Thursday, March 26, 2015

17 nights left to go: A detailed ranking of the rest of the NHL schedule

It’s a busy night on the NHL schedule, one of just 17 left in the regular season. With tight playoff races in both conferences and first place in three of the four divisions still up for grabs, there’s going to be compelling action just about every night the rest of the way.

For some of you, that’s great — you can pretty much get comfortable on the couch now and settle in for the next few weeks. But if work, family, or other commitments mean you need to be a little more selective in your hockey viewing, now is the time to plan ahead. And because I’m here to help, I went through every night of the remaining schedule to figure out which games will be must-see TV and which ones you can go ahead and skip. Get out your calendars and a highlighter or two, because here we go.

Thursday, March 26 — 11 games

The can’t-miss matchup: Coyotes at Sabres — It says something about this tank-fest of a season that this is the night’s most intriguing matchup, and that something probably isn’t good, but here we are. The Sabres and Coyotes are going down to the wire for 30th place, and they play twice in the next five nights. Will either team try? Will they both start their backup goalies? Will any Sabre who scores a goal be immediately beaten over the head with a shovel by Tim Murray? I honestly can’t wait.

Other good options: Ducks at Bruins and Rangers at Senators (the two teams fighting for the East’s final wild-card spot both host Presidents’ Trophy candidates); Predators at Lightning (a game that would have passed for a Stanley Cup preview six weeks ago, and might still be); Sharks at Wings (what may be a showdown between the two best available coaches this offseason); Kings at Islanders (L.A.’s tough road trip continues); Canadiens at Jets (yet another Presidents’ Trophy candidate trying to squash a wild-card hopeful).

No thanks: Panthers at Maple Leafs — Is Rob Tallas suiting up again? No? Pass.

Entertainment quotient: 8/10 — Lots going on tonight. We’re off to a good start.

Friday, March 27 — Three games

The can’t-miss matchup: Flames at Wild — Two teams scrambling for the West’s final playoff spots meet, and fans of the teams chasing them know what that means: guaranteed three-point game night!

Other good options: Blue Jackets at Blackhawks (I know, I know, but at least one is a playoff team).

No thanks: Stars at Oilers — Two non-playoff teams makes this one meaningless, although the potential for a 9-8 final is vaguely intriguing.

Entertainment quotient: 2/10 — Welp. They can’t all be winners.

Saturday, March 28 — 13 games

The can’t-miss matchup: Kings at Wild — The defending champs are on shaky ground to get back into the playoffs, and they’ll face one of the wild-card teams they’re chasing during a brutal five-game road trip.

Other good options: Rangers at Bruins (an Original Six matchup between teams headed in opposite directions); Lightning at Red Wings (a possible first-round preview of a series we’d all agree to call the Steve Yzerman Cup); Ducks at Islanders (two very good teams that usually play entertaining games); Predators at Capitals (in which Washington fans spend the whole game wishing they could someday draft a rookie as good as Filip Forsberg).

No thanks: Devils at Hurricanes — Two teams that are bad, but not bad enough to be in contention for 30th. By the way, fair warning: Both teams are going to show up a lot in this section.

Entertainment quotient: 8/10 — Lots of games, some of them excellent, most of them decent. What else were you going to do on a Saturday night?

Sunday, March 29 — Eight games

The can’t-miss matchup: Panthers at Senators — I know, I’m as surprised as you are. But these teams are chasing the East’s final wild-card spot, and there’s only room for one. This is probably as close to a must-win as you can get in March, especially for the Panthers.

Other good options: Red Wings at Islanders (two solid Eastern playoff teams); Blackhawks at Jets (a sneaky important Central matchup); Capitals at Rangers (looking more and more like a first-round preview); Flames at Predators (facing off for the “teams I was most inexcusably wrong about” championship).

No thanks: Ducks at Devils — It’s the awesome team with shaky goaltending versus the shaky team with awesome goaltending. Spoiler alert: The Ducks win a one-goal game.

Entertainment quotient: 7/10 — With eight games, there isn’t a busier Sunday this season.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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