We are now a mere 3 weeks from the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and most teams have only about ten games until their regular season draws to a close. With that in mind, let’s look at the state of the playoff chase coming into the home stretch.
Eastern Conference Standings
Atl 1 Tampa Bay-116 points (clinched President’s Trophy and home ice throughout the playoffs)
Atl 2 Boston-95 pts
Atl 3 Toronto-91 pts
Metro 1 NY Islanders-91 pts
Metro 2 Washington-91 pts
Metro 3 Pittsburgh-88 pts
WC 1 Carolina-85 pts
WC 2 Columbus-84 pts
Outside Looking In-Montreal (81), Philadelphia (78)
Tampa Bay has already secured the President’s Trophy for the best regular season record in the NHL, which means they have already clinched home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. This all but guarantees Boston and Toronto will end up facing each other in the first round, it just comes down to who has home ice.
In the Metro, the Islanders and Capitals are locked in a dead heat for first place. Both have the exact same record and are tied in regulation/overtime wins, which is the first tiebreaker. These teams will play one more time in Washington before season’s end, and you can bet that game will be very intense and feel like a playoff game.
Pittsburgh holds the third Metro slot, but some recent inconsistency has left the door open for either Carolina or Columbus to jump in should either one go on a late tear. Carolina has two games in hand on Pittsburgh, and should they win those two extra games, they would surpass Pittsburgh for that third slot. Columbus, meanwhile, only has one game in hand so they would need to surge plus have Pittsburgh and Carolina fall back.
Right now, Columbus occupies the second wild-card slot, which is destined to face the steamroller known as Tampa in the first round. Again, the Jackets are not in control of their own destiny if they want to move up and out of this position: they would need Pittsburgh and/or Carolina to fall back. However, with how inconsistent the Jackets have been recent, I don’t know that even if one of those teams fell back that they could capitalize.
Things look bleak for Montreal and Philadelphia. The Canadiens have struggled to string together wins for a while now, and as a result, they have fallen below the playoff line. Meanwhile, Philadelphia is gaining ground in the standings, but their start was so bad that the gap is pretty much insurmountable.
Western Conference Standings
Cent 1 Winnipeg-90 points
Cent 2 Nashville-87 pts
Cent 3 St Louis-82 pts
Pac 1 Calgary-95 pts (clinched playoff berth)
Pac 2 San Jose-94 pts
Pac 3 Vegas-87 pts
WC 1 Dallas-80 pts
WC 2 Arizona-78 pts
Outside Looking In-Minnesota (77), Colorado (74), Chicago (74)
The Central Division can be divided into three categories. First, the teams in a tight race at the top (Winnipeg and Nashville). Both teams have been inconsistent down the stretch, so, while the Jets hold a slight lead, it will likely come right down to the wire for the division crown.
Then, there’s the race for the third divisional slot. Saint Louis leads the pack, but Dallas has recently been surging behind superb goaltending from starter Ben Bishop. Lurking in the shadows is a Minnesota Wild squad that has struggled as of late, but still has an outside shot at the third slot if they can string together some wins down the stretch.
Finally, there are the outsiders just hoping for a wild-card berth in Colorado and Chicago. With how both teams are playing right now, both are pretty much on life support, likely too far behind to pass the teams ahead of them (barring a complete meltdown).
The top 3 of the Pacific is pretty much set. Calgary has already clinched a playoff berth, while San Jose is nipping right on their tail for the division crown. The loser of this race for the division crown will get to play a Vegas squad that’s all but locked into the third slot in the division.
Meanwhile, Arizona has surged into the second wild-card spot in the last week or so. They will have to fend off all the other Central teams for one of those two wild-card spots since the Pacific’s third slot (Vegas) is all but out of reach for them.
The playoff race in the NHL will only continue to heat up and get more intense as we get closer to April 10th. If you want to take your mind off your inevitably busted bracket, watch some hockey the next 3 weeks. You won’t be disappointed.