Posted by Katie Peverada
With teams having no more than 10 games left in the NHL season, it's time to start looking at the playoff picture. Chicago and Pittsburgh were the first two to clinch spots in the playoffs this past weekend. But who else will?
Below Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference sit 11 teams with a realistic chance of making a playoff push. There is a bit of a surprising logjam at the bottom of the standings. And by surprising, I mean the teams that are there are unexpected. The New York Rangers were supposed to dominate, but they're fighting against the New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Winnipeg Jets for their ticket to the playoffs.
The top three spots automatically go to the respective division winners, and in the Northeast and Southeast, it's wide open. In the Northeast, first-place Montreal (55 points) and second-place Boston (56) are separated by two points, both with nine games remaining. Boston's remaining schedule is easier, so look for them to win the division. Both teams will make the playoffs, though, with Montreal getting the fourth seed. In the Southeast, Washington (44) leads Winnipeg (42) by two points. They face each other in Washington on the April 23, a game Winnipeg could utilize to clinch the division. With a strong push against weaker opponents over their last eight games, six of which are at home, Winnipeg could pull ahead of Washington in the standings before they even meet. Whoever loses the Southeast, though, will have to fend off the feisty New Jersey Devils and (surprise!) New York Islanders.
The six through eight seeds in the East will be fought out until the final game, with the current sixth place Ottawa Senators (44) separated from 10th place New Jersey (40) by four points. Buffalo (38) and Philadelphia (37) are still in contention, but their disappointing seasons will end with them on the outside looking in. Ottawa (44) will make the playoffs based on the strength of their goaltending, and Toronto (48) will finally be back in the postseason hunt for the Stanley Cup. New Jersey will put up a good fight, but with half of their final eight games against top four teams, they will fall short of the final spot. So, look for Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, New York Islanders and Winnipeg Jets to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
Below Chicago (64) and Anaheim (59) in the Western Conference sit 12 teams all in realistic contention. Chicago and Anaheim will win their divisions and be seeded first and second, respectively. Vancouver (52) is in third-place overall in the West and leads the Northwest division by six points over Minnesota (46). Minnesota does have an easier schedule to close out the season so they will threaten Vancouver for the number three spot. Los Angeles (48) has returned to form and will have a chance to defend its title. San Jose (47), even though they are third in the Pacific division, will be in the playoffs, it is just a matter of what seed.
The seventh and eighth playoff spots are where it gets tricky, with seventh place St. Louis (46) separated from 12th place Edmonton (39) by seven points. Phoenix (42) is in ninth and will remain outside of the playoffs, as seven of their last 10 games are on the road, where they have only won four times all season. Dallas and Columbus all have 39 points, four behind eighth place Detroit's 43 points. Edmonton has a tough schedule to close out the season, and five games against the top three teams will keep them from the last spot. Ditto for Dallas, who faces five top five teams in their last ten games. And while it would be great to see Columbus make it to the postseason, they won't.
So, the last two spots will go to St. Louis and Detroit. St. Louis plays seven of their last ten at home, three of which are against the bottom two teams: Calgary and Colorado. And Detroit will make it purely because they are Detroit and have made the playoffs for the past 21 seasons. In the Western Conference it will be Chicago, Anaheim, Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Jose, Minnesota, St. Louis and Detroit.