The playoff races in the NHL this season aren’t too dramatic compared to years past.
The eight Eastern Conference playoff teams are all but locked up and most teams in the Western Conference already know whether they’ll be in or out.
There are 24 games from Friday to Sunday, so plenty can change by the time Monday morning rolls around. A handful of teams are still battling for a wild-card spot. Most of the important jockeying for position this weekend should occur in the West.
With the Stanley Cup Playoffs less than a month away, here’s a look at the playoff picture ahead of Friday’s slate plus some storylines to watch over the weekend:
If the playoffs started today, these would be our Eastern Conference first-round matchups:
(A1) Panthers vs. (WC2) Capitals
(A2) Maple Leafs vs. (A3) Bruins
(M1) Hurricanes vs. (WC1) Lightning
(M2) Rangers vs. (M3) Penguins
If the playoffs started today, these would be our Western Conference first-round matchups:
(C1) Avalanche vs. (WC2) Golden Knights
(C2) Wild vs. (C3) Blues
(P1) Flames vs. (WC1) Predators
(P2) Kings vs. (P3) Oilers
WHAT TO WATCH FOR THIS WEEKEND
Wild, Blues battling for home-ice advantage in Central
Wild at Blues: Friday, April 8 at 8 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. CT
Unless Nashville sneaks into the Central picture late in the regular season, it looks as though the Preds will remain a wild-card team while Minnesota and St. Louis are on a path to face each other in the opening round.
The Blues won the first meeting with the Wild, 6-4 outdoors on New Year’s Day, and the two teams have been tussling for position behind the Avalanche all season.
Both teams have had positive results lately, with the Wild 11-2-2 in the past month and the Blues winners in five of six while outscoring their opponents 27-16. These teams will conclude their three-game season series next weekend.
Double matinee for Capitals, Penguins
Capitals at Penguins: Saturday, April 9, 3 p.m. ET on SN1
Bruins at Capitals: Sunday, April 10, 1:30 p.m. ET on SN360
Predators at Penguins: Sunday, April 10, 4 p.m. ET on SN360
Neither Pittsburgh nor Washington are playing their best hockey, particularly in the past seven games. The Penguins have lost three straight and are 2-5-1, while Washington is 3-4-0 of late. The Capitals hold two games in hand over the Pens, so the result of their Saturday afternoon matchup could have an impact on the opening round if Washington can catch Pittsburgh. Both teams will have less than 24 hours to rest before they both suit up for difficult Sunday afternoon games against playoff-bound teams fighting for position.
Oilers seeking home ice, Avs eyeing Presidents’ Trophy
Avalanche at Oilers: Saturday, April 9, 10 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. MT on SN
Saturday’s best matchup is between two of the hottest teams going. The Avalanche are 9-1-1 in their past 11 and control their own destiny in the Presidents’ Trophy race with one more win than Florida.
Colorado beat Edmonton 3-2 in overtime when these teams met for the first time this season less than three weeks ago. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar each had two-point nights. The Avs will be coming off a Friday-night game in Winnipeg, so Edmonton will be the more rested team.
Edmonton isn’t likely to catch Calgary, with only 10 games left on its schedule, but the Oilers maintain a comfortable lead on the Kings for second in the Pacific, which would mean home-ice advantage in the opening round against likely first-round opponent L.A.
The Oilers have won six in a row, with Art Ross frontrunner Connor McDavid riding a 15-game point streak (13 goals, 16 assists).
Can Stars pull away from Golden Knights?
Devils at Stars: Saturday, April 9, 2 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. CT
Coyotes at Golden Knights: Sunday, April 10, 10 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. MT
Stars at Blackhawks: Sunday, April 10, 6 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. CT on SN360
Dallas is two points up on Vegas for the final wild-card spot in the West and the Stars have two games in hand. Both the Devils and Blackhawks are near the bottom of the standings and, on paper at least, this should be two more wins for a Stars team 7-2-1 in their past 10. If Vegas can win its game against the 32nd-place Coyotes on Saturday night, it’ll keep a slim-but-possible chance of qualifying for the post-season alive.
If by Monday morning Dallas is six points up on Vegas, it could be curtains for the Golden Knights, a team that has never missed the playoffs in their short five-year history. Dallas and Vegas meet one final time, on April 26, in a game that could potentially impact who’s in and who’s out.