Nick, Colby and Pete assess the Philadelphia Flyers’ hiring of Alain Vigneault, the Los Angeles Kings’ hiring of Todd McLellan, where does this leave the Buffalo Sabres in their search for a head coach, as well as some of the good (CBJ and NYI sweep), bad and ugly from the ongoing First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In continuation with Monday’s Eastern Conference preview, here’s the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview many of you have been waiting for.
In the past, Down the Frozen River has covered every game of every series. This year, DtFR is changing things up a bit with a preview of every round and continued excellence in analysis on the DTFR Podcast as well as some Instagram Live sporadic thoughts throughout the playoffs.
P1 Calgary Flames (50-25-7, 107 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)
The Calgary Flames reached the 50-win plateau for the first time since the 1988-89 season (and just the second time in franchise history). For those of you who might be younger than 30-years-old, that’s also the last time the Flames won the Stanley Cup.
Yes, the Flames won a Cup. Also, it’s been 15 years since Calgary’s appearance in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final or as it’s known to Johnny Gaudreau, “ten years before [his] birth.”
Scotiabank Saddledome is ready to rock again as the Flames are fiery hot this season. So hot, they’re going to wear their throwback sweaters at home to rekindle the 1989 Cup run flame that burns deep inside the heart and soul of the C of Red.
Anyway, puns aside, Calgary is good. Very good.
Head coach, Bill Peters, has gotten the most out of his goaltenders, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record, 2.73 goals against average, .898 save percentage in 42 games played) and David Rittich (27-9-5, 2.61 GAA, .911 SV% in 45 GP), as they’ve racked up the wins.
Led by Gaudreau (36-63–99 totals in 82 games played), Sean Monahan (34-48–82 totals in 78 GP), Elias Lindholm (78 points), Matt Tkachuk (77 points) and potential 2018-19 Norris Trophy finalist, Mark Giordano (74 points), the Flames rose to the top and stayed there, laying claim to home ice all the way through the Western Conference Final– if not Stanley Cup Final, should the Tampa Bay Lightning be eliminated prior to then.
For Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche, the Avs head coach rode the rollercoaster of injuries, out-of-this-world performances and pedestrian play as Colorado reached the top of the Central Division, fell to 6th place and resurfaced to playoff contention, snagging the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Nathan MacKinnon finished one-point shy of the 100-point plateau with 41 goals and 58 assists (99 points) in 82 games this season, centering captain, Gabriel Landeskog (34-41–75 totals in 73 GP), and Mikko Rantanen (31-56–78 totals in 74 GP) on one of the best lines in hockey throughout the year.
Rantanen, of course, has been out of commission since March 22nd with an upper body injury, and remains a question mark for Game 1 against Calgary.
Back to MacKinnon for a moment, the 23-year-old sensation became the third 40-goal scorer since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado, joining current General Manager, Joe Sakic, and Milan Hejduk as the only players to do so.
Tyson Barrie led the Avs defenders with 59 points from the blue line.
In net, Semyon Varlamov (20-19-9, 2.87 GAA, .909 SV% in 49 GP) stole most of the games this season from Philipp Grubauer (18-9-5, 2.64 GAA, .917 SV% in 37 GP), who– despite getting off to a slow start– has really turned his play around as of late, notching three wins in his last five appearances.
Calgary swept the season series, 3-0-0, but the Avalanche kept every game close.
Both teams have hot hands and solid defenses, but there’s one common theme for each club– goaltending. Who’s going to get the starts? Who will rise above? And who’s going to flounder in the First Round?
Because of this, Calgary will likely get stretched to taking the series in six games, with or without a return of Rantanen to Colorado’s lineup.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 9th, 6-5 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Nov. 1st, 3-2 F/OT CGY at Pepsi Center on Oct. 13th
4/11- Game 1 COL @ CGY 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 COL @ CGY 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, TVAS2
4/17- Game 4 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 COL @ CGY*
4/21- Game 6 CGY @ COL*
4/23- Game 7 COL @ CGY*
P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs P3 Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, 93 points)
The San Jose Sharks quietly lurked the waters working their way diligently to 2nd place in the Pacific Division this season after acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators and not destroying teams out of the gate as everyone expected.
