With the NHL playoffs quickly approaching, the remainder of this month is without a doubt the most stressful and exciting part of the regular season. The playoff race is tight in each conference and the battle for the last playoff spot is on. In the west, there are only three points separating 7th place and 11th place. That means that Phoenix, Colorado, San Jose, Calgary, and Los Angeles are all very much in the running for those last two spots. Chicago looks safe right now in 6th with 82 points, but all it would take is a couple of back to back losses and they will be battling with the rest of the bunch. It’s not quite as crowded in the east, as 12 points separate 7th and 11th, but Ottawa, Washington, Buffalo, and possibly even Winnipeg will all have to turn it up in the coming weeks if they want to secure a shot at the postseason. I’ve singled out what I consider to be the “big games” of the week in this unpredictable playoff race.
TONIGHT, TUESDAY MARCH 13TH:
St. Louis Blues @ Chicago Blackhawks 5:30pm PST
After missing the playoffs altogether last season, the St. Louis Blues currently sit atop the entire league with 97 points and are looking to claim the President’s Trophy. They majorly turned their organization around after they fired head coach Davis Payne early in the season and replaced him with Ken Hitchcock, who has turned out to be everything the Blues needed and more. The Blackhawks are still without their captain and leading goal-scorer, Jonathan Toews, who is suffering from what’s believed to be a concussion. No word on when he will be back in the lineup, but the Hawks will need to find a way to get some wins without him. Exactly a week ago, these two teams met in St. Louis and the Hawks suffered a 5-1 loss. This is a big game for Chicago and should be an exciting one to watch.
San Jose Sharks @ Calgary Flames 6:30pm PST
After losing five games in a row, San Jose was finally able to beat the Oilers last night, but how will they fare in a back to back against Calgary tonight? The Flames are hot off a three game win streak and are desperately battling for a playoff spot. The Sharks and Flames are ranked in 9th and 10 place, respectively, and are separated by only one point. With a win tonight, Calgary could hop over San Jose and Colorado and take 8th place, depending on the outcome of the Kings/Red Wings game at 7:30pm PST (another good one to watch!)
New Jersey Devils @ Philadelphia Flyers 4:00pm PST
These two teams are dead even with 85 points in the eastern conference. It’s not as much of a do-or-die type situation for these guys as they are both likely to be in a playoff spot, but if you want to see two pretty evenly matched teams go at it, this will be a good one to watch. The Devils, led by Ilya Kovalchuk, are going for their 5th win in a row tonight. Kovalchuk has had 5 goals and 4 assists in his last 4 games and looks to improve on that streak against Philly.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14TH:
Phoenix Coyotes @ Vancouver Canucks 7:00pm PST
I’m particularly invested in this game because I’d like to see the Canucks destroy the Coyotes and get them out of the L.A. Kings’ way. Throughout the month of February, the Coyotes took 22 out of a possible 24 points thanks to their goaltender Mike Smith. In 8 out 12 games that month, Smith gave up only 1 goal or less. Now, the Coyotes sit in 7th place, but will need to keep winning to secure a playoff spot. The Canucks are third in the league overall with 92 points and will hopefully crush Phoenix in this game.
Colorado Avalanche @ Buffalo Sabres 4:30pm PST
These are two teams desperate for a playoff spot. With the Sabres holding down 9th place in the east and the Avalanche just barely in 8th place in the west, these two teams will be giving it everything they’ve got. Quite frankly, I don’t care to see either of them in playoffs, but for the Kings’ sake, I’ll be rooting for Buffalo.
THURSDAY, MARCH 15th:
Phoenix Coyotes @ Calgary Flames 6:00pm PST
For reasons already mentioned, this should be an interesting one. Both teams have been playing well lately and as of right now, both have an almost equal shot at making or missing the postseason.
**Pittsburgh Penguins @ New York Rangers 4:00pm PST**
This will probably the most watched game of the week. It will be the big return of the league’s best player, Sidney Crosby, who has been out with injuries for entirely too long. Without Crosby, the Penguins have been on fire, winning 9 games in a row and sitting in 4th place in the eastern conference. So you can imagine what kind of damage they will be able to do now that their best player is back in action. However, if anyone can snap the 9 game win streak, the Rangers will be the team to do it. They lead the east with 93 points and have been consistent all season long. This will air on the NBC sports network for those who don’t have the center ice package and it will be well worth the watch I’m sure.
To round out the week, here’s what else I’ll be watching:
FRI, MAR. 16TH
Washington Capitals @ Winnipeg Jets 5:30pm PST
Chicago Blackhawks @ Dallas Stars 5:30pm PST
Los Angeles Kings @ Anaheim Ducks 7:00pm PST
SAT, MAR. 17TH
Philadelphia Flyers @ Boston Bruins 10:00am PST
Nashville Predators @ Los Angeles Kings 7:30pm PST
SUN, MAR 18TH:
Pittsburgh Penguins @ Philadelphia Flyers 9:30am PST
Washington Capitals @ Chicago Blackhawks 4:00pm PST
You can keep up with standings here.