Henrik Lundqvist leads the New York Rangers into Boston on Thursday night. (USATSI)
Welcome to the NHL Daily Picks where hockey writers Adam Gretz and Chris Peters make their selections for certain games every day.
The game of the night is in Boston, where the Rangers and Bruins, the two teams occupying the wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference, face off. And not only are they tied with 52 points in the standings, both teams are playing some outstanding hockey right now. The Bruins, who looked to be in some trouble a couple of weeks ago, have won four in a row and are 6-1-3 in their past 10 games. The Rangers have started to look like the team that reached the Stanley Cup Final last season and are 8-2-0 in their past 10 with a legitimate MVP candidate in Rick Nash leading the way. Pick: Rangers 3, Bruins 1
The Wild need to start winning — now, a lot — coming in on a six-game losing streak after an embarrassing 7-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday that dropped them to 10 points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. They attempted to address their dismal goaltending situation Wednesday when they acquired Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes, but it may be too little, too late. The good news is they get a chance to get back into the win column Thursday against Buffalo. And if they don’t get it in Buffalo, well … things could really start to get ugly. Pick: Wild 3, Sabres 2
If Detroit still played in the Western Conference, this would have been a really huge game given that the two teams are separated by just two points in the standings. Instead, it’s just an intriguing interconference game between two really good teams. Detroit will be without starting goaltender Jimmy Howard, which is a really big blow, especially against a Blues team that comes into the game having won five in a row. Pick: Blues 4, Red Wings 3
Another team that needs to start winning, the Maple Leafs enter their game in San Jose on Thursday with losses in nine of their past 12 games and find themselves on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff bubble. They just played in Anaheim on Wednesday and were shut out by the Ducks. Things aren’t getting any easier 24 hours later against a San Jose team that is 13-6-1 in its most recent 20 games and has climbed up to second place in the Pacific Division. Toronto seems to be playing a little better in recent games following the coaching change, but the results still are not there. And they may not be there Thursday, either. Pick: Sharks 4, Maple Leafs 2
The rest of Thursday’s schedule
Vancouver Canucks at Philadelphia Flyers, 7 p.m. ET
Montreal Canadiens at Ottawa Senators, 7:30 p.m. ET
Edmonton Oilers at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:30 p.m. ET
Colorado Avalanche at Florida Panthers, 7:30 p.m. ET
Winnipeg Jets at Dallas Stars, 8:30 p.m. ET
Calgary Flames at Arizona Coyotes, 9 p.m. ET
1. Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens: Still one of the most underappreciated players and goal scorers in the NHL, Pacioretty is on a roll right now for the Canadiens with goals in four straight games and five of his past six. He is on pace for his third season with at least 33 goals in the past four years, with the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season being the only year he did not reach that level.
2. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: He is on a goal-scoring binge right now with five goals in his past five games, including each of the past three, and now he gets to play the worst defensive team of them all, the Edmonton Oilers. Looks like a good night to keep that goal streak going.
3. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets: In terms of overall entertainment value, there are not many players more exciting right now than Byfuglien. Seriously. The ridiculous shot, the overwhelming physical power, and the fact that he is just completely crushing people make him a one-man wrecking crew every single time he steps on the ice.
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