Watch out for: Canadiens ready to take on the Maple Leafs
Prelude to the playoffs
Montreal Canadiens vs Toronto Maple Leafs
Monday in Montreal, 7 p.m. ET; TSN2, RDS, SNO, NHL.TV
Thursday in Toronto, 7 p.m. ET; TSN4, TSN2, RDS, NHL.TV
Saturday in Toronto, 7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVAS, NHL.TV
Looks like the Canadiens are going to have to face the Maple Leafs one way or another. Succeed against them this week and they could avoid them in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and be confident if they face them in the second round. Wrestling, and they might have to face them in the first round after struggling against them. Sip.
This season, the top four teams from each division will make the playoffs and compete in the first two rounds, ranked in order of arrival. The Maple Leafs lead the seven teams in the Scotia North Division. The Edmonton Oilers are second, the Winnipeg Jets third, the Canadians fourth. The Oilers will advance to the playoffs if they get at least one point against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday (10 p.m. ET; SNP, SNW, NHL.TV).
Montreal is two points from Winnipeg. As much as history buffs would love the first Toronto-Montreal series since the 1979 quarter-finals, the Oilers appear to be a better game for the Canadiens. Montreal is 5-2-0 against Edmonton and 2-4-1 against Toronto this season.
Video: What to watch: Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs
The stars still have a chance
Dallas Stars at the Tampa Bay Lightning
Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET; BSSUN, BSSW +, NHL.TV
Friday, 7 p.m. ET; BSSUN, BSSW +, NHL.TV
A season after reaching the Stanley Cup Final and losing to the Lightning in six games, the Stars are at risk of missing the playoffs.
They are 0-2-1 in their last three games, including a 3-0 loss to the Lightning on Thursday and a 1-0 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators on Saturday. They are fifth in the eight-team Discovery Central Division, three points behind the fourth-place Predators.
The good news? They have a game in hand.
Dallas’ last five games: at the Florida Panthers on Monday, those two against the Lightning, then at the Chicago Blackhawks on May 9 and 10.
The last four from Nashville: at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday and Wednesday, at the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday and May 10.
New York Rangers at the Boston Bruins
Thursday, 7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, NESN, MSG, NHL.TV
Saturday, 3 p.m. ET; NBC, NESN, MSG
The Rangers are fifth in the eight-team MassMutual Est division, eight points behind the fourth-placed Bruins. And the Bruins played two games less.
By the time these teams play, it could be academic. Boston is at the New Jersey Devils Monday and Tuesday. New York hosts the capitals of Washington on Monday and Wednesday.
Still, at a minimum, this could be another growth opportunity for Rangers, especially young players like Adam fox, the 23-year-old who leads NHL defensemen with 47 points (five goals, 42 assists), and Alexis Lafreniere, a 19-year-old forward and the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
The Bruins will clinch a spot on Monday if they get at least one point against the Devils (7 p.m. ET; SNW, SNP, MSG +, NESN, NHL.TV) or if the Washington Capitals beat the Rangers (7 p.m. ET; ESPN +, MSG 2, NBCSWA, NHL.TV). This could be a good tune up for Boston. The series of the season has been competitive. The Bruins are 4-2-0. The Rangers are 2-3-1.
Video: What to watch: Rangers vs Bruins
Stat of the week
1 – The number of active players with at least 20 goals against Rangers in less than 60 games. Boston Center Patrice Bergeron scored 36 points (20 goals, 16 assists) in 56 games against New York.
Another glimpse of the first round?
St. Louis Blues at Vegas Golden Knights
Friday, 10 p.m. ET; ESPN +, ATTSN-RM, BSMW, NHL.TV
Saturday, 10 p.m. ET; ESPN +, ATTSN-RM, BSMW, NHL.TV
It could be a first round streak, and a good one. The Golden Knights lead the eight-team Honda West division, four points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche. The Blues are fourth, three points ahead of the fifth-placed Arizona Coyotes with three games in hand.
On April 5, the Blues lost to the Golden Knights 6-1. By then they had lost three in a row to them in regulation by a combined score of 16-3 and were in a 2-8-1 downfall. But they defeated them 3-1 on April 7, and it was the start of the 7-3-1 streak that put them where they are today.
The Golden Knights beat the Coyotes 3-2 in overtime on Saturday and lost 3-0 to them on Friday. Before that, they had won 10 in a row and hadn’t lost in regulation since …
This match against the Blues on April 7.
Battle of Florida
Tampa Bay Lightning at the Florida Panthers
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET; ESPN +, BSSUN, BSFL, NHL.TV
Chances are, the Battle of Florida will be in the playoffs for the first time, and those two games could lead directly to that first-round series. The Lightning and Panthers each end the season with this game and another against the other on May 10.
The Hurricanes lead the Central, two points ahead of the Panthers and Lightning, who are tied for second place. Carolina has two games underway over Florida and one over Tampa Bay.
The Lightning are 3-3-0 against the Panthers this season. Florida is 3-2-1 against Tampa Bay.