There’s nine games on deck this evening, so let’s jump right in!
The evening’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with three tilts (Toronto at Buffalo, Washington at the New York Islanders [SN360] and Columbus at Philadelphia), followed half an hour later by two more (Pittsburgh at Montréal [NBCSN/RDS/TSN2] and Boston at Florida [TVAS]). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of another pair of tilts (Colorado at St. Louis and Chicago at Winnipeg), while tonight’s co-nightcaps – Nashville at Arizona and Detroit at Los Angeles (NBCSN/SN360) – waits until 10 p.m. to close the night out.
Two rivalries are in action tonight, and both are taking place in the Empire State!
- Toronto at Buffalo: The Battle of the QEW rages on this evening with the second meeting in 10 days.
- Washington at New York: If the Isles can’t get up for this home-and-home series while trailing a playoff spot by nine points, their season is officially toast.
However, rivalries aren’t the most important things this time of year. Instead, we need to make the trip to the City of Brotherly Love for an important Metro matchup!
The 37-28-5 Blue Jackets are streaking, folks! Winners of its last five games – including opponents like San Jose, Vegas and Colorado – Columbus has held on to the second wild card and is eyeing the first.
What makes this run of success even more impressive is how Columbus is doing it. For the season, the Jackets have averaged only 2.67 goals per game, the seventh-worst mark in the NHL. However, these last five games have seen the Blue Jackets post an unbelievable 4.2 goals per game, more than 1.5 times stronger than their usual performance and good enough for third-best in the NHL since March 4.
An impressive five players have averaged at least a point per game over this win streak, but none have been as intimidating as LW Artemi Panarin. The Breadman has been playing out of his mind lately, posting incredible 3-5-8 totals in his last five games to improve his season marks to 21-40-61. As made apparent by both of those numbers, Panarin hasn’t posted the goals we grew accustomed to while he was in Chicago (he scored at least 30 goals in his first two seasons), but he has a chance of exceeding the 47 assists he registered in his rookie season.
One of Panarin’s favorite teammates to set up to score lately has been D Seth Jones, another Blue Jacket averaging at least a point per game during this winning streak with his 4-3-7 marks. In fact, Panarin’s last three apples have resulted in Jones tallies.
Joining Panarin and Jones in their impressive performances are C Alexander Wennberg (1-6-7 totals since March 4), F Pierre-Luc Dubois (1-5-6 in the last five games) and F Boone Jenner (2-3-5 over this run).
One final player that deserves credit for this winning streak is 30-21-5 G Sergei Bobrovsky, tonight’s likely starter. Having started three of Columbus’ last five games, he’s managed an impressive .939 save percentage and 2 GAA to help hold opponents to only 2.2 goals per game during this winning streak, the (t)sixth-best mark in the league since March 4. On the season, Bobrovsky now has a .921 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.
While Columbus is experiencing winning, the same cannot be said for 35-24-11 Philadelphia of late. Since March 1, the Flyers have posted a lowly 1-5-1 record to tie Vancouver for the second-worst record in the league in that time.
Just like Monday when we last featured the Flyers, I’m standing pat on placing full blame for Philly’s struggles on 12-11-4 G Petr Mrazek, tonight’s starter. Mrazek came to Philadelphia with a .91 save percentage and 2.89 GAA from his 22 appearances in Detroit, but has failed to live up to expectations and effectively fill in for 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 8-7-3 G Michal Neuvirth.
Since the beginning of March, he’s posted a lowly .878 save percentage and 3.64 GAA, even though the defense in front of him is limiting his workload to only 29.71 shots per game ([t]eighth-fewest in the league since March 1), due in large part to the solid play of F Valtteri Filppula (averaging a takeaway per game in March) and D Radko Gudas (3.7 hits per game and 2.1 blocks per game during this skid).
That’s forced the offense to play back, which is showing up in production. In their last seven games, the Flyers have averaged only 2.29 goals per game, the (t)fourth-worst mark in the NHL since March 1. F Claude Giroux can take credit for most of that limited success, as he’s managed to post 3-5-8 totals over his last seven games – the lone Flyer averaging at least a point per game over this run.
Those that keep a close eye on the standings know how important tonight’s game is.
The easiest situation to describe is Philadelphia’s, so let’s start there: Leading the Devils by only one point, the Flyers desperately need points if they want to avoid becoming one of the Eastern Conference’s wild cards.
Additionally, Philly trails the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals and runners-up Penguins by only four points. While the Caps have a game in hand on the Flyers, the Flyers have a game in hand on Pittsburgh, meaning a Philly win paired with a Pittsburgh regulation loss in Montréal would set up quite the race for home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
Things get a little bit wilder when we discuss Columbus, who can jump into a tie with the Flyers with a regulation win tonight. Though the Jackets would lose that tie based on regulation+overtime wins, they would jump the Devils (who thrashed the Golden Knights 8-3 in Vegas last night, for those keeping track of those types of things) for the East’s first wild card.
