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The NHL playoff picture is coming into focus
With three nights left in the regular season, 15 of the 16 playoff entries are now set, while the races for some major individual awards are close to being resolved. Here’s a look and what’s settled and what’s still up in the air after an eventful Tuesday night:
Vegas is hanging by a thread. The most impactful result last night was Vegas’ 3-2 shootout loss at Dallas. It left the Golden Knights, a top-three Stanley Cup favourite before the season, four points behind the Stars for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference with two games to play. Vegas needs to beat Chicago and St. Louis and have Dallas lose home games to lowly Arizona and Anaheim in regulation — a scenario with a 1.5 per cent chance of occurring, according to MoneyPuck’s playoff odds. The Knights’ failure to beat Dallas last night also moved several pieces of the playoff picture into place, as you’ll see below.
Only three of the seven Canadian teams will be in the playoffs. Despite last night’s 5-2 win over Seattle, the Vancouver Canucks were officially eliminated from post-season contention when Dallas beat Vegas. Winnipeg, Montreal and Ottawa were already out. That leaves Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton as the three teams with a chance to bring the Stanley Cup to Canada for the first time since Montreal won it in 1993.
Edmonton will play Los Angeles in the first round. Toronto and Calgary’s opponents are still TBD. The Vegas loss ensured the idle Kings will finish third in the Pacific Division. They’ll face the Oilers, who clinched second place (and home-ice advantage vs. the Kings) by beating Pittsburgh last night. Pacific champion Calgary is locked into the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and will meet the better of the two wild cards — either Dallas or Nashville, which clinched a wild card last night with the Vegas loss. (If Vegas somehow makes it, they’ll be the lower wild card and face Colorado, which has clinched the No. 1 seed.) Toronto will finish second in the Atlantic Division and have home-ice advantage against its first-round opponent. That will likely be the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, though Boston (three points back with two to play) can still catch them.
Besides Edmonton vs. L.A., the only playoff matchup set in stone is Minnesota vs. St. Louis. They’ll finish second and third in the Central Division, but the order (and home ice advantage) is still up in the air as these teams are tied in points.
The Presidents’ Trophy is still up for grabs. It’s a two-horse race between Colorado and Eastern Conference top seed Florida, who are almost neck and neck. The Avalanche closed the gap to two points last night by beating St. Louis while the Panthers lost to Boston. Both teams have two games left, but Florida has the softer opponents: Ottawa and Montreal, compared to Nashville and Minnesota for the Avs.
The race to the bottom could come down to the wire too. The mirror image of the Presidents’ Trophy battle is also a two-team race. Montreal and Arizona are the only two clubs in contention to finish dead last in the league, which means the best odds of winning the draft lottery. The Canadiens are certainly doing their “best” to land top prospect Shane Wright (a centre with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs), losing nine straight to fall two points behind the Coyotes. However, finishing last still gives you just an 18.5 per cent chance of winning the May 10 draw.
Two major individual awards were pretty much decided last night. Auston Matthews all but sewed up his second straight Maurice Richard Trophy by scoring his 59th and 60th goals in Toronto’s 3-0 win over Detroit. The 24-year-old is both the first Maple Leaf and the first U.S.-born player to score 60 in a season. He’s the first player from anywhere to do it since Steven Stamkos in 2011-12. Matthews now has a five-goal lead over Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, who has two games left.
Draisaitl’s teammate Connor McDavid put a stranglehold on the Art Ross Trophy race by racking up four points in last night’s 5-1 win over Pittsburgh. With 122 points, McDavid is seven up on Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau, who has only two games remaining. The next three guys in the race are all from Canadian teams: Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau (113), Draisaitl (109) and Matthews (106). If McDavid wins, it’ll be the fourth scoring title in six years for the 25-year-old. The only players with at least four Art Ross Trophies in their entire careers are Wayne Gretzky (10), Gordie Howe (6), Mario Lemieux (6), Phil Esposito (5), Jaromir Jagr (5) and Stan Mikita (4).
While the Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies appear settled, the Hart remains anyone’s guess. Matthews, McDavid and New York Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin stand out, but Gaudreau, Huberdeau, Draisaitl and 93-point Nashville defenceman Roman Josi are in the mix too. Read about the seven top candidates for the Hart here.
Canada clinched a playoff spot at the mixed doubles curling world championship. Today’s 6-2 win over England improved Jocelyn Peterman and Brett Gallant to 6-1. With two games left in their round-robin slate in Switzerland, the Canadians are assured of a top-three finish in Group B and a spot in the six-team playoffs. Their only loss came to 7-0 Scotland, which is on track to win the group and earn a bye to the semifinals. The teams that finish second and third in the two groups have to play their way into the semis. Canada completes its round-robin schedule on Thursday vs. Australia (3-4) and the United States (4-3). The playoffs start Friday, and the final is Saturday. Peterman and Gallant are trying to become the first Canadian team to take the title in the 14-year history of the mixed doubles worlds. Read more about today’s win and watch highlights here.
The CFL made some rules tweaks to boost scoring. Starting this year, the hashmarks will be moved closer to the middle of the field to give offences more of the field to work with. Also, teams will take the ball at the 40-yard line following a field goal or single (it used to be the 35), kickoffs will be moved back five yards, and all no-yards penalties will be 15 yards instead of five. The league is looking to get bigger numbers on the board after a choppy 2021 season that saw Winnipeg finish as the top-scoring team despite averaging only 23 offensive points per game. Some other minor rule changes were also introduced today, and you can read about all of them here.
Clue: This Canadian woman is now among the top 10 earners in Jeopardy! history. Correct response: Who is Mattea Roach? The 23-year-old, who grew up in Halifax and now lives in Toronto, won her 16th consecutive game on last night’s airing of the TV quiz show. That’s the longest-ever win streak by a Canadian, and the eighth-longest by anyone. She has a long way to go to catch Ken Jennings’ record 74-game run from 2004, but Roach now ranks 10th in regular-season winnings with $368,981 US. She needs three more victories to grab a share of the sixth-longest winning streak, and four more to match the second-longest ever by a woman. The women’s record belongs to Amy Schneider, whose 40-game streak ended in January. Read more about Roach here.
You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.
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