Greetings puck fans! And welcome to what usually is a very exciting final NHL weekend. The best part is that as Steve has already documented, there are a bunch of games with playoff implications. I think what I like most is that when you look at today's schedule, it starts less than an hour from now and doesn't conclude until probably 1 in the morning out on the East coast. That's 12 straight hours of hockey.
Plenty will be on the line today. The Islanders will attempt to continue their last ditch effort to squeak in the postseason when they battle the Flyers at Wachovia Center. Faceoff is 1:08. The key for them is fairly simple:
1.Dubi Dubi Doo- Third string goalie Wade Dubielewicz must continue to be razor sharp.
2.Dynamic Duo- Leading scorer Jason Blake and key acquisition Ryan Smyth must have big days.
3.Get A Lead- Whenever you're playing a dangerous opponent, the best ingredient is to get the jump. The Flyers have nothing to play for other than pride. But as myself and Steve would attest, John Stevens' club has not mailed it in. Just ask both our clubs.
While that game is taking place, the Sabres will continue their run at a first ever President's Trophy when they visit Washington in the nation's capital. Lindy Ruff's club is getting healthy at the right time. Dangerous scorer Maxim Afinogenov just returned the other night and recorded an assist in their 4-2 home win over Boston. They are currently tied with the Red Wings for the most points in the NHL with 111. Detroit will be playing their final game of the regular season when they play host to Chicago in an Original Six match-up. Ironically, it takes place at the same time. So how can the Sabres clinch first overall and home ice advantage throughout the entire postseason? Here's how:
A.A win today and a Detroit OT/SO loss.
B.A Detroit regulation loss would also get the job done due to the wins tiebreaker. Buffalo has three more wins with an NHL best 52.
C.If both teams win, that also would work because each team would have 113 points with the tiebreaker going to Buffalo.
D.If Detroit wins and Buffalo loses in regulation, the Sabres will need to beat the Flyers in the NBC game tomorrow.
E.If Detroit wins and Sabres get one point today, they'll need at least one tomorrow to secure home ice.
At 4 PM, there are two games taking place. One is a lottery battle between the Kings and Coyotes as Wayne Gretzky coaches against his former team. Not exactly what he probably thought he'd be doing 14 years after getting LA to the Finals before falling to Montreal.
The other game has much more significance as it involves two Western contenders who are still competing for divisions and higher seeding. The Sharks host the Canucks at HP Pavilion. San Jose trails Anaheim for the Pacific by two points with each team playing their final game today. The Sharks need a win and a Ducks regulation loss in Columbus to win the Pacific and vault from fifth seed on the road all the way to second seed starting the playoffs at home. San Jose holds the wins tiebreaker (51-47 entering today).
For the Canucks, they know a win or at least two combined points in their final two games will lock up the Northwest. They lead the Wild by one point entering today. Minnesota takes on St. Louis in its last game at 8 tonight. Jacques Lemaire's club would have to win that and hope the Canucks only get a point this weekend to take the division. In the event the two teams somehow wind up with the same amount of points and wins which is possible (Vancouver leads 48-47) it would go to the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Wild won the series taking five out of the eight games. So they would get the nod.
The most exciting game will take place tonight at 7 when a classic all Canadian Original Six rivalry is renewed when Montreal visits Toronto in a HNIC showdown. It's being billed as "The GAME!" Two bitter rivals north of the border will do battle with the stakes through the roof. The winner could clinch the final playoff berth in the East. For the Canadiens, it's simple. Win and they're in. They enter with 90 points, one ahead of the Leafs. They also know that if the game went to OT insuring a point, the Leafs would be eliminated no matter what happened because at best, Toronto could only finish tied with Montreal getting to 91. The problem is they don't have three fewer wins. In the event this game is tied late in the third, look for Andrew Raycroft to be on the bench as they'll be aiming for a regulation win to give themselves a chance.
In order for the Leafs to make it, they need to win in regulation tonight and root for an Islander loss. They'll know when the puck drops if the Fishsticks were eliminated. The Islanders conclude the regular season tomorrow afternoon at New Jersey. Paul Maurice's club and probably all of Canada except Ryan Smyth lovers are praying it won't have any significance.
Also in action tonight will be the Rangers when they visit Pittsburgh. A win or at least a point would insure the sixth seed and a date with the Southeast champion Thrashers. The puck drops half an hour after Atlanta and Tampa Bay faceoff at Philips Arena. Meanwhile, for Sidney Crosby and Company, they already know who they're playing in Ottawa. The question is who will get the conference's fourth seed and home ice? Both enter tied with 103 points but the Sens hold one more win. They'll be facing off in Beantown. The Pens will be keeping a close eye on the scoreboard.
The final big two games start an hour apart. The Avs who have continued to play marvelous hockey will host the Predators at 9 ET/6 PT tonight. Trailing eighth place Calgary for the West's final spot, they know they must win to have any sort of chance. They'll need the red hot Milan Hejduk to continue his surge. The sniper is coming off a hat trick in a win over Vancouver. He's up to 34 goals. Joe Sakic has been brilliant as well as has rookie Paul Stastny and netminder Peter Budaj during an unreal 13-1-2 stretch to get them within three of the Flames entering tonight.
The Flames are hosting bitter Alberta rival Edmonton an hour later knowing they need to win to clinch. If the Avs win and Calgary doesn't, it's going to come down to a winner take all showdown tomorrow in Denver. But sizzling captain Jarome Iginla and Kristian Huselius don't want that to happen because they've struggled against the Avs all season.
We'll be on the edge of our seat all day!
The puck is about to drop in the City of Brotherly Love. It's time!