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.
In this day and age with only two teams -- two! -- in the entire NHL being more than 10 points out of a playoff spot, it's hard to find a game on the schedule that isn't carrying a huge impact on the playoff picture. Save for Edmonton playing Columbus, they all have an impact.
That holds even if you have two teams hanging on by life support. Which is just what is on the schedule on Thursday night.
7 ET, Anaheim at Carolina: This is pretty much hockey's equivalent of a loser leave town match. The Hurricanes are eight points back of a playoff position, the Ducks are six back. So, you know, you can't lose this game if you want to stay in the conversation.
For Anaheim it brings an end to one hellacious road trip that has been going since what feels like the All-Star break. And they've done very well on it until their last momentum-killing game, a loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
And Carolina? Well they are actually starting to brim with confidence. They just smacked down the Capitals 5-0 -- then again, who isn't these days? -- and are finally getting the expected production from Eric Staal.
So we have two teams near (or at, in Carolina's case in the East) the bottom of the standings playing some of the best hockey in the league. The game is make or break for both. Should be fun.
7 ET, San Jose at Toronto: The Maple Leafs are still in the thick of the futility battle that is the race for eighth in the East/the Southeast Division. It's like everybody has hit a slump together, giving hope to teams that once appeared on the outs. Toronto is no different.
The goaltending was looking good not long ago. Now Leafs fans are begging for help. They are 1-5-1 in the last seven games. In the last six games -- one OT win in there -- they have yielded 27 goals. That's 4.5 per game. They need to take advantage of the home games they have left, starting tonight.
The Sharks, meanwhile, find themselves actually in a battle for the Pacific Division crown. As of now, they are tied with the surging Coyotes. Now the Sharks do have two games in hand on Phoenix, but those do you no good if you don't win them.
On their own whirlwind road trip, the Sharks are riding a four-game losing streak, three in a row without points. Apparently they think the race for eighth looks so interesting they thought they might play their way into it. As of now, they are only three points up on that eighth spot, but again, have games in hand.
7:30 ET, Vancouver at Detroit: Here's the game of the night without a doubt. Neither team is fighting for their playoff lives, instead they are fighting each other for the top seed in the Western Conference.
Oh, and there is something about a 23-game home winning streak being on the line for the Red Wings? I suppose that might garner some interest here too.
But in reality this game is massive on many levels. In addition to the two-point discrepancy between the teams in the standings, it would do the Canucks a world of good to knock off Detroit at the Joe, prove to themselves that they can do it in case it comes up again at playoff time.
Unfortunately for the Wings -- and fans -- Pavel Datsyuk won't be in the lineup for the Wings, sitting out a couple weeks after having his knee scoped.
9 ET, Phoenix at Calgary: This is the West battle being waged in Calgary right here. The Coyotes have been on fire, winning eight of their last nine games and shooting into not only seventh place in the West but in a tie with the Sharks in the Pacific. And they just added Antoine Vermette.
If Phoenix takes two points tonight, you start to wonder if they can prepare for some playoff games in the desert again. Of course that's no guarantee, but they'd be in one good position for it.
But don't sleep on the Flames. They enter the day in ninth place, one back of the Kings and this will be their one game in hand. Here's what makes the Flames a real threat for a playoff berth, if you can believe that. They have 22 games remaining, 14 of them come at home. That's as favorable as any playoff hopeful down the stretch run.
The Lightning visit the Jets with Winnipeg entering in a tie for both the Southeast lead and the eighth spot in the East. They need to win these games since they've played more than any team. But the Lightning are still clawing, hanging five points back of the playoffs.
Your promised miscellany
- Capitals coach Dale Hunter was hard on goaltender Tomas Vokoun after Washington's second big loss in a row on Wednesday. Of course, without Vokoun, there's no telling how low the Caps would be this season. He's been good for them the majority of the season. (Washington Times)
- Here's a good read from ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun about the always interesting P.K. Subban of the Canadiens. (ESPN.com)
- Now this is entertaining. Check out Maxime Talbot of the Flyers taking on a fan in a Just Dance 3 challenge at the team's recent fair. (Puck Daddy)
- While Milan Michalek scored one very pretty goal against the Capitals, Mathieu Perreault had one ugly goal that tried to make him ugly (the puck went in off his face). Guess what? They both counted as one score.