Looking at key games in final week of NHL season
Several playoff berths and positions will be decided as the season winds down. Saturday’s league finale, featuring the Kings at San Jose, might determine who wins the Pacific Division and who goes home.
The overall point title is being contested by Vancouver, St. Louis and the New York Rangers. The Atlantic, Southeast and Pacific division titles are still undecided.
Here’s a look at the most crucial games this week:
Pittsburgh at Boston: The Penguins have a slim chance to pass the Rangers in the Atlantic but are more likely to battle for the No. 4 seeding and home-ice advantage in the first round. The defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins have clinched the Northeast title and No. 2 seeding.
New York Rangers at Philadelphia: The Rangers are vying for the Atlantic Division and overall top spot. The Flyers are one point behind the fourth-ranked Penguins. Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds has scored five goals in his last four games, including one that caromed in off his face. Ouch.
San Jose at Dallas: The Sharks’ 3-0 victory to open this home-and-home sequence put them back in the top eight and dumped Dallas out. The Sharks are 4-0-1 against the Stars, who have won only four of their last 10 games.
Buffalo at Philadelphia: The Sabres are fighting the Washington Capitals for the final East spot. The Sabres will play host to already-eliminated Toronto on Tuesday.
Florida at Washington: The Panthers haven’t made the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season but could end that streak by winning the Southeast. The Capitals have regained center Nicklas Backstrom, who missed 40 games because of a concussion.
San Jose at Kings: The Kings lead the season series, 2-1-1, including a 5-2 victory March 20 at Staples Center. Missing the playoffs would be a huge failure for the Sharks, projected to be potential conference finalists.
Phoenix at St. Louis: The Coyotes, Sharks, Stars and Colorado Avalanche have been jumping in and out of seventh, eighth and ninth places. This game could determine the Coyotes’ playoff fate and whether the Blues win the conference and overall point titles.
Buffalo at Boston: This could be for a playoff berth for the Sabres.
Washington at Rangers: The stakes could be a playoff spot for the Capitals and the overall point lead for the Rangers.
Philadelphia at Pittsburgh: They played a contentious game Sunday won by the Flyers and probably will meet again in the playoffs. The Flyers are 5-0 in Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center (RIP, the Igloo).
Chicago at Detroit: These two and the Nashville Predators have jockeyed for fourth, fifth and sixth. Home-ice advantage could be on the line.
St. Louis at Dallas: The point title could be at stake, as could a playoff berth for the Stars.
Kings at San Jose: It could be epic if it’s for a playoff spot.
And the winner is . . .
Who should win the league’s major trophies:
HART (MVP): Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh. Runners-up: Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers; Jonathan Quick, Kings. Malkin, the NHL’s only 100-point scorer, carried the Penguins through debilitating injuries. Lundqvist is the backbone of his team’s success. Quick’s excellence has kept the painfully low-scoring Kings afloat.
VEZINA (top goalie): Lundqvist. Runners-up: Quick; Pekka Rinne, Nashville. Lundqvist (1.92 goals-against, .932 save percentage) has stabilized the Rangers. Quick has a club-record nine shutouts under constant pressure. Rinne leads the NHL in wins (42) and saves (1,949), stopping a lot of rubber.
LADY BYNG (sportsmanship and gentlemanly play): Loui Eriksson, Dallas. Runners-up: Matt Moulson, New York Islanders; Jason Pominville, Buffalo. Eriksson (70 points, 10 penalty minutes) was a finalist last season. Moulson (67 points, six penalty minutes) and Pominville (a team-leading 70 points, 12 penalty minutes) are also worthy.
CALDER (top rookie): Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado winger. Runners-up: Edmonton center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; Philadelphia winger Matt Read. Landeskog (22 goals, 51 points) is physical, solid defensively and has made an impact for a playoff contender. The dynamic Nugent-Hopkins has 51 points in 59 games despite shoulder injuries. Read leads all rookies with 23 goals.
NORRIS (top defenseman): Zdeno Chara, Boston. Runners-up: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa; Shea Weber, Nashville. Chara, dominant at both ends, has a career-high 52 points. Karlsson leads defensemen in scoring with 77 points but isn’t as imposing as Chara. Weber is solid all-around.
SELKE (top defensive forward): Patrice Bergeron, Boston. Runners-up: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit; Anze Kopitar, Kings. Bergeron wins hands-down. He’s the NHL’s top faceoff expert (59.5%) and has a league-best plus-36 defensive rating. Datsyuk is a perennial candidate. Kopitar has improved his faceoff percentage and is plus-12.
JACK ADAMS (coach of the year): Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis. Runners-up: Paul MacLean, Ottawa; John Tortorella, Rangers. Hitchcock took over when the Blues were 6-7 and improved them in every area. MacLean has gotten a lot out of not a whole lot of raw talent. Tortorella turned the high-spending Rangers into a diligent and defensively responsible team.
GM OF THE YEAR: David Poile, Nashville. Runners-up: Doug Armstrong, St. Louis; Paul Holmgren, Philadelphia. Poile traded picks and prospects for role players and is going for the Stanley Cup now, while Weber and Ryan Suter are under contract. Armstrong hired Hitchcock early and built a solid team with a low budget. Holmgren traded core players Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, but the Flyers have thrived.