Of course, there’s also the subject of the Florida Panthers lurking behind the Jackets. On the surface, it doesn’t seem Florida poses much of a threat yet considering it has four fewer points than Columbus. However, the Panthers have a whopping three games in hand on the Jackets, meaning any lead less than six points is not safe. If Florida loses in regulation tonight at home against the Bruins and the Jackets earn two points, that would be a major card in Columbus’ back pocket as the Panthers would need to win all three games in hand to simply match the Jackets’ point total.
Through the first three games of this four-tilt regular season series, neither side has had much of an upper hand on the other. In fact, all three games have ended with a 2-1 score. That being said, Philadelphia currently owns a superior 2-0-1 record against the Blue Jackets, but Columbus can level the series with a regulation win tonight – an important note given how tight every tiebreaker between these clubs is.
I’m not saying I want playoff seeding to boil down to a literal coin toss, but I’m not saying I don’t want playoff seeding to boil down to a literal coin toss. If it happens, it’d better be televised with at least a half-hour pre-flip show complete with a full-blown strategy session that I will definitely watch. Your move, NBC and Sportsnet.
Anyways, Columbus hosted the first two games, and both required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. The Jackets took Game 1 on December 23 with a 2-1 shootout victory (Bobrovsky earned First Star honors with a 30-save performance followed by a clean shootout), but Philly struck back on February 16 with a 2-1 overtime win (Neuvirth led the way with 35 saves).
When Game 3 transitioned east, Giroux posted a one-goal, two-point third period to lead Philadelphia to a 2-1 regulation victory.
WIth the Jackets rolling right now and Mrazek unable to stop much of anything, it’s hard to imagine a game that doesn’t end in two points for Columbus. However, the Blue Jackets need to ensure they end this game in regulation, as every point is precious.
The Toronto Maple Leafs survived a wild game at Air Canada Centre with the Dallas Stars in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they earned a 6-5 shootout victory.
No period in this tilt saw fewer than two goals scored, and it featured two four-tally frames.
The first of those insane periods occurred was the first frame, which saw both sides register a pair of scores. 4:28 after the opening puck drop, C Nazem Kadri opened the scoring with an unassisted tip-in to give Toronto the lead. His marker was followed only 25 seconds later by a wrist shot from First Star of the Game LW James van Riemsdyk (C Tyler Bozak and D Connor Carrick), which doubled the Leafs’ advantage.
Scoring subsided for almost 10 minutes before the Stars brought the scoreboard to life once again. With 5:31 remaining in the frame, LW Jamie Benn (Second Star F Tyler Seguin and D Esa Lindell) scored a wrister to pull Dallas back within a goal, followed by C Radek Faksa (D Greg Pateryn and F Tyler Pitlick) 1:32 later to level the score at 2-2.
In all, Dallas scored four unanswered goals before the second intermission, as the Stars took credit for both of the second period tallies. Seguin scored the first at the 4:30 mark of the frame with an unassisted wrister, followed 9:33 later by LW Remi Elie (F Devin Shore and D John Klingberg) registering his seventh career marker to give the Stars an impressive two-goal advantage with only 20 minutes remaining.
Another four goals were in store in the third frame, but most of them belonged to the hosts. Van Riemsdyk (Bozak and D Travis Dermott) provided the first at the 5:13 mark to pull Toronto back within a tally, and he (F Mitch Marner and D Morgan Rielly) followed himself 5:30 later to complete his hat trick and tie the game at 4-4 with a power play wrister.
With 6:42 remaining on the clock, Dallas once again took a one-goal lead when RW Brett Ritchie (Seguin and Benn) scored a wrister. That advantage nearly lasted until the end of regulation if not for F Patrick Marleau (Marner and D Jake Gardiner). The former Shark forced home a tip-in with only 16 seconds remaining to tie the game at 5-5 and force overtime.
As five minutes of three-on-three play did not yield a game-winner, this contest was thrust into the dreaded shootout. As host, Toronto had the choice of shooting first or second.
- As usual, the home team chose to go first, meaning Bozak was the first to take a shot. His attempt was pure, as he beat G Kari Lehtonen to give the Maple Leafs an early shootout lead.
- That lead was cemented a shot later, as Seguin’s wrister was saved by Third Star Curtis McElhinney.
- Next up for the Leafs was Mr. Hat Trick himself, van Riemsdyk. The left wing couldn’t find the back of the net for the fourth time in this game as Lehtonen was there to save his wrister.
- With an opportunity to level the shootout at 1-1, the Stars sent out RW Alexander Radulov, who proceeded to meet the same fate as Seguin: his wrister was saved by McElhinney.
- A Toronto goal would clinch the bonus point for the Leafs, and that’s exactly what Marner did. He beat Lehtonen to win the shootout 2-1.
Though he didn’t start the game, McElhinney earned the victory after saving 13-of-15 shots faced (.867 save percentage). He replaced G Frederik Andersen with 9:35 remaining in the second period with the score at 3-2 after the starter suffered an upper-body injury. Andersen saved 17-of-20 (.85) before exiting the game.
Lehtonen took the shootout loss after saving 28-of-33 shots faced (.848 save percentage).
Toronto’s home victory snapped a four-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The 87-49-19 hosts now have a 38-point advantage on the roadies in the series.