Still, San Jose was led by Brent Burns (83 points) in what was yet another Norris Trophy worthy performance this season. The Sharks leading scorer among forwards was 25-year-old Tomas Hertl (35-39–74 totals in 77 GP), while Logan Couture (27-43–70 totals in 81 GP) continued to be a presence in the lineup.
There’s no question surrounding San Jose’s explosive offense and their world class defense. Rather, the Sharks goaltending seems to be the club’s only weakness.
Martin Jones (36-19-5, 2.94 GAA, .896 SV% in 62 GP) posted career-worsts in goals against average and save percentage, while backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (10-8-4, 3.17 GAA, .886 SV% in 25 GP) didn’t look so hot either.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, a slow start and a lot of injuries almost decimated their inaugural season success, but in true Golden Knights fashion, the comeback got rolling and Vegas stormed into a divisional spot for the postseason.
Granted, it doesn’t come with home ice, but still.
Vegas didn’t have a 40-goal scorer like last season, but Jonathan Marchessault still led the way with 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists), while his teammate, William Karlsson amassed 24-32–56 totals in 82 GP.
In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury (35-21-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV% in 61 GP) remained in control of the Golden Knights starting job, but fell victim to the increased scoring around the league– notching his worst GAA and SV% in a season where he was the starting goaltender since his 2.65 GAA and .905 SV% in 67 games played with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.
For Malcolm Subban (8-10-2, 2.93 GAA, .902 SV% in 21 GP) it was a season to forget for the backup goalie. The sophomore slump is real.
The Sharks lost to the Golden Knights in the Second Round last year and it’s not hard to imagine Vegas pulling out another improbable postseason run.
But this time around feels different.
San Jose split the season series, 2-2-0, but was outscored by Vegas, 18-10, in that span. Though the Sharks should be able to batten down the hatches and outlast the Golden Knights in what’s sure to be quite the entertaining matchup in the First Round, there’s no way it won’t go seven games.
Regular season outcomes:
4-3 F/OT SJS at SAP Center on March 30th, 7-3 VGK at SAP Center on March 18th, 3-2 SJS at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 10th, 6-0 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 24th
4/10- Game 1 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS2
4/12- Game 2 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/14- Game 3 SJS @ VGK 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 SJS @ VGK 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/18- Game 5 VGK @ SJS*
4/21- Game 6 SJS @ VGK*
4/23- Game 7 VGK @ SJS*
C1 Nashville Predators (47-29-6, 100 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)
A year removed from winning the President’s Trophy, the Nashville Predators entered the final day of the regular season with the chance to grab the 1st seed in the Central Division. The Preds did just that, of course, and will promptly hold a banner ceremony worthy of AFC Finalists.
It’s fine for the local fan base to take pride in their team. It’s also fine for others in the league to poke a little fun at other organization’s unique quirks.
For Nashville, it’s catfish (see, this classic moment from Puck Soup animated— fair warning, language) and banners (see, “Regular Season Western Conference Champions 2017-18”).
Anyway, real talk, the Preds are a legitimate team.
Their defense is still a colossal stronghold with Roman Josi (2nd in points on the roster, 15-41–56 totals in 82 GP), Mattias Ekholm (44 points and a team leading, plus-27 rating), Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban.
Oh. Again. Never mind.
While Rinne has had the better year, statistically speaking, his goals against average and save percentage rank 10th and 13th, respectively, among goaltenders who played at least 20 games this season.
In the same respect, there were only eight goaltenders with a goals against average below 2.40.
Saros ranked 21st in GAA (among goalies with 20 GP) and 20th in SV%.
This is only relevant in the head-to-head aspect with the Dallas Stars, which, let’s take a look at their organizational depth this season, shall we?
