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NHL Morning Skate – March 16, 2024

* In the span of 10 days, the Eastern Conference playoff race has morphed from one team being within five points of the bracket to a five-team mix entering a pivotal afternoon of play that includes contests on ABC, ESPN+, Hulu, Sportsnet ONE and NHL Network.


* The Art Ross Trophy race will be front and center as well on Saturday as leader Nathan MacKinnon faces third-ranked Connor McDavid on Hockey Night in Canada. Other top storylines will see the Stars honor Mike Modano and the Predators put their lengthy point streak on the line in a key Wild Card race matchup.

* Friday saw both the Jets and Kings claim their sixth shutout of the season, as Tyler Toffoli scored his first two goals in a Jets uniform (to help them regain first place in the Central Division standings) and Kings captain Anze Kopitar set a franchise record by hitting the 20-goal mark for the 13th time in his career.
 

ENTER THE EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF RACE

The first six games on today’s schedule involve at least one club that is part of the increasingly intense Eastern Conference Wild Card race, including the NHL Network Showcase between the Sabres (32-30-5, 69 points) and Red Wings (33-27-6, 72 points) and a Metropolitan Division showdown between the Rangers (43-19-4, 90 points) and Penguins (29-27-9, 67 points) on ABC and ESPN+. Both contests are available in Canada on Sportsnet ONE, while the latter is also on TVA Sports.

12:30 p.m. ET at Little Caesars Arena (NHL Network and Sportsnet ONE)

The Red Wings (first team outside bracket) and Sabres (3 points behind Wild Card 2) will clash for the first of two more meetings in 2023-24 (also April 7). Detroit has either held a playoff spot or been the first team outside the bracket since mid-January, while Buffalo has turned a 12-point deficit (its largest of the season) into a three-point margin by posting an 8-3-1 record since Feb. 21 (among the top five points percentages in the NHL over that span).

12:30 p.m. ET at UBS Arena

The Islanders (Wild Card 2) jumped back into the playoff bracket Sunday for the first time since Patrick Roy took over as head coach on Jan. 20 (10-7-3 record since). New York will look to hold strong in the Rush to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and build upon a recent NHL trend that has seen the Stanley Cup Final include a team that made an in-season coaching change three times in the past five years (2019 STL, 2020 DAL & 2021 MTL) – a span in which New York made back-to-back trips to the final four (2020 & 2021).

3 p.m. ET at PPG Paints Arena (ABC, ESPN+, Sportsnet ONE, TVA Sports)

The Rangers will remain in first place in the Metropolitan Division standings for a 145th consecutive day regardless of today’s result, but the Penguins (5 points behind Wild Card 2) seek a second straight win as they try to keep their playoff push alive. The last time Pittsburgh was within four points of a playoff spot was on Jan. 20 when they trailed Detroit by three points.

5 p.m. ET at Mullett Arena

After three straight games against a top-10 team in the NHL, the Devils (4 points behind Wild Card 2) will play a weekend back-to-back in the desert as they try to gain ground to make consecutive Stanley Cup Playoffs appearances for the first time since a franchise-record 13-season run that spanned from 1997 to 2010. New Jersey’s largest deficit in the standings this season was eight points back of the lowest-ranked playoff club in the days leading up to the trade deadline.

6 p.m. ET at Amerant Bank Arena (ESPN+, Hulu)

Entering play March 16, 2023, the Panthers sat five points outside the playoff picture – like a total of six clubs do today (also MIN in the West) – and the Lightning occupied a top-three spot in the Atlantic Division. Today, the roles are reversed as Florida leads the NHL in pursuit of its second Presidents’ Trophy – after eliminating last year’s record-setting winner in the opening round as Wild Card 2, en route to the Stanley Cup Final – and the Lightning (Wild Card 1) are battling in the Wild Card race.

7 p.m. ET at TD Garden

The Flyers rank third in the Metropolitan Division but are being pursued by four division rivals in the Eastern Conference playoff race, all of whom have at least one game in hand. Their pursuit of a playoff berth will next go through the Bruins, who will honor former Philadelphia forward James van Riemsdyk in a pre-game ceremony for recently skating in his 1,000th NHL game. “JVR” spent eight seasons with the Flyers (527 GP) and helped them reach the Stanley Cup Final as a rookie in 2010.

MacKINNON VS. McDAVID AMONG MUST-SEE MOMENTS IN THE WESTERN CONFERENCE
The latest chapter in the race for the Art Ross Trophy in 2023-24, one of four games on the Hockey Night in Canada slate, and the NHL’s hottest teams since mid-February are among a handful of must-see moments across the Western Conference during an action-packed Saturday slate.

