This article is part of our The Daily Puck series.
It's a rare busy Sunday as the NHL heads into the stretch drive. The Predators can become the eighth and final Western Conference team to clinch a playoff spot with just one point, and while the Eastern Conference is a little more wide open, the Lightning have only a 15.7 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to sportsclubstats.com.
The Bruins will be facing a Blackhawks team that just clinched the conference title, and may have the most at stake among Sunday's games. A loss will leave them one point behind the Leafs and Sens with just three games remaining, but a win will vault them into second place in the Atlantic Division and avoid a potential first-round matchup against the Capitals.
Without further ado, here's your Sunday slate:
Predators (PP: 15, PK: 20) at Blues (PP: 7, PK: 6), 4:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Pekka Rinne (30-18-8, 2.48, .916), Jake Allen (30-19-5, 2.39, .915)
Key Injuries:James Neal (upper body), Miikka Salomaki (lower body), Yannick Weber (upper body), Robert Bortuzzo (upper body), Robby Fabbri (knee), Carl Gunnarsson (lower body), Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body), Jori Lehtera (concussion), Paul Stastny (lower body)
The Predators can clinch a playoff spot Sunday, which would lock up the eight seeds in the Western Conference. However, this game is just as important to the Blues, as the winner would be in position to face the vulnerable Wild in the first round. The loser will potentially play the Oilers, who have caught fire at just the right time. Filip Forsberg has slowed down in March after an outstanding February, and the Predators have failed to score more than three goals in each of their past four games.
Capitals (PP: 3, PK: 7) at Blue Jackets (PP: 10, PK: 9), 6:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Braden Holtby (40-12-6, 2.11, .923), Sergei Bobrovsky (41-14-5, 1.97, .935)
Key Injuries:Oliver Bjorkstrand (upper body), Ryan Murray (hand)
The two teams won't face each other in the first round, but they could in the second, and this is a good litmus test for John Tortorella's Blue Jackets to see where they stack up as they enter the playoffs as a potential dark horse. Backed by the league's best goaltender in Bobrovsky, it'll be interesting to see how the rest of their roster stacks up, especially on defense, where Seth Jones and rookie Zach Werenski will have to face a very experienced blue line with Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. Offense has suddenly dried up for Columbus, failing to score more than two goals in five of their past six games.
Ducks (PP: 17, PK: 5) at Flames (PP: 11, PK: 11), 9:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Jonathan Bernier (19-7-4, 2.47, .918), Brian Elliott (26-15-3, 2.50, .912)
Key Injuries:Simon Despres (head), Clayton Stoner (abdomen)
There will be absolute fireworks with the league's two most penalized teams facing each other, and Matt Tkachuk gets one final chance to impress his hero Corey Perry before both teams head into the playoffs. This could be a first-round preview if the Sharks continue to sink, and the two teams are evenly matched with two very talented blue lines, and both Elliott and Bernier have been brilliant of late. Don't expect either team to take their foot off the gas pedal – the Ducks are unbeaten in regulation in their past 10 and would like to keep that streak going, while the Flames may still be riding their high after clinching a playoff spot.
Bruins (PP: 8, PK: 4) at Blackhawks (PP: 18, PK: 24), 12:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Anton Khudobin (6-5-1, 2.60, .899), Corey Crawford (32-16-3, 2.50, .920)
Key Injuries:Jimmy Hayes (lower body), Tim Schaller (lower body), Frank Vatrano (upper body), Artem Anisimov (lower body)
The Blackhawks have already clinched the Western Conference and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, and as tradition dictates, Joel Quenneville will likely start sitting some players for extra rest. They know the playoffs are a long game and have been in the same position before, and they only need to take a cursory look at the landscape to realize that they're the heavy favorites again. The Bruins can leapfrog both the Leafs and Sens with a win, which is importantly because that avoids a potential first-round matchup against the vaunted Caps. Brad Marchand is back to his scoring ways with three points in his past two games.
Islanders (PP: 27, PK: 15) at Sabres (PP: 1, PK: 26), 3:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Thomas Greiss (25-18-5, 2.70, .913), Robin Lehner (22-23-8, 2.63, .922)
Key Injuries:Taylor Fedun (undisclosed), Cody Franson (upper body), Johan Larsson (wrist), Kyle Okposo (illness), Casey Cizikas (upper body), Travis Hamonic (wrist), Nikolay Kulemin (upper body), Ryan Strome (wrist), John Tavares (lower body)
Let's revisit this game in a couple more years and when both teams are healthy, yeah? Both teams are missing top players and have had just about everything go wrong this season, despite having high expectations. Without Tavares, the Islanders don't really have anybody who can keep an eye on Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel, both of whom have been brilliant for the Sabres all season.
Hurricanes (PP: 22, PK: 3) at Penguins (PP: 6, PK: 17), 5:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Cam Ward (26-20-11, 2.66, .906), Matt Murray (29-10-4, 2.41, .922)
Key Injuries:Jay McClement (lower body), Ryan Murphy (lower body), Trevor Daley (knee), Carl Hagelin (lower body), Chris Kunitz (lower body), Kris Letang (upper body), Olli Maatta (hand), Evgeni Malkin (upper body), Tom Sestito (upper body)
Jim Rutherford faces his former team as the Penguins try to pull ahead of the Blue Jackets in the standings and ensure home-ice advantage. Even with a slew of injuries, they should have no trouble dispatching the far less experienced and consistent Hurricanes. Sidney Crosby is coming off a two-point effort against the Rangers and still leads the league in goals with 43.