Dallas’s forwards went from being “f—ing horse—-” to… well, at least Tyler Seguin reached the 80-point plateau this season with 33 goals and 47 assists. Alexander Radulov still had 72 points and Jamie Benn ranked third on the team with 27-26–53 totals.
On the blue line, John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen made a case for Sergei Zubov to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and reached 10-35–45 and 12-21–33 totals, respectively as Klingberg continued to emerge as a veteran and Heiskanen made quite an impression in his rookie season.
Not to be outdone, Esa Lindell notched 32 points from the backend this season.
But in the crease, the Stars had two quality stars.
Starting goaltender, Ben Bishop (27-15-2, 1.98 GAA, .934 SV% in 46 GP) put up a career-best season while fighting a lower body injury at times and backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin (16-17-5, 2.57 GAA, .923 SV% in 41 GP) split time with Bishop– taking on more time while the starter was injured– and had almost a mirror image in wins (16) and goals against average from last season.
As long as Bishop (1st in the league in SV% and 2nd in GAA among goaltenders who played at least 20 games) is healthy, yeah, the Stars take home that advantage. Big time.
Nashville has never won the Cup. Dallas won it 20 years ago.
Both franchises have a thirst to quench for their respective markets. Both clubs split the series with two wins and two losses– never winning or losing by more than two goals.
It’s anybody’s guess, but the Stars should upset the Predators in a seven-game stunner.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 NSH at American Airlines Center on Feb. 19th, 3-2 F/OT NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 7th, 3-1 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 2nd, 2-0 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 27th
4/10- Game 1 DAL @ NSH 9:30 PM ET on USA, SN1, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 DAL @ NSH 6 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2
4/15- Game 3 NSH @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
4/17- Game 4 NSH @ DAL 8 PM ET on USA, SN, TVAS2
4/20- Game 5 DAL @ NSH*
4/22- Game 6 NSH @ DAL*
4/24- Game 7 DAL @ NSH*
C2 Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, 99 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)
After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final last season, the Winnipeg Jets struggled at times to find scoring from their top-six forwards, as well as the mythical runway that let their goaltending soar beyond expectations.
This season, the Jets had their ups and downs, while coming back to Earth in other areas.
Blake Wheeler (20-71–91 totals) led Winnipeg in scoring and established a franchise record– dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers– for most assists in a season, while Mark Scheifele (84 points) and Kyle Connor (66 points) rounded out the top-three scorers.
Despite a stretch of games without a goal, Patrik Laine still reached the 30-goal plateau and had 50 points on the season in 82 games played.
In goal, Connor Hellebuyck (34-23-3, 2.90 GAA, .913 SV% in 63 GP) posted a career-worst goals against average (2.90) topping his previous worst 2.89 GAA in 2016-17 (56 GP).
Hellebuyck had his 2nd worst save percentage since his .907 SV% in 2016-17 as well.
Laurent Brossoit (13-6-2, 2.52 GAA, .925 SV% in 21 GP) posted decent numbers as a backup goaltender in his first season with the Jets, since joining the organization in free agency last July.
Winnipeg missed a major part of their defense for most of the season in Byfuglien and to some respects, that’s hampered their goaltending as a result. Tending the net is never solely about one person tending the crease, but rather a team keeping the puck out of their own zone.
However, Hellebuyck has shown signs of a “good year, bad year, good year, bad year” pattern in the past and might have just been victim to a bad year– statistically speaking.
The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs last year, losing the final game of the regular season to the Colorado Avalanche and the last wild card spot in the process.
This year, the Blues redeemed themselves after almost completely embarrassing themselves. St. Louis was last in the Central Division, then they fired Mike Yeo and hired Craig Berube as interim head coach.
Berube began to right the ship, then Jordan Binnington (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 SV% in 32 GP) came along.