* Two of the NHL’s three 100-point producers are set to clash when Nathan MacKinnon (42-73—115 in 67 GP) and the Avalanche (42-20-5, 89 points) travel to Edmonton to face off against Connor McDavid (25-81—106 in 62 GP) and the Oilers (40-21-3, 83 points). MacKinnon is chasing down a single-season franchise record for points and has done so thanks to five straight multi-point games – three contests shy of the longest such stretch in franchise history (Peter Stastny: 8 GP in 1981-82).
 

* McDavid enters the 18th head-to-head meeting against MacKinnon with three points in each of his past two contests, a stretch that includes consecutive multi-assist games. The Oilers captain, on pace for 104 assists in 2023-24, is just eight helpers shy of his single-season career high with 18 games remaining (89 in 2022-23).


* Not on Hockey Night in Canada but pivotal to the Western Conference playoff race, the Predators (38-25-4, 80 points) enter Saturday as the first Wild Card and have done so thanks to a 13-game point streak dating to Feb. 17 (11-0-2) – two contests shy of the longest such run in franchise historyGustav Nyquist (18-40—58 in 67 GP), who leads Nashville in scoring through its current string of success (6-11—17 in 13 GP), sits two points shy of his first career 60-point season and is tied with Matt Duchene (23-35—58 w/ DAL) for the most points among players skating with a new team in 2023-24.

STARS TO COMMEMORATE FRANCHISE ICON WITH STATUE SATURDAY

The Stars (40-19-9, 89 points) are set to celebrate the legacy and Hockey Hall of Fame career of Mike Modano with a statue, including a ceremony broadcast live on BallySports.com, prior to their contest against the Kings (33-21-11, 77 points).

* Modano, one of six players with his number retired by the franchise, played 20 of his 21 seasons with the Stars/North Stars after being selected with the No. 1 pick in 1988 NHL Draft by the Minnesota North Stars. The Livonia, Mich., native is the franchise’s all-time leader in nearly every category, including games played (1,459), goals (557), assists (802), points (1,359), shorthanded goals (29), game-winning goals (92) and power-play tallies (156).

JETS RECLAIM FIRST IN CENTRAL, KINGS PAD LEAD ON THIRD IN PACIFIC

The Jets and Kings each skated to shutout victories Friday led by multi-goal performances from Tyler Toffoli (2-0—2) and Anze Kopitar (2-0—2).


* Toffoli scored his first two goals in a Jets uniform while Laurent Brossoit (21 saves) posted his second straight shutout to help Winnipeg (42-19-5, 89 points) soar past Colorado (42-20-5, 89 points) and Dallas (40-19-9, 89 points) for first place in the Central Division. Brossoit became the fourth goaltender in franchise history to record a shutout in consecutive appearances and the first since Ondrej Pavelec posted three straight in 2014-15.

Kopitar secured his 46th career multi-goal game and passed Wayne Gretzky (45) for sole possession of the fifth most in Kings history as Los Angeles (34-21-11, 79 points) moved within four points of the Oilers (40-21-3, 83 points) for second place in the Pacific Division. The Kings captain recorded his 13th career 20-goal season in the process and bested Marcel DionneLuc Robitaille and Dave Taylor for the franchise record.
 

QUICK CLICKS

NHL EDGE stats: Ukko-Pekka LuukkonenBowen Byram spark Sabres late-season push
Doug Armstrong named Team Canada GM for 2026 Olympics
Mark Messier says Rangers are for real, playoffs their biggest challenge in Q&A with NHL.com
Red Wings still hopeful for playoffs despite 7-game skid
Friday edition of #NHLStats: Live Updates

NHL PODCASTS: WEEKLY ROUNDUP

* NHL Fantasy on Ice (3/11): Trade Deadline fantasy reaction; Week 22 pickups

* NHL Fantasy on Ice (3/13): NHL | Action Network collab: Post Trade Deadline angles

* NHL @TheRink (3/13): Paul Maurice joins; Deadline winners/losers, VGK moves, more

* La Tasse de Café LNH (3/13): Place au duo Montembeault et Primeau

* NHL Backstory (3/14): Tales From the Deadline

* The Chirp (3/14): Andrew Brunette joins; Deadline fallout

* NHL Fantasy on Ice (3/14): Fantasy mailbag: Week 22

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