It feels like just a few weeks ago that we were watching the NHL’s opening night. And it was. Thanks, Bettman!
But in this lockout-shortened season, we’re already in the home stretch. In fact, today is one of just 18 days left on the NHL schedule. In a perfect world, you’d watch them all. But in this imperfect world, there’s a good chance you’re stuck with things like “a job” or “family” or “friends,” so you have to pick your spots.
Wednesday, April 10 — five games
The can’t-miss matchup: Coyotes at Oilers — Is it too early to start referring to matchups as elimination games? Maybe, but with the Coyotes three back of a playoff spot and Edmonton trailing by four, coming away from this game with no points would be devastating to either team.
Other good options: Leafs at Rangers (the Leafs try for a home-and-home sweep that would just about end any chance of the Rangers catching them); Bruins at Devils (the flailing Devils run into arguably the conference’s best team).
No thanks: Avalanche and Ducks — Although Anaheim is just an hour’s flight from Las Vegas.
Entertainment quotient: 4/10 — Not bad. We can do better.
Thursday, April 11 — nine games
The can’t-miss matchup: Sharks at Red Wings — The Sharks have a chance to all but lock themselves into the playoffs while pushing the Red Wings to the brink.
Other good options: Islanders at Bruins (the rested Isles could steal one against the Bruins, who are on the road the night before); Hurricanes at Capitals (Ovechkin’s march to the Richard Trophy continues); Blues at Wild (a battle for the sixth seed); Panthers at Jets (Winnipeg tries to keep its division hopes alive); Senators at Flyers (Philadelphia tries to get back into the race against the struggling Sens).
No thanks: Penguins at Lightning — The injured Penguins face a Lightning team with little left to play for.
Entertainment quotient: 7/10 — Plenty of games, some of them meaningful.
Friday, April 12 — five games
The can’t-miss matchup: Red Wings at Blackhawks — Don’t look now, but this classic Norris Division rivalry is shaping up to be a possible first-round playoff matchup.
Other good options: Blues at Blue Jackets (this looks like one of those must-win games if Columbus wants to stay in the race); Senators at Devils (an Ottawa win would go a long way to wrapping up its playoff spot).
No thanks: Coyotes at Flames — The rebuilders host the relocators.
Entertainment quotient: 3/10 — Save your energy for tomorrow.
Saturday, April 13 — 11 games
The can’t-miss matchup: Canadiens at Maple Leafs — It’s Toronto and Montreal on Hockey Night in Canada. If that gets your attention, consider this: A Toronto win would go a long way toward setting up the first Leafs-Habs playoff matchup in 34 years. Yes, everyone in Canada has been thinking about this possibility since late February. No, we’re not going to be surprised when the Senators find a way to screw it up.
Other good options: Rangers at Islanders (the most important game in the Rangers-Isles rivalry in a generation); Flames at Oilers (bad teams, good rivalry); Flyers at Sabres (two teams that desperately need a win to have even a slim chance of a playoff push); Sharks at Stars (don’t look now, but the fire-sale Stars are still in the hunt).
No thanks: Penguins at Panthers — The injured Penguins face a
Lightning Panthers team with little nothing left to play for.
Entertainment quotient: 9/10 — Mr. Schedule-Maker hit this one out of the park. Let’s keep up the momentum!
Sunday, April 14 — three games
The can’t-miss matchup: Blackhawks at Blues — It’s two playoff teams! That’s pretty much it. This would actually be a good day to reconnect with your family.
Other good options: Wings at Predators, I guess.
No thanks: Lightning at Sabres — No. Just ... no.
Entertainment quotient: 1/10 — Hey, but last night was cool, right?
Monday, April 15 — eight games
The can’t-miss matchup: Senators at Bruins — Oddly, this is the only one of the eight games that features two teams that are both in the playoffs as of today. These two Northeast rivals usually deliver an intense game, and it would be fun to watch the Sens play against a Chara-Redden pairing.
Other good options: Devils at Leafs (it's been nine years since Toronto's last playoff berth, and this could be its de facto clincher); Flyers at Canadiens (since you never know when these two teams will randomly decide to do something like this); Sharks at Coyotes (if Phoenix is still hanging around the playoff race, this will probably be a must-win).
No thanks: Blue Jackets at Avalanche — Sad to say, but Columbus could be out of the race at this point, and the Avs should be in full-out tank mode.
