A Look At The Key Races Across NHL With Two Weeks Left In Regular Season

Photo: Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

With two weeks remaining in the regular season after Thursday night, there is still plenty to watch for as just five spots in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are taken, teams are battling for positioning, and there are three teams on the outside looking in in the Western Conference wild-card race. NoVa Caps looks at the key races to watch during the final two weeks of the season.

Eastern Conference

Second Place, Atlantic Division

Horses In The Race: Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins

Current Standings:

Second: Maple Leafs – 100 points, nine games left (five home), 40 regulation wins, 45 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: vs. Washington Capitals on Thursday, at Lightning on 4/21, at Florida Panthers on 4/23, at Capitals on 4/24, vs. Bruins on 4/29

The Maple Leafs were 7-0-1 in previous eight games before losing to the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday and 15-6-2 since losing three straight and five of seven in mid-February. With a game remaining each against the Lightning and Bruins, they have a chance to cement home ice for the first round.

Third: Lightning – 96 points, nine games left (six home), 33 regulation wins, 42 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: vs. Maple Leafs on 4/21, at Panthers on 4/24

The back-to-back defending Stanley Cup Champions have shown signs of running out of gas as they are 7-9-2 since March 7 (23rd in the NHL) and have dropped some major contests over that time, including two to the Bruins, one to the Carolina Hurricanes, one to the Maple Leafs, and another to the Capitals. Their schedule is not overly challenging with home games against the Anaheim Ducks, Winnipeg Jets, Detroit Red Wings, and a home-and-home against the Columbus Blue Jackets left.

Fourth: Bruins – 95 points, nine games left (five home), 35 regulation wins, 43 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: vs. Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, at Penguins on 4/21, vs. New York Rangers on 4/23, vs. Panthers on 4/26, at Maple Leafs on 4/29

The hottest team in the NHL a few days ago has lost two straight and three of four after going 18-4-1 over their previous 23 games. The final game of the regular season in Toronto could loom large and they have two games against the Penguins left. While the Bruins have a few tough games, the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, and Sabres remain on their schedule.

First Place, Metropolitan Division

Horses In The Race: Carolina Hurricanes, Rangers

Current Standings:

First: Hurricanes – 104 points, eight games left (three home), 42 regulation wins, 47 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: at Rangers on 4/26

The Hurricanes’ remaining schedule features games against the Red Wings, Arizona Coyotes, and two against the New Jersey Devils but they also have a game left against each the league-leading Colorado Avalanche and Rangers. The Hurricanes have slowed down lately, going 11-7-4 since February 28.

Second: Rangers – 102 points, seven games left (five home), 40 regulation wins, 44 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: at Bruins on 4/23, vs. Hurricanes on 4/26, vs. Capitals on 4/29

Since losing two road games by a combined score of 11-4 to the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues in early March, the Rangers have gone 12-4-1 and are tied for the most wins in that span to make it a race for the Metropolitan Division title. They loaded up at the trade deadline with the additions of center Andrew Copp (who has five goals and 13 points in 12 games with the team), right-wing Tyler Motte (55.92% Corsi-for percentage and 56.26% expected goals-for percentage at five-on-five in nine), and right-wing Frank Vatrano (six goals, 10 points in 15) to vault them near the top of the division. They have some major games left but others against the Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets, and Canadiens that they will need to take advantage of to win it.

Third Place, Metropolitan Division

Horses In The Race: Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals

Current Standings:

Third: Penguins – 95 points, seven games left (four home), 33 regulation wins, 39 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: vs. New York Islanders on 4/14, at Bruins on 4/16, vs. Bruins on 4/21

The Penguins have gone 3-6-2 since their third straight win on March 22 to open the door for the Capitals in this race. Their schedule the rest of the way is very spaced out with four days off in between their two games vs. the Bruins and two days off in between their second-to-last and last games. Their back-to-back at the Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers next weekend will be critical for the Penguins in winning third place.

Fourth: Capitals – 92 points, nine games left (two home), 32 regulation wins, 36 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: at Maple Leafs on 4/14, vs. Maple Leafs on 4/24, at Rangers on 4/29

The Capitals are 13-4-1 since March 1 and have won four straight (including victories over the Lightning, Penguins, and Bruins) to push the Penguins, whom they beat 6-3 in Pittsburgh on Saturday, for third place when it seemed like they would be locked into the second wild-card spot and play the Panthers in the first round. The league’s top team away from home (where they are 22-7-4) begin a season-long five-game road trip on Thursday, where they will head West next week and face the NHL-leading Avalanche on Monday. They have two games left against the Maple Leafs and Islanders, which would be viewed as large except for the fact that they will have three games left heading into the first. By that time, they should have their postseason ticket punched.

First Wild-Card Spot

Horses In The Race: Bruins, Penguins, Capitals, Lightning

The teams that lose their third-place races will get the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference. The ninth-place Islanders have a game in hand on the Capitals and three on the Penguins, but they trail the Capitals by 15 points and Penguins by 18, likely too steep of a hike to overcome.

Western Conference

Second Place, Central Division

Horses In The Race: Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues

Current Standings:

Second: Wild – 96 points, 10 games left (six home), 33 regulation wins, 40 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: at Dallas Stars on 4/14, at St. Louis Blues on 4/16, at Nashville Predators on 4/24, vs. Calgary Flames on 4/28, vs. Avalanche on 4/29

The Wild, who are 11-1-2 since March 16 (second-best behind Avalanche), have games remaining against all of their possible first-round opponents. Their game on Saturday in the Gateway City could be huge as both teams enter Thursday tied for second in the Central Division and will almost certainly meet in the first round with the Predators seven points behind and the Stars eight. Their final two games of the regular season against the two conference leaders could provide a good tuneup if the Avalanche and Flames sit their regulars (they could not with each team having a comfortable lead for top spot in their respective divisions). The Wild also have games remaining against the Canadiens, Seattle Kraken, and Arizona Coyotes, which will be critical to grab in pursuit of home-ice.

