The 5 NHL Games with the Biggest Playoff Implications This Weekend
There are several exciting NHL matchups scheduled for this weekend that will have a major impact on this year's playoff race.
Not only are there plenty of teams fighting for a playoff spot in both conferences, many of the division title races are also going to be competitive through the end of the regular season. Winning the division and earning a higher seed is a goal for many of the teams whose spot in the postseason is nearly secured.
Let's look at the five games every hockey fan should watch this weekend for a playoff atmosphere in the regular season.
Saturday: New York Rangers at New York Islanders
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When: Saturday at 7:00 p.m. ET
It's awesome to see these two in-state rivals battling for playoff spots late in the season. The Islanders' impressive 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night helped them move into seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings with 44 points. The Rangers, who have a game in hand on their rivals, are in eighth place with 42 points.
According to Sports Club Stats, the Islanders' victory on Tuesday improved their chances of making the playoffs by 10.9 percent to 76.5 percent, while the Rangers currently have a 79.9 percent chance of reaching the postseason.
Saturday's meeting will be at the Nassau Coliseum, where the Islanders have a mediocre 9-11-2 record this season. They are the only team in the top eight of the standings with more regulation losses than wins at home.
Before this matchup, the Islanders will take on the Boston Bruins on the road, which will be a statement game for the Long Island club. A win in Boston would give them a ton of confidence for this weekend's matchup with the rival Rangers.
Expect a physical, exciting game at the Nassau Coliseum on Saturday because these two teams don't like each other and they will do everything possible to earn two points for the playoff race.
Satuday: Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs
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When: Saturday at 7:00 p.m. ET
Watch: NHL Network
One of the NHL's greatest rivalries resumes on Saturday with the second-to-last regular season meeting between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.
It's been awhile since this matchup meant something in the final weeks of the season, and it's great for the league that both of these teams, barring a collapse of epic proportions, will make the playoffs. According to Sports Club Stats, Montreal and Toronto have a 100 and 99.7 percent chance of reaching the postseason, respectively,
The Leafs have won two of the three games between these rivals this season, but the Canadiens won the most recent matchup 5-2 at the Air Canada Centre, which is where Saturday's meeting will take place.
Toronto has won five of its last six games and will be looking to widen their lead over the sixth-place Ottawa Senators and secure the fifth seed as soon as possible. The Canadiens are 2-2 in their last four and hold a slim one point lead over the rival Bruins in the Northeast Division.
Special teams will have a major impact on the outcome of this game. Montreal allowed two power-play goals in each of its first two games against Toronto this season, and the Canadiens lost both games. In their win versus the Leafs on February 27, the Canadiens' penalty kill was perfect.
The club that wins the special teams battle will take two points from Saturday's game.
Saturday: Columbus Blue Jackets at Minnesota Wild
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When: Saturday at 8:00 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox Sports Ohio
The Columbus Blue Jackets kept their playoff hopes alive with an impressive 4-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. The Blue Jackets will play another top team on Saturday when they travel to the Xcel Energy Center to take on the Minnesota Wild, who have beaten the Blue Jackets in each of their two previous meetings this season.
Columbus has a 7.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Sports Club Stats, but they are only two points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the final postseason berth in the Western Conference.
To make the playoffs, the Blue Jackets need to win almost all of their remaining games, but with six of their last eight games on the road, getting into the postseason will be difficult.
Minnesota has lost its lead in the Northwest Division with two wins in its last seven games, and one of those victories was against the Blue Jackets on Sunday.
The Wild will want to avoid being in the seventh or eighth spot in the West so they don't have to play the Chicago Blackhawks or Anaheim Ducks in the first round. With just three of their final nine games against teams currently in a playoff spot in the West, Minnesota has a great chance to make a late-season climb up the standings.
Sunday: Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues
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When: Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET
The Blackhawks are one of the two Western Conference teams to have already clinched a playoff spot (Anaheim is the other), but that won't make their matchup with the rival St. Louis Blues any less exciting.
Chicago still hasn't clinched the top spot in the West and St. Louis is currently holding on to the sixth seed in the standings.
The Blues have won a season-high five straight games and their blue-line depth/talent has improved mightily because of the trade deadline acquisitions of veteran defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold. St. Louis has also seen strong goaltending from veteran backup Brian Elliott, who is now the starter because of Jaroslav Halak's injury issues.
Elliott has won his last four starts, which includes two straight shutouts against the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators.
The Blackhawks are 2-0-1 against the Blues this season and have won three straight games. Four of the team's last five games have been decided by a single goal, and Chicago is 3-0-1 in those matchups. Despite all the offensive firepower that the Blackhawks have on their roster, they are fully capable of winning close, defensive battles with their deep blue line and impressive goaltending from Corey Crawford and Ray Emery.
St. Louis can take a huge step toward clinching a playoff berth with a win over Chicago, so expect a great performance from the Blues in front of their hometown fans on Sunday.
Sunday: Detroit Red Wings at Nashville Predators
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When: Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET
Watch: NBC Sports Network
The Red Wings are holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the West and a victory on Sunday against the Predators might be enough to end Nashville's hopes of reaching the postseason.
The Predators are currently five points behind the Red Wings with just eight games remaining on their schedule, and according to Sports Club Stats, they have a miniscule 0.3 percent chance of earning a playoff spot. Nashville will likely need to win all of their remaining games to qualify for the playoffs.
Even if the Predators have no chance of making the playoffs when they play the Red Wings on Sunday, this will still be an exciting game between two Central Division rivals. A loss would hurt the Red Wings' chances of reaching the playoffs for the 22nd straight season, which is one of the most remarkable streaks in all of sports.
Detroit is also motivated to get out of the eighth spot and avoid a first round playoff matchup with the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks.