Around the League
With all 16 spots for the 2014 NHL Playoffs spoken for all that remains to be solved is the seeding. Under the new playoff format, the division leader of each conference plays the wild card team with the fewest points. The other division leader will then play the wild card leader. The two remaining teams in each division, conveniently ranked second and third, will play each other, ensuring a division matchup in the first round. So, here are the scenarios…
The Bruins have already clinched the conference title, so head coach Claude Julien may opt to spread the minutes around a little more and give his key players a little rest. But, between the Red Wings and Blue Jackets, both would certainly prefer to play the Penguins, who are banged up and missing several key players. The magnetic aura of Dan Bylsma seems to have faded as well, with tough playoff defeats in the past three years and an uneven showing with Team USA that left many dumbfounded.
Mike Babcock’s certainly not afraid of them, and in my opinion, Sergei Bobrovsky is way better than Marc-Andre Fleury. The BJ’s need to take just one point from Roberto Luongo and the Panthers to avoid the Bruins in the first round. The Pens swept the season series against the BJ’s, but Ryan Johansen’s play – the best player they’ve ever drafted – and Bobrovsky’s ability to steal games gives them a chance to stage an upset. Things just don’t seem to be going right for the Pens this year.
There’s a chance the Flyers can play the Penguins in the first round, but winning games is more important because it feels like the Flyers need a little more momentum going into the playoffs. The Rangers are not an easy matchup. The surging Blueshirts are really starting to get comfortable with Alain Vigneault, who has already found a potential whipping boy in J.T. Miller and turning fellow French Canadian Benoit Pouliot into a decent hockey player again.
The Rangers have a tough test with the Canadiens in Montreal, who are playing for home ice. The Lightning have a plus-27 goal differential at home but a minus-4 differential on the road, while the Hab’s plus-11 at home and minus-4 at home isn’t nearly that big of a swing, which suggests that Jon Cooper’s squad is very good at exploiting something on home ice, perhaps matchups or just the nuances or comfort level of playing in their home rink. Before Ben Bishop’s injury, Carey Price was arguably the best goalie in that series – now, there’s no question he is.
The Ducks will face one of the Stars or Wild in the first round, and neither are intimidating opponents. Both teams have holes and neither have the same depth and chemistry as Bruce Boudreau’s well-oiled (unsurprisingly) offensive squad. The Stars will have more offensive firepower, but the Wild will play a much stronger two-way game and make you face Ryan Suter 30 minutes a night.
The Sharks and Kings, the only series set in stone for the Western Conference, both have an unlucky draw. It won’t be a short series unless Jonathan Quick or Antti Niemi implode, and whoever wins will still need to face Anaheim or the three Central Division leaders in the following round. Doug Wilson re-tooled the Sharks rather quickly, but have their work cut out for them against the Kings, who don’t seem to be as strong as previous years but still manage to put up the fights.
That’s it, the last Saturday Daily Puck for the regular season. Here are your games:
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid
Buffalo Sabres (Matt Hackett) at Boston Bruins (Tuukka Rask), 12:30 PM
Philadelphia Flyers (Steve Mason) at Pittsburgh Penguins (Marc-Andre Fleury), 3:00 PM
New York Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist) at Montreal Canadiens (Carey Price*), 7:00 PM
Toronto Maple Leafs (James Reimer) at Ottawa Senators (Craig Anderson*), 7:00 PM
Columbus Blue Jackets (Sergei Bobrovsky*) at Florida Panthers (Roberto Luongo*), 7:00 PM
Chicago Blackhawks (Antti Raanta) at Nashville Predators (Pekka Rinne*), 8:00 PM
San Jose Sharks (Antti Niemi) at Phoenix Coyotes (Thomas Greiss), 9:00 PM
Vancouver Canucks (Eddie Lack) at Edmonton Oilers (Ben Scrivens), 10:00 PM
Anaheim Ducks (Frederik Andersen) at Los Angeles Kings (Jonathan Quick), 10:30 PM
Injury News For Teams Playing Saturday
Michal Neuvirth, G - (lower body) out for the season.
Jhonas Enroth, G - (leg) likely out for the season.
Patrick Kaleta, RW – (torn ACL) out for the season.
Tyler Myers, D - (midsection) likely out for the season.
Alexander Sulzer, D - (upper body) no return date set.
Chad Ruhwedel, D - (concussion) will not play Saturday.
Nathan Lieuwen, G - (concussion) will not dress Saturday.
Zenon Konopka, C - (back) no return date set.
Dennis Seidenberg, D – (torn ACL/MCL) out for the regular season.
Patrice Bergeron, C – (undisclosed) miss Thursday’s game, game-time decision Saturday.
Chris Kelly, C – (back) no return date set.
Adam McQuaid, D - (quad) no return date set.
Zac Rinaldo, RW – (suspension) will not play Saturday.
Chris Conner, RW - (foot) no return date set.
Joe Vitale, C – (mid-body) no return date set.
Pascal Dupuis, RW – (knee) out for the season.
Marcel Goc, C – (foot) no return date set.
Evgeni Malkin, C - (foot) doubtful for Saturday.
New York Rangers
Ryan McDonagh, D - (arm) game-time decision Saturday.
Chris Kreider, LW – (hand) no return date set.
Alex Galchenyuk, C – (knee) eyeing return during playoffs.
Travis Moen, LW - (concussion) doubtful for Saturday.
