NHL Playoff Push: Eastern Conference can be settled tonight

The Washington Capitals clinched the Presidents' Trophy for the second consecutive season while the Canadiens fall to the Sabres; and set to meet the Rangers in the first round.

By the end of Thursday’s games we could know the 16 teams that will compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The eight teams in the West have been confirmed but there are no first-round matchups locked in yet, though that can change depending on what happens tonight. Meanwhile, four teams in the East are battling for the two available spots.

Let’s take a closer look at where things stand in the playoff race.


Controlling your own fate is all any team can ask for at this time of year and the Ottawa Senators need just one point to clinch a berth in the post-season. They visit a Boston Bruins team that will be without Brad Marchand following his Thursday suspension. The Bruins clinched Tuesday when they shut out the Tampa Bay Lightning and they have the opportunity for home-ice advantage depending on how their final two games unfold.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets will play one another in the first round. This we know. The only thing up in the air is which team will have home-ice advantage. A Penguins win over the Devils (that you can watch on Sportsnet 360) coupled with a Blue Jackets loss in regulation to the Jets would see the Pens clinch second in the Metropolitan and lock the Blue Jackets in third.

The New York Islanders, unlike the Senators, don’t control their own destiny. They need a win against the Hurricanes but they also need the Senators and/or Toronto Maple Leafs to lose in regulation to stay alive. As you’ll see below, the Lightning are in the same situation.

If the season ended today…

(M1) vs. (WC2)

(A1) vs. (WC1)

(M2) vs. (M3)

(A2) vs. (A3)


Here’s what the Eastern Conference standings look like today:

What’d I miss?

Braden Holtby picked up his league-leading 42nd win and ninth shutout of the season as the Washington Capitals claimed their second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy by blanking the New York Rangers 2-0.

Wins and losses don’t impact the Rangers at this point since they’re cemented in the top wild card spot and a first-round matchup with the Habs. The Rangers rested Ryan McDonagh, Jesper Fast, Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash, Brady Skjei and Nick Holden. Blue Shirts bench boss Alain Vigneault told reporters that those players, some of whom are banged up, will be ready for the start of the playoffs and they would have been good to go if the game mattered.

There was only one other game last night and it featured the Buffalo Sabres snapping the Montreal Canadiens’ five-game winning streak. The Sabres were without winger Kyle Okposo who, according to the Associated Press, has been in Buffalo General Hospital’s neuro surgical intensive care unit undergoing tests.

Fun fact

Thursday’s game to watch:

[gamecard id=1646696 league=nhl date=2017-04-06] The Maple Leafs can make it easy on themselves: if they beat Tampa in any fashion, they make the playoffs for the first time in four years and eliminate the Lightning from contention at the same time. Toronto has taken two of three meetings against Tampa this season, including a 5-0 victory in mid-March.

Judging by how they played against the Capitals Tuesday, the Maple Leafs want to do everything in their power to ensure they get a divisional playoff matchup rather than finishing as the second Eastern wild card team and trying to take down the Caps.

“We’re not out of it yet,” Victor Hedman told reporters Tuesday after the Lightning’s loss to the Bruins. “It’s obviously a tough hill to climb, and we need a lot of things to go our way.”

The Lightning have been one of the most injury-plagued teams this season but there can’t be any excuses Thursday.

“We’ve asked so much from these guys,” coach Jon Cooper added. “There are guys who are playing, who probably in normal circumstances wouldn’t be dressing for games. But they’re laying it out there to make the push for the playoffs. They have given everything they’ve had.”


West powerhouses face off when the Chicago Blackhawks meet the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks are four points up on the Edmonton Oilers atop the Pacific. An Anaheim win coupled with an Edmonton loss would clinch a fifth consecutive division title for Bob Murray and Co.

The Calgary Flames, who visit the Kings, currently occupy the first wild card spot in the West but as mentioned in yesterday’s Playoff Push, it might benefit the Flames to finish as the second wild card team—if the Ducks win the Pacific—and instead play the Blackhawks. The Flames haven’t beaten the Ducks on the road in 25 games so if they can avoid them it would, in theory at least, benefit them.

The St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators have favourable matchups against the Panthers and Stars, respectively, as those Central rivals fight for third in the division and an opening-round matchup with a Minnesota Wild team that has lost 13 of 19 since the beginning of March.

If the season ended today…

(C1) vs. (WC2)

(P1) vs. (WC1)

(C2) vs. (C3)

(P2) vs. (P3)

[snippet id=3332601]

Here’s what the Western Conference standings look like today:

What’d I miss?

There were no Western Conference teams in action Wednesday.

Fun fact

Brent Burns leads all NHL blueliners in points with 74 in 80 games. He also leads all skaters in giveaways with 146.

Thursday’s game to watch:

[gamecard id=1646722 league=nhl date=2017-04-06] An Oilers-Sharks first-round matchup is probable at this point and tonight’s game will have a major impact on who gets home ice. The Sharks had lost eight of nine prior to being remedied by back-to-back 3-1 wins over the Canucks.

Peter DeBoer’s team is without Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, which means Edmonton has a significant advantage down the middle. Luckily, Thornton and Couture are expected to be ready to go by the time the playoffs begin.

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