Entertainment quotient: 5/10 — We’re starting to get solidly into “it all depends how the playoff races are going” territory here.
Tuesday, April 16 — eight games
The can’t-miss matchup: Canucks at Blues — These were the West’s top two seeds last year. This season hasn’t gone as smoothly, but both are still playoff bound. Now about those goaltenders ...
Other good options: Kings at Sharks (featuring two of California’s three playoff teams); Leafs at Capitals (a dark horse first-round matchup possibility); Rangers at Flyers (loser gets to fire their coach during the postgame show).
No thanks: Panthers at Islanders — Yes, I am openly rooting for the Islanders to make the playoffs. No, that does not mean I’m willing to watch them play the Panthers.
Entertainment quotient: 4/10 — This week feels kind of slow, doesn’t it?
Wednesday, April 17 — four games
The can’t-miss matchup:: Canadiens at Penguins — If the Bruins stumble, this game could be a showdown for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Other good options:: Red Wings at Flames (should be an easy win for the Wings, which gives it intriguing “the shocking loss that torpedoed their season” possibilities); Sabres at Bruins (Buffalo tries to play spoiler on its old rivals).
No thanks: Blue Jackets at Ducks — Unless the Hawks have had a letdown, the Ducks are all but locked into the no. 2 seed already. They should be on autopilot at this point.
Entertainment quotient: 2/10 — Yikes. But there are 10 games tomorrow; that’s guaranteed to be fantastic!
Thursday, April 18 — 10 games
The can’t-miss matchup: Capitals at Senators — Yeah, I know. Ten games in one night, and this looks like the best one. I wouldn’t have thought that was possible either, but here we are. Still, the way things are going this could be the night that Ovechkin hits 50 goals and Erik Karlsson’s miracle Achilles rises from the ashes.
Other good options: Islanders at Maple Leafs (I hope this game gives the Isles a chance to eliminate New Jersey, and screw the Devils over by starting their backup goalie); Wild at Sharks (a possible first-round preview); Blue Jackets at Kings (just because you know Columbus will stay in the race long enough for Jeff Carter to eliminate them).
No thanks: Hurricanes at Jets — This could be a good game if Winnipeg is still in the hunt for the Southeast. Spoiler alert: They probably won’t be.
Entertainment quotient: 4/10 — Quantity over quality.
Friday, April 19 — six games
The can’t-miss matchup: Penguins at Bruins — The two best teams in the East (sorry, Habs fans) in their only post-deadline showdown until the conference finals. Jagr vs. Iginla? Yes, please.
Other good options: Predators at Blackhawks (on the off chance the Preds are still in the playoff picture); Rangers at Sabres (would be a big one if the Sabres have somehow hung on).
No thanks: Oilers at Avalanche — I think we can all agree that Edmonton is a sure thing to beat Colorado. Not in this game, I mean in the draft lottery.
Entertainment quotient: 8/10 — Almost entirely based on the Pens-Bruins matchup.
Saturday, April 20 — eight games
The can’t-miss matchup: Red Wings at Canucks — This game could help determine both the Red Wings’ playoff chances and the Canucks’ hold on the Northwest Division. You think Canucks fans would enjoy eliminating Detroit? Maybe they could get Dan Cloutier to drop the ceremonial faceoff.
Other good options: Leafs at Senators (this will be the first time the Battle of Ontario has meant something this late in the season since 2004); Capitals at Canadiens (not to look too far ahead, but this feels like a potential second-round matchup); Islanders at Jets (two franchises that haven’t seen playoff action in a long time and could still be alive).
No thanks: Flyers at Hurricanes — The Flyers will out by then, right? Please say they’ll be out.
Entertainment quotient: 5/10 — Wait, only eight games on a Saturday night? Guess Mr. Schedule-Maker must be saving all the good games for tomorrow.
Sunday, April 21 — eight games
The can’t-miss matchup: Um ... none? There’s not a single matchup between two teams likely to be playoff-bound. Can we pass? No? Fine ... Devils at Rangers, I guess.
Other good options: Jackets at Sharks has an outside chance at mattering, as could Stars at Kings.
No thanks: Hurricanes at Lightning — Thanks for coming out, 2013 Southeast Division. Good job, good effort.
Entertainment quotient: 1/10 — “You know what, family members, forget about hockey, today I want to spend time with all of you! What’s that? No, no I don’t know your individual names.”
