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Most teams only have between eight and 10 games left on the schedule, and playoff races are getting interesting.
As mentioned the other day, it’s not necessarily that we need to be watching which team is or isn’t going to make the playoffs at this point. Almost every spot seems assured, and the Leafs might soon have the last one sewn up as well — but rather the seeding teams will enjoy in this dumbass playoff format.
As Jarmo Kekalainen bemoaned the other day, a team with one of the three or four best records in the league is guaranteed to be bounced out in the first round of the Metro divisional playoffs, and another will probably go in the second. Moreover, the overall quality of some of the higher seeds in the league makes it increasingly important to avoid those first-round matchups by finishing second or third in your division, in both conferences.
It’s dumb as hell, but it means that a lot of the regular-season games remaining have a lot of meaning. Which I guess is a kind-of-good thing for the league?
Anyway, here are some games with big playoff implications that you should all have circled on your calendar.
10 – Montreal at Ottawa (March 25)
The Sens are three points back of the Habs with a game in hand, and by the time they play on Saturday, that could make things very interesting indeed.
At this point it’s probably a better idea to want to lose this game, because it seems to me you’d rather finish second in the Atlantic and play one of either the skidding Bruins or the streaky Maple Leafs, rather than the damn New York Rangers and, potentially, Henrik Lundqvist again.
It’ll be interesting to see if Montreal, with its slight advantage right now, decides to, uhh, “rest” Carey Price a little down the stretch. Winning the division is nice, but advancing to the second round is probably nicer at the end of the day. This should be a race to the bottom.
9 – Chicago at Pittsburgh (March 29)
Oh yeah, it’s a cross-conference game with big implications.
At present, Chicago is two points back and the Capitals have a game in-hand, but still very much in the hunt for the Presidents’ Trophy. Not that it will necessarily matter to them to win or not-win the award since they’re going to play the last playoff team in the West regardless.
This one of several very important ones the Pens have down the stretch (and I guess when you’re this close to the No. 1 seed in that particular division, every game is important). The fact that it’s in Pittsburgh is great news; the Penguins only have four(!) home regulation losses.
And unlike Chicago or Montreal, the ability to finish first in the Metro, so as to avoid one of Washington or Columbus, and instead play the No. 8 Eastern team, is huge.
This game kinda matters for Chicago, implications-wise, but it’s absolutely critical for Pittsburgh to take two points against a very good team.
8 – Nashville at St. Louis (April 2)
These two teams are both basically in the playoffs, and tied for the third slot in the Central with 82 points in 72 games.
And I’m not sure there’s a good answer here, but would you rather play Chicago as the second wild card, San Jose as the first, or Minnesota as the No. 3 team in the Central? If it’s me I go Minnesota (Dubnyk seems to be slipping), San Jose (good but with some holes), and then Chicago (because good lord they’re on one right now).
That means actually winning this game is vital for both teams. The problem for the Blues, then, is this: They’re 1-3 against Nashville this season, and have been outscored 14-7. The fact that this game is in Nashville probably doesn’t help either.
5-7 (three-way tie) Ducks at Oilers (March 30), Calgary/Anaheim home-and-home (April 2 and 4)
The middle of the Pacific is a big mess. Edmonton and Anaheim played last night, but entered that game tied with 87 points in 72 games. The Flames were a point back with an extra game played.
Now things are a little more muddled, but still incredibly close. That Ducks/Oilers rematch on March 30 is a wonderful appetizer that might allow the Ducks to pull ahead for good.
The main course is that home-and-home. You pull ahead in what are effectively two four-point games, and you get the honor of playing Edmonton, rather than San Jose. As good as Connor McDavid and Cam Talbot have been this year, you’d rather go up against the Oilers than the Sharks 10 times out of 10.
4 – Columbus at Chicago (March 31)
Same deal as that Pittsburgh/Chicago game above, but a few days later in the season, so we’ll know a little more about how the Presidents’ Trophy and Metro races going. Columbus also has a game the night before in Carolina. Not a fun turnaround.
3 – Columbus at Washington (TONIGHT!)
The rest of these games are just gonna be head-to-head Metro matchups but tonight’s game is interesting for a lot of reasons.
Columbus fans love to talk about how they beat the Capitals earlier in the year when they were on that PDO bender. But the Caps still took three points out of six in the season series, and they haven’t played each other in a while. Their first two games were in mid-November, and they didn’t play again until Jan. 5, when the Caps ran them out of the building 5-0. This is their first meeting since.
The Blue Jackets are also playing the second night of a back-to-back, and while travel from Columbus to DC isn’t exactly grueling, it’ll be interesting to see how this one shakes out.
2 – Washington at Columbus (April 2)
The return engagement, baby, and it comes in a brutal stretch for Columbus. They play an all-road back-to-back in Carolina and Chicago on March 30-31 (see above). Then they have one day off before they host Washington. Two days after that, it’s.
1 – Columbus at Pittsburgh (April 4)
There are a few games left in the season for both teams (including another all-road back-to-back for Columbus to close it out) but this might end up being the Penguins’ opportunity to put the Blue Jackets down for good in the race to the top of that division.
Meanwhile, Washington has a slightly easier schedule than these two teams down the stretch, so this might end up being a great preview of a Pens/Jackets playoff series that Columbus will lose in six games ha ha ha.
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