Third: Blues – 96 points, 10 games left (three home), 39 regulation wins, 41 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: vs. Wild on 4/16, at Predators on 4/17, at Avalanche on 4/26, vs. Vegas Golden Knights on 4/29

The Blues, who are 8-0-1 in their last nine, have kept up with the Wild and like them, face all of their probable first-round opponents before the regular season ends. Though, they also get some lighter games against the San Jose Sharks, Coyotes, and Anaheim Ducks during their four-game Western road trip that begins next week. While they are seven points ahead of the Predators, their game in Nashville on Sunday could be key towards ensuring a top-three finish in the Central Division.

Second Place, Pacific Division

Horses In The Race: Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Vegas Golden Knights, Vancouver Canucks

Second: Oilers – 90 points, eight games left (five home), 33 regulation wins, 38 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: at Predators on 4/14, vs. Golden Knights on 4/16, vs. Stars on 4/20

The Oilers, who are 12-3-2 in their past 17 games to power to second in the Pacific Division, play five of their final seven games after Thursday at home and both of them are outer conference games. Thursday’s game in Nashville and Saturday’s game against the Golden Knights will be important for them in their efforts to avoid a wild-card spot. While there are a couple of critical games against teams they are fighting for positioning, the Oilers will also play a couple of measuring stick games against the Avalanche and in Pittsburgh on April 26.

Third: Kings – 88 points, six games left (three home), 30 regulation wins, 35 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: at Canucks on 4/28

The Kings, who are 7-8-3 since a 12-3-2 stretch, find themselves in hot water after a 9-3 loss to the Avalanche on Wednesday but do not face a daunting schedule down the stretch with plenty of off time and none of their remaining six games are against teams currently occupying a Stanley Cup Playoff spot. Two of which come against the Ducks. They will be just one of two teams not in action on the final day of the season. Defenseman Drew Doughty will miss the rest of the regular season due to an upper-body injury, which has kept him out since March 7.

Fourth: Golden Knights – 85 points, eight games left (three home), 32 regulation wins, 36 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: at Flames on 4/14, at Oilers on 4/16, at Stars on 4/26, at Blues on 4/29

In danger of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in their five season history, the Golden Knights have a couple of critical games in Alberta the rest of the week before a three-game homestand (two of which coming against Metropolitan Division opponents – New Jersey Devils, Capitals). They finish their home slate up with a trap game against the San Jose Sharks before putting a bow on the 2021-22 season with a three-game road trip that includes games in Dallas, one of the teams they are chasing in the wild-card race, and St. Louis. The team is 12-12-2 since center Jack Eichel made his Golden Knights debut.

Fifth: Canucks – 82 points, eight games left (five home), 29 regulation wins, 33 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: vs. Stars on 4/18, vs. Kings on 4/28, at Oilers on 4/29

The Canucks, who are 27-13-8 under head coach Bruce Boudreau and 6-2-3 since March 20, have a mixed bag in their schedule against teams that they are chasing, bottom dwellers (vs. Arizona Coyotes, Ottawa Senators, and Kraken), and contenders (at Wild and Flames). They are 4-0-1 in their past five, including two huge wins over the Golden Knights.

Wild-Card Spots

Horses In The Race: Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars, Golden Knights, Canucks, Winnipeg Jets

First: Predators – 89 points, nine games left (six home), 34 regulation wins, 40 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: vs. Oilers on 4/14, vs. Blues on 4/17, vs. Flames on 4/19, vs. Wild on 4/24, vs. Flames on 4/26, at Avalanche on 4/28

The Predators are in a spot where it appears that it is unlikely where they move up and they hold a four-point lead over the Golden Knights, who are currently out of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot. They will get a healthy dose of their likely first-round opponent before the regular season wraps up with two home games against the Flames and their second-to-last game coming in Colorado. While they probably will not move into a top-three spot in the Central, their remaining games against the Blues and Wild in addition to the Avalanche will be important in sending the teams that they will likely have to go through to reach the Western Conference Final a message.

Second: Stars – 88 points, nine games left (six home), 28 regulation wins, 38 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: at Canucks on 4/18, at Oilers on 4/20, at Flames on 4/21, vs. Golden Knights on 4/26

The Stars entered Thursday just one of two teams among the 16 currently in a spot to have a negative goal differential (-2, Kings: -5) and have two games left against teams they are trying to fight off for the second wild-card spot. They are 23-10-2 at American Airlines this season, so they could be in a good position to take one of the two final openings. If that is not convincing enough, half of the Stars’ games are against teams under .500 (San Jose Sharks – .472, Kraken – .356, Coyotes – .336, and Anaheim Ducks – .473). The Stars head out on the road to West Canada for their final three road games next week, including a potential first-round preview in Calgary.

Third: Golden Knights

Fourth: Canucks

Fifth: Jets – 81 points, eight games left (four home), 28 regulation wins, 33 regulation overtime wins

Key Games Left: vs. Avalanche on 4/24, vs. Flames on 4/29

The Jets open a daunting four-game Eastern Conference road trip which opens with a back-to-back against the Conference-leading Panthers and back-to-back defending champions over the weekend before taking on the two top teams in the Metropolitan Division. In their first game back, the Avalanche welcome Winnipeg home for a season-closing homestand where they also host the Philadelphia Flyers and Kraken but by that time, it will likely be too late for the Jets barring a solid road trip.

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 watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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