Binnington lifted the Blues to a franchise record 12-game winning streak and established the franchise record for most wins by a rookie goaltender (24)– surpassing the previous mark (22 wins) set by teammate and presumably the backup goaltender in the postseason, Jake Allen (19-17-8, 2.83 GAA, .905 SV% in 46 GP).
Don’t try to mess with what’s working.
Ryan O’Reilly led St. Louis in scoring with 28-49–77 totals in 82 games played. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) and Brayden Schenn (54 points) compiled respectable totals in 76 and 72 games played, respectively.
Captain, Alex Pietrangelo, provided more than just leadership from the defensive zone. He added 13 goals and 28 assists (41 points) from the point to help guide St. Louis to a divisional playoff berth.
For the first time in franchise history, Winnipeg is making consecutive playoff appearances. Though they tied in points (99) in the standings, the Jets had the advantage in the regulation-plus-overtime wins tiebreaker, leading the Blues, 45-42, in that department.
Winnipeg won the season series 3-1-0, but is facing a Blues team that has completely shifted gears in the second half of the season. For that reason alone, it’s not impossible to predict St. Louis will be the series winner in five games as Binnington cements his status as a goaltender in the NHL– if not a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate at least.
Regular season outcomes:
1-0 STL at Bell MTS Place on Dec. 7th, 8-4 WPG at Enterprise Center on Nov. 24th, 5-4 F/OT WPG at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 22nd, 5-1 WPG at Enterprise Center on Oct. 4th
4/10- Game 1 STL @ WPG 8 PM ET on NHL Network, SN, TVAS3
4/12- Game 2 STL @ WPG 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/14- Game 3 WPG @ STL 7:30 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS2
4/16- Game 4 WPG @ STL 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/18- Game 5 STL @ WPG*
4/20- Game 6 WPG @ STL*
4/22- Game 7 STL @ WPG*
The DTFR Duo talk a little college hockey, other stats from the week, the CWHL folding and NWHL expansion opportunities, as well as hand out more awards and a look at how things should sort out in the Atlantic Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There’s only one week remaining in the 2018-19 regular season, so let’s make this quick. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on April 10th.
The stretch run is almost complete. If you’re mathematically alive, you still have a chance. Already clinched a playoff berth? Isn’t a great feeling to be ahead of things for once?
If you’re not, then there’s a good chance you’re looking forward to the 2019 NHL Draft lottery (unless you’re the Ottawa Senators– you see, they traded their 2019 1st round pick last season to the Colorado Avalanche after opting to keep their 2018 1st round pick instead– it’s a long story).
Without further ado, here’s the latest standings forecast through the end of March 31, 2019– keeping in mind this is not an exact science.
Given recent and season long trends, as well as records from the last few seasons, the forecasted standings that appear below are only an educated guess.
Anything can happen (for teams that aren’t otherwise already elimination from postseason contention and/or division, conference of President’s Trophy winners).
Projected Standings After Six Months
- p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 126 points (78 games played entering April 1st)
- x-Boston Bruins, 110 points (79 GP)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 100 points (78 GP)
- Montreal Canadiens, 95 points (79 GP)
- Florida Panthers, 87 points (79 GP)
- Buffalo Sabres, 75 points (79 GP)
- Detroit Red Wings, 74 points (79 GP)
- Ottawa Senators, 65 points (78 GP)
To no surprise, the Tampa Bay Lightning have already clinched the President’s Trophy in real life and come close to a 130-point season. Though the Bolts didn’t set an NHL record for “best regular season ever”, they did become the third team in league history to amass 60-plus wins in a season.
Also, sorry Nikita Kucherov, but you can’t spread out your 120-plus points over the course of the playoffs. Everything is reset to “zero” as if it’s a new season within a season altogether.
Is this the year Steven Stamkos records a point in a Game 7?
Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs keep running into each other as Toronto is looking to avenge last postseason’s seven-game series loss to the Bruins.
Unless David Pastrnak has anything to say about that on the scoreboard.
