Most teams have about 12 games remaining in their 2013-14 NHL schedule, and this is when number crunchers and analysts try to evaluate each team’s chances of making the playoffs. The Eastern Conference is very wide open because there are many slightly under average teams that have a chance at making the playoffs, as opposed to the Western Conference, where there are fewer spots up for grabs. Here is a breakdown of what the playoff picture looks like as we approach the regular season-ending stretch:
Safe Teams: Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins
Almost Safe Teams: Tampa Bay Lightning, Montreal Canadiens
Out of Contention: Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, Ottawa Senators
On The Bubble
Toronto Maple Leafs
For most of the season, they have been in non-wild card territory and in the top three in the division. However, they have struggled ever since their California road trip because of bad defending and a couple injuries. They have a 4 point lead over the last wild card spot, but with three games in hand.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils currently sit on the outside looking in, behind by 5 points with one less game in hand, sporting a negative 12 goal differential, and are on a three game losing streak. It will be a tough task for the club to leapfrog three teams, but with the likes of veterans Jaromir Jagr and Ryan Clowe on the team, their experience gives them the hope of pulling it off.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Basically in the same situation last season, if the Blue Jackets can hold onto that final wild card slot they are currently in, they will finally show the hockey world that they are not as bad as many people think. However, tied with two games in hand with a suddenly hot Capitals team and the Red Wings not too far behind, it will be tough.
The shock of not making the playoffs in 2013-14 in behind them, so the Flyers are destined to return to being the postseason force they were before the lockout. They are second in the Metro Deivision and will probably make it in, but anything is possible.
Detroit Red Wings
Currently sitting 2 spots out of the playoffs and with their sightings on a 23rd consecutive playoff berth, the Red Wings have a relatively tough schedule for the remainder of the season and will have to win without captain Henrik Zetterberg. Pavel Datsyuk and Stephen Weiss will also be out for a while. The current new and younger cast of Red Wings, however, are only one point out of the playoffs and really want to keep the playoff streak going.
New York Rangers
Although they struggled a bit at the beginning of the season, the Rangers have been able to hold onto 3rd place in the Metro Division and 2 points up from the Blue Jackets (but with 2 less games in hand). Will the acquisition of Martin St. Louis help them hang on to a playoff spot?
It almost seems crazy that we are talking about the Capitals possibly not making the playoffs, but the reality is that they are tied with CBJ with two less games in hand. They have been hot recently, however, winning their past three games. It is obvious that Alex Ovechkin wants to make show the world he is not a loser after a humiliating performance at Sochi, and the signing of Russian superstar Evgeny Kuznetsov has helped.