The NHL season is winding down to a close next month and teams are roughly 10 games away from completing the season. Some teams are fighting for the chance to make the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Western Conference has some fierce competitions but we’ll start with the one wildcard battle in the East.
Here’s a little reminder of the playoff format: Ever since 2014, the Stanley Cup Playoffs haven’t been decided by just the eight best teams of the conference, but rather the best within each division. The top three teams from each of the four divisions automatically make it. However, the 4th seeds of each division could just be from each division of the 5th place team could cross over to the other if they have a better record than the 4th seed in that division.
The Eastern conference playoff picture is simple, there are just 9 teams vying for the 8 playoff spots. Tampa Bay and Boston are at the top of the Atlantic with Toronto safely in 3rd place. The Florida Panthers are 4th in the division and are currently outside of a playoff spot because the New Jersey Devils are ahead of them. The Panthers have 79 points in 70 games while the Devils have 82 in 72 games so Florida needs to make use of those games in hand to claim that playoff spot. Also, the Panthers have three games in hand on Columbus and Philadelphia but they each have 85 points so far.
Ever since the Panthers got healthy, they have been on fire and climbed back into playoff contention. Goaltender Roberto Luongo has propelled this club into a fight and they need to take advantage of an easier schedule within their division if they want to slide into the playoffs.
The Western conference has several teams in a fierce battle to play more than 82 games this year. Nashville, Winnipeg and Las Vegas are pretty much safe to make the playoffs. After that is where things get interesting. The Minnesota Wild have 90 points on the year and the San Jose Sharks have 89 but they are only a few points clear of the next batch of teams.
The Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks are all tied with 86 points and hold playoff spots. The Dallas Stars are right on their tails with 84 points and the St. Louis Blues are also there with 83. The Calgary Flames are just 6 points back with 80 this year but they are in poor form and will likely miss the playoffs.
The Blues made a surprising move to deal Paul Stastny for picks but still remain in the hunt. Their inability to score will ultimately be the downfall for them. The Dallas Stars have only won 2 of their last 10 games and with goaltender Ben Bishop getting hurt again, there is good reason to be skeptical of the Stars. The Avalanche have been carried their leader and MVP candidate Nathan MacKinnon. They have suffered just one regulation loss in their last 11 games. The Minnesota Wild have won 10 of 14 and been outshooting their opponents in almost all of those games. The resurgence of Eric Staal has led the team to a safer position right now.
The Pacific Division is tight between the Sharks, Ducks and Kings but they will look to take easy points against the weak bottom of that division. Anaheim have now won 3 in a row after dropping 3 straight and will look to keep this going to end the year. The Kings have been treading water for the last month but hope their strong defensive play will help them finish the season strong. The Sharks have won 7 of 9 games since the trade deadline and their acquisition of Evander Kane. Kane has had 5 goals, 5 assists and 31 hits in 9 games with the team as they look ahead to the playoffs.
The Western conference race is even more engaging when you look at the numbers of games between the contenders. There are 13 games played between the Ducks, Kings, Sharks, Wild, Avalanche and Stars until the end of the season. Games with this level of importance will be played at a playoff level given the grand implications of each matchup. Hockey fans are in for a treat to end the season.