I don’t envy the schedule makers for the NHL. Before each season they have to sort through arena availability, flight schedules, and TV schedules and come up with a fluid and fair calendar for the NHL season. They also know that they have to deliver an enticing ending to the regular season and, more often they not, the schedules wind up creating an exciting finish.
Just last year, the Detroit Red Wings took all 82 games to get their playoff tickets stamped when they beat St. Louis 3-0 on the last day of the season. In fact, in the past decade, there have been some really interesting storylines heading into the last game of the season. Who can forget the exciting Flyers-Rangers shootout to decide who snuck into the playoffs in 2010?
Or in 2007 when the Islanders won a road shootout game in New Jersey for their playoff berth?
This season it appears that there may not be as much drama as in years past, but there still could be some big games on the horizon.
On Saturday, April 11, for just the 7th time in NHL history (and 2nd time this season), all 30 NHL teams will be active with a full schedule of 15 games being played. By then, many of those games won’t mean anything in terms of seeding and playoff positioning but there are a few games that certainly will be worth the watch. Here are the top 5 games to look for on that day.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins @ Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres have 44 points right now and are looking to secure thirtieth in the league with their remaining 15 games (including TWO games against Arizona!). With the Edmonton Oilers just 3 points ahead of them, this race for worst overall could come down to the last game of the season. Will the Sabres comically bad season be rewarded with finishing dead last? Will they be one step closer to capturing generational talent Connor McDavid? Will they blow this whole tanking thing and finish ahead of Edmonton and lose the hilariously lose the draft lottery??? You might have to tune in to find out!
4. New Jersey Devils @ Florida Panthers
Aside from the Ottawa Senators, the Panthers are the only team that really has a shot at catching the Boston Bruins for the last Wild Card slot in the Eastern Conference. Boston has built a 6 point cushion over the Cats and doesn’t look like they’ll lose ground any time soon, but if they do, this Panthers game could become very important.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets @ New York Islanders
The Jackets are far out of the playoff race and the Islanders are sitting comfortably in the top 3 in the Metropolitan Division. But this game is important because it will be the last regular season game ever played in Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (but, not so fast, says Pete Judge). This may be one of the last old school barns left in the NHL and, although we make fun of how much of a dump it is, many great memories have been made there and it’s a great rink to watch a game in. I’m sure the Islanders will make sure the last regular season game there is one to be remembered.
2. Calgary Flames @ Winnipeg Jets
For the first time since November, the Winnipeg Jets are out of a playoff spot. Last night, the Los Angeles Kings snuck into the last Wild Card spot, leaving Winnipeg on the outside looking in. The Jets have 78 points and the Kings now have 79, with 1 game in hand. The Flames, on the other hand, continue to win games despite losing Mark Giordano and despite being brutally out possessed basically every night. Calgary has 79 points and sits 3rd in the Pacific. Both teams could be pushing for that last Wild Card spot, though and it could lead to a wild game at the season’s end. I’m sure the Winnipeg fans will be going crazy.
1. San Jose Sharks @ Los Angeles Kings
Through the stellar play of Antti Niemi, the Sharks are trying to stay in the playoff hunt, sitting just 3 points back of LA. These teams faced off a few weeks ago in Levi’s Stadium and there’s a chance that this game could decide which other California team (Anaheim is safe with 91 points at the top of the Pacific Division) makes it into the post season. With all of the intensity that this rivalry has grown (they have their own commercial now), this could add yet another chapter to the NoCal-SoCal battle.