Lightning Round: Tonight is the night when we figure it all out
It's a full slate of hockey tonight with 30 of the 32 teams in the league taking to the ice. With all of the action going on, there is still plenty to be decided. The New York Islanders won last night, cementing their spot in the second season, but as of this morning we still only know one match-up: the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Western Conference is so close that the number one seed is still up for grabs. The Vegas Golden Knights currently lead with 109 points, but if they lose and the Edmonton Oilers win, Edmonton nabs the top seed based on the regulation wins tie-breaker where they have a healthy lead over the Golden Knights. Seattle is currently in the top Wild Card spot, but have a chance to catch Los Angeles for the third spot in the Pacific.
Dallas is currently leading in the Central Division, but Colorado has two games left to play and only trails them by a point. Winnipeg is locked in as the second Wild Card, but they have no idea who they are playing yet.
Over in the Eastern Conference, Boston locked down the top seed ages ago, about the same time we knew it would be Tampa Bay vs. Toronto. Florida has a chance to leapfrog the Islanders for the first Wild Card spot and avoid Boston in the first round, but they need to beat Carolina to do it. Carolina isn't resting on their record as they only lead New Jersey by one point for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
So much fun to be decided on the penultimate day of the season (there are two games on Friday). If reporters ask Commissioner (and Hall of Famer) Gary Bettman about the possibility of adding a play-in round like the NBA and MLB have, he will probably point to this season as a reason why they don't need it. This is the NHL that Mr. Bettman wants, parity to the point where playoff berths come down to Game 81 and seedings aren't decided until Game 82.
While it's not quite Game 162 of the 2011 MLB season (the greatest ending to any North American sports season ever as far as I can remember), it's still fun that all of these match-ups have yet to be decided. Sure, I'm not a scout responsible for gameplanning against a possible opponent, or a schedule maker, or a traveling secretary that has to book hotel arrangements for a team, but outside of that, who isn't enjoying the mystery?
While the Lightning may not have much to play for outside of personal glory, the rest of their playoff cohorts may be sweating bullets all night long.
Lightning announce playoff activations [Raw Charge]
Starting on Friday, the Lightning have a series of events designed to get you hyped for Round One.
Nick Paul is doing just fine, y'all [Raw Charge]
The goals aren't showing up at the end of the season like they did at the beginning of the season, but that's just fine. He's still generating chances and staying above water in possession.
Are the Lightning ready for the playoffs? [Tampa Bay Times]
"We've got to find a way." Nick Paul hit the nail on the head. The playoffs are all about finding a way to win a shift, win a period, win a game, win a series. No team has done it better when it mattered than the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Jaydon Dureau reassigned to Syracuse, Jack LaFonatine recalled to Crunch [Syracuse Crunch]
It looks like the Crunch are adding some reinforcements as they near the playoffs. With Orlando just playing out the string, it looks like Syracuse bolstered their roster prior to the Lightning picking off a few players for the playoff taxi squad. The Crunch close out their regular season with a game at Laval on Friday and against Utica at home on Saturday.
Crunch defeat Utica 6-4 [Syracuse Crunch]
Have a night Simon Ryfors. The second year Crunch forward potted 4 goals against the Comets on Wednesday night and now has 26 on the season. Alex Barré-Boulet picked up an assist and set a Syracuse record for most assists in a season with 59. With the win Syracuse moves into second place in the North Division with a one-point lead over Rochester. With one more point they can lock in a top-three finish and avoid the best-of-three first round.
Ryan Hartman suspended one game [NHL DoPS]
The Wild's Hartman gets an extra day of rest before their playoffs start as he was suspended one game after an extraordinary late hit on Winnipeg's Nikolaj Ehlers on Tuesday night.
Accelerate Women's Hockey Panel on working towards equality [TSN.ca]
An esteemed panel held a discussion at the Hockey Hall of Fame about the problems and progress in working towards equality in hockey.
Jason Robertson is good at hockey [Dallas Stars Twitter]
It's hard to say if he's underrated at this point, but maybe underappreciated outside of the Lone Star State. No American-born player has amassed more points in their career prior to their 24th birthday than Robertson. That's pretty, pretty good.
Mason McTavish is done for the season [Derek Lee Twitter]
It's been a rough season for the Ducks, so why not one last injury to one of their youngsters? The 20-year-old forward had 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists) in 80 games this season.
First NHL Playoffs without Ovechkin or Crosby since 2006 [B/R Open Ice Twitter]
With the Islanders winning last night, they clinched the final spot in the Eastern Conference field of eight. While actual match-ups are still in question, we at least know the teams that are in: Boston, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Florida, Carolina, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, and New York Islanders. Note that for the first time in 17 years there will be no Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin in the postseason. Bummer.