Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images
With most teams across the NHL down to 10 or fewer games before the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs start in May, some races for the Stanley Cup Playoffs could go to the final whistle. The East Division appears set, with the top four powerhouses appear uncatchable, but the Central and West Divisions feature mad scrambles for the final postseason spot. There are also intense races for the divisional crowns. NoVa Caps looks at the key races in each division as the stretch run of the regular season is underway.
- e – eliminated
- x – clinched
- Toronto Maple Leafs; 65 points, 24 regulation wins, eight games remaining
- Edmonton Oilers; 58 points, 26 regulation wins, 10 games remaining
- Winnipeg Jets; 57 points, 21 regulation wins, eight games remaining
- Montreal Canadiens; 51 points, 19 regulation wins, 11 games remaining
- Calgary Flames; 45 points, 18 regulation wins, eight games remaining
- Vancouver Canucks; 41 points, 13 regulation wins, 14 games remaining
- Ottawa Senators; 40 points, 14 regulation wins, seven games remaining
The division standings have stayed constant for a long time and it appears that the top four are unlikely as the Maple Leafs have a seven-point cushion for first place, the Jets sit six points ahead of the Canadiens for third, and the Canadiens have a six-point lead over the Flames for fourth with three games in hand. The Maple Leafs have a relatively easy schedule with two home games against the Canucks, four games against the Canadiens, and one at the Senators remaining.
The biggest race appears to be between the Oilers and Jets, probable first-round opponents, for home-ice advantage. Five of the Oilers’ 10 games remaining are against the Canucks and another two are against the Flames. The Oilers and Jets face off for the final time this season on Wednesday night in Winnipeg. After facing the Canadiens in Montreal on Friday, the Jets’ next five will be against either the Senators, Flames, or Canucks and three of them will be at home. They will close out the season against the Maple Leafs at home.
The Flames have crept closer in the race with three wins in five games against the Canadiens in the past two weeks but appear to be out of it with the number of games the Canadiens have in hand on them. The change to bring in Darryl Sutter behind the bench has not worked out as they have gone 10-13-1 since Geoff Ward was fired. They have five games remaining against the Canucks and Senators so if the Flames are going to pull off a surprise, they must take advantage of those games.
The Canucks appear to be out of it but have a lot of games in hand on the Canadiens and Flames. However, with so many games in a condensed stretch — including four sets of back-to-backs, they could be at a disadvantage. Five of their 14 games are against the Oilers, another two against the Maple Leafs, and two more are against the Jets. Only four of their remaining games are at home. It will be challenging for the Canucks with an even more condensed schedule but if they can take advantage, they could have an outside chance of cracking the fourth seed.
- x – Carolina Hurricanes; 69 points, 23 regulation wins, eight games remaining
- Florida Panthers; 67 points, 22 regulation wins, six games remaining
- Tampa Bay Lightning; 66 points, 25 regulation wins, eight games remaining
- Nashville Predators; 56 points, 19 regulation wins, six games remaining
- Dallas Stars; 54 points, 16 regulation wins, eight games remaining
- Chicago Blackhawks; 49 points, 14 regulation wins, eight games remaining
- e – Detroit Red Wings; 42 points, 15 regulation wins, six games remaining
- e – Columbus Blue Jackets; 40 points, 11 regulation wins, six games remaining
Unlike the North Division, the Central Division has plenty of intriguing races with the Hurricanes, Panthers, and Lightning all vying for first place. Two of the Hurricanes’ eight games remaining are against of the teams that have already been eliminated and are at home while the other six are against the three teams jockeying for the fourth spot, including three against the Blackhawks at home next week. The Panthers have a similar schedule with one road game vs. the Predators and two against the Blackhawks before finishing the regular season with three home games (one vs. Stars and two vs. Lightning). The two against the Lightning could be huge in determining who wins the division or takes home ice in a possible first-round series between the two. The Lightning face the Stars three times at home after visiting Chicago and play the Red Wings twice in Detroit over the weekend before a season-closing series against the Panthers. All three teams have relatively weak schedules down the stretch but that series between the Lightning and Panthers will be a huge one as the regular season winds down.
The race for the final spot should be a good one between the Predators, Stars, and possibly the Blackhawks, who have fallen off after a hot start to the season. The Stars (.562) currently own a slightly better points percentage than the Predators (.560). The two teams will meet for the final time this season in Nashville on Saturday night. The Stars have a very challenging schedule remaining with one home game against the Hurricanes on Tuesday (their last contest in Dallas this season), three at the Lightning, one at the Panthers, and two at the Blackhawks to wrap up the regular season in addition to Saturday’s huge game. The Predators have a bit of rest the remainder of the way with six games in 13 days. After hosting the Panthers on Tuesday and Stars on Saturday, they will visit the Blue Jackets twice next week before a season-closing series against the Hurricanes next weekend. Already behind in the standings, the Blackhawks have a bear of a schedule left with one home game against the Lightning and two against the Panthers this week before three straight in Carolina next week. They will also close out the season with home games against the Stars on back-to-back nights. A lot will have to go right for the Blackhawks to get back in the race. With Dallas having a lot of games against the Lightning left, the Predators could be the favorite to claim the fourth seed.
