2 against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday but that was their second victory in six games (2-4-0). That includes a 6-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday and a 3-0 loss to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday. Those came after the Maple Leafs could have taken over second place in the division Saturday had they defeated the Senators and the Bruins lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

That's why the Maple Leafs' win Wednesday was so important. It keeps them in the race for second place in the final weeks of the season. It means not only that they still have a chance to host the series, but that there's enough pressure on the Bruins to keep winning. 

It also means Boston can't start resting its veterans in the near future. That works to Toronto's advantage regardless of the Maple Leafs overtaking the Bruins for home-ice advantage in the playoffs.

Toronto's next four games will be against teams outside of the playoff race, starting with home games against the New York Rangers on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SN1, SNO, MSG, NHL.TV) and the Florida Panthers on Monday.

And so even with another trip to the playoffs extremely likely, and their first-round opponent almost locked in, every point still matters for the Maple Leafs.

-- 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) Calgary Flames vs. (WC2) Arizona Coyotes

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

(2P) San Jose Sharks vs. (3P) Vegas Golden Knights

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


About last night

All four games on the schedule Wednesday had playoff implications:

Tampa Bay Lightning 5, Washington Capitals 4 (OT): The Lightning, who already have clinched the Presidents' Trophy, got 54 saves from Andrei Vasilevskiy, two power-play goals from Nikita Kucherov and an overtime goal from Victor Hedman to win their 57th game and increase their point total to 118 through 74 games. They need six wins in their final eight games to break the NHL record for most wins in a season (Detroit Red Wings, 62, 1995-96) and become the third team in NHL history to reach 130 points in a season, joining the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens (132) and the 1995-96 Red Wings (131). The Capitals extended their lead to three points on the New York Islanders for first place in the Metropolitan Division. Washington lost defenseman Michal Kempny to a lower-body injury in the second period.

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Buffalo Sabres 2: The Maple Leafs got a goal and an assist each from centers Auston Matthews and John Tavares to end a two-game losing streak. They moved to within four points of the Boston Bruins for second place in the Atlantic Division.

Winnipeg Jets 3, Anaheim Ducks 0: The Jets extended their lead in the Central Division to three points on the Nashville Predators by winning their fourth game in a row. The Jets have 92 points and a game in hand on the Predators. The Jets and Predators play in Winnipeg on Saturday.

Vancouver Canucks 7, Ottawa Senators 4: The Canucks moved to four points behind the Arizona Coyotes for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference by winning their third consecutive game and extending their point streak to five (4-0-1). They're also still behind the Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks in the standings. The Blackhawks have two games in hand on the Canucks. The Wild and Coyotes each have one.

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