NHL Picks: Red Wings will clinch playoff spot; Bruins will top Sens
The Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers are competing for two playoff spots as the NHL regular season comes to a close. We can find out who gets those two spots on Saturday.
Welcome to the NHL Daily Picks where hockey writers Adam Gretz and Chris Peters make their selections for all of the day's games.
There are still two playoff spots up for grabs in the Eastern Conference, and everything is going to come down to this weekend.
Every team is in action on Saturday, and two of the biggest games are early in the day when the Detroit Red Wings visit the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins host the Ottawa Senators.
Both the Red Wings and Bruins are still fighting for the third spot in the Atlantic Division and a first-round matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, while the second wild card spot is still in play for the team that doesn't get the third Atlantic spot.
For the Red Wings, things are very simple. If they beat the Rangers in regulation or overtime, they clinch a playoff spot for the 25th consecutive year and will play Tampa Bay in the first round no matter what anybody else does.
(A shootout win gets them the third spot if Boston loses or beats Ottawa in a shootout due to the NHL's tiebreaker procedure, which starts with regulation/overtime wins).
The good news for the Red Wings is that their opponent on Saturday has not only struggled a bit down the stretch, but will also be playing without several key players on Saturday as the Rangers will sit starting goalie Henrik Lundqvist and will be without Ryan McDonagh, Dan Giradi, Viktor Stalberg and their leading scorer, Mats Zuccarello all due to injury.
Given that a loss would put them in the first wild card spot and get a matchup with the Florida Panthers instead of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers would probably be better off losing this game anyway.
The Rangers defense this season hasn't been great this with McDonagh and Girardi in the lineup, and when you take McDonagh, clearly their best defender, away from that group, and then they don't have Lundqvist in the crease to cover up for their mistakes, it should create plenty of opportunities for the Red Wings to cash in.
Boston, meanwhile, not only needs to take care of its business against a Senators team that has absolutely nothing to play for, but also needs to get some help this weekend in the form of a Philadelphia Flyers loss in one of their two games (against Pittsburgh on Saturday or the New York Islanders on Sunday) to get back in the playoffs.
Of the three teams fighting for the two playoff spots the Bruins have been the one that has probably been playing the worst hockey down the stretch. Before their huge 5-2 win over Detroit earlier this week the Bruins had managed to win just three of their previous 12 games and were only 7-7-3 in the 17 games since March 3. The offense that carried them all season went cold, and the holes on the defense have been exposed for most of the season. The fact they are even still in contention this weekend after that stretch is pretty amazing.
When you combine the fact that both the Red Wings and Bruins have everything to play for, and the fact the schedule has done them both a favor (Boston because it's playing a bad Ottawa team at home that also has a bunch of players out of the lineup; Detroit because it's playing a Rangers team that will be playing without five key players) they should both be able to take care of their own business in the early games.
If those results happen it would then put all of the pressure on the Flyers for their 3:30 p.m. ET game against Pittsburgh and their game on Sunday against the New York Islanders.
If Detroit and Boston both win on Saturday, the Flyers would need to win both games to get into a playoff position ahead of Boston.
Picks: Red Wings 4, Rangers 2; Bruins 4, Senators 1
The rest of Saturday's picks
Flyers 3, Penguins 2
Canadiens 3, Lightning 1
Hurricanes 4, Panthers 3
Blackhawks 5, Blue Jackets 2
Islanders 5, Sabres 3
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