As you wake up today, in anticipation of Fan Appreciation Night on Friday at the First Niagara Center, know that there are now only 10 days to go in the NHL’s regular season which culminates on Saturday, April 7.
With that in mind, and knowing full well that you already have the Sabres remaining schedule committed to memory, allow me to serve as your “NHL TV Guide” for non-Sabres games that you absolutely should take time to watch down the stretch.
Thursday, March 29 Washington at Boston. Do I really need to tell you why? The Capitals did win last time in at the Garden, and recently at that. With the Bruins having yet to clinch the Northeast, chances are they’d love to pretty much lock it down in front of the home fans.
Friday, March 30 While watching Sabres and Pens, use the DVR for Nashville at Detroit. For years this has been the most underrated rivalry in the NHL, and it’s very likely this sixth and final meeting of the regular season will be serving as a precursor to a third first-round playoff meeting between these two in the past eight years. And with home ice still to be determined, there is plenty at stake.
Saturday, March 31 The nightcap on the penultimate Saturday of the season is a beauty: Dallas at San Jose. It’s the front end of a home-and-home series that concludes Tuesday in Texas. The Sharks, rather handily, took the first three meetings this season, but Dallas scored an early March shootout win to get on the board. And as of right now, there is only a single point between them in their respective quests for the Pacific Division crown.
Sunday, April 1 Only a fool would settle for one game on this final Sunday of the 2011-12 season. Boston meets the Rangers in a matinee at MSG (final score prediction: 2-1); followed by the last meeting (prior to another potentially epic first round encounter) between the Flyers and Penguins at Consol Energy Center. The latest chapter in the Keystone State rivalry had NBC all but anointing -- and for very valid reasons -- the Pens the Cup through 40 minutes of play. But a funny thing happened. Even the almighty Penguins showed that the two-goal lead is a hard one to hold, and they succumbed to the Flyers in overtime just as the clock was about to expire.
Monday, April 2 Washington at Tampa Bay. Beyond the playoff race implications, this game marks the final home game for my favorite player in the game right now - Steven Stamkos. (Please don’t tell Gabriel Landeskog, or the 96 other players that I routinely throw out there as my favorite.) The Stammer may well treat the fans to one last trick and could well hit the 60 goal plateau in front of 19,204 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Tuesday, April 3 After the Sabres final home game versus the Leafs, make sure to catch the back end of the aforementioned home-and-home series between San Jose and Dallas.
Wednesday, April 4 Detroit at St. Louis. Two days ago the Blues dispatched of a season long nemesis - the Predators. They’ll look to assert themselves again, against another Central Division rival to whom they’ve lost each of the last three meetings.
Thursday, April 5 There are 14 games in total, and beyond the Sabres at Flyers, so many good ones! Rangers at Penguins, Panthers at Capitals, to name but two. But again, I am most intrigued by how the Pacific will be won. That’s why you should focus your late-evening viewing attention to Darryl Sutter and his Kings against his former team, the Sharks, as they start a home-and-home series in Los Angeles.
Friday, April 6 There’s only one game on this night, and it’s a huge one for Phoenix as they travel to St.Louis. The Blues are 3-0 against the Coyotes this season, but may have less to play for by then which could open the door for the desert dogs to sneak away with two points.
Saturday, April 7 The NHL sells the drama and has all 30 teams in action on the final day of the regular season. Buffalo at Boston will be among the afternoon affairs, as will the Rangers home to the Capitals. But again, the anxiety in the west will played out with Dallas home to the Blues, Phoenix at Minnesota, and the Kings in San Jose to conclude the regular season. Any bets on whether the last game will be a three pointer?