Stanley Cup Playoff Push: How Jets, Predators, Blues can clinch

Kyle-Connor

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele, left, celebrates his goal with teammate Kyle Connor (81). (Jeff McIntosh / CP)

And then there were four.

With a dozen playoff spots locked up across the league, the post-season picture is almost complete. The East became the first to fill up when the Boston Bruins punched their ticket earlier this week, and by the end of Wednesday night’s action the Central and West could join them.

Despite the North Division’s pretty clear line between contending teams and those on the outside, two spots remain up for grabs. That could change Wednesday if the Winnipeg Jets can stop their free-fall and officially become the third Canadian team in the post-season.

Here’s what the NHL’s playoff push looks like right now.

NORTH DIVISION

If the season ended today…

(1) x-Toronto vs. (4) Montreal
(2) x-Edmonton vs. (3) Winnipeg

What the playoff race looks like today…

Can free-falling Jets regain control?
Wednesday’s North Division playoff-clinching scenario is simple: If the Jets can defeat the Calgary Flames in regulation, they’re officially in the playoffs. Only, regulation wins have not come easy for Winnipeg. The Jets are in a free-fall, losing seven straight games and going 2-8-0 in their last 10. The club that not so long ago was challenging the Toronto Maple Leafs for the North Division crown is now tied with Montreal for fourth. While there’s still a 10-point cushion between where Winnipeg and Montreal sit and the Calgary Flames’ position in the standings with just a handful of games to go, the issue here comes down to confidence and momentum — something Montreal knows a thing or two about. As Sportlogiq tell us, the team currently projected to be the last to punch their ticket looks like they’re in position to pull off an upset.

Important upcoming games…

• A six-point lead over Edmonton in the standings has the Toronto Maple Leafs in good position to clinch first in the North, though they can’t make it official just yet. A pair of matchups against the Canadiens, winners of three in a row, on Thursday and Saturday could either serve as a Round 1 preview or hoist the Canadiens into third place and set the stage for a Leafs-Jets Round 1. Above the wins and losses, though, all eyes will be on how this roster navigates injuries and lineup adjustments.

• Two wins into their four-game series against Vancouver has the Oilers flexing their offensive muscles and eying a run for the top spot in the division. Connor McDavid long ago locked up the top position in the NHL scoring race, and is now seven points away from 100 with five games to go.

• If the Jets are to get things back on track, the schedule gods are certainly in their corner. Of their final five games, only one — the season finale against Toronto — is against a team currently in the post-season picture.

EAST DIVISION

If the season ended today…

(1) x-Penguins vs. (4) x-NY Islanders
(2) x-Washington vs. (3) x-Boston

What the playoