Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz: Panthers one point out of first in Central

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Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, a daily look at the races for the 2021 NHL postseason. There are 24 days left in the regular season and the races in each of the four divisions — the seven-team Scotia North and eight-team MassMutual East, Discover Central and Honda West — are tight. The top four teams in each of the four divisions qualify for the playoffs.

Here is a look at the NHL Standings and everything else that could impact the playoff picture.

 
About Last Night

There were 11 games Saturday, each with playoff implications:

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, New Jersey Devils 2: Sidney Crosby scored his 20th goal of the season, becoming the first Penguins player to get at least 20 in 13 seasons, ahead of the 12 seasons by Mario Lemieux and Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh has won three straight and is 7-1-1 in its past nine games. The Penguins are second in the East, one point behind the Washington Capitals and two points ahead of the New York Islanders.

St. Louis Blues 5, Colorado Avalanche 3: The Blues ended the Avalanche’s five-game winning streak on the strength of a hat trick from center Ryan O’Reilly. St. Louis is one point behind the Arizona Coyotes for fourth place in the West. The second-place Avalanche trail the Vegas Golden Knights by four points for first in the division and are one point ahead of the third-place Minnesota Wild. 

Calgary Flames 5, Montreal Canadiens 2: For the second consecutive night, the Flames defeated the Canadiens and gained ground on them for the final playoff spot in the North. Calgary is fifth in the division, four points behind fourth-place Montreal. Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau scored two goals and goalie Jacob Markstrom made 30 saves.

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Winnipeg Jets 1: The Maple Leafs solidified their hold on first place in the North with their second straight win against the second-place Jets. Toronto leads Winnipeg by eight points. The Jets, who have lost three in a row, are one point ahead of the third-place Edmonton Oilers. 

Washington Capitals 6, New York Islanders 3: With their second straight win against the Islanders, the Capitals moved back into first place in the East, one point ahead of the second-place Penguins. The Islanders are third in the division, two points behind the Penguins and three behind the Capitals. Washington played without forward Alex Ovechkin, who has a lower-body injury. 

Florida Panthers 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3, OT: The Panthers defeated the Hurricanes on Aleksander Barkov‘s goal 24 seconds into overtime and are one point behind Carolina for first in the Central. Second-place Florida is three points ahead of the third-place Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Dallas Stars 2, Detroit Red Wings 1, OT: Jamie Benn scored 32 seconds into overtime for the Stars, who are fifth in the Central, two points behind the fourth-place Nashville Predators. The Red Wings are seventh in the division, 12 points behind the Predators.

Vegas Golden Knights 5, Anaheim Ducks 1: The Golden Knights won their ninth straight game, matching the longest winning streak in the NHL this season (New York Islanders, Feb. 28-March 14). Vegas is first in the West, four points ahead of the Avalanche. The Ducks are eighth in the division, 12 points behind the fourth-place Coyotes.

Minnesota Wild 6, San Jose Sharks 3: With their seventh straight win, the Wild clinched a playoff berth for the eighth time in the past nine seasons. The Wild are the third team in the West to clinch, the only division a team has done so, and they are one point behind the Avalanche for second place. The Sharks are sixth in the division, six points behind the fourth-place Coyotes.

Vancouver Canucks 4, Ottawa Senators 2: The Canucks earned their third win in four games (3-1-0) since returning from an 18-day pause due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Vancouver is sixth in the North, eight points behind fourth-place Montreal with five games in hand. Ottawa is seventh in the division, 11 points behind Montreal. 

Arizona Coyotes 4, Los Angeles Kings 0: Darcy Kuemper made 26 saves and earned his second shutout of the season for the Coyotes, who are fourth in the West, one point ahead of the Blues, who have three games in hand. The Coyotes had lost seven of eight (1-7-0) before the win. The Kings are seventh in the division, seven points back of the Coyotes with three games in hand. 

If Playoffs started Sunday

Here is a look at the matchups for the first round as they stand entering games Sunday:

North Division 

1. Toronto Maple Leafs vs. 4. Montreal Canadiens
2. Winnipeg Jets vs. 3. Edmonton Oilers 

East Division 

1. Washington Capitals vs. 4. Boston Bruins 
2. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 3. New York Islanders

Central Division  

1. Carolina Hurricanes vs. 4. Nashville Predators  
2. Florida Panthers vs. 3. Tampa Bay Lightning

West Division  

1. Vegas Golden Knights vs. 4. Arizona Coyotes 
2. Colorado Avalanche vs. 3. Minnesota Wild 

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