Must-See NHL Games as Stanley Cup Playoff Race Reaches Fever Pitch
If you've given in to any annoying urges like the need to eat or sleep over the last week, then odds are you've missed some kind of shuffle or movement in the ever-changing 2013 NHL Stanley Cup playoff race. The standings have been a kaleidoscope, appearing a particular way one moment, and then suddenly shifting when you blink.
One week ago things were very different in the worlds of several NHL franchises.
In the Eastern Conference, it was the Montreal Canadiens and not the Boston Bruins in the lead for the Northeast Division crown. The Toronto Maple Leafs had yet to lock up a playoff spot, and the Ottawa Senators were enjoying a modest but comfortable four-point lead over the ninth place Winnipeg Jets.
The New York Islanders had also just jumped up to the seventh seed while maintaining only a three point barrier between themselves and the Jets.
Out West, the Minnesota Wild were sleeping a bit more soundly as they sat in sixth place, maintaining a four point cushion over the ninth place Columbus Blue Jackets. The Detroit Red Wings were clinging to the eighth seed, and the Phoenix Coyotes were still hoping to make the postseason.
A lot can change in a week as we can see, and a lot will change over the next five days of NHL action as well.
Must-See Games for Wednesday, April 24th
Detroit Red Wings vs. L.A. Kings (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN): The Detroit Red Wings are currently one point behind the eighth place Columbus Blue Jackets, and need at least a point here to maintain the game on hand advantage heading into its final two games of the season.
There's a lot at stake for the Red Wings, who are faced with the possibility of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1990.
That isn't to say that the L.A. Kings are in rest up mode, however.
The defending Stanley Cup Champion wants to lock up the home-ice advantage in the first round by securing the fourth seed in the Western Conference, and can break a 57-point tie with the San Jose Sharks with points tonight.
L.A. has been much better at home (18-4-1) than it has been on the road (8-11-4), so the motivation is strong to give Detroit all it can handle.
San Jose Sharks vs. Phoenix Coyotes (10:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN): Every point counts for the San Jose Sharks, as they look to keep pace with the L.A. Kings for the final home-ice advantage seed heading into the first round.
If L.A. drops its game to the Red Wings earlier in the evening and the Sharks win, then it leapfrogs into the fourth seed, sinking the Kings to the fifth.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (7:00 p.m. ET, TSN): Enjoy this one Leafs fans. You've earned it. After all, how long has it been since Toronto started resting prominent players with only a few games remaining in preparation for the postseason?
Must-See Games for Thursday, April 25th
Ottawa Senators vs. Washington Capitals (7:00 p.m. ET, TSN): After going 4-6 in its last ten games, the Ottawa Senators look to get back on track against the red hot Washington Capitals. The Sens might not have to face the best that Washington has to offer, as the Caps recently locked up the Southeast Division crown.
The Senators have dropped its last two and badly need points. They are in a tight race with the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes (7:00 p.m. ET): Like the Senators, the New York Rangers are in a three team race and are battling for one of the two remaining playoff spots in the East. Failing to collect points while either the Senators or Jets do could be a huge loss.
Both the Senators and Jets play today, so there could be some moving occurring at the bottom of the standings.
Nashville Predators vs. Detroit Red Wings (7:00 p.m. ET): The Detroit Red Wings will have to dig deep into its reserves for this game against the Nashville Predators. They will be coming off a tough one at home against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, still in a position of needing points regardless of the outcome.
If the Wings win against L.A. on Wednesday, this game could give them a slim lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets. If they lose against the Kings and Predators and Columbus defeats Dallas later on in the evening, Detroit's playoff hopes will take a significant blow.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Winnipeg Jets (8:00 p.m. ET): Same story for the Jets as it is for the Rangers and Senators. Win and get in. Lose and possibly go home. All three teams are scrapping for the final two spots in the East, and who wins and loses on this night will go a long way in shaping the final standings.
While they may have a playoff spot locked up, Montreal will be pushing hard for a victory as well. The Northeast Division is still up for grabs, and the Canadiens have a chance to right the ship and make a move on the Boston Bruins at the same time.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Dallas Stars (8:30 p.m. ET): The Columbus Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars face off in what could be the most intense game of the evening. The Jackets are in must-win mode as they try to maintain pace with the Red Wings despite Detroit having a game in hand.
Dallas is in must-win mode as well, as they'll be looking to keep their playoff hopes mathematically alive with a victory at home. Games don't get much bigger than this at this time of year.
Must-See Game for Friday, April 26th
Edmonton Oilers vs. Minnesota Wild (8:00 p.m. ET): On a night without much else going on, all eyes will be on the Wild as they attempt to collect points against a young Oilers club. The Wild have been sinking down the Western Conference standings all month, and it could come to a head on this night.
The Detroit Red Wings will have played two games this week, and the Columbus Blue Jackets will have played once, meaning that the Wild could find itself in a tie for the eighth and final seed while getting passed up by the Wings.
There's a lot of moving parts, and looking ahead a few days can be tricky. That doesn't change the fact that Minnesota will absolutely need points against Edmonton.
Must-See Games for Saturday, April 27th
New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils (3:00 p.m. ET, NBC): A lot will have happened during the three days leading to this matchup, but in all likelihood the Rangers will need points against the Devils to keep a grip on one of the two remaining playoff spots in the East.
The Winnipeg Jets will have already wrapped up its season on Thursday, but the Ottawa Senators play on this day and on Sunday, making up its game against the Boston Bruins. A lot hinges on these last few weekend games.
The Devils may have already been eliminated form postseason contention, but would love to deflate their divisional rivals with a loss on national television.
Ottawa Senators vs. Philadelphia Flyers (7:00 p.m. ET, CBC): The battle for the final Eastern Conference playoff seeds will come to a head here, as the Senators take on the banged up Flyers.
Ottawa will still have a game in hand on the Rangers and will have played two more games this week than the Winnipeg Jets, giving them ample opportunity to make or break their playoff chances themselves.
If the Senators manage to sweep their games this week, the Rangers and Jets will be left to battle for the final spot. A loss to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday could amplify the importance of this game, as Philadelphia is a bit of an easier out than the Bruins, who Ottawa will face on Sunday.
Nashville Predators vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (7:00 p.m. ET): Once again cast into the role of spoiler, the Predators will attempt to stop the Blue Jackets from collecting points in this game. This is the second must-win game for Columbus this week as they attempt to hold off the Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings for the eighth seed in the West, despite playing fewer games in the final week of the regular season.
The impact of this game coupled with the outcome of the Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings contest will settle the Western Conference standings once and for all.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Dallas Stars (7:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN): Detroit's playoff streak could very well come down to this game against the Stars. The implications could be much larger however, depending on how the rest of the week played out.
Dallas could still be in the hunt for a playoff spot, and could secure one with a win here tonight. The Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild also play this evening, so the Western Conference playoff race would all come down to what happens during this 210 minute (or so) window of time on Saturday night.
Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche (7:30 p.m. ET): The third game that will have an impact on the final Western Conference standings takes place between the Avalanche and Wild. Minnesota could still be seeking points here, depending on how the rest of the week went down.
With Detroit, Dallas and Columbus all seeking points and playoff positions at the same time, the Wild will have perhaps the easiest game to win as they take on the hapless Avalanche.
Must-See Game for Sunday, April 28th
Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins (7:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN): The Senators round out its week of three games against the Boston Bruins. Ottawa is in a race with the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets for the final two playoff spots in the East, and securing one of them could require points here.
The Jets will have only played once this week, the Rangers twice. The importance of this contest will vary depending on how the Senators performed against the Washington Capitals on Thursday and against Philadelphia on Saturday.