|The Caps' next four games are at Verizon Center. (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, New Jersey at Washington
You might think the Washington Capitals are in a good position to make the playoffs this season either as the eighth seed in the East or the Southeast Division championship. They are, they still have as good of a shot as any team in the hunt.
But it is pretty amazing how slim the margin of error is for this team at home. Considering they have been below .400 on the road and have nine more games away from home to go that include some very tough stops, winning at home is almost a must. They come into Friday night with 69 points on the season and have 10 home games left against the nine on the road. To get to a conservative estimate of reaching the playoffs of 90 points, you'd realistically think they need 15 or so points at home. Six more from the road gets them to 90, and that's no guarantee of getting in either.
So you can see that winning on home ice is imperative. And here in the second game of a crucial five-game homestand come the New Jersey Devils who, good news for the Caps, haven't been having a world of success lately. They have lost four in a row while the Caps have run off three consecutive wins.
The question coming into this game specifically is how much if any carryover Washington's win over the Islanders this week will have. Trailing 2-0 with less than four minutes left, the Caps came roaring back before Alex Ovechkin scored a classic Ovi snipe in overtime. It really might prove to be a season-saving comeback. But not if they don't keep the good things going from that.
It's worth noting that the Caps should be well-rested having not played since Tuesday while the Devils are on the back end of a back-to-back, losing to Boston in overtime on Thursday.
9:30 ET, Dallas at Edmonton
The Stars maintained their leg up on the rest of the playoff-chasing pack through Thursday's game and continue to hold eighth place by themselves. In fact, if they can get the win tonight against the Oilers, they will tie the Sharks for seventh in the West (but will remain eighth by virtue of games played).
But they can't just waltz into Edmonton thinking that two points are theirs for the taking. When you look at the potential spoiler teams across the league in the stretch run, the Oilers might be the scariest of the admittedly limited number of teams.
They have supreme young offensive talent and the problem with young talent is that it is so often inconsistent. You never know when the Oilers are going to score four or more on you. The point is, the Stars aren't guaranteed anything tonight.
If the Stars do come away with two points they will create a little buffer between themselves and the pursuers, potentially taking a three-point lead.
10 ET, Calgary at Anaheim
In what might have been a make-or-break game for the Flames on Thursday night in Phoenix, they became the first team in literally a month to beat the Coyotes outright. On the road no less. Consider the hope alive for the Flames.
But they get no rest in trying to keep it going by visiting the Ducks tonight. I still do have a tough time with the fact that the Flames are right here, but they are. A win and a Stars loss would actually put the Flames into a tie with Dallas (albeit with one more game played).
Their opponent, meanwhile, is losing its grip fast on their hopes. There is no room for error for the Ducks right now if they hope to overcome longs that seem longer than Toronto's Stanley Cup drought. The night begins with them seven points back of the Stars, who we already detailed are in action. So at best they are five points back of a playoff spot at the end of the night, at worst they're nine back and you can pretty much officially write them off at that point.
That's what makes this time of season so fun to watch. You have some serious desperation in most of the games being played and this one will be no different. Makes for some exiting hockey.
Others worth watching
7:30 ET, Rangers at Tampa Bay: This has little to do with the Rangers (except the Presidents' Trophy race). They pretty much already have the East's No. 1 seed wrapped up already. The question is if the Lightning can do what Buffalo has done and crawl back into the conversation.
7:30 ET, Minnesota at Detroit: Detroit is not only fighting for the Presidents' Trophy but the Central Division crown. The Wild though are one of those desperate teams trying so hard to right now hang on to hope.
7:30 ET, Chicago at Ottawa: A tricky important game. But teams are in the playoffs slightly comfortably at the moment but at the low side in each conference and a failure to pick up points starts to make things a little more interesting. And there is the little subplot of Ray Emery's return to Ottawa.
Your promised miscellany
- Thursday's Winners & Losers
- Great news: Jean Beliveau's wife says the Habs legend is progressing well in his stroke recovery. (NHL.com)
- The Wings are going to be without Nicklas Lidstrom in their two games this weekend. (NHL.com)
- It's been rough for James van Riemsdyk since he got that extension last summer. Now he has a broken foot after blocking a shot. (@NHLFlyers)
- There wasn't much Florida could take out of a 7-0 trouncing by the Jets last night. But at least Erik Gudbranson delivered one heck of a check.