This article is part of our The Daily Puck series.
The final Thursday of the regular season is upon us, and fittingly, it's loaded with a 12-game slate. Before jumping into the action, I wanted to leave you with one question.
If your favorite team faces the Oilers in Round 1, and head coach Todd McLellan decides to unleash Connor McDavid for roughly 25 minutes a night, how do you like your chances?
Lightning (PP: 4, PK: 16) at Maple Leafs (PP: 2, PK: 9), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Andrei Vasilevskiy (20-17-7, 2.67, .915), Frederik Andersen (33-15-14, 2.65, .919)
Key Injuries:J.T. Brown (undisclosed), Ryan Callahan (hip), Jason Garrison (lower body), Cedric Paquette (lower body), Steven Stamkos (knee), Brian Boyle (upper body), Eric Fehr (hand), Josh Leivo (undisclosed), Nikita Soshnikov (undisclosed)
On the brink of elimination, the Lightning can pull within three points of Toronto with a regulation win. For the Maple Leafs, barring a three-point game between Ottawa and Boston, a Toronto win will pull them into third place in the Atlantic Division. With an active 11-3-1 record the Leafs are in strong form, but the Lightning have also gone 12-5-2 since dealing Ben Bishop.
With 19 goals each, Mitch Marner and Connor Brown need one more tally a piece to make Toronto the first team since the 1992-93 campaign to have four rookies hit the 20-goal mark. Auston Matthews only needs one more to hit 40. Stopping Nikita Kucherov will be the key for Toronto, as the star winger has just a single assist through three games since missing last Thursday's contest with an illness. Prior to that, he had 31 points – 17 goals – through 17 games with 10 multi-point showings, though.
Blackhawks (PP: 18, PK: 24) at Ducks (PP: 17, PK: 4), 10:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Corey Crawford (32-17-3, 2.51, .920), Jonathan Bernier (20-7-4, 2.48, .917)
Key Injuries:Simon Despres (head), Cam Fowler (knee), Korbinian Holzer (personal), Hampus Lindholm (upper body), Clayton Stoner (abdomen), Artem Anisimov (lower body), Niklas Hjalmarsson (personal), Duncan Keith (rest)
The Blackhawks have clinched top seed in the Western Conference and don't have a lot to play for. However, a win would almost guarantee Anaheim top spot in the Pacific Division, and these teams have faced off a number of times in the playoffs. Chicago could opt to rest a few regulars, but everyone who dresses will be engaged in this bout between Stanley Cup hopefuls.
Dating back to the beginning of February, Patrick Kane has 19 goals, 39 points and 13 multi-point showings over 28 games, and the Blackhawks have gone 20-5-3 during that stretch. Amazingly, Anaheim has been almost as impressive of late with an active 12-2-3 record dating back to the beginning of March. However, Anaheim has also allowed the fifth-most high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (12.52) during that stretch, so there are concerns heading into the playoffs.
Oilers (PP: 6, PK: 18) at Sharks (PP: 24, PK: 15), 10:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Cam Talbot (40-22-8, 2.40, .919), Martin Jones (35-22-6, 2.37, .913)
Key Injuries:Andrew Ference (hip), Tyler Pitlick (knee), Logan Couture (mouth), Joe Thornton (knee)
Without their top two centers (Thornton and Couture), San Jose isn't in a great position to host the Oilers. The Sharks have also won just three of their past 11 games and two of the victories were against the basement-dwelling Canucks. Edmonton has won nine of its past 11 contests and can pull clear of San Jose in the race for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Oilers also have an outside shot of winning the Pacific Division, so this is a big game.
Connor McDavid has upped his production of late with an 11-game point streak to the tune of six goals, 14 assists and 34 shots while logging 20:40 of ice time (3:41 on the power play). It'll be interesting to see if he approaches or exceeds that 25-minute mark during the playoffs. Turning to another star, Brent Burns registered an even-strength point last time out to snap a 13-game stretch where he failed to mark the scoresheet at five-on-five. Without the defenseman scoring regularly, San Jose is a pretender, and especially considering its power play hasn't been impressive.
