NHL Playoffs Daily: Win or go home for Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets

Nicolas Aube-Kubel’s pair of goals power the Flyers to a 4-1 win vs. the Lightning to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference. (0:39)

The round-of-16 matchups in the 2020 NHL playoffs are coming into focus. After the No. 1 seeds were determined Saturday — the Philadelphia Flyers in the East and the Vegas Golden Knights in the West — Sunday’s two round-robin games will give us the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds, with the Boston Bruins taking on the Washington Capitals and the St. Louis Blues facing off against the Dallas Stars.

Meanwhile, we have one last elimination game in the qualification round. Tonight, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs will battle for their playoff lives.

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Note: All times Eastern

Round robin: Boston Bruins vs. Washington Capitals | noon

The No. 3 seed — and a matchup against the No. 7 New York Islanders — is on tap for the winning club, while the losing team draws the No. 6-seeded Carolina Hurricanes next. Neither of these teams feel great about their round-robin play so far. “We had hoped that we could have a great start and use this game as a maintenance game if need be,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said on Friday. Instead, Boston wants a win to gain confidence into the next round — and save the embarrassment of falling from the top seed to fourth. Meanwhile, Washington coach Todd Reirden said he “expects more from everybody” after the team’s last loss, against Philly. The Capitals are expected to start Braden Holtby, meaning he will have played all three round-robins games. A friendly reminder that Holtby is a pending free agent this offseason.

Round robin: St. Louis Blues vs. Dallas Stars | 3 p.m.

Neither of these teams have fared well in round-robin play, each going 0-2. The winner of this game gets the third seed in the West, and a date with the Calgary Flames in the next round. The loser finishes fourth and plays the Vancouver Canucks. St. Louis was without two of its best forwards — Vladimir Tarasenko and Robert Thomas — last game, but both are expected back for this matchup. Jake Allen gets the nod in net, giving Jordan Binnington some rest. Look for the Stars, a bit lackadaisical to begin the tournament, to pick up their intensity. “I think our mindset this last game is trying to approach it like it is a do-or-die,” forward Blake Comeau said. “We want to go in, when we do start our playoff series, feeling good about where we’re at.”

Qualification round Game 5: No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets (tied 2-2) | 8 p.m.

This is the final elimination game left in this part of the tourney, in what has arguably been the most entertaining series of the qualification round. The Blue Jackets have proved that they have a blueprint for forechecking and smothering their way past Toronto’s high-octane offense, but Columbus needs to regain confidence after a third period meltdown on Friday night where they allowed three goals in the final five minutes. It looks like the Blue Jackets are likely without defenseman Zach Werenski — injured in the third period of Game 4, awaiting MRI results — which would be a huge loss. The winner of this game faces the Lightning in the next round, which is a juicy matchup for either team. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a second to appreciate just how wild this Blue Jackets-Maple Leafs series has been so far:

#CBJ vs. #LeafsForever goal sequence:
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Vegas Golden Knights 4, Colorado Avalanche 3

Raise your hand if you’d see these two teams play a full seven-game series. They went at it on Saturday with the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference on the line, and both were playing at full tilt. Vegas held a late lead, which it almost blew when J.T. Compher tied the game with 1:02 remaining in regulation. However, Alex Tuch scored his second goal of the game in the waning seconds of overtime to give the Golden Knights the win and the No. 1 seed in the West. The Avalanche will play the Arizona Coyotes in the next round, while Vegas draws the Chicago Blackhawks. Robin Lehner, who had 32 saves on Saturday, seems to have earned the Game 1 start — setting up some nice drama considering he’ll face the Blackhawks, the team that traded him away at the trade deadline. Full recap.

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Philadelphia Flyers at Tampa Bay Lightning

Are the Philadelphia Flyers a wagon? Philadelphia has come into this tournament as hot as they were before the season was paused, and quite frankly look like the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. Philly’s top players have showed up, but the Flyers really flexed their depth in Saturday night’s win. Another positive sign: Shayne Gostisbehere drew into the lineup, and almost looked like the dynamic 2018-19 version of himself again. Philly draws the Montreal Canadiens in the next round. The Lightning played the entire round robin without Steven Stamkos, and now they’re in for a scare as Victor Hedman left the first period after an awkward fall. Hedman is typically very mild-mannered, so to see him react like this definitely raised alarm. As the No. 2 seed, Tampa Bay gets the winner of tonight’s Maple Leafs-Blue Jackets game in the next round. Full recap.

Victor Hedman shows his frustration as he’s forced to the locker room following an apparent ankle injury pic.twitter.com/menWgz86CG

Alex Tuch, F, Vegas Golden Knights

The 24-year-old scored two goals on Saturday, including the gorgeous game winner with 15.9 seconds remaining in overtime, to seal the No. 1 seed for Vegas:

Alex Tuch buries the winning goal in overtime to defeat the Avalanche 4-3, giving the Golden Knights the West’s top seed.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel, F, Philadelphia Flyers

The rookie had just seven goals in 47 career NHL games entering Saturday’s game. He scored two against the Lightning — and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy — to pace the Flyers to a huge win.

J.T. Compher, F, Colorado Avalanche

The third-line center is proving to be a valuabel net-front presence for the Avs. He had two goals on Saturday, including one that tied the game with 1:02 left in regulation.

Don’t underestimate JT Compher at the net pic.twitter.com/5qUxy5ljMs

Here’s how Robin Lehner feels about playing against the Blackhawks, with whom he played prior to being traded at the deadline:

pic.twitter.com/VCZlDay6SO

The Canucks definitely carried some J.T. Miller energy into their series-clinching win over the Wild:

J.T. Miller set the tone early last night with his starting lineup read… 🔥 pic.twitter.com/vsfpPg7CrE

The Islanders seem to take their ping pong tournament very seriously (or maybe just Jean-Gabriel Pageau does):

Ping-pong tournament in the bubble. #dayoff

A post shared by JG Pageau (@pagertrain) on

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