With three games or less left to play on every NHL team’s schedule, the playoffs are nearly set with only two playoff spots left to clinch in the Eastern Conference.
The Western Conference is set; the Nashville Predators and the Calgary Flames clinched the final two spots in the West. Both are only a point behind the St. Louis Blues and pose a threat to shifting the playoff picture in the West before season’s end. In the East, the Toronto Maple Leafs have the eighth playoff spot nearly clinched. It would take a three-game collapse to lose their spot to the New York Islanders who sit five points back of Toronto with three games left on each of their schedules. For the sake of the argument, if playoffs started today the Maple leafs and the Predators would sit in the second wild card spots in each conference.
In the West, the Chicago Blackhawks clinched the first seed and the Western Conference, which means they would play Nashville in the first round. Though the Minnesota Wild sit in the second seed of the Western Conference, the NHL playoff format is such that division winners have the top seeds in the playoff bracket format. This means instead of Minnesota getting Calgary, who holds the top wild card spot, they would play St. Louis if the playoffs started today. The Wild would have to go through their former head coach, Mike Yeo, and divisional opponent before they would have the chance to play the Blackhawks in the conference semi-finals, barring a Nashville upset over Chicago.
The Anaheim Ducks have their division nearly locked up with the Edmonton Oilers, only four points behind them and one more game left to play than the Ducks on their schedule. Unless Edmonton steals away the division, Anaheim will play the Flames, who sit in the top wild card spot. The Oilers would then get the San Jose Sharks and the winner of the two would play either Calgary or the Ducks in the Western Conference semi-finals.
In the Eastern Conference, the Washington Capitals have the conference and the President’s Trophy for top team in the NHL locked up with 114 points and three games left on their schedule. The Capitals as of now would get Toronto in the first round and like the Wild, the Pittsburg Penguins, who are the second seed in the East, would play the Columbus Blue Jackets instead of the New York Rangers who sit in the top wild card spot. The Blue Jackets are the third seed in the East, giving the Penguins the toughest first-round matchup in the playoffs.
The Montreal Canadiens have clinched the Atlantic division, so they’re set to face the Rangers in the first round and would play either the Ottawa Senators or the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. One of the top matchups to look out for in the first round will be between Pittsburg and Columbus. Both have been playing excellent hockey all year long and are the highlight matchup in the East. The Oilers and the Sharks are another outstanding matchup out of the West; both teams have 97 points and are the four and five seeds in the West.
The regular season is wrapping up and coming to an end. Teams are beginning to prepare for playoff hockey starting next week. There’s a chance teams shuffle around a little, but there probably won’t be much movement happening in the coming week. The last regular season games are April 9. Playoff beards will be coming out soon after and the race for the Stanley Cup will be underway.