NHL Playoffs: Who’s in, who’s still fighting and who’s out
Most NHL teams have just six or seven games yet to play, and yet almost everyone is within spitting distance of the playoffs. Those bottom-eight battles in this shortened 48-game season are closer than ever.
Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks
Not everyone has clinched, but there a quite a few teams who will soon. Pittsburgh and Chicago have already clinched their divisions and more or less a top two seed. The Blackhawks faced the St. Louis Blues Sunday, a team that needs every little point to ensure their playoff future–and came out on top.
Montreal has clinched a playoff berth as well, and their Monday and Wednesday matchups against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, respectively, loom big if they want to clinch the Northeast and and a top two seed of their own. The Boston Bruins are only one point back and have a division matchup of their own on Monday against Ottawa. The outcomes of Monday’s games could shake up the Northeast quite a bit indeed.
The Anaheim Ducks have also clinched their playoff spot, but not their division, as Los Angeles could be on their heels at any minute. The Vancouver Canucks don’t seem to be in grave mathematical danger of losing the Northwest Division lead and third seed, but they don’t have the ultimate rights to that spot yet. Other teams that are almost definitely making it in? Toronto (yes, Toronto) and San Jose.
The rest of the numbers seem too close to call. Which is why we have so many of these:
Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings
Washington holds the three seed in the East with 48 points as the Southeast Division Leader. The Winnipeg Jets are only four points back in the No. 9 spot with 44 points. Win or lose a few games and Washington could either hold on to that third seed–or relinquish it to Winnipeg and fall completely out of the playoffs.
It’s battles like these that will define the final stretch of the regular season. Ottawa is in a similar point situation–they’re either in or they’re out, with the Islanders, the Rangers, and the Jets all fighting in behind them. The last few playoff seeds in the east could easily be decided by tiebreakers by the end of things.
This is even more true in the West. Seeds 8 through 10 all have 45 points. Detroit and Columbus are on the outside looking in at Dallas, with the only real difference maker seeming to be games won against each other (Dallas has more wins). Minnesota and St. Louis could slip out, only a few points ahead of those clubs, or they could end up in a tiebreaker situation of their own.
Phoenix Coyotes, New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres
Phoenix could sneak into the eight seed in the West if a disaster happens to Dallas, Detroit or Columbus. New Jersey and Buffalo have even less of a shot than that, but if any team falls too hard, they could sneak in.
It’s not likely though. The pressure is high, and a meteoric collapse would be nothing short of scandalous this late in the season. Still, the drama would not be unwelcome.
Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning
Edmonton, Nashville, Calgary and Colorado don’t even have the tiniest hope of clawing back into the race. Calgary’s poor decisions this season have been well-documented, trading away key players for nothing and looking lost and confused all year long. Their name is hardly surprising at the 14th seed in the West, but it might sting the most, having missed the playoffs now for the fourth straight season and, prior to that, having not made it past the first round since their Stanley Cup Finals loss in 2004.
In the East, almost everyone seemed to have a fighting chance not too long ago except the Panthers and the Hurricanes, but the Philadelphia Flyers just kept on falling. Four straight losses going into Sunday afternoon are the writing on the wall. They could have been dog-fighting in with Winnipeg. But this year just wasn’t that year.
It’s been a wild, quick season. Who do you think is all-in to make a deep run–and who do you want to make it in at the bottom?