Prelude to the playoffs
Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Monday at Montreal, 7 p.m. ET; TSN2, RDS, SNO, NHL.TV
Thursday at Toronto, 7 p.m. ET; TSN4, TSN2, RDS, NHL.TV
Saturday at Toronto, 7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVAS, NHL.TV
It looks like the Canadiens are going to have to deal with the Maple Leafs one way or the other. Succeed against them this week, and they might avoid them in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and have confidence if they face them in the second round. Struggle, and they might have to face them in the first round after, well, struggling against them. Gulp.
This season, the top four teams in each division make the playoffs and face each other in the first two rounds, seeded by order of finish. The Maple Leafs lead the seven-team Scotia North Division. The Edmonton Oilers are second, the Winnipeg Jets third, the Canadiens fourth. The Oilers will clinch a playoff berth if they get at least one point against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday (10 p.m. ET; SNP, SNW, NHL.TV).
Montreal is two points behind Winnipeg. As much as history buffs would love the first Toronto-Montreal series since the 1979 Quarterfinals, the Oilers appear to be a better matchup for the Canadiens. Montreal is 5-2-0 against Edmonton and 2-4-1 against Toronto this season.
Stars still have a shot
Dallas Stars at Tampa Bay Lightning
Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET; BSSUN, BSSW+, NHL.TV
Friday, 7 p.m. ET; BSSUN, BSSW+, NHL.TV
A season after reaching the Stanley Cup Final and losing to the Lightning in six games, the Stars are in danger of missing the playoffs.
They’re 0-2-1 in their past three games, including a 3-0 loss at the Lightning on Thursday and a 1-0 overtime loss at the Nashville Predators on Saturday. They’re fifth in the eight-team Discover Central Division, three points behind the fourth-place Predators.
The good news? They have a game in hand on them.
Dallas’ final five games: at the Florida Panthers on Monday, these two against the Lightning, then at the Chicago Blackhawks on May 9 and 10.
Nashville’s final four: at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday and Wednesday, at the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday and May 10.
New York Rangers at Boston Bruins
Thursday, 7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, NESN, MSG, NHL.TV
Saturday, 3 p.m. ET; NBC, NESN, MSG
The Rangers are fifth in the eight-team MassMutual East Division, eight points behind the fourth-place Bruins. And the Bruins have played two fewer games.
By the time these teams play, it could be academic. Boston is at the New Jersey Devils on Monday and Tuesday. New York hosts the Washington Capitals on Monday and Wednesday.
Still, at minimum, this could be another opportunity for growth for the Rangers, especially young players like Adam Fox, the 23-year-old who leads NHL defensemen in scoring with 47 points (five goals, 42 assists), and Alexis Lafreniere, a 19-year-old forward and the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
The Bruins will clinch a berth Monday if they get at least one point against the Devils (7 p.m. ET; SNW, SNP, MSG+, NESN, NHL.TV) or if the Washington Capitals defeat the Rangers (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, MSG 2, NBCSWA, NHL.TV). This could be a good tune up for Boston. The season series has been competitive. The Bruins are 4-2-0. The Rangers are 2-3-1.
Stat of the week
1 — The number of active players with at least 20 goals against the Rangers in fewer than 60 games. Boston center Patrice Bergeron has scored 36 points (20 goals, 16 assists) in 56 games against New York.
Another first-round preview?
St. Louis Blues at Vegas Golden Knights
Friday, 10 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ATTSN-RM, BSMW, NHL.TV
Saturday, 10 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ATTSN-RM, BSMW, NHL.TV
This could be a first-round series, and a good one. The Golden Knights lead the eight-team Honda West Division, four points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche. The Blues are fourth, three points ahead of the Arizona Coyotes with three games in hand.
On April 5, the Blues lost to the Golden Knights 6-1. At that point, they had lost three in a row to them in regulation by a combined score of 16-3 and were in a 2-8-1 slump. But they defeated them 3-1 on April 7, and that was the start of the 7-3-1 stretch that has put them where they are today.
The Golden Knights defeated the Coyotes 3-2 in overtime Saturday and lost 3-0 to them Friday. Before that, they had won 10 in a row and hadn’t lost in regulation since …
That game against the Blues on April 7.
Battle of Florida
Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, BSSUN, BSFL, NHL.TV
There is a good chance the Battle of Florida could be fought in the playoffs for the first time, and these two games could lead right into that first-round series. The Lightning and Panthers each finish the season with this game and another against each other May 10.
The Hurricanes lead the Central, two points ahead of the Panthers and Lightning, who are tied for second. Carolina has two games in hand on Florida and one on Tampa Bay.
The Lightning are 3-3-0 against the Panthers this season. Florida is 3-2-1 against Tampa Bay.