Chris Peters: West, Central playoff races coming down to the wire
Our NHL expert, Chris Peters, assesses the playoff race in all four divisions, with the West and Central looking particularly tight.
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We’ve reached the stage of the NHL season where time is really starting to run out for teams to make up the ground necessary to reach the playoffs. There are a couple of heated races that bear watching, though.
Let’s start out West, where things remain particularly interesting for the No. 4 spot.
Two teams have clinched playoff spots so far. The Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche will remain locked in a battle to finish first in the West, but they know they’ll be playing in the post season. The Minnesota Wild haven’t officially clinched a playoff spot, but there’s more than 15 points between them and the Arizona Coyotes, who are in fourth place as I write this.
That final playoff spot remains up for grabs. Arizona has a hold on it for now, but have just a one point lead on the St. Louis Blues. The San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings are lurking, too, but there should be just enough distance between the Coyotes and Blues to stay just out of reach.
As of April 23, MoneyPuck.com gives the Blues the best chance to reach the playoffs at 39.7 per cent. The Kings are at 33.8 per cent and the Coyotes are next at 20.2 per cent. The Sharks have the longest odds at 6.3 per cent to get into the postseason. This is, by far, the most crowded playoff race in the NHL right now - no other division has three teams with at least a 20 per cent chance to make the playoffs.
Both the Blues and Kings have more than 10 games at this point to go on a run and get into the postseason. The Coyotes have nine. Those games in hand for Los Angeles and St. Louis are going to make Arizona awfully nervous, assuming they keep up their current pace.
One conference where there’s going to be very little drama, aside from the race for first place, is the East. With the New York Rangers losing on Thursday night, they’re now eight points behind the Boston Bruins for the last spot in the division, with the Bruins holding two games in hand. It’s going to take something catastrophic on Boston’s end for the Rangers to sneak in.
Only four points separate the top four teams in the East, with Washington holding first place for now. The Penguins, Islanders and Bruins all have a chance to leap into that slot.
In the North Division, there’s a little less certainty. The Maple Leafs, Jets and Oilers are all pretty much in. The Leafs are also fully in the driver’s seat to take first place in the division. The only team that’s still teetering on precariousness at this point is the Montreal Canadiens.
MoneyPuck.com currently gives the Habs an 88.7 per cent chance to reach the postseason, with the Calgary Flames coming in at 8.5 per cent and the Vancouver Canucks at 3.5 per cent. It’s a massive up-hill climb for both with a short amount of time. The Canucks losing three weeks of their season, however, gives them some runway, with their rescheduled games giving them a chance to make up points. They have to win an awful lot of them to have a chance, though.
Trailing Montreal by 10 points, the Canucks only have four games in hand at the present and none of their remaining schedule is against the Habs. Meanwhile the Flames have three massive games against Montreal this week that could buy them time and some ground. This next week is critical for both clubs.
Now we get to the good stuff. The Central Division playoff race is hot. The Hurricanes, Panthers and Lightning have not officially clinched playoff spots, but they are all locks. The only question is which one of them will be in first place when the season is all said and done.
Where it gets really interesting is in that race for fourth place. The Nashville Predators are clinging to that last slot right now. As of April 23, they are two points ahead of the Dallas Stars and three ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Stars have two games in hand on Nashville and Chicago has one.
This one really could come down to the wire. The Predators have one game against each of their closest competitors which should be viewed as must-wins if the Preds want to control their own destiny. Meanwhile, the Stars and Blackhawks close out the season against each other in a series that very well could decide the playoff race. It is fascinating.
Here’s how tight it is right now: MoneyPuck.com gives the Predators a 49.7 per cent chance to get in, the Stars have a 43.6 per cent chance, while Chicago lags at 6.7 per cent with a tough end-of-season schedule.
It’s so tight right now that the Nashville Predators Twitter account spent all of Thursday night openly rooting for the Red Wings to beat the Dallas Stars, which they did in pretty overwhelming fashion. It was a bit of levity in what will be a very, very serious race to the finish.
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