The Montreal Canadiens come up short of a playoff berth thanks to the current tiebreaker format, whereby both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes had more regulation-plus-overtime wins. If anything, there’s more hope for next season than this time around last season in Montreal.
And if you’re a Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres or Detroit Red Wings fan, for some reason you still think your teams are on the cusp of playoff contention– especially now that you’ve already reset your focus on being tied with all 31-NHL teams for 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff action.
However, unless the Panthers make some serious moves in the offseason, the Sabres find a system (and goaltender) and stick with it and the Red Wings try to speed up their rebuild, it might be Groundhog Day for another season or two.
Finally, Ottawa Senators fans, you exist. You’re real fans.
- y-Washington Capitals, 105 points (79 GP)
- x-New York Islanders, 102 points (79 GP)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 99 points (79 GP)
- wc1-Columbus Blue Jackets, 95 points (79 GP)
- wc2-Carolina Hurricanes, 95 points (79 GP)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 83 points (79 GP)
- New York Rangers, 77 points (78 GP)
- New Jersey Devils, 70 points (79 GP)
In the Metropolitan Division, the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals found a way to once-again reign as the division winner heading into the postseason.
After the New York Islanders charged out of the gate on the heels of Barry Trotz’s defensive masterplan and stellar goaltending from Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss, things have started to slide in Long Island.
The good news? Trotz is their head coach and is the defending Stanley Cup champion head coach.
The bad news? They’ll suit up against the Pittsburgh Penguins– annual Stanley Cup contenders as long as Sidney Crosby is still playing and Mike Sullivan is within his five-year window of being the game’s best coach in the playoffs– and that’s just the First Round.
In the Eastern Conference wild card race, Columbus entered April with 44 regulation-plus-overtime wins, leading the Hurricanes (41) and Canadiens (40).
Given the forecasted tie and methods in which each team would need to reach 95 points on the season, it appears as though nothing is going to change over the last week of the season.
Nothing should change anyway.
Not to jinx them or anything, but Carolina is looking to end the longest postseason drought in the major four North American professional sports. The Canes haven’t appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2009.
For the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, there’s 1) maybe a goaltender you can rely on, 2) a goaltender who still hasn’t won a Cup and is sticking with a team that’s rebuilding and 3) a goaltender that finally won a game this season (Cory Schneider) and a goaltender that should be your starter next season (Mackenzie Blackwood).
- y-St. Louis Blues, 99 points (78 GP)
- x-Winnipeg Jets, 98 points (78 GP)
- x-Nashville Predators, 97 points (79 GP)
- wc1-Dallas Stars, 93 points (79 GP)
- wc2-Colorado Avalanche, 89 points (78 GP)
- Minnesota Wild, 85 points (79 GP)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 81 points (78 GP)
Ever hear of a team going from worst to first? Now have you ever heard of a team doing that in the same season? Because the St. Louis Blues are that team this season (at least in the Central Division alone).
However, the point spread in the expected forecast from 1st to 3rd in the Central is only a two-point difference, which means it’s still anybody’s guess as to who will come out with the top-seed in the division.
Should the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators end up in a First Round rematch of last season’s Second Round battle, then you can expect the Jets to take flight. Just a hunch.
Meanwhile, the Western Conference wild card race came down to the wire and– you guessed it– another tiebreaker.
While the Dallas Stars laid claim to the first wild card spot, the Colorado Avalanche came out on top of the Arizona Coyotes for the last playoff spot by virtue of having won their regular season series, 2-1-0.
Things didn’t go so well for the Minnesota Wild this season, both because of injuries and because of a lot of inconsistency (so… injuries?).
For the Chicago Blackhawks, the season started in October, not January.
- z-Calgary Flames, 109 points (79 GP)
- x-San Jose Sharks, 101 points (79 GP)
- x-Vegas Golden Knights, 95 points (79 GP)
- Arizona Coyotes, 89 points (79 GP)
- Edmonton Oilers, 83 points (78 GP)
- Anaheim Ducks, 80 points (80 GP)
- Vancouver Canucks, 80 points (79 GP)
- Los Angeles Kings, 70 points (78 GP)
The Calgary Flames clinched the best record in the Western Conference for the first time in almost 30 years. Conveniently, the Flames last won the Cup 30 years ago.
