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Tag:Florida Panthers
Posted on: March 9, 2012 9:37 am
Edited on: March 9, 2012 9:48 am
 

Pregame Skate: Southeast slug race crawls on

Florida just looked behind and saw the rest of the division on its heels. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

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 ET, Florida at Pittsburgh

The Panthers continue to go back and forth. One day you are thinking they are pretty secure in their playoff chances, the next they are getting blown out 5-0 on the road in Philadelphia as they were on Thursday.

As a matter of fact, this first-place team in the Southeast Division (really) has lost its last two road games by a combined score 0f 12-0. So really, the last thing they want to see on the schedule is the second half of a back-to-back being on the road at the Penguins. They're only 22-8-2 at home and have won seven straight, nothing too impressive.

Florida still does have the benefit of games in hand -- although they lose that tonight in their battle with the Capitals -- but their grip on the Southeast is no stranglehold. The Caps and Jets are just two behind them and the Lightning are five back with a home-heavy stretch to come.

You'd think they would have to start playing better beginning in Pittsburgh, but in all honesty they might not have to in the Southeast. A .500 finish could get them in and they have an even home/road split to the finish. But it certainly would behoove them to play better, that's for sure.

They have handled injuries all season in Florida, but the most recent one seems to hurt more than most have as leading scorer Kris Versteeg remains out with a hip injury.

9 ET, Winnipeg at Calgary

Two Canadian bubble teams, doesn't get a whole lot better in March than that.

The Jets are going to have to prove they can pick up points on the road if they are going to make the playoffs this season. After failing to do so on Thursday night in Vancouver, they have a bit better of a shot on Friday at the Flames. As mentioned above, they have a struggling division leader only two points ahead of them and others champing at the bit behind.

But the Flames are in a similar situation. They have the same point total at this point as the Jets but the race for eighth in the West is slightly better. Hey, I said slightly. Whereas the Jets are tied in points for that last spot, the Flames are three back. They also have two teams in between them and the Sharks.

This certainly isn't a loser-leave-town match (or in this case leave the playoff race) but it's a big opportunity for each to get points against beatable opponents. How else would you describe bubble teams this season?

7:30 ET, Los Angeles at Detroit

The L.A. Kings; the latest victims of the streaking Blue Jackets. Poor Jeff Carter just can't win when he's in Columbus.

If that challenge was tough, wait to see what the schedule has in store for them on Friday night: a trip to Hockeytown, USA and a date with the Red Wings. You wouldn't think that an optimal destination to pick up points in the race for eighth out West.

L.A. has seen a bit of an uptick in scoring recently but it is still mostly feast or famine for them. In the last seven games they have four wins and three losses. In each of the three losses they scored one goal, in each of the four wins they scored at least four. There's not a whole lot of middle ground there.

However, a win not only puts Los Angeles ahead of San Jose and into a playoff spot for the moment, it would actually pull the Kings even with the Coyotes at the same time in points and games. So not even a loss to Columbus could dash their hopes.

Others worth watching

8:30 ET, Rangers at Chicago: Here's the question I have: Can the Penguins actually catch the Rangers? By night's end Pittsburgh could be only four points back of New York. The Blackhawks will try to help revive the Atlantic race.

Your promised miscellany

  • Thursday's Winners & Losers
  • Speaking of those streaking Blue Jackets, coach Todd Richards sounds like he's enjoying the Jack Johnson-Jeff Carter swap. (Columbus Dispatch)
  • Jeremy Roenick remains not a big fan of Patrick Marleau's abilities with his old team in San Jose. (CSN Bay Area
  • Wait, now Don Cherry might be silenced by the NHL? Boy, the next Coach's Corner is going to be good. (Toronto Sun)
  • With this empty-netter last night, Max Pacioretty became the first American to score 30 in a season for the Canadiens. He's turned into quite a player.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 9, 2012 12:07 am
Edited on: March 9, 2012 12:10 am
 

Winners & Losers: Stars steal one from Sharks



By: Adam Gretz

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Tomas Vincour and the Dallas Stars: Dallas went into Thursday's game against San Jose holding a three-point lead in the Pacific Division over the suddenly slumping -- and fading -- Sharks. The one thing the Sharks had going for them was the fact that they had games in hand, as wel as three remaining meetings with the Stars. All of that only matters, of course, if the Sharks find a way to get into the win column again, and they fell short of that once again as the Stars found a way to scratch and claw out another win, beating San Jose in a shootout, 4-3.

