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Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz: Lightning look to jump back into first

Sharks can clinch berth; Kings, Ducks face off in key Pacific battle @NHLdotcom

Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, a daily look at the races for the 2018 NHL postseason. There are 10 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 Playoff clinching scenarios

The San Jose Sharks (idle) will clinch a berth:

* If the Los Angeles Kings defeat the Anaheim Ducks (10 p.m. ET; SN1, PRIME, KCOP-13, NHL.TV) in regulation AND the Chicago Blackhawks defeat the Colorado Avalanche (9 p.m. ET; ALT2, NBCSCH, NHL.TV) in regulation.


On tap

There are six games on the Friday schedule, all with playoff implications. 

Toronto Maple Leafs at New York Islanders (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, TSN4, NHL.TV) -- The Maple Leafs will play one more game without forward Leo Komarov, who has missed six games with an injury and will return against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, coach Mike Babcock said. Toronto, which is seveon points behind the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic Division, has clinched a playoff berth. The Islanders have been eliminated from postseason contention. 

Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVAS, MSG, FS-F, NHL.TV) -- The Lightning can reclaim first in the Atlantic, at least temporarily, after losing it to the Boston Bruins in a 4-2 defeat Thursday. Tampa Bay is one point behind Boston, which is idle with a game in hand. The Rangers have been eliminated from playoff contention. 

Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals (7 p.m. ET; NBCSWA, FS-CR, NHL.TV) -- Braden Holtby will start in goal for the Capitals, who lead the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins by five points and the third-place Columbus Blue Jackets by six in the Metropolitan Division. Washington has five games to go; Pittsburgh and Columbus each have four. Carolina, which is 10 points behind the New Jersey Devils for the second wild card in the East, will be eliminated with a loss of any kind or a shootout win. 

Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche (9 p.m. ET; ALT2, NBCSCH, NHL.TV) -- The Avalanche, trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and second since 2010, are one point behind the St. Louis Blues and the Anaheim Ducks, the wild cards in the Western Conference. They have five games to go. The Blues have six, the Ducks five.

Los Angeles Kings at Anaheim Ducks (10 p.m. ET; SN1, PRIME, KCOP-13, NHL.TV) -- The heat is on in Southern California. Neither rival has clinched a playoff spot, and both are jockeying for position. The Kings are third in the Pacific, but are two points ahead of the Blues and Ducks, and three ahead of the Avalanche. The Kings have four games to go. The Blues have six. The Ducks and Avalanche each have five.

St. Louis Blues at Vegas Golden Knights (10:30 p.m. ET; ATTSN-RM, FS-MW, NHL.TV) -- In what could be a preview of the Western Conference First Round, the Golden Knights can take a step toward clinching the Pacific. They lead the second-place San Jose Sharks by five points and have five games to go, while the Sharks have four. The Blues hold the first wild card in the West. They have the same number of points (91) as the Ducks but more wins in regulation or overtime (40-35), and are one point ahead of the Avalanche. They have a game in hand on each.


Thought of the day

Big test for Blues, Golden Knights 

It's one game, and it means more to the St. Louis Blues than it does to the Vegas Golden Knights. St. Louis is on the bubble. Vegas already has clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and leads the Pacific Division by five points.

But it could be a preview of the Western Conference First Round when St. Louis plays Vegas at T-Mobile Arena on Friday (10:30 p.m. ET; ATTSN-RM, FS-MW, NHL.TV), and it will be interesting to see how the Golden Knights handle it.

For all their success this season, blowing away records for expansion teams, the Golden Knights have gone 7-6-3 over their past 16 games. They're 1-1-2 over their past four. After clinching a playoff berth by defeating the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 on Monday, they lost to the Arizona Coyotes 3-2 on Wednesday.

They have been chasing the game too often lately. They haven't been giving 60-minute efforts. You start to wonder: Are they coming to earth? Can they avoid being satisfied to have exceeded everyone's expectations already, knowing their season will be a success no matter what happens next? Can they finish strong and raise their level in the playoffs?

The Blues will be a test. They're on a six-game winning streak and desperate, holding the first wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference, tied in points (91) with the Anaheim Ducks and one point ahead of the Avalanche. Vegas defeated St. Louis at home 3-2 in overtime on Oct. 21 and lost at St. Louis 2-1 on Jan. 4.

Win, and the Golden Knights make a little statement. Lose, and they set up another test against the Sharks on Saturday. Lose back-to-back games in regulation, and their lead over the Sharks will be down to three points with three games to go for each.

-- Nicholas J. Cotsonika, Columnist


If playoffs started Friday

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

Eastern Conference

(1A) Boston Bruins vs. (WC2) New Jersey Devils

(1M) Washington Capitals vs. (WC1) Philadelphia Flyers

(2M) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (3M) Columbus Blue Jackets

(2A) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (3A) Toronto Maple Leafs

Western Conference

(1C) Nashville Predators vs. (WC2) Anaheim Ducks

(1P) Vegas Golden Knights vs. (WC1) St. Louis Blues

(2C) Winnipeg Jets vs. (3C) Minnesota Wild

(2P) San Jose Sharks vs. (3P) Los Angeles Kings


About last night

Eight of the 10 games on the schedule Thursday had playoff implications:

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, New Jersey Devils 3 (OT):The Penguins moved within five points of the first-place Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division and remained one point ahead of Columbus Blue Jackets, who moved into third place. The Devils remained three points ahead of the Florida Panthers for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. The Panthers have played one fewer game. The loss by the Devils clinched a berth for the Capitals.

Ottawa Senators 3, Florida Panthers 2 (OT):  The Panthers remained three points behind the Devils for the second wild card in the East with a game in hand. The Panthers' loss clinched a postseason berth for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who qualified for the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 2003 and 2004.

Boston Bruins 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 2:The Bruins moved past the Lightning into first place in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference with 107 points, one more than Tampa Bay. Boston, which has a game in hand on the Lightning, plays at Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

Nashville Predators 5, San Jose Sharks 3:The Sharks failed to clinch a playoff spot by losing to the Predators, who lead the NHL with 111 points and broke their previous point record set in 2006-07 (110). San Jose remained second in the Pacific Division, five points behind the first-place Vegas Golden Knights and five points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings.

Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Calgary Flames 1: The Blue Jackets moved past the idle Philadelphia Flyers into third place in the Metropolitan, one point behind the Penguins. The Flyers are one point behind Columbus and hold the first wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Minnesota Wild 5, Dallas Stars 2: The Wild moved within eight points of the second-place Winnipeg Jets and are now five points ahead of the St. Louis Blues in the Central. The Stars are five points out of the second wild card with four games remaining.

Chicago Blackhawks 6, Winnipeg Jets 2:The Jets remained second in the Central, seven points behind Nashville. They are eight points ahead of the Wild.

Los Angeles Kings 3, Arizona Coyotes 2: The Kings moved into sole possession of third place in the Pacific Division with 93 points, two ahead of the Anaheim Ducks, who occupy the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. They are also two ahead of the St. Louis Blues, who hold the first wild card. The Kings are five points behind second-place San Jose.

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