Brandon Prust, LW - (upper body) hopeful for return during playoffs.
Lars Eller, LW - (illness) will not play Saturday.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Joffrey Lupul, LW – (knee) out 3-4 weeks.
Dave Bolland, C - (ankle) doubtful for Saturday.
Jonathan Bernier, G - (knee) will not play Saturday.
Jared Cowen, D - (lower body) likely out for the season.
Mika Zibanejad, C – (undisclosed) will not play Saturday.
Bobby Ryan, RW – (hernia) out for the season.
Columbus Blue Jackets
R.J. Umberger, LW – (upper body) will not play Saturday.
Nick Foligno, LW - (lower body) will not play Saturday.
Nathan Horton, RW – (abdominal) no return date set.
Aleksander Barkov, C - (knee) out for the season.
Dan Ellis, G – (illness) Luongo slated to start.
Tom Gilbert, D – (hernia) out for the season.
Krys Barch, RW – (illness) did not play Thursday, questionable for Saturday.
Alex Petrovic, D – (upper body) placed on IR.
Tomas Kopecky, RW – (concussion) no timetable for return.
Scott Gomez, C - (illness) did not play Thursday, questionable for Saturday.
Nikolai Khabibulin, G – (torn rotator cuff) out for the season.
Jonathan Toews, C - (arm) will not play Saturday.
Patrick Kane, RW - (lower body) will not play Saturday.
Patrick Eaves, RW - (upper body) questionable for Saturday.
San Jose Sharks
Scott Hannan, D – (undisclosed) left Friday’s game, doubtful for Saturday.
Raffi Torres, LW - (soreness) will not play Saturday.
Adam Burish, RW - (hand) no return date set.
David Schlemko, D - (foot) questionable for Saturday.
Mike Smith, G - (knee) will not dress Saturday.
Martin Hanzal, C - (lower body) questionable for Saturday.
Andrew Alberts, D - (concussion) will not play Saturday.
Mike Santorelli, C - (shoulder) out for the season.
Chris Tanev, D – (finger) out for the season.
Mark Arcobello, C - (shoulder) out for the season.
Nail Yakupov, RW – (ankle) out for the season.
Luke Gazdic, LW – (shoulder) out for the season.
Jesse Joensuu, LW – (high ankle sprain) 3-4 weeks.
Sam Gagner, C – (ankle) doubtful for Saturday.
Ryan Jones, LW - (knee) out for the season.
Andrew Ference, D - (chest) out for the season.
Boyd Gordon, C - (shoulder) out for the season.
Sheldon Souray, D – (wrist) out for the season.
Luca Sbisa, D – (upper body) doubtful for Saturday.
Tim Jackman, RW – (hand) no timetable for return.
Mark Fistric, D - (lower body) doubtful for Saturday.
Los Angeles Kings
Drew Doughty, D - (upper body) game-time decision.
Colin Fraser, C – (hand) 4-6 weeks.
Robyn Regehr, D – (undisclosed) doubtful for Saturday.
Paul Stastny, C, COL – His cap hit still might be a little hard to swallow, but Stastny has six 20-goal seasons through eight seasons (really seven plus two half-seasons) of NHL play. That’s pretty remarkable. He has three goals in his past five games and had a statement game against the Blues with three points recently.
Nathan MacKinnon, LW, COL – The consensus Rookie of the Year, MacKinnon surpassed everyone’s expectations and will be looking to score his 25th goal of the season this weekend. He has three assists in his past three games and putting a lot of pucks on net, so the law of averages says a goal should be coming soon.
Mark Streit, D, PHI – It’s a good time for the Swiss defensemen to get hot with six assists in his past five games. The Flyers need more consistency if they want to win the playoffs, and that has to start with the team’s veterans settle the team down. Streit is at his best pushing the offense and the Flyers have scored 12 goals in their pas three game.s
Phil Kessel, RW, TOR – If Leafs Nation and the media need a lightning rod, it’s going to be Kessel, who has scored just once in his past eight games. Despite playing well over 20 minutes in his past four games, Kessel has been an even bigger defensive liability than normal with a minus-6 rating.
Daniel Sedin, LW, VAN – The Canucks just weren’t very good after the Olympic break, and Sedin has gone six games without a goal and been on the ice for six goals against in that span. He’s not shooting the puck and while the Sedins are playing with a little more confidence, it’s not showing on the score sheet. Sedin’s 14 goals on the year is his lowest total since 2003 (excluding shortened seasons).
Ryan Miller, G, STL – Miller’s clearly past his prime, but his four-game winless streak during which he’s allowed an uncharacteristic 15 goals is a little alarming. There are some who believe that Brian Elliott might emerge as the hero, but it’s Miller’s spot to lose. As a whole the Blues seem to be sputtering, and it doesn’t help when a team with any real offensive superstars allows four goals a night.
Johnny Gaudreau, LW, CGY – Signing shortly after winning the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top player, “Johnny Hockey” will make his NHL debut this weekend, and even if he plays just one game, he’s worth picking up just to see what would happen. The 5-foot-7 sniper scored 21 goals in each of his first two years at Boston College, and then exploded for 36 goals in 40 games this season. Say what you want about Jay Feaster’s track record with free agents, but the man knew how to evaluate talent, getting a steal of a deal by drafting Gaudreau in the fourth round. He’ll want to make an impression in his debut.