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Blog Entry

Pregame Skate: Big night for all in playoff push

Posted on: March 6, 2012 9:38 am
Edited on: March 6, 2012 9:45 am
 
Jumbo Joe and San Jose enter the night eighth in the West. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Pregame 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.

10:30 ET, Edmonton at San Jose

This is pretty amazing to type with only a few weeks left in the season, but if the Sharks don't win this game, they could be out of playoff position.

Now here is the part where I throw out the disclaimers: the Sharks have multiple games in hand on the teams ahead or near them in the standings. It's also where I remind you that does you no good unless you actually win those games in hand.

But the Sharks are sinking right now. They are 4-10-1 in their last 15 games, unable to really find their footing since returning from that nine-game road trip they took in February. As a result, they find themselves holding on to the final playoff spot in the West at the moment. Of course, they could also forge a three-way tie with losses by their Pacific Division rivals tonight and regain the third seed. This is how it is shaping up to be for the remainder of the season in the Pacific.

The important thing for San Jose is to not let these types of games slip away. The Sharks have had a couple days off, they're at home and the league's second worst team record wise (the Oilers) are visiting a night after playing in Anaheim. It's as good a shot at two points as any. It's more or less herring just dangling in front of them.

9 ET, Minnesota at Colorado (NBC Sports Network)

The Avalanche won't go away out West either. Unlike the East where teams like Toronto and Washington to an extent have been playing their way out of the playoffs, Colorado is one of those out West that has been winning its way in, meaning they have won five of the last seven games.

That includes a win on Sunday night against the same Minnesota Wild they host on Tuesday. It was a 2-0 win for the Avs with the lone tallies coming from Jamie McGinn in the first period.

I still haven't been convinced by the Avalanche that they have staying power in the Western Conference to make the playoffs this season. But here we are in March and they just won't go away. With that said, their odds still aren't as good as the other teams around them in the standings due to the extra number of games they have played. Sports Club Stats puts the odds on the Avs making it in at 17.95 percent.

It's important to point out that Semyon Varlamov has been significantly better in goal for them of late, showing why they traded a first-round draft pick for him this summer. Only once in his last six starts has he given up more than two goals. In the other five starts his goals against average is a decimal shade above 1.00 even.

7:30 ET, Ottawa at Tampa Bay

Welcome back to the playoff picture, Tampa Bay.

The Lightning have been streaking of late behind the hot stick of Steven Stamkos -- honestly, when is it not hot? -- and are about to enjoy some time at home. Having won four in a row, the Lightning are embarking on a nine-game stretch where eight games will come at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Here's an interesting little tidbit about that: The Lightning actually have the Southeast Division's best home record. Better than Winnipeg. Actually, Washington has a better home record than Winnipeg too (by two fewer OT losses). That's saying something about Tampa's prowess at home.

If they can use this home-heavy stretch the way the Jets just did on their eight-game home stand, there's no reason the Lightning can't get in the playoff seeding very soon, or possibly even jumping the Panthers for first place in the division (they enter tonight six points behind).

Of note for the Senators: Ben Bishop is expected to get his first start since being traded to Ottawa after Robin Lehner was sent back to AHL Binghamton.

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Others worth watching

7 ET, Boston at Toronto: Let's see if the change from Ron Wilson to Randy Carlyle is going to help the Maple Leafs finally get over the Bruins hump. Boston has won all four meetings this season by a combined score of 23-6. Eek.

7 ET, Phoenix at Columbus: The Coyotes come into Columbus straight off a loss -- albeit a good showing -- against the Penguins on Monday. It was just Saturday that the Blue Jackets beat the Coyotes in the desert.

7 ET, Carolina at Washington: The last time these two got together the Hurricanes whitewashed the Capitals 5-0 in Raleigh. Washington comes in having lost two straight at home while failing to score in either. To say the Caps need this is an understatement.

7 ET, Detroit at Philadelphia: Not a whole lot in the playoff picture other than Detroit's battle for the Central Division and Presidents' Trophy, but Mark Howe's number will be retired before the game and it should just be an all-around good game.

8 ET, Los Angeles at Nashville: Kings coach Darryl Sutter joked the Predators “haven’t lost at home since Christ was a child.” Doesn't bode well for a team trying to stay in the playoff hunt too. If things go right, L.A. could be just one point out of first in the Pacific by night's end.

10 ET, Dallas at Vancouver: As the day begins, this is a matchup of division leaders as the Stars took that title on Monday night with Phoenix's loss. But the task is tall if they want to keep that lead after tonight.

Your promised miscellany

  • Monday's Winners & Losers
  • The Senators threatened they might leave Ottawa if tax breaks were eliminated. No worries, they're staying. (Ottawa Sun)
  • The news on the Jonathan Toews mystery injury front is sounding better for Chicago. (CSN Chicago)
  • A little more on my favorite story of the year so far, OHL forward Connor Crisp talks about the experience playing goaltender.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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