It’s that wonderful time of the year again, and if you’re a fan of a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins, or the St. Louis Blues, you’re counting down the days until the puck drops to start the first series of the playoffs. However, being a fan of a team like the Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings, or the Washington Capitals, the playoffs have already started for your team.
The race is heating up and it’s going to go down to the line, just like it did last season. Here’s a quick look at the current Eastern Conference standings.
- *Boston Bruins (44-17-5, 89 points)
- *Toronto Maple Leafs (36-24-8, 78 points)
- *Montreal Canadiens (35-24-7, 77 points)
- *Tampa Bay Lightning (35-25-7, 75 points)
- Detroit Red Wings (29-23-13, 71 points)
- Ottawa Senators (28-25-12, 68 points)
- Florida Panthers (24-35-7, 55 points)
- Buffalo Sabres (19-39-8, 46 points)
- *Pittsburgh Penguins (44-17-4, 92 points)
- *Columbus Blue Jackets (34-26-6, 74 points)
- *New York Rangers (35-28-4, 74 points)
- *Philadelphia Flyers (33-25-7, 73 points)
- New Jersey Devils (29-24-13, 71 points)
- Washington Capitals (30-27–10, 70 points)
- Carolina Hurricanes (29-28-9, 67 points)
- New York Islanders (25-33-9, 59 points)
* = Current playoff position
So who’s going to make the cut, and who’s going to miss out on the chance at making a run for the cup this season? Here are your current bubble teams, their chances to make it in, and their chances on making something out of the post season once they get there.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are a bit of a wonder of a hockey team. The Leafs treacherous defense leaves the team as a bit of a question mark entering the post season, and who will be the man in net? The Leafs have 14 games remaining to figure out their problems on defense, but if they can get that done, this is a very dangerous team that could make a push in the playoffs. Toronto has been playing well grabbing 14 points in their last 10 games. Only six of the remaining games on the Leafs schedule are current playoff teams, but they’ll have their hands full regardless playing a handful of teams that will be on the bubble for playoff contention. The Maple Leafs are in a good spot at the moment and it would come as sort of a shock if they fell out of the playoff race, or even the top three in the Atlantic Division.
The Canadiens made a splash at the deadline bringing in Thomas Vanek for nearly nothing, now they have a chance to not only secure their playoff hopes, but make a decent push once they get there. The Habs possess good offensive skill, and great goaltending. The Canadiens are struggling a bit at the moment, having lost their last three games by a total score of 13-3. Montreal has 11 points in their last 10 games, and need to start playing better hockey if they want to stay in the race for the playoffs. They’ve got a good head start being up by 4 points for the last wildcard spot, but things can change in a hurry in the NHL, so the Habs had better find their gear, and quickly.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have hit a skid, and it’s come at the wrong time of the season (not that there’s ever a good time for a skid). The Bolts traded captain Martin St. Louis to the Rangers for Ryan Callahan, and they can only hope this works out for the betterment of the team. Tampa has only 8 points in their last 20 games. The Bolts will have some tough battles to win in the next few weeks if they’re going to hold on to their playoff spot, but six of the seven games they play in the month of April will be in Tampa Bay. Less travel should help Tampa Bay out down the stretch. The Lightning have been struggling, but with the return of Steven Stamkos, things could start to turn around for the team.
The Red Wings are battling a significant amount of injuries at the moment, and it seems as if all hope may be lost. The remaining schedule is a tough one for the Wings and they’ve now lost five centers to injury. Joakim Andersson, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Stephen Weiss, and Darren Helm are all out of the Wings line up, and all of them hold a significant role on the team. Between a brutal schedule, and the injuries that are piling up on the Wings, this season is going to be a tough one coming down the stretch for Detroit. The young guns are going to have to play really well if the team hopes to make the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive season, but it isn’t looking great right now.
The Senators trail the Flyers by 5 points at the moment, and things aren’t looking great for the Sens. They’ve lost some recent games to teams they should have beaten, and the schedule is getting much harder moving forward. The Senators have 10 points in their last 20 games, and the season is beginning to slip away from Paul MacLean and company. The Senators season isn’t over just yet, but it’s not headed in the right direction. They need to find the game they’ve been missing for the majority of the season and get back on track or they’re going to be on the outside looking in for the remainder of the season.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are showing everyone in the NHL that they’re almost to the level of competition they need to be to make a push for the cup. For an organization that’s only seen 4 playoff games in their history, their hoping this season can continue to shape out the way it has been going. Columbus has 12 points in their last 10 games, and they’re currently sitting in second place in the Metro Division. The 16 remaining games for the Blue Jackets could look a lot worse, for an NHL schedule, it doesn’t look too bad. The Jackets have a good chance to do something this season past the middle of April, but can they finish strong? The Metro is a cluster of teams within 7 points of eachother, and Columbus doesn’t have any room for error.
The Rangers grabbed Martin St. Louis, and so far, he’s looked good for the Rangers, but they’ve stumbled a bit lately. The Rangers have only 9 points in their last 10 games, and have won only two of the five games since St. Louis arrived in New York. On top of that, the Rangers have a tough schedule to finish the season. They’re going to have to find their game, and Martin St. Louis is going to have to prove his worth. The key for New York getting into the playoffs is the play of Henrik Lundqvist. If Lundqvist can lock down the net, the Rangers are going to have a much easier time squeaking in.
The Flyers have come a long way from the start of the season. Philadelphia started out the season terribly, but they’ve turned it around now, and they’re fighting to keep their playoff spot. The Flyers are currently in the last wildcard spot in the East, and have only a two point lead on the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings. Philly has lost two games in a row now, and they’re going to need Steve Mason to play well or they’re not going to do much of anything this season, or the post season for that matter. The offense is firing on all cylinders, but the defense and goaltending needs to be consistent to make the playoffs.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils have bounced back from a beating they took to the Detroit Red Wings last week by winning two straight games. Their playoff hopes are hanging in the balance and they’ve found a way to win. Adam Henrique is on fire, and they’re riding the hot hand as the move forward. The Devils schedule is much easier than it could be to finish the season, and they’re going to have to come away with points in all the games that they should win if they hope to make it into the playoffs. The Devils have been playing well grabbing 13 points in their last 10 games, and they’ll be hoping for some more wins in the near future to close the gap on the Flyers and widen the gap on the Caps. The Devils have a good shot at making the playoffs if they continue to play like they have lately, and being down only 2 points to the Flyers is something they can’t afford to give up.
The Washington Capitals have been riding their powerplay all season long, and it has to continue if they want to make the playoffs. Down by only 3 points, the Caps have 15 games to go this season, and they’ll be looking for the NHL’s leading scorer, Alex Ovechkin to turn it up another notch to guarantee them a spot. The Capitals have some tough competition to beat out, but being down only 3 points has to be a plus for the team. Unfortunately for Caps fans, they’ve been allowing points to slip away, losing their last two games to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps will have to overcome a trip to the west coast, and road games against some of their division rivals near the end of the season. Their road record hasn’t been great this season, and it’s going to be a tough stretch for Washington.
The Carolina Hurricanes are sitting six points out of the final wildcard spot. It’s a tall order for a team that has had issues on the back end, but not an impossible task. The Canes have won their last two games, and even stole points from the Rangers in a 3-1 win. The Canes schedule doesn’t help them out much coming into the end of the season. They have some ground to make up, and they’re going to have to do it against some really good teams. It’s not out of the question yet, but they had better find a way to win some games that they probably shouldn’t if they hope to fulfill any Stanley Cup dreams this season.