|Marleau and San Jose are in Minnesota. (US Presswire)|
The Morning Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.
6 ET, San Jose at Minnesota
Here's a bit of a shocker: The San Jose Sharks wake up Sunday morning in seventh place in the Western Conference, only three points up on the three-way tie for eighth place. A nine-game road trip can do that to a team.
Those numbers are slightly skewed. The Sharks are the only team in spots 1-11 in the West that have played fewer than 62 games and the only team in the conference thus far who has played only 60. So there are games in hand on others in the picture, including the Coyotes, who now lead the Pacific Division outright.
That's why the final game of the trip today is a big one. Those games in hand mean nada if they aren't converted into points. They can't really afford to let the Coyotes get some separation in the division race with how incredibly hot they have been lately.
For the Wild, it means just staying in the race for that eighth seed. The magic number is more or less five points. If you fall any further behind that, the chances of coming back become very long. The Wild enter Sunday's game five points behind that logjam for eighth. The home games need to turn into two points for them.
With San Jose having lost eight of their last 11 games -- and the division lead -- it means we should have two desperate hockey teams on Sunday evening. Sounds like fun.
5 ET, Montreal at Florida
The Florida Panthers scored an absolutely huge win on Saturday night in Raleigh, taking down the Hurricanes in a shootout, 3-2. They were down 2-0 until Tomas Fleischmann hit for a score with 6:02 left and new addition Wojtek Wolski tied it with under two to play. It was Florida's third straight win on the road and vaulted them back into first in the Southeast while keeping games in hand on everybody else.
Ironically enough, while they have won three in a row on the road, they have lost four straight at home. That has to change if Florida wants to see the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
This represents the first chance a team in the Southeast Division will have a shot at reaching 70 points on the season, too. Oof. But at least Florida has played fewer games than any team, so they need to use these games in hand (four on Winnipeg, two on Washington) to push themselves back ahead of the division.
With Montreal coming to town, it's a perfect opportunity. The Canadiens have not won a game in regulation in their last six tries. The only win in that time came in a shootout four games ago. They enter today's matchup having scored two goals in the last three games, all losses.
But you can bet the Habs fans will still fill up the seats in Florida. It never quite feels like a road game for Montreal when it is in Sunrise. South Florida is a popular winter destination for the Quebecois, so Habs-Panthers is one of the rare tough tickets at the BankAtlantic Center.
3 ET, Vancouver at Dallas
That aforementioned logjam in the West? The Stars are part of it. By virtue of the tie-breakers at this point, the Stars are actually the team in the playoffs if they were to start today. Not too bad for a team that still seems to be a seller before tomorrow's trade deadline.
The Stars come into the game on a little roll, having won three in a row including Friday's 4-1 victory over the Wild. But the Canucks are a whole different cup of tea.
Vancouver has taken a lead on the Red Wings and Rangers in the Presidents' Trophy race and it would like to stay up there. The Northwest Division is damn near mathematically locked up already, they're up 18 points on Colorado. But that best record in the league is something worth fighting for, so this isn't a team that's already put it on cruise control.
Others worth watching
Your promised miscellany
- Last night's Winners & Losers
- Kyle Turris reportedly has a meeting with Brendan Shanahan regarding his hit on Boston's Joe Corvo last night. (Nick Kypreos)
- The Maple Leafs are tumbling backward and coach Ron Wilson sees one culprit, throwing goaltender James Reimer under the bus after another bad showing on Saturday night. (Globe and Mail)
- The Red Wings lost defenseman Jonathan Ericsson for at least a month this weekend after he fractured his wrist in the team's loss Saturday to Colorado. (Mlive.com)
- A little fight video for you from last night: Brandon Prust takes on Paul Gaustad and lands one square to the Goose's nose. Ouch. (NYRangersblog.com)