Senators (PP: 23, PK: 22) at Bruins (PP: 7, PK: 2), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Craig Anderson (23-11-4, 2.35, .925), Tuukka Rask (37-20-4, 2.27, .914)
Key Injuries:Jimmy Hayes (lower body), Tim Schaller (lower body), Frank Vatrano (upper body), Cody Ceci (lower body), Marc Methot (hand), Chris Neil (finger), Bobby Ryan (upper body), Zack Smith (upper body)
There is plenty at stake in this matchup, as failing to finish among the top three teams in the Atlantic Division almost guarantees a first-round date with the Washington Capitals. The Lightning and Islanders haven't been eliminated from postseason play, either. Boston will likely be without Marchand, which is a huge blow, but thankfully David Pastrnak has been scorching hot with 15 goals, 37 points and 112 shots through his past 31 games. Ottawa received a huge boost with the return of Erik Karlsson, but the Senators have created a league-low 8.3 high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes over the past 25 games. It doesn't bode well for their chances heading into the postseason.
Penguins (PP: 5, PK: 19) at Devils (PP: 20, PK: 19), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Matt Murray (31-10-4, 2.37, .924), Cory Schneider (20-25-11, 2.72, .912)
Key Injuries:Jacob Josefson (upper body), Devante Smith-Pelly (lower body),Miles Wood (upper body), Matt Cullen (undisclosed), Trevor Daley (knee), Carl Hagelin (lower body), Chris Kunitz (lower body), Kris Letang (neck), Olli Maatta (hand), Evgeni Malkin (upper body), Bryan Rust (lower body)
The big news out of Pittsburgh is that Letang will miss the entire playoffs and undergo surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. Obviously, it's a huge loss, but the Penguins are still very dangerous without Letang. It also stands to further explain their defense additions at the trade deadline. New Jersey won 1-0 in overtime on Tuesday to improve to a pathetic 3-14-4 dating back to mid-February. Even worse, they've generated just 8.64 high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (second lowest in the league) and scored just 2.0 goals per game during that span.
Islanders (PP: 28, PK: 12) at Hurricanes (PP: 19, PK: 5), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Thomas Greiss (25-18-5, 2.70, .913), Cam Ward (26-22-11, 2.67, .906)
Key Injuries:Jay McClement (lower body), Ryan Murphy (lower body), Casey Cizikas (upper body), Travis Hamonic (wrist), Nikolay Kulemin (upper body), Shane Prince (lower body), Ryan Strome (wrist), John Tavares (lower body)
Jaroslav Halak has put the Islanders on his back with a 4-1 record, .939 save percentage and 1.82 GAA through five outings since being recalled from the minors, and he's kept the Islanders' playoff hopes alive. Carolina went 13 games without losing in regulation to finish March but have now lost three straight games. It almost seems fitting that the up-and-coming Hurricanes win Thursday to end New York's playoff chances. Carolina has really been impressive down the stretch with a fourth-ranked 52.73 Corsi For percentage while generating the fifth-most high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (12.13) over the past 25 games.
Jets (PP: 21, PK: 28) at Blue Jackets (PP: 12, PK: 8), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Eric Comrie, Sergei Bobrovsky (41-16-5, 2.02, .933)
Key Injuries:Ryan Murray (hand), Zach Werenski (shoulder), Toby Enstrom (knee),Shawn Matthias (shoulder), Tyler Myers (lower body), Ondrej Pavelec (knee), Paul Postma (abdomen)
With a likely first-round matchup against Pittsburgh, the Blue Jackets were handed a disappointing 4-1 loss by the Penguins on Tuesday. Columbus has been leaning on Bobrovsky significantly, as despite allowing the fifth-most high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (11.69), the Blue Jackets have allowed the second-fewest goals per 60 minutes (2.27). What happens when the levee breaks? Briefly turning to the Jets, Mathieu Perreault has 26 points through 27 games since the All-Star break, including four goals, 13 points and 19 shots over his latest nine contests.
