NHL Rivalry Week
Give the people what they want.
Commissioner Gary Bettman has gotten mixed reviews since he took over the NHL’s top job in 1993. His legacy includes two work stoppages, getting and losing TV deals with FOX and ESPN, and aggressive expansion (some would say over-expansion) into the United States. But all is forgotten when the puck drops on a game that people care about.The league’s unbalanced schedule and geographically correct divisional alignment maximize the importance of rivalries – especially right now during the final week of the regular season.
We’ll look at four of the juiciest rivalry games coming up this weekend; but first, here are 10 things you need to know about the NHL to get you ready.
1. The Carolina Hurricanes are the hottest team in the league with nine straight wins (9.41 units).
2. The Colorado Avalanche are the coldest team at 1-7-2 in their last 10 (-5.97 units).
3. The Ottawa Senators are 19-10-3 under new head coach Cory Clouston, who was signed to a two-year contract on Wednesday.
4. Washington Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin leads the NHL with 55 goals, 10 more than Philadelphia Flyers center Jeff Carter.
5. Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, inked last week to a $20-million contract extension, has the highest save percentage in the league at .933.
6. The Montreal Canadiens have lost 244 man-games to injuries this season. The New York Rangers have lost 30.
7. The Rangers (minus-10) have the worst goal differential of any of the 16 teams currently in playoff position.
8. The Minnesota Wild (plus-13) have the best goal differential of those outside the playoff picture.
9. The San Jose Sharks (25.7 percent) and Detroit Red Wings (25.6 percent) have the best power-play units in the NHL.
10. The Rangers (87.9 percent) have the best penalty kill.
Calgary at Edmonton (Friday, 9:00 p.m. ET)
The Battle of Alberta wraps up in style this year with a home-and-home series that ends Saturday at the Saddledome. The 38-33-9 Oilers will have to content themselves with playing the spoiler role after they were eliminated from playoff contention following Tuesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings (+182). The 45-29-6 Flames are tied with the Vancouver Canucks for the Northwest Division lead at 96 points. Calgary and Edmonton split their previous four meetings this season.
Boston at Buffalo (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET)
This rivalry goes back to the formation of the Adams Division in 1974. The Bruins have clinched top spot in the East at 51-18-10 (112 points), while Buffalo is clinging to playoff life in ninth place at 39-32-9 (87 points) thanks to Wednesday’s 3-1 road victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs (+148). That leaves the Sabres four points behind the Rangers with two games to go. Whether or not Saturday’s game matters in the standings will depend partly on how well Buffalo does Thursday against the red-hot Hurricanes. The Sabres are 3-2 versus Boston this year.
Detroit at Chicago (Sunday, 2:00 p.m. ET, NBC)
This probably isn’t the first rivalry you think of from the Original Six era, but the Red Wings and Blackhawks harbored a healthy dislike for one another that intensified during the Norris Division years and is heating up again now that the Hawks have returned to respectability. Sunday’s game is the back end of a home-and-home series that will very likely have no bearing in the Western playoff hunt – barring a disaster, the 51-19-9 Wings will finish in second place and the 44-24-12 Hawks in fourth. Detroit has won all four games between them this season with two via the shootout.
N.Y. Rangers at Philadelphia (Sunday, 5:00 p.m. ET, NBC)
Lastly, we have an old Patrick Division rivalry between the 43-25-11 Flyers and the 41-30-9 Rangers. There could still be plenty on the line for this one; Philadelphia (97 points) is currently tied for fourth in the East with Carolina, but with a game in hand. The Blueshirts (91 points) are two points ahead of ninth-place Florida. This is also the second game of a home-and-home; the opener is at MSG on Thursday night. Each team is 2-2 against the other this season, with the over going 3-1 during the series.