It was probably the game of the night in terms of entertainment, and after San Jose took the lead, 3-2, with less than four minutes to play in regulation, Tomas Vincour scored the game-tying goal for the Stars on a goal that cleared the goal line behind Antti Niemi by, oh, let's say about an inch, sending the game to overtime.

The Stars had to kill off a 4-on-3 power play in the extra period, and ended up picking up the extra point in the standings thanks to Vincour's goal -- the only one in the shootout -- in the fifth-round.

With the win, the Stars now hold a four-point lead in the Division race. The two teams will meet two more times this season and the Sharks still have two games in hand, but again, sooner or later they have to start winning some of these games.

[Related: Stars 4, Sharks 3]

Washington Capitals: Say this for the Capitals -- they certainly make it interesting, and for the second time in a week they needed a late third period goal to force overtime, taking advantage of an Eric Brewer turnover, and then receiving a game-winning goal in the extra period from their captain, Alex Ovechkin, to pick up a 3-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The win, combined with Florida's embarrassing loss to Philadelphia, moves the Capitals back to within two points of the top spot in the Southeast division.

Unfortunately, the Capitals may have to be without defenseman Mike Green for a game (or more) if the NHL decides to suspended him for his elbow to the head of Lightning forward Brett Connolly in the second period.

[Related: Capitals 3, Lightning 2 -- Video: Green elbows Connolly]

Boston Bruins: If nothing else, Boston's 3-1 win over the Sabres on Thursday night was big because it gave the Bruins consecutive wins for the first time since January 10-12. It also allowed them to maintain their three-point lead over the Ottawa Senators in the surprisingly tight Northeast Division race.

[Related: Bruins 3, Sabres: 1]

Losers

Florida Panthers: Yeah, they're still in first place, but you have to wonder how much longer they can go on like this. With their 5-0 loss to the Flyers, combined with the Capitals win, gives them just a two point lead in the division, and for the season they've now been outscored by 26 goals.

How bad is that? The only teams that have been outscored by more goals this season are the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.

That's not the type of company you want to be keeping at this point in the season.

[Related: Flyers 5, Panthers 0]

Another slow start for the Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes are making it difficult on themselves. On Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild they found themselves in a 2-0 hole for the fifth consecutive game, and it shouldn't be much of a surprise that for the fifth straight game they ended up in the loss column. Granted, this one came in a shootout, 4-3, giving them a point in the standings, but they can't keep falling behind by two goals early in games.

It's hard enough to win that way in the NHL for any team, especially one that isn't really built to play from behind.

[Related: Wild 3, Coyotes 2]

Anaheim Ducks: Bad night all around for the Ducks and their playoff chances. Not only did they lose to a Blues team that took over sole possession of the top spot in the NHL, a number of the teams they're chasing in the standings (Dallas, Phoenix, San Jose) gained a point. They're now back to being seven points out of the No. 8 seed.

[Related: Blues 3, Ducks 1 -- Blues take over top spot in NHL]

Los Angeles Kings: The Columbus Blue Jackets continued their spoiler role on Thursday with a 3-1 win over a Los Angeles Kings that couldn't afford to drop a game to the worst team in the league, on the same night the Blue Jackets did their part to erase the memories of Jeff Carter's brief stay in central Ohio by replacing his nameplates on fan jerseys with Jack Johnson nameplates.

And speaking of Johnson, and adding insult to injury for the Kings, he managed to get some revenge on the team that trade him (for Carter) by scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal. The Blue Jackets have now won four consecutive games, something they had not done since November. Of 2010.

[Related: Blue Jackets, 3 Kings 1 -- Blue Jackets will fix your Carter jersey]

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 8, 2012 12:15 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2012 12:25 pm
 

NHL Award Races: Breaking down coaches, GMs

Hitchcock has pointed St. Louis in the right direction at each and every turn. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Welcome to Award Races. For every week the remainder of the season, we will break down two of the awards races at a time and see how they are stacking up as the NHL season hits the home stretch.

When it comes to coaches, it feels like nearly half lost their jobs at some point this season. Truth is, it's actually one shy of a 1/3, which is still an astronomically high number.

The ones that have stuck around? It seems like they are all in the conversation for coach of the year.

However it's the guy who came in after the season started that is running away with the Jack Adams Award for the top coach. Like his style or not,

Ken Hitchcock has pretty much been a miracle worker since coming into St. Louis just 13 games through the season. What has he done since? Only put the Blues in the mix of about four teams vying for the Presidents' Trophy. As it stands on Thursday, the Blues are the West's top team and tied with the Rangers for the best point total in the league. Not too shabby.

