Countdown to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs: A Look at This Week’s Key Matchups

caps_islesPhoto: NHL.com

As there are four more weeks until the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin, the NHL season ramps up as teams on the outside looking in are pushing for a playoff spot, while others look to get hot at the right time and improve their seeding when the puck drops Wednesday, April 11. Here is what the playoff picture looks like this week: 

Eastern Conference Standings

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Key Eastern Conference Matchups

Penguins at Maple Leafs on Saturday at 7 PM – The Penguins hold a one-point lead over the Capitals for top spot in the Metropolitan Division and the Maple Leafs occupy the third spot in the Atlantic. The Penguins look to hold down the fort on first place but the Capitals have a game in hand on Pittsburgh, who has won three games in a row. The Maple Leafs seek to rebound from four straight losses including two straight in regulation against the Capitals in the Stadium Series game and the Sabres on Monday.

Capitals at Islanders on Thursday at 7 PM and Islanders at Capitals on Friday at 7 PM – The Capitals and Islanders play a home and home series next weekend on back-to-back nights. The Capitals have dropped two straight games in Anaheim and Los Angeles, getting outscored 7-1 in those games. They won three of their past four games before the two setbacks in southern California. The Islanders, who have given up a league-leading 243 goals against, are seven points out of the playoffs and will have to leapfrog the Panthers, Hurricanes, and Blue Jackets if they hope to make the playoffs. The Islanders’ 2-5-3 record in their last 10 games put them at .500 in terms of points percentage. This will be a big home and home set between two division rivals.

Blue Jackets at Flyers on Thursday at 7 PM – The Flyers are two points back of the Capitals for second spot in the division, though Washington has a game in hand, and three behind the Penguins for the top spot in the division with the same number of games played between the two teams. The Blue Jackets are two points clear of Florida for the second wild-card spot but Florida owns three games in hand on them. The Blue Jackets have won three in a row against San Jose, Vegas, and Colorado but trail the New Jersey Devils for the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia has cooled off as of late, dropping three consecutive games in regulation.

Bruins at Panthers on Thursday at 7:30 PM – Florida hosts Boston in the fourth game of their five-game homestand and this one will be important for them. They have three games in hand on the Blue Jackets, who own the final wild-card spot. Florida has been red-hot as of late, going 7-0-1 in their last eight games. They could move into a playoff spot in this game and they’ll definitely be fired up against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and a division rival. Like the Panthers, Boston has been red-hot lately, winning five straight games. The Bruins are six points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning with three games in hand on them.

Western Conference Standings

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Key Western Conference Matchups

Ducks at Stars on Friday at 8:30 PM – The Ducks may be in third place in the Pacific Division but the Los Angeles Kings are only a point behind them with a game in hand. The Kings are a point behind the Dallas Stars for the first wild-card spot. These two teams may very well be the two wild-card teams in the Western Conference and a point separates the two teams and will likely draw one of the two Western Conference powerhouses, the Vegas Golden Knights and the Nashville Predators.

Blues at Ducks on Monday at 10 PM – The Blues went from top spot in the Central in October to outside of a playoff spot in March. The Blues are 1-7-2 in their past 10 games and sit four points behind the Kings for the final wild-card spot. They take on a team that will likely occupy a wild card spot in the Ducks and it will be a big game for the Blues to get some of their magic from October back. This game can be do-or-die for St. Louis as they get farther and farther away from a playoff spot.

Jets at Predators on Tuesday at 8 PM – The two top teams in the Central Division go head to head in Smashville on Tuesday night. The Predators hold a six-point lead over the Jets for top spot in the Central Division with the same number of games played. Nashville has been the hottest team in the league riding a 10-game winning streak. Winnipeg has also been hot riding a four-game winning streak and an 8-2-0 record in their last 10 games.

Avalanche at Wild on Tuesday at 8:30 PM – The Avalanche, who have dropped three straight games in overtime, are one point behind the Kings for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference with the same number of games played between the two teams. Minnesota holds the third spot in the Central Division and are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games. Minnesota has also been one of the league’s best home teams with a 24-5-6 record at Xcel Energy Center. Five points separate the two teams despite their positioning in the standings.

Avalanche at Blues on Thursday at 8 PM – The Blues sit three points behind the Avalanche, who sit just one point outside a playoff spot. Three points separate the two teams. Colorado has a point in eight of their last 10 games while the Blues have dropped nine of their previous 10 games. This will be a big one for these two teams if either of them hopes to make the playoffs.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was seeing T.J. Oshie's hat-trick​ during Game 1 of the Caps' second round playoff series against Pittsburgh in 2016. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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