Avalanche (PP: 30, PK: 29) at Wild (PP: 9, PK: 10), 6:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Calvin Pickard (14-28-2, 2.89, .908), Devan Dubnyk (37-19-5, 2.23, .924)
Key Injuries:Semyon Varlamov (groin), Nikita Zadorov (ankle), Victor Bartley (triceps), Jason Zucker (lower body)
If the Wild can't win this game, they have some serious problems. With just two wins in their past 10 games, they're lying in the middle of the Central Division like a wounded animal, and both the Blues and Predators must be licking their chops. For the Avs, there's not much to look forward to in a totally uninspiring season, except perhaps for Tyson Jost, who played 13:25 in his NHL debut and finished with two shots on goal and five faceoff wins. Jost has been compared to former North Dakota star Jonathan Toews, and the two certainly do share similarities with their intangibles and ability to make their teammates better.
Stars (PP: 20, PK: 30) at Lightning (PP: 4, PK: 12), 6:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Kari Lehtonen (20-23-7, 2.81, .905), Peter Budaj (2-1-0, 2.74, .902)
Key Injuries:Ales Hemsky (hip), Jiri Hudler (lower body), Mattias Janmark (knee), Curtis McKenzie (eye), Jamie Oleksiak (lower body), Antoine Roussel (hand), Patrick Sharp (hip), Ryan Callahan (hip), Jason Garrison (lower body), Tyler Johnson (lower body), Cedric Paquette (lower body), Steven Stamkos (knee)
Brayden Point has scored 17 points over the past two months, taking over as the team's No. 1 center with Stamkos and Johnson out of the lineup. The former Moose Jaw Warrior was an incredible scorer in major junior, posting three straight 30-goal, 80-point seasons, and certainly deserves some credit for helping Nikita Kucherov reach career highs. Point and Jonathan Drouin are two players that are expected to shoulder more of the offensive load as their careers progress, and given their production this season, with a healthy lineup the Lightning should have one of the best offenses in the league next season.
Sharks (PP: 24, PK: 16) at Canucks (PP: 29, PK: 27), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Martin Jones (33-22-6, 2.42, .910), Ryan Miller (18-26-6, 2.78, .915)
Key Injuries:Logan Couture (mouth), Joseph Cramarossa (foot), Derek Dorsett (neck), Loui Eriksson (lower body), Brendan Gaunce (undisclosed), Markus Granlund (wrist), Erik Gudbranson (wrist), Jacob Markstrom (knee), Jayson Megna (upper body), Anton Rodin (knee), Jack Skille (ankle)
Like the Wild, the Sharks have an easy opponent that should help them get on track. If they lose to the Canucks, who have a historically bad offense and have lost 10 straight at home, then they have some major problems as well. The good news is that the Sharks have been very good against the Canucks since 2011, and Jones has yet to lose against his hometown team. The player to watch will be Brock Boeser, who has already seen his role increase immensely through four games, and nearly scored his third goal of the season Friday against the Kings.
Flyers (PP: 12, PK: 22) at Rangers (PP: 13, PK: 23), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Anthony Stolarz (2-0-0, 1.79, .938), Henrik Lundqvist (30-18-4, 2.74, .911)
Key Injuries:Ryan McDonagh (undisclosed), Nick Cousins (upper body), Radko Gudas (undisclosed), Steve Mason (illness), Michal Neuvirth (undisclosed), Michael Raffl (lower body), Matt Read (upper body)
As of Saturday night, there's still no word on what Philly will do about their goaltending situation with Mason and Neuvirth out of the lineup. Stolarz gets a tough assignment in his third career start, though he's been excellent so far in his career. It would be a good test for him, anyway, and a chance for the Flyers to see what kind of goalie they have. Drafted in the second round in 2012, the 23-year-old, 6-foot-6 Stolarz is expected to be a starter someday.
Coyotes (PP: 26, PK: 25) at Kings (PP: 16, PK: 2), 10:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Mike Smith (18-25-8, 2.96, .913), Jonathan Quick (6-4-1, 2.00, .930)
Key Injuries:Kevin Connauton (upper body), Jamie McGinn (personal), Brad Richardson (leg), Matt Greene (undisclosed)
The Kings have a 0.1 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to sportsclubstats.com, but that won't prevent Darryl Sutter and his stubborn squad from trying to make it. The Coyotes are playing with little pressure and enjoying a little surge of offense, but still continue to be a mess on defense – even the Kings anemic offense has managed to score 12 goals in four games against the Coyotes this season.
Anthony Beauvillier, F, NYI – The slick speedster has nine shots in his past two games and should be a huge beneficiary with John Tavares (lower body) out with an injury that may force him to rest of the season. He's a boom-or-bust fantasy player, but Doug Weight clearly trusts him, and they've got good matchups against the Sabres, Hurricanes and Devils coming up.