While I see him as a clear front-runner, I'm not sure everybody feels the same. And that's where the Jack Adams conversation gets interesting. The list of coaches who could be considered is about 10 guys long. Paul MacLean will be on everybody's finalist list with what he has down in Ottawa. You can see the rest of my top 5 below. What you don't see is the guys who didn't make the cut and it's a hell of a group. Dan Byslma, Barry Trotz, Mike Babcock, Kevin Dineen and Dave Tippett deserve mentions too.

When looking at the general managers, the architects, I think we have a much more defined group we're looking at. The nature of an award like this is that it's sometimes tough to gauge. If I were to pick the best GM in the game I might go with Peter Chiarelli, Ray Shero or Mike Gillis. They have put together great teams over multiple years. But in just a one-year sense? It cuts it down.

So how do you not start with Dale Tallon in Florida? The Panthers have already eclipsed their point total from last season and they still have 17 games to go. While it's no guarantee yet, they do seem to be on their way to making the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.

And that's after going into the summer with hardly anybody on the roster. He went out and acquired nine players between the draft and the first few days of free agency. That's almost half the team! He continued by making a few trades including shipping David Booth to Vancouver. All the while he has done nothing to disrupt what looks to be a very promising future with a loaded farm system.

So here you go, this week's rankings. Remember, these are just one man's opinion and you can feel free to share yours below, I'm sure you will. As always, the rest of the races are below with a quick update.

Award watch
Jack Adams GM
Ken Hitchcock The Blues are 36-11-7 since he took over. All I have for that is Wow! He has helped make a borderline playoff team to a borderline Stanley Cup team. How can there really be any other choice? Dale Tallon Consider the monumental task it has proven to win in South Florida then consider that Tallon basically built a new team that is winning in one year. He was widely criticized for his team building this summer and while he did overpay for some players, it's tough to argue with the results so far.
Paul MacLean Bonus points for the mustache that makes Wilford Brimley blush. The majority of publications/panels had the Senators finishing dead last in the league this season. Oops. The difference between MacLean and Cory Clouston has been pretty clear and the players have responded, especially Erik Karlsson. David Poile Maybe this one is tough until the offseason when we find out the fates of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, but Poile has done all he could to show the Predators are in it to win it. The re-signing of Pekka Rinne, the acquisitions at the trade deadline all while on a low budget. He's usually in this conversation and he is again.
John Tortorella Yes, the Rangers are good and that's not a great surprise. This good, however? Yes, I think that's surprising. Players have really bought in to what Tortorella is doing. Perhaps the sign of a good coach is how much the team takes on the coach's personality/style. Nobody has done better at that than Torts and Hitchcock. Don Maloney This was another team left for dead before the season began but as I write this, the Coyotes are currently seventh in the West and two points out of the Pacific Division lead. He has had so many obstacles to go through but has continued to bring in good guys and build a winner on a budget.
Peter DeBoer I feel like the Devils first-year coach is under the radar in this conversation, but why should he be? The Devils floundered last season and without changing a whole lot have been significantly better this time around. DeBoer definitely deserves some credit for Ilya Kovalchuk's evolution to a complete player, too. Doug Armstrong Brian Elliott on a two-way contract? Replacing Davis Payne with Hitchcock before anybody else could? Sneaky additions of Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner? That's not a bad year, then add in that he's locked in many of his young core players. Hitchcock deserves a lot of attention for the Blues' success, but so does Armstrong.
Glen Gulutzan This was one hiring in the offseason that made people say "who?" but it has worked well. Despite the departure of Brad Richard and his offensive output, the Stars are in better position this season. In fact, they lead the Pacific Division. For a guy who is two seasons removed from coaching in the ECHL, that ain't bad. Glen Sather The headline grabber was obviously the addition of Richards this summer, but locking in his younger players might have been the better move. Plus, he has presided over a franchise that has stocked the shelves for the future, just look at the Columbus Blue Jackets' wish list for Rick Nash, a trade that didn't happen.

And for a quick look at the rest of the races we'll be checking in on every week.

Hart: Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, Henrik Lundqvist

Vezina: Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, Brian Elliott

Norris: Erik Karlsson, Shea Weber, Nicklas Lidstrom

Selke: Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Kesler, David Backes

Calder: Gabriel Landeskog, Adam Henrique, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: March 5, 2012 11:09 am
Edited on: March 5, 2012 11:17 am
 

Brutal truth: Southeast division is horrible

By: Adam Gretz

A couple of weeks ago I looked at the Southeast Division and how every team in it has been outscored by its opponents this season. That is not a good sign, and it's not something that happens very often. It's never happened in the post-lockout NHL, and the closest we came was during the 2006-07 season when the Atlanta Thrashers, the winners of the Southeast that year, finished as plus-one, the only team to outscore its opponents for the season.

They were then demolished in the playoffs, losing four straight games. 

It's still true today, and with the Washington Capitals currently owning the "best" goal-differential at minus-12, the division, as a whole,has been outscored by 107 goals this season

The quick illustration below shows how that compares with the other five divisions in the NHL this season:


Yeah. That's pretty bad, even though every team outside of Carolina still has a legitimate shot to win it. Some might call that parity. Others might call it complete mediocrity.

(For what it's worth, since the start of the '05-06 season no division has ever finished a full season worse than minus-100).

It's probably not much of a surprise, based on the above image, that eight of the top-10 teams in the NHL standings currently reside in the Atlantic and Central Divisions, while the Atlantic gets a bit of a boost by having the Islanders, a team that's at least competitive, in its fifth spot, while the Central has the Columbus Blue Jackets

The Northwest (minus-42 as of Monday) and Pacific Divisions (even) escape a lot of the jokes that have been directed at the Southeast this season, but they're not exactly lighting it up, either. But those divisions at least have teams on the plus side when it comes to goal-scoring this season.

Though, outside of Vancouver the Northwest is every bit as bad as the Southeast. It's very possible that Vancouver, for the second year in a row, will be the only team to represent the division in the playoffs.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 5, 2012 10:44 am
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Posted on: March 5, 2012 9:29 am
Edited on: March 5, 2012 9:36 am
 

Pregame Skate: Sabres continue playoff push

Sabres

By: Adam Gretz

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.


Playoff Race

RightJets8 PM, Buffalo at Winnipeg: Ah, yes, the joys of the chaotic playoff race in the NHL.

The Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets enter Monday's game separated by just two points in the standings, and with a win in regulation the Sabres would actually move into a tie with the Jets for the No. 8 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 70 points, and still have a game in hand.

It's been quite a turnaround for the Sabres after a dreadful mid-season slump, and a lot of it has to do with the recent play of goaltender Ryan Miller, who has been playing some of the best hockey of his career.

The Jets, meanwhile, need a win to keep pace with the Florida Panthers, winners on Sunday night, in the Southeast Division race, and have the advantage of playing in their own barn which has provided them with one of the best home ice advantages in the league this season. Needless to say, it's going to be a playoff atmosphere at the MTS Centre on Monday night as it's probably one of the biggest games the city of Winnipeg has seen in ... oh, about 15 years.

CoyotesPenguins7 PM, Phoenix at Pittsburgh: Unbeatable in February, the Coyotes have stumbled a bit during their first two games March and are coming off a brutal home loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets over the weekened.

It doesn't get any easier on Monday night as they head into Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins, winners of five straight and owners of the second best point total in the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins don't have much of a chance to catch the Rangers for the No. 1 spot in the division and conference, but they are still fighting for the No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage in the first round, entering Monday's game two points ahead of the Flyers, four points ahead of the Devils and five points ahead of the Senators.

They've outscored their opponents 22-7 during their current five-game winning streak.

The Coyotes have quite a bit of company in the Pacific Division race, and enter Monday's game tied with the Dallas Stars for the top spot with 75 points (Phoenix has a game in hand) and two points ahead of the San Jose Sharks.

DucksOilers10 ET, Edmonton at Anaheim: The Ducks miracle run is starting to run out of time, still seven points out of the No. 8 spot in the West and still trailing four teams.

On Monday they get a visit from the Edmonton Oilers, one of the worst teams in the league, and perhaps the worst road team in the league.

A win is an absolute must in a game like this, and a loss would be a potentially crushing blow to their already slim postseason chances

Your promised miscellany
Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 4, 2012 9:37 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 10:13 pm
 

Winners & Losers: Avs, Stars, Cats with big wins

By Brian Stubits

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Jamie McGinn, Colorado Avalanche: So they got this guy from the Sharks for scoring, right?

Whether the Avalanche did or didn't (the answer is not really) he's giving it to them anyway. Or at least he did on Sunday.

The Avs, needing to keep pace in the Western race, got two early goals from McGinn and hung on to shut out the Minnesota Wild in Minnesota. It not only kept them squarely in the conversation, it pretty much cemented the fate of the Wild as they drop seven points out of a playoff spot. That's just a little tough to make up at this point.

