|Florida and Toronto haven't made the playoffs post-lockout. (Getty Images)|
The Morning Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.
7 ET, Florida at Toronto
Considering how the last six years have gone in the NHL, it's pretty amazing to think that we're talking about this game and playoff implications at the end of February. They are the only two franchises not to see the postseason in that stretch.
And there is certainly no guarantee both or even one are going to get in this go-round. That's especially true when talking about the Maple Leafs. In playoff position almost all season long, they have hit hard times in the month of February. The goalies are a mess (so it is still like the previous six years in Toronto). All told, the Leafs have lost four in a row and eight of their last nine. Their last regulation win? Feb. 6 vs. Edmonton.
Now they're three points back of Winnipeg (with three games in hand, mind you) and two behind Washington in the battle for that last playoff spot (five behind Florida if the Panthers fall out of the Southeast lead).
The Panthers this season, by the way, are 10-2-2 against Canadian teams. Not that that means all too much. But they're 2-0-0 against the Leafs including a 5-1 win in Toronto at the beginning of the season. And they've won three consecutive on the road.
Florida is guaranteed to be in first place still by the end of the night. But if they want to take their first Southeast crown in franchise history they'll need to win games like this against struggling teams like Toronto.
8 ET: Los Angeles at Minnesota
It's the same story, different day for Minnesota. If they lose you have to think they're done in the playoff race. I seem to write it all the time these days and every time they pull off the win. But chasing so many teams in the logjam ahead of them they aren't gaining much traction.
One of those teams ahead of them is in town on Tuesday night, so that helps. Especially when that team has about as hard a time scoring as the Wild. Actually harder, but they have a new addition in L.A. who is supposed to help out that department.
Coming into the night, the Wild continue to hang on by their chinny chin chin. They are five points back of the Stars and Avalanche who are tied with 70 points in the eighth spot. They're three back of the Kings. They have games in hand entering the night on all of them. So, you know, have to make those games count and all that, otherwise they're missed opportunities.
For the Wild keen an eye on veteran Matt Cullen. It might just be coincidental but he didn't have a single point in the Wild's seven-game losing streak but has scored a goal in three of the last four games. They are 3-1 in those games. I'll let you guess which one they lost.
10:30 ET, Philadelphia at San Jose
Welcome back home, Sharks. It must be nice to be swimming in friendly waters again after more than two weeks straight on the road. Philly is waiting for you.
San Jose's nine-game jaunt that began Feb. 12 in St. Louis wasn't very kind to them. They won only two of those games picking up five points in total. They lost a late lead in the final game and they're coach Todd McLellan was knocked out of the game by a fluke play near the bench. Oh, and they lost first place in the Pacific Division to the Coyotes.
So yeah, it's probably very nice to be back home.
And while they have to be tuckered out after playing that final road game on Sunday evening in Minnesota, the Flyers are going to be a well-rested group who has had some extra time to enjoy the sites of San Francisco and the Bay Area, having last played on Saturday in Calgary.
Philadelphia is comfortably in the playoffs, its fight is for the No. 4 seed. But San Jose? You will start to wonder if they're going to even make it here pretty soon if they lose tonight. I'm not saying it's panic time, it's certainly not. A road trip like that is brutal. But if they fail to get any points tonight, they will remain just one point ahead of the two teams in eighth. That starts making it pretty interesting.
Others worth watching
9 ET, Vancouver at Phoenix: Arguably the two hottest teams in the league right now (and not much argument for anybody else) this is a huge measuring stick game for the Coyotes. If they get at least one point tonight they will have earned a point in every game in the month of February. Only once so far have they failed to get two points this month -- a shootout loss to the Canucks, no less.
7 ET, Ottawa at Boston: These two renew acquaintances after the weekend's hotly contested game in Ottawa, a Bruins win. The spread is three in the division for the B's with games in hand, so head to head is Ottawa's best chance to gain ground. Look for some fireworks after last game and Kyle Turris' hit on Joe Corvo that avoided supplemental discipline.
7 ET, Islanders at Washington: Interestingly enough, the Isles are the only team from the Eastern Conference the Capitals haven't beaten this season. This is their third crack at them. With just one point the Caps vault into the eighth spot in the East with the Jets, two points give them the No. 8 spot all to themselves.
Your promised miscellany
- Check out our brand new Facebook page and like us, because we like you!
- Monday's Winners & Losers
- After the Jets allowed four unanswered goals to the Oilers at home last night, Kyle Wellwod called it the "worst loss of the year." (Winnipeg Sun)
- Did Cody Hodgson ask for a trade out of Vancouver? Canucks GM Mike Gillis won't say one way or the other. (The Province)
- Sheldon Souray is back and it means the return of one of the best nicknames I've seen this season: Studly Wonderbomb. (Dallas Morning News)
- Think Mike Mottau is happy to be a Bruin? “I always said that I’d take a puck in the teeth to play for the Boston Bruins,” said Mottau. “Now I’ll get that chance.” (CSN New England)
- Lastly, here's a pretty neat inside look at what happens when NHL teams make a trade and the call they make to the league, this one the Hodgson-Zack Kassian swap. (Also, note that the Sabres and Canucks made two separate deals, Alexander Sulzer and Marc-Andre Gragnani were technically their own trade.)