Thursday was a big day for the NHL playoff races as several teams from both Conferences played in important playoff race games. Let’s take a look at the end results and what it means for the playoff races through March 7th.
We’ll start with Florida. The Panthers needed a win to try to get back into the Eastern Conference playoff race. And it looked like they may pull it off since they were up on Boston 3-2 in the final minute. However, the Bruins tallied two scores in the final 37 seconds to snatch victory from defeat. Brad Marchand won a puck battle along the boards to set up Patrice Bergeron for the game-winner with just seven ticks remaining. In a game where it looked like Florida might get two critical points, the Panthers ended up leaving Boston with nothing. I wonder if the loss ultimately kills the Panthers playoff hopes. The timing could not have been worse.
The game from a standings standpoint did not mean much for the Bruins as they are all but a lock for the playoffs. However, it did extend their points streak to 18 games and their winning streak to five. The first time in 50 years the Bruins have earned at least a point in 18 consecutive games.
Another game of importance out East was the Penguins clashing with the Blue Jackets with both teams in desperate need of a win. Pittsburgh ultimately pulled out a 2-0 win over Columbus to grab those crucial two points. It was shocking to see the lack of urgency from Columbus in that game. With that said, the Blue Jackets have a chance for revenge Saturday night in the back half of the home-and-home with Pittsburgh.
In other action, the Islanders beat the Senators 4-2 and overtook the top spot in the Metro division. The defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals will have a chance to reclaim the top spot on Friday against the Devils.
It is rare that an interconference game means so much, but for Montreal it did. The Sharks downed the Canadiens and their hold on the final wildcard spot in the East shrunk to just two points over the Blue Jackets. In addition, Columbus has a game in hand over the Canadians.
Colorado slipped further away from the playoffs with a loss to the Dallas Stars and sit four points behind the Minnesota Wild for the final wildcard spot in the West.
Minnesota, on the other hand, went into Tampa Bay and beat the seemingly unbeatable Lightning 3-0 in their most impressive win of the season. Especially considering that Tampa is the best team in the NHL. The Wild can build on that momentum look when they play the Panthers on Friday in Sunrise, FL.
Meanwhile, Arizona is just three points out of a playoff position. Yes, the Coyotes. With Micheal Grabner back in the fold, it would be unwise to sleep on Arizona. It could prove costly.
The Blues beat the Kings to add some separation between them and Colorado in the standings. St. Louis now has an eight-point lead over Colorado in the standings with roughly 15 games left in the season league-wide.
-Kevin Gesterling covers the Pacific Division in the NHL’s Western Conference for Full Press Coverage. You can reach him on Twitter @kgesterling1.