Guess it’s about time for another repeat of 2004, even though goal line technology could surely keep that from ever happening again whether you believe it was in or not.
Things are looking like business as usual for the San Jose Sharks as they gear up for another taxing First Round battle– this time around in a rematch from last year’s Second Round matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights, by the way, are the 7th team to reach the postseason in their first two seasons of existence.
It’s too bad the Arizona Coyotes couldn’t pull off an incredible run, despite losing their starting goaltender to injury for the season before American Thanksgiving.
The fact that they’re not in the Jack Hughes vs. Kaapo Kakko conversation is about as close as you can come to winning the Cup this season when you’ve relied on Darcy Kuemper for over 20-consecutive starts.
That’s not a shot at Kuemper. That’s just [heck-]ing incredible (pardon my French).
Back up north in Edmonton, the Oilers are gearing up for another rebuild? Is it that time already? Probably not, but if it’s what Connor McDavid wants… (it’s not).
Thanks to that good old ROW tiebreaker, the Anaheim Ducks managed to climb above the Vancouver Canucks in the standings. That’s not saying much.
Vancouver should be this season’s Arizona, next season (minus the injuries). If that makes sense.
Anaheim, on the other hand, should sell, sell, sell this summer.
Finally, the Los Angeles Kings were crowned 2014 Stanley Cup champions for the 5th year in-a-row and finished in the basement of the Pacific.
Everyone, this is your ghost writer speaking. Connor is preoccupied this week, so I’m taking over to tell you about this humdinger of a matchup for this week’s DTFR Game of the Week.
And also to apologize for not having a cool looking table recapping every night of this week’s action leading up to Sunday’s main attraction in the Western Conference as the Minnesota Wild (36-33-9 record, 81 points, 6th in the Central Division) pay a visit to the Arizona Coyotes (37-33-8, 82 points, 4th in the Pacific Division).
Gila River Arena will be in the spotlight as the Top-2 teams outside of the Western Conference wild card race go head-to-head with the chance to help one of the teams currently in control of a wild card position clinch a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If Arizona loses in any form on Sunday against the Wild, the Dallas Stars will punch their ticket to the 2019 postseason leaving one final spot remaining in the Western Conference.
Though the Winnipeg Jets (94 points in 78 games played) lead the Nashville Predators (94 points in 79 GP) and St. Louis Blues (92 points in 78 GP) in the Central Division and the Calgary Flames (103 points in 78 GP) lead the San Jose Sharks (97 points in 78 GP) and Vegas Golden Knights (91 points in 79 GP) in the Pacific Division, the First Round matchups across the board in the Western Conference are still to be determined.
The Central Division is a tight race with the current three divisional playoff position holders battling down the wire for the regular season divisional title.
The Pacific Division can be clinched by the Flames on Sunday if they defeat the Sharks in any fashion.
For Minnesota, a win on Sunday would leapfrog the Wild over the Coyotes in the wild card race and put them two points behind the Colorado Avalanche (85 points in 78 GP) for the last playoff berth in the West.
For Arizona, a win on Sunday would provide the Coyotes with a little cushion over the Wild and leave Arizona trailing the Avalanche by one point in the wild card race.
The Coyotes lost to Colorado in their most recent game, 3-2, in overtime on Friday. The Wild defeated the Golden Knights, 3-2, on Friday.
Both teams enter Sunday knowing they control their own destiny in the immediate future as the Avalanche are off until Monday night’s battle in St. Louis.
Colorado doesn’t have an easy road ahead, however, despite their 6-0-1 record in their last seven outings– the Avs have four games remaining in six nights, including one in St. Louis on Monday and a home game against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday prior to hosting the Jets on Thursday and closing out the regular season in San Jose next Saturday.
