|Florida just looked behind and saw the rest of the division on its heels. (Getty Images)|
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.
7 ET, Florida at Pittsburgh
The Panthers continue to go back and forth. One day you are thinking they are pretty secure in their playoff chances, the next they are getting blown out 5-0 on the road in Philadelphia as they were on Thursday.
As a matter of fact, this first-place team in the Southeast Division (really) has lost its last two road games by a combined score 0f 12-0. So really, the last thing they want to see on the schedule is the second half of a back-to-back being on the road at the Penguins. They're only 22-8-2 at home and have won seven straight, nothing too impressive.
Florida still does have the benefit of games in hand -- although they lose that tonight in their battle with the Capitals -- but their grip on the Southeast is no stranglehold. The Caps and Jets are just two behind them and the Lightning are five back with a home-heavy stretch to come.
You'd think they would have to start playing better beginning in Pittsburgh, but in all honesty they might not have to in the Southeast. A .500 finish could get them in and they have an even home/road split to the finish. But it certainly would behoove them to play better, that's for sure.
They have handled injuries all season in Florida, but the most recent one seems to hurt more than most have as leading scorer Kris Versteeg remains out with a hip injury.
9 ET, Winnipeg at Calgary
Two Canadian bubble teams, doesn't get a whole lot better in March than that.
The Jets are going to have to prove they can pick up points on the road if they are going to make the playoffs this season. After failing to do so on Thursday night in Vancouver, they have a bit better of a shot on Friday at the Flames. As mentioned above, they have a struggling division leader only two points ahead of them and others champing at the bit behind.
But the Flames are in a similar situation. They have the same point total at this point as the Jets but the race for eighth in the West is slightly better. Hey, I said slightly. Whereas the Jets are tied in points for that last spot, the Flames are three back. They also have two teams in between them and the Sharks.
This certainly isn't a loser-leave-town match (or in this case leave the playoff race) but it's a big opportunity for each to get points against beatable opponents. How else would you describe bubble teams this season?
7:30 ET, Los Angeles at Detroit
If that challenge was tough, wait to see what the schedule has in store for them on Friday night: a trip to Hockeytown, USA and a date with the Red Wings. You wouldn't think that an optimal destination to pick up points in the race for eighth out West.
L.A. has seen a bit of an uptick in scoring recently but it is still mostly feast or famine for them. In the last seven games they have four wins and three losses. In each of the three losses they scored one goal, in each of the four wins they scored at least four. There's not a whole lot of middle ground there.
However, a win not only puts Los Angeles ahead of San Jose and into a playoff spot for the moment, it would actually pull the Kings even with the Coyotes at the same time in points and games. So not even a loss to Columbus could dash their hopes.
Others worth watching
8:30 ET, Rangers at Chicago: Here's the question I have: Can the Penguins actually catch the Rangers? By night's end Pittsburgh could be only four points back of New York. The Blackhawks will try to help revive the Atlantic race.
Your promised miscellany
- Thursday's Winners & Losers
- Speaking of those streaking Blue Jackets, coach Todd Richards sounds like he's enjoying the Jack Johnson-Jeff Carter swap. (Columbus Dispatch)
- Jeremy Roenick remains not a big fan of Patrick Marleau's abilities with his old team in San Jose. (CSN Bay Area
- Wait, now Don Cherry might be silenced by the NHL? Boy, the next Coach's Corner is going to be good. (Toronto Sun)
- With this empty-netter last night, Max Pacioretty became the first American to score 30 in a season for the Canadiens. He's turned into quite a player.