Blues (PP: 8, PK: 6) at Panthers (PP: 24, PK: 1), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Jake Allen (31-20-5, 2.42, .914), James Reimer (16-15-5, 2.60, .917)
Key Injuries:Aleksander Barkov (upper body), Aaron Ekblad (neck), Roberto Luongo (lower body), James Reimer (upper body), Robert Bortuzzo (upper body), Robby Fabbri (knee), Carl Gunnarsson (lower body), Paul Stastny (lower body), Nail Yakupov (undisclosed)
Alex Pietrangelo has emerged as a high-end fantasy asset with Kevin Shattenkirk out of the picture. The St. Louis captain is up to five goals, 10 assists, seven power-play points, 50 shots and 35 blocked shots while logging 26:30 of ice time (2:50 with the man advantage) over his past 19 games. It's also worth reinforcing just how strong Allen has played (14-7-2 with a .939 save percentage and 1.79) since Mike Yeo took over behind the bench. In fact, Tuesday's outing was the first time Allen had allowed more than three goals in a start during that span. Florida has lost five consecutive games with 22 goals allowed. The injuries have taken a toll.
Predators (PP: 15, PK: 17) at Stars (PP: 22, PK: 30), 8:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Pekka Rinne (31-18-9, 2.43, .917), Kari Lehtonen (21-24-7, 2.80, .904)
Key Injuries:Ales Hemsky (hip), Jiri Hudler (lower body), Mattias Janmark (knee), Curtis McKenzie (eye), Antoine Roussel (hand), Patrick Sharp (hip), James Neal (upper body),
With league-average goaltending (≈ .910 save percentage), Dallas would have allowed approximately 35 fewer goals this season. Injuries obviously also had a significant impact on the Stars struggles, but a few more saves sure would have made a difference. Currently sporting a five-game point drought and 15 outings removed from his last multi-point showing, Tyler Seguin is in the midst of his most disappointing stretch since joining the Stars. With just a single win through their past five contests, expect Nashville to show up Thursday.
Wild (PP: 9, PK: 10) at Avalanche (PP: 20, PK: 29), 9:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Devan Dubnyk (39-19-5, 2.24, .924), Calvin Pickard (15-29-2, 2.95, .905)
Key Injuries:Blake Comeau (undisclosed), Mikko Rantanen (lower body), Semyon Varlamov (groin),Nikita Zadorov (ankle), Jared Spurgeon (lower body), Chris Stewart (illness)
Following a disastrous March (4-10-2), the Wild have won their past two games against teams they should beat and scored five goals in each outing. While Minnesota has little to play for, it would be surprising to see them show up flat considering the Wild are in need of momentum heading into the playoffs. It will be difficult for Nathan MacKinnon to post anything close to a 6.6 shooting percentage and fail to hit the 20-goal mark again next season, won't it?
Canucks (PP: 29, PK: 26) at Coyotes (PP: 26, PK: 25), 10:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Ryan Miller (18-27-6, 2.77, .915), Mike Smith (19-25-9, 2.92, .914)
Key Injuries:Shane Doan (lower body), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (personal), Radim Vrbata (lower body), Loui Eriksson (lower body), Markus Granlund (wrist), Erik Gudbranson (wrist), Jacob Markstrom (knee), Anton Rodin (knee),
A win could pull the Coyotes ahead of Vancouver in the standings, so there is at least something a stake here. Clayton Keller has collected two goals in three games since joining the Arizona, but he's failed to register a single shot. 2017-18 will be an exciting season for the 'Yotes because the young pieces are starting to pile up, and the stack isn't short on talent.
Flames (PP: 10, PK: 11) at Kings (PP: 16, PK: 3), 10:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Brian Elliott (26-17-3, 2.55, .910), Jonathan Quick (7-5-1, 2.15, .922)
Key Injuries:Chad Johnson (lower body), Ladislav Smid (neck), Matt Greene (undisclosed)
After losing both games of a home-and-home set against Anaheim, the Flames will be after a strong outing to secure two points Thursday. Additionally, the Kings beat Calgary at the Scotiabank Saddledome in convincing fashion last Wednesday. The Flames are also tied with Nashville for the final wild-card spot, so there is still plenty of seeding jockeying. Anze Kopitar has picked up his offense of late with six goals and 16 points through his past 19 contests. There is ample reason to be skepitcal about a bounce-back showing next year, but it's hard to envision him failing to improve on his current 12 goals and 49 points.
Carter Hutton, G, STL: The Blues finish with a back-to-back set against Carolina and Colorado, so Hutton should receive one of the starts to ensure Jake Allen is healthy entering the playoffs. St. Louis should also have some motivation to win to finish third in the Central Division. When called upon, Hutton has been excellent. He's won five of his past six starts and sports a .963 save percentage and 0.97 GAA since the coaching change in early February.