The Avs have been on one of their patented upswings in an up-and-down season and now join the Kings just one point back of the Sharks in the Western Conference, tied with the Los Angeles Kings.

It was a nice showing for Semyon Varlamov too to stop all 30 shots he faced from the Wild. For a goalie that has struggled for much of the season, to string together some wins like that will go a long way in turning around a young goalie's psyche.

[Related: Avalanche 2, Wild 0]

Florida Panthers: Some team has to win the Southeast Division and in recent days you got the feeling that this team wasn't going to be able to hold on. They still might not, but they have to feel a lot better after Sunday's comeback win.

For the sixth time in the last nine games, the Panthers fell in a 2-0 hole. This time, though, they crawled out of it with four unanswered goals, including a somewhat shocking breakaway score from Krys Barch. Really, you don't see that often.

It brought an end to Ottawa's reign over the Panthers as well. The Sens had won nine in a row -- NINE! -- against Florida including five straight in Sunrise. It looked like they were on their way to making it a perfect 10 until the comeback came.

What the end result is besides the confidence boost for Florida to get over that Senators hump is that the Panthers move four points up on the Jets, five on the Capitals and six up on the Lightning in the Southeast. Keeping that cushion is important.

[Related: Panthers 4, Senators 2]

Dallas Stars: Don't look now, but the Stars have jumped the San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division and are now tied with the Phoenix Coyotes for the division lead (but lose out on the tie-breakers at this point). They also bumped the Sharks down to eighth in the West while taking the seventh spot themselves.

That's the result of them marching into Calgary and prevailing in the shootout thanks to their scoring stars of Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.

The Stars are playing as well now as they were at the beginning of the season when they ran out to one of the best starts in the league. There's still a good ways to go, but they have shown they're a serious threat and maybe even a good bet at this point to make the postseason.

The Flames, meanwhile, do get one point and move to within three of the Sharks but remain in 11th place.

[Related: Stars 3, Flames 2 (SO)]

Anders Nilsson, New York Islanders: There was a time this season that people were laughing at the Islanders for carrying three active goalies on the roster each night. Then they called on the fourth man in the rotation, Nilsson, on Sunday and he delivered.

Not only did Nilsson pick up his first NHL victory, it was a shutout. And it had to be as the Islanders only scored once against the Devils, a Kyle Okposo goal in the second period.

If they even dare to dream on the Island, there is still a glimmer of hope that they can get into the playoffs. A glimmer, I said. The win brought them within five points of eighth-place Winnipeg when they finished up. With the way the bottom of the East has been dropping like a rock allowing some of the other cellar dwellers to climb back in (see: Lightning, Sabres) what's to say the Islanders can't? Any kind of winning streak at this point puts you into contention.

Of course they might need a few more goals but points are points no matter how they come.

[Related: Islanders 1, Devils 0]

Losers

Washington Capitals, Alex Ovechkin: The Capitals were shut out for the second consecutive game at home, being blanked by the Flyers 1-0. Ilya Bryzgalov, who has had his well-chronicled struggles this season, was sharp, very sharp. Obviously, he held the Caps off the board completely despite some of the Flyers' best defensemen (Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros) being out.

Ovechkin, meanwhile, appeared to be benched in the second period by Capitals coach Dale Hunter after his role on the one and only goal, a deflection from Eric Wellwood that beat Michal Neuvirth. His turnover and then pretty poor attempt at stopping the pass to the crease appeared to earn him a seat for the rest of the second.

"My mistake cost us two points and it cost us the game," Ovechkin said.

Now we're left once again wondering if the Caps are dead in the water. With back-to-back home losses, they have fallen five points behind the Panthers in the Southeast and remain out of the playoff picture in the East. If the Sabres -- Buffalo! -- is able to beat the Jets on Monday, the Caps will fall into 10th in the conference.

[Related: Flyers 1, Capitals 0]

Detroit Red Wings: I elected to put the Wings in the losers section instead of the Chicago Blackhawks in the winner section tonight because of the collateral damage that came along with their 2-1 loss at the Joe on Sunday afternoon.

The second period curiously began with Joey MacDonald in the net instead of Jimmy Howard, who had been on for the first 20 minutes. It wasn't immediately clear why. Remember, Howard just missed a couple of weeks with a broken finger.

Eventually Howard was back on the bench and it was revealed that he suffered a lower-body injury and is day to day. That was worthy of a sigh of relief. Of course it's not like MacDonald has been bad in his spot duties so far this season. He gave up the only goal that was scored in the final two periods and took the loss on Sunday, but that dropped his record to just 7-2-1.