Minnesota (3-6-1 in their last 10 games) enters Sunday on the heels of a, 3-2, win over Vegas on Friday after posting a 2-6-1 record in their previous nine games.
Arizona (3-4-3 in their last 10 games) has lost six out their last seven games and went 1-3-3 in that span, but has a 9-1-1 record in their last 11 home games.
The Wild and Coyotes are tied in the season series, 1-1-0, through two meetings at Xcel Energy Center prior to Sunday. Minnesota picked up a, 2-1, win on Oct. 16th against Arizona before losing, 4-3, on Nov. 27th to the Coyotes.
Minnesota is 13-3-3 in their last 19 games against the Coyotes and enters the Grand Canyon State to face a familiar foe.
Darcy Kuemper (25-19-8 record, 2.39 goals against average, .922 save percentage in 52 GP) was originally drafted by the Wild 161st overall in the 2009 NHL Draft and will make his 20th consecutive start for the Coyotes in the crease.
Kuemper stopped 26 out of 28 shots faced in Arizona’s, 2-1, loss to Minnesota on Oct. 16th and is 14-6-3 in his last 23 starts.
Since Jan. 6th, he has a 20-8-5 record with a 2.14 GAA and .929 SV% while the Coyotes have been battling injuries.
Nick Schmaltz signed a seven-year extension with the club on Saturday and remains out with a lower body injury, while Antti Raanta (lower body– out for the season) and Kyle Capobiano (lower body) will also be unavailable for Rick Tocchet‘s lineup on Sunday.
Arizona’s hard charging offense has scored nine goals in their last seven games and is led by Clayton Keller (14-32–46 totals) this season. Defenseman, Oliver Ekman-Larsson (14-29–43 totals) is the only other Coyote with more than 40 points and has seven goals and eight assists since Feb. 21st– tied for the 2nd most by a defender in the league during that span.
Tampa Bay Lightning blue liner, Victor Hedman, has 17 points to Ekman-Larsson’s 15 points in that span.
Coyotes third liner, Alex Galchenyuk, leads his club in goals with 17 this season.
Across the ice, Devan Dubnyk (30-27-6, 2.57 GAA, .912 SV% in 65 GP) is expected to get the start for the Wild as Ryan Donato has seven points (two goals, five assists) in his past seven games for Minnesota.
Boudreau perhaps put it best following Friday night’s win in Las Vegas for Sunday’s preview against Arizona– “I think whoever loses is probably for sure out.”
It’s hard not to agree with that sentiment given both teams will have three games remaining on the schedule after Sunday wraps up and the loser will have an almost insurmountable deficit in the wild card standings.
That said, look for the red-hot on home ice Coyotes to keep Minnesota down in what’s sure to be a wild matchup as the two teams tempt fate.
Tune into the matchup on ESPN+ at 5 p.m. ET.
The DTFR Duo breaks down Jimmy Howard’s one-year extension with the Detroit Red Wings, Gritty’s allegiance in the 2019 NHL Global Series, the New York Islanders’ bottom-six dilemma, Ilya Kovalchuk’s relationship with the Los Angeles Kings, more awards and a look at how things should stack up in the Metropolitan Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The DTFR Duo runs through some Tampa Bay Lightning franchise records, Conor McGregor reactions, hands out more awards, fixes the NHL and takes a look at how things are shaping up in the Pacific Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
We’re less than a month away from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so let’s take a gander at how things should shape up for the Central Division.
The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the first postseason berth this season, Quinn Hughes signed his entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks, Shane Wright was granted exceptional status and the DTFR Duo presented the first few individual season awards.
*Zach Boychuk wasn’t actually on… …this time around, anyway.*
The DTFR Duo honors Ted Lindsay, addresses a potential outdoor game hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes, talk John Tavares’ “welcome” back to Long Island, can’t figure out the Ottawa Senators coaching change circus and more.