(Written as of 4/23/18)
We’re in the home stretch of the season!
Time to figure out who’s making the playoffs and who is not. Every night, the playoff standings are shifting ever so slightly. Certain areas are pretty locked. Some are just a complete toss-up. We’re just over two weeks away from the end of the regular season and three weeks from the first playoff game. Who is safe, who is not? First, divisional breakdowns:
- Washington Capitals (42-24-7)
- Pittsburgh Penguins (42-27-5)
- Columbus Blue Jackets (42-28-5)
This is the division that is the closest overall and has the potential to be the most explosive. Currently, they hold both of the wildcard slots for the Eastern conference. That also is not likely to change. The Penguins are battling on despite injuries and, in their typical fashion, are having a late season surge after a slow start. Call it playoff fatigue, call it the constant shift of injuries and trades, but that’s how they’ve rolled the last few seasons. The Capitals are doing their typical strong season but without dominating all out like some of their competitors in other divisions. They are in a very strong division, it’s hard to win all out all the time. For either of these teams to fall below the line and be vying for a wildcard slot instead, they would have to lose fantastically and consistently for the remaining games, which is not in their character. Crazier things have happened though so until they’ve clinched, keep your eyes on it.
And then there is the Blue Jackets. They could move down. They have a great record but that is after a ten game win streak. However, both the above teams that I’ve listed have leading scorers in the league: Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, and the list goes on. Who does Columbus have? No one. Their highest scorer is Artemi Panarin and he has not broken 30 goals and his assist tally is way lower than those heavy hitters I mentioned above. They have a great defense but you have to score to hold onto a space in this tight division. Though far off, the Devils or Flyers are on their heels. They could get knocked out if they slip up again. Keep the streak going, Columbus
- Tampa Bay Lightning (51-19-4) *CLINCHED PLAYOFF SPOT
- Boston Bruins (45-17-10) *CLINCHED PLAYOFF SPOT
- Toronto Maple Leafs (44-23-7)
So if Tampa doesn’t make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, I’ll eat my own shoe. They have been so strong all season, they have great scorers and a wall of players keep the puck out of the net, they are unstoppable. There that’s done. The Bruins had a late surge, fixed some issues, and are clinched. Done. The Panthers, the next closest team to the Maple Leafs, are 6 full games behind. Do the math. This division is locked down and was months ago. That was easy. Moving on…
- Nashville Predators (48-15-10) *CLINCHED PLAYOFF SPOT
- Winnipeg Jets (44-19-10)
- Minnesota Wild (41-24-8)
Nashville has almost been as solid as Tampa Bay. They have had a few hiccups but for the most part, they’ve been fine. They almost won last year and have done little to mess that up except for a few bad trades or released players earlier in the year. They’ve come back. I’m already looking forward to our fiery P.K. Subban back in the playoffs. He’s just fun to watch when he’s angry and wants to win. The rest of this group is just, shall we say, nuts. I went into this season expecting to see the St. Louis Blues at the top of the pack. Now they are still in striking distance but they have to leap through the entire standings, through the wild card, and into the main cluster. What happened?! More on that in a minute.
We’re left with the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild. It’s ok, I’m surprised too. However, looking at their roster, thinking about their team make-ups, they always had a shot. Eric Staal is having a quietly huge season in Minnesota. He’s got 39 goals and 32 assists with the following leading scorers both putting up almost 60 points each. With their scoring powerhouses, Devan Dubnyk has often been able to hold onto their lead in between the pipes. By no means has he been great, but serviceable can get you to the playoffs with the right combo. Winnipeg is similar but if Staal’s season is strong but quiet, Blake Wheeler of Winnipeg is shoutings from the rafters “Notice me!!” He’s already gotten 80+ points and the playoffs haven’t started yet. And the rest of his team isn’t slacking. Their goaltending is shakier, allowing on average 2 to 3 goals a game, and the skaters are doing most of the work. I don’t see them falling off into the wild card. Minnesota, maybe. But Winnipeg should be safe somewhere in the top 3.
- Vegas Golden Knights (47-21-5)
- San Jose Sharks (42-23-9)
- Los Angeles Kings (41-27-7)
Vegas is in. They’ll “clinch” any day now and that will set that up. No surprise, not much else to say that hasn’t been said: they are young as a team but very good and are looking to be good for a long time. If the Sharks weren’t so strong, that would already been done and clinched. With that said, San Jose is almost similar. They are in a wave of good seasons right now and really fighting for it. Watching their 6-2 win against the Devils on Tuesday night, you could see how well they are working as a team right now. Thundering down the ice, always finding pockets, and more importantly, their defense is disrupting the systems of opposing teams. They forced more puck turnovers in ten minutes of the second period than most teams do in an entire game. They are poised for a real run this year.
The LA Kings climbed back into contention overnight. This is a great example of how much can happen in an evening at this point in the season. Last night, they were in a wildcard slot, the second spot of two. Now, they have taken the 3rd seat, left vacant by Anaheim. Anaheim has dropped to the second slot of the wildcard. And that’s only because the Kings beat the Colorado Avalanche. Anaheim didn’t even play last night. And by rights, that’s where they should be. After a couple cups a few years ago, they have not been as strong a contending team as one would have expected. Most of the big hitters and their seriously strong goalie, Jonathan Quick, remain on the team. But they haven’t shown up since 2014. They haven’t qualified or were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. I personally want to see Quick play some more playoff hockey before he goes into retirement. This season, they have a real shot.
Devils and Flyers. The Panthers are continuing to not gain steam and that is what they would need to overtake the other two teams. Maybe the Devils fall off and the Panthers creep in. As a team, the Panthers have more strong players and a stronger goaltending game. The majority of their forwards have impressive scoring numbers and are making use of their icetime. The Devils are being dragged into the playoffs on the back of Taylor Hall. Just him. No one else is doing anything and Cory Schneider is counterproductive. For every goal Hall scores, he lets in two. Either way, I see Florida choking, none to minimal movement in the top brackets and the Devils and Flyers joining the race. Even if Columbus or even Pittsburgh were to fall, they would push the Devils or Flyers up into a slot rather than Florida based on divisions. It’s all Metropolitan Division over here.
I’ll go out a limb here. I’m calling Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues. This may come back to bite me but that’s what I’m calling. Hear me out: in the last 8 games of their season, the Avalanche will play St Louis, San Jose, LA Kings, the Flyers, the Ducks, Vegas twice, and the Blackhawks. They have been cracking under pressure, just going down 7-2 to the Kings last night. The only guaranteed win in there is Chicago and other than that, they have been inconsistent at best. No real streaks, losing by big margins to teams they are presumed to be competitive with. I just see them falling off. I don’t think they can have that hard a schedule and win enough to hold on. That then leaves a team at the top of their game finally, the Ducks, and a team getting back to the game they should have been playing all along, St. Louis. Now that they are there, I think they take that slot and the Avalanche will be out in the cold this year.
LET’S PLAY SOME HOCKEY!!!
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