The Wings also saw defenseman Jakub Kindl leave the game with an upper-body injury. Add that to the already absent Pavel Datsyuk and the Wings are starting to take some wear and tear.

Oh, and by the tie-breakers, they lost the Central Division lead to the Blues. Not that that means too much right now.

[Related: Blackhawks 2, Red Wings 1]

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 4, 2012 10:42 am
Edited on: March 4, 2012 2:03 pm
 

Pregame Skate: More big ones in Southeast, West

Florida hasn't had much if any luck with Ottawa of late. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

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.

Playoff Race

6 ET, Ottawa at Florida

A pretty amazing thing has happened in the Southeast (that is until you remember it's the Southeast we're talking about here) and that is that it has become a four-team race. Through it all, the Panthers have held onto the lead atop the division but that's not really by their own doing.

Coming off a 3-1 loss to the Predators at home on Saturday, they make a quick turnaround and face the Ottawa Senators in Florida this evening. The problem? Florida can't beat Ottawa. The Sens have taken nine consecutive games in the series and five straight at BankAtlantic Center. That's not exactly inspiring when the Tampa Bay Lightning are suddenly breathing down their necks.

The odds still favor the Panthers to make the postseason with a greater than 70 percent chance at this point. Not quite as comforting as the 90 percent odds earlier this week. Realistically, though, the odds are sure starting to feel a lot lower than that.

It's about time they started to win on home ice if they want to return to the playoffs. In the last six home games they have played, they are a very disappointing 1-4-1, including a 6-2 shellacking by these same Senators. That's not going to cut it.

At this point, with the way the Sabres have come charging back to life as well, they might need to consider it Southeast Division or bust. And with it being a four-team race, it would be a good idea for them to start picking up points again.

7 ET, Philadelphia at Washington (NBC Sports Network)

One of those four teams in that Southeast Division race, the Washington Capitals, need some points just as bad if not worse than the Panthers do right now. That's because their target is as much the eighth seed as it is the Southeast lead. In that race they are still one point behind Winnipeg (with two fewer games played) but are just one point up on the Lightning and Sabres.

My, how interesting the East has become. It seemed just a few days ago like it was a nine-team race.

Just when things were starting to feel a little better in the nation's capital after three straight wins, the New Jersey Devils came into town and smacked them down to the tune of a 5-0 beating. They need to be able to rebound from that in a hurry with the Flyers coming to Verizon Center for the Sunday nightcap.

That shouldn't be an easy task. Philadelphia has been one of the league's best teams away from home this season. They are 20-11-2 away from Wells Fargo Center. Somewhat ironically, that's the same exact record as the Devils away from home. That would seem to be a bit ominous for the Caps in holding home ice today.

6 ET, Dallas at Calgary

Turning our eyes back to the race that has been this crazy all along, the West has another pivotal matchup when looking at that playoff push where it seems just about every team is in the hunt.

Somewhat lost across the league of late has been the play of the Stars, who have not only stormed into playoff position but can actually overtake the San Jose Sharks today in the West. Granted, games in hand and all of that, but it still speaks to how far Dallas has come in recent weeks (and how much San Jose has fallen).

The Flames meanwhile are one of those chasers of Dallas. That's why this is such a critical game. It's like any old division battle where it's described as a four-point game. Well, Dallas has the potential to build a somewhat formidable six-point advantage by the end of the night on Calgary or have it cut down to just two points on the Flames (never mind the Kings and Avalanche part of the equation).

What's interesting is that this is the first of three games between these two in the month of March. They will have a home-and-home near the end of the month as well. There is still plenty of chances for each of these teams to take their destiny into their own hands.

Others worth watching

12:30 ET, Boston at Rangers (NBC): Keep in mind, we highlight the games with meaningful impacts on the playoff race, not necessarily the best games of the day. If you want the latter, here you go, a classic matchup among two of the East's best. This comes as highly recommended viewing.

4 ET, Chicago at Detroit (NHL Network): See the above statement on the Rangers and Bruins and here you go. The Blackhawks have been able to regain a little footing and are slightly clear of the pack at the bottom of the West again but not many go into Detroit and pick up points.

7 ET, Colorado at Minnesota: Not to neglect the Avs here (and Wild to a small extent) as they are still in the playoff hunt here too. If they can get a win and the Flames keep the Stars pointless, Colorado will be just one point back. Minnesota comes in seven points back with three teams in between.

Your promised miscellany

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