- x – Vegas Golden Knights; 70 points, 27 regulation wins, nine games remaining
- x – Colorado Avalanche; 66 points, 28 regulation wins, 10 games remaining
- x – Minnesota Wild; 65 points, 26 regulation wins, nine games remaining
- St. Louis Blues; 48 points, 15 regulation wins, 10 games remaining
- Arizona Coyotes; 47 points, 17 regulation wins, seven games remaining
- San Jose Sharks; 43 points, 13 regulation wins, eight games remaining
- Los Angeles Kings; 42 points, 16 regulation wins, 10 games remaining
- Anaheim Ducks; 35 points, nine regulation wins, seven games remaining
There is plenty of potential for teams swapping positions in the division with the top three teams separated by just five points and the fourth through seventh-place teams separated by only six. The Ducks will be eliminated with one more loss or a win of any kind by the Blues.
The Golden Knights and Avalanche have two games left against each other (both at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas), which could be pivotal in deciding the West Division crown. The Golden Knights have two games at the Wild next week, which will be important for both teams. The rest of Vegas’ games are against teams in the mix with two games left at the Coyotes, two vs. the Blues, and one at the Sharks. Besides the two games left against the Golden Knights, the Avalanche have a pretty advantageous schedule with their four games after Wednesday’s clash on the Strip coming against the Sharks (two home, two away) and four against the Kings (two away, two home), which could give them an edge in the races for both the West Division title and perhaps the Presidents’ Trophy. Other than two home games against the Golden Knights, the Wild see the Blues five times (including three at Xcel Energy Center) and Ducks twice to close out the season, so they could very well be in the race for the top seed.
The Blues’ schedule is a bit of a bear but after winning two of three against the Avalanche in their most recent series, do not count them out. After three straight in Minnesota, the Blues have a chance to pick up a few points with two straight at home against the struggling Ducks, but four of their last five come against the Golden Knights in Vegas and the Wild at home with a game in Los Angeles sandwiched between those two series. The Coyotes’ schedule is more advantageous with three games remaining at the Shark Tank and two home games against the Kings this season. Though, they have the Golden Knights at home on back-to-back nights over the weekend. The next seven Sharks’ games will be against the Avalanche, which will be a big test, and Coyotes, who they are battling for the final playoff spot. If they were to make a run, it would almost certainly come down to the final game of the season against the Golden Knights, which could lessen their chances of sneaking in. The Kings have three games left against the Ducks this week but four against the Avalanche. For them to make it, they have to take advantage of two games at Arizona next week and one against the Blues on May 10. They will likely need to win one or more of their games against the Avalanche and absolutely need to take care of business against the Ducks, Coyotes, and Blues to have a shot.
- Pittsburgh Penguins; 67 points, 25 regulation wins, 29 regulation-overtime wins, seven games remaining
- Washington Capitals; 66 points, 25 regulation wins, 28 regulation-overtime wins, eight games remaining
- New York Islanders; 63 points, 21 regulation wins, eight games remaining
- Boston Bruins; 60 points, 20 regulation wins, nine games remaining
- New York Rangers; 56 points, 22 regulation wins, seven games remaining
- Philadelphia Flyers; 51 points, 14 regulation wins, eight games remaining
- e – New Jersey Devils; 35 points, 11 regulation wins, eight games remaining
- e – Buffalo Sabres; 33 points, 10 regulation wins, seven games remaining
The East Division appears to have the top four teams set but those teams could finish anywhere from one to four in the standings.
The Penguins could be the favorite to win the division. After Tuesday’s home game against the Bruins and this weekend’s series at the Capitals, the Penguins visit the Flyers twice (on back-to-back nights) and finish the season by hosting the Sabres two times. Meanwhile, the Capitals host the Islanders on Tuesday and Penguins on Thursday and Saturday before visiting the Rangers twice, hosting the Flyers twice, and concluding the season with a possible first-round preview against the Bruins.
After Tuesday’s game, the Islanders have an advantageous schedule with a home-and-home against the Rangers, two road games against the Sabres, and two home games against the Devils before closing the season out against the Bruins on May 10, which could play a big role in determining the third seed in the division.
After visiting Pittsburgh on Tuesday, the Bruins could get a big boost in the standings with two home games against the Sabres and two road contests at the Devils (though they have won only two of six against them this season, both in a shootout). Before finishing the season in Washington, the Bruins will have three crucial home games: two against the Rangers, who they are trying to fend off for the fourth spot, and one against the Islanders, who are the closest team ahead of them in the standings.
After hosting the Sabres on Tuesday, the Rangers have a challenging schedule in their remaining six games with a home-and-home against the Islanders coming up before hosting the Capitals twice. Starting the following night, they close out the season with two straight road games in Boston, which could make or break their season. If the Rangers were to sneak in, they would probably do so as the fourth seed.
The Flyers are likely too far behind to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With the end of the season coming soon, it’s time for hockey fans to sit back and enjoy the battles to determine the Stanley Cup Playoff matchups.
By Harrison Brown