|The Penguins can push the Sabres out of a playoff spot. (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.
7:30 ET, Pittsburgh at Buffalo
The Sabres have worked so hard to get back into a playoff position, they probably aren't the least bit interested in giving it right back to the Capitals now.
But they will do just that without at least one point against the Penguins on Friday night. The players were adamant after their big win in Washington this week that there was still a lot of work left to be done and this is where it starts.
With the strength of their five-game win streak and points in 13 of the last 15 games, the Sabres have supplanted the Penguins as the hottest team in the league, especially after Pittsburgh's somewhat unthinkable home-and-home double defeat to the Islanders.
All of a sudden it has the Penguins in a somewhat precarious position, too. They enter Friday having played the same number of games as the Flyers and Pittsburgh is only up two points on their intrastate rivals in the battle for home-ice advantage in their inevitable first-round clash.
9:30 ET, Los Angeles at Edmonton
Here's a chance for the Kings to put a little dust in the faces of the Sharks and move a full two points clear of San Jose.
I hear that Alberta is lovely this time of year. The Kings would like to agree as they found Calgary to their liking with a 3-0 win there earlier this week. With the downtrodden and undermanned Oilers the next host, there should be a good shot at two more points and them enjoying their Alberta escape to the fullest. It goes without saying that every point is huge in the Pacific/West race right now. Miss points a couple games in a row and you can go from first in the division to fourth just like that.
On the down side, it looks like Jeff Carter could miss the game with an ankle injury. Considering how much better the team has been with him, that's a pretty big blow. They might just have to rely on Jonathan Quick like old times again.
By the way, Quick is fixin' to take the Vezina Trophy away from Henrik Lundqvist right now, particularly with another shutout or two in the final week. He's nipping on Lundqvist's heels now in goals against and save percentage.
7:30 ET, Nashville at Detroit
What better way to try and finish this back-and-forth for the fourth seed than with a good ol' head to head?
For weeks now the Predators and Red Wings have been flipping back and forth, who is going to take the home-ice advantage in what seems like their inevitable first-round playoff series? Honestly, neither team has taken advantage of their chance to seize it. The Preds have won just three of the last eight games. The Wings, meanwhile, have lost seven straight on the road.
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But this one isn't on the road, it's in Hockeytown. So the Red Wings immediately have a decided advantage with that news. But don't forget that the Predators are 15-4-3 this season against teams in the Central.
Also worth mentioning, the loser faces the possibility of being caught by the Blackhawks for the fifth spot. Of course, dropping to No. 6 doesn't sound like such an awful thing at this point.
Others worth watching
9 ET, Colorado at Calgary: While both teams are almost assuredly not going to the postseason, they are both still technically alive. Lose this one and you are definitely done.
10 ET, Dallas at Vancouver: The Stars are the team that's holding first in the Pacific today. But only one point separates first from fourth place. The Canucks have won four in a row but Dallas has taken two out of three in the season series.
7 ET, Florida at Columbus: People keep telling me the Southeast is in the bag for the Panthers. But with a Caps win and another Panthers OT loss on Thursday it's a little more interesting again. They might rue missed points in Columbus.
Your promised miscellany
- Thursday's Winners & Losers
- Your Hobey Baker Award finalists are Spencer Abbott of Maine, Jack Connolly of Minnesota-Duluth and Austin Smith of Colgate. (Hobey Baker))
- In the AHL, Lightning affiliate Norfolk Admirals have won an amazing 21 games in a row. Whoa. (NorfolkAdmirals.com)
- It's been such a great season for Erik Karlsson he's approaching even more records. (Ottawa Sun)
- Man, those Maple Leafs have no luck in goal this season. With James Reimer already out, watch what happened in last night's warmups.