Pens face all or nothing Blue Jackets

Games are running out in the race to secure play-off positions in the NHL, placing greater emphasis on those match-ups where teams are playing for the same prize.

Cometh the hour, cometh the Pens

This appears particularly true for the game taking place at the Nationwide Arena with Columbus Blue Jackets currently holding third place in the Metropolitan Division, just a point above Carolina Hurricanes – who occupy the final wildcard place in the Eastern Conference – and Pittsburgh Penguins, who are missing out on the post-season as things stand.

With the Hurricanes facing an eminently winnable game against the LA Kings, there will be added pressure on the Pens as they face losing further ground, while a victory will of course see them climb above Columbus, regardless of other results.

Pittsburgh’s form has been patchy of late, consistency being a problem all season, and they go into the clash on the back of successive losses, including a shutout defeat against San Jose, but they have the talent to beat anyone on their day, as the likes of Tampa Bay Lightning and Winnipeg Jets can testify.

Columbus appear to be taking a big chance on Stanley Cup success this season, for which they are priced at 23.00, after trading for both Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel from Ottawa Senators, for prospects and picks – and a contract problem in the offseason.

However, they are priming themselves for a push this year and look to have the offensive talent to frighten anyone.

How long it takes those players to settle remains open to question and it may just be worth taking a chance on Pittsburgh as they have won the last five games against the Blue Jackets, including a 4-2 success at the PPG Paints Arena in their only meeting this season.

The Blue Jackets have generally fared better on the road this term, although successive shutout wins – including a 4-0 home win over San Jose – has seen them installed as marginal 1.86 favourites, with the Penguins priced at 1.95.

Home ice a big advantage for Bruins

There is a mouthwatering fixture taking place at TD Garden where Boston Bruins, second in the Eastern Conference, host their counterparts in the West, San Jose.

The Sharks also made a big move ahead of the trade deadline by acquiring Gustav Nyquist from Detroit Red Wings to make them the only team in the league to have six skaters with more than 15 goals.

This match-up appears to be a tough one to call with both teams priced at 1.90 for the win, while it should offer a real contrast of styles.

The Sharks boast the second-best goalscoring record behind the Lightning in the NHL, while the Bruins have only one team better in the defensive rankings.

One factor which could swing this game though is TD Garden, with Boston second only to Tampa Bay with a 21-7-3 home record, and while the Sharks road record is decent, they have struggled against the Bruins before.

Boston have won the last five games against Team Teal, with both of this season’s successes coming at the SAP Center – winning 3-1 in November and 6-5 after overtime earlier this month.

Minnesota can go Wild in Winnipeg

Minnesota have had their ups and downs this term but still remain in the play-off hunt, occupying the final wildcard place in the Western Conference.

Their need is obviously greater than 1.64 favourites Winnipeg Jets, who are top of the Central Division, but there is an argument they can upset the odds at Bell MTS Place at 2.30.

For starters the Jets are not in great form, winning just three of their last 10 games, including a surprise home defeat to struggling Ottawa while they go into the match on the back of a 4-1 road setback in Arizona.

The Wild have picked up and won their last three, including a 2-1 success at St Louis Blues, and will want to ride the wave with a tough run of fixtures coming up, taking on Calgary, Nashville twice and Tampa Bay in the following four games.

Bruce Boudreau’s men have also been able to beat the Jets in whatever form they have been in, having won the last four meetings, including all three this season, including a 3-1 win in Winnipeg in December.