Monday, April 22 — five games
The can’t-miss matchup: Blackhawks at Canucks — This should be about the time of year that we all stop pretending we really think the Ducks are elite, and start hyping this game as a battle between the West’s two top teams.
Other good options: Penguins at Senators (there’s an outside chance they could be headed toward yet another first-round matchup); Jets at Sabres (if the Jets are still holding on); Coyotes at Wings (since if Detroit is on the bubble, all its games become very watchable).
No thanks: Ducks at Oilers — Sadly, it looks like a safe bet that Edmonton is done by now.
Entertainment quotient: 4/10 — “I spent time with you yesterday, family. Now be quiet. Hawks-Canucks is on.”
Tuesday, April 23 — nine games
The can’t-miss matchup: Jets at Capitals — OK, so Washington may have already put the division away by now. But if not, this could end up being the game that decides which of these teams is going into the playoffs as a 3-seed, and which one is going home.
Other good options: Bruins at Flyers (as Philadelphia fans get to say hello to their old pal Jaromir); Kings at Wild (possible first-round preview); Canadiens at Devils (could be the game that puts the Devils out of their misery); Islanders at Hurricanes (fun fact: Each year, Carolina spends the last month playing nothing but bubble teams, and every game ends up being a three-pointer).
No thanks: Avalanche at Blues — In which Avs fans watching at home spend the game wondering why they never draft any stud defensemen like that Shattenkirk kid.
Entertainment quotient: 6/10 — Let’s hope the Southeast is still in play.
Wednesday, April 24 — four games
The can’t-miss matchup: Kings at Red Wings — The defending champs get their turn to try to sink the Red Wings. By the way, Detroit’s going to go on a five-game winning streak the day after this post comes out and torpedo my desperate attempt to force a “Wings miss the playoffs” narrative.
Other good options: Blackhawks at Oilers (the classic “Edmonton beats a good team and gives its front office false hope for next year” game).
No thanks: Maple Leafs at Lightning — This game won’t matter since the Lightning are out and the Leafs will have clinched. Please say they’ve clinched. Oh, god, they’re not going to have clinched, are they? [Rocks back and forth tightly clutching a Wendel Clark bobblehead.]
Entertainment quotient: 3/10 — Not much going on here.
Thursday, April 25 — 11 games
The can’t-miss matchup: Ducks at Canucks — A late-season showdown that will probably feature two division winners.
Other good options: Canadiens at Jets (a boom-or-bust pick, since if the Jets are still in it, the MTS Centre will be insane); Rangers at Hurricanes (three-point game alert!); Senators at Capitals (two playoff teams); Penguins at Devils (yes, I know I’ve declared the Devils dead eight times in this post, but we all know they’ll still be kicking around somehow).
No thanks: Maple Leafs at Panthers — [Rocking back and forth clutching dust that used to be a Wendel Clark bobblehead.]
Entertainment quotient: 6/10 — Not bad, but we need a big finish. Come on, Mr. Schedule-Maker, take us home!
Friday, April 26 — four games
The can’t-miss matchup:: Islanders at Sabres — Um, what? It’s the second-to-last night of the schedule, and this is the best game? Really? [Double-checks schedule.] Wow.
Other good options: Depending on how the ownership saga plays out over the next few weeks, Avalanche at Coyotes could finally be the last NHL game played Phoenix. That doesn’t really make this game a “good” option, but it could be a historically significant one.
No thanks: Flames at Blackhawks — The Flames have been following the Ferguson-era Leafs blueprint to a T, so enjoy this season-ending win that screws up your draft pick.
Entertainment quotient: 1/10 — Mr. Schedule-Maker, you’re a jerk.
Saturday, April 27 — 13 games
The can’t-miss matchup: It all depends on the playoff races, but Devils at Rangers could decide the final playoff spot in the East while Wings at Stars could do the same for the West. If neither of those scenarios plays out, let’s just go with the Habs closing out the regular season with a visit to Toronto.
Other good options: With almost the entire league in action, you can’t really go wrong. How about some games between likely playoff-bound teams like the Bruins at Capitals, Blackhawks at Blues, or Sharks at Kings?
No thanks: Panthers at Lightning — This is mercifully the last Southeast Division matchup in history. Have fun joining the Red Wings in the renamed Northeast next year, guys!
Entertainment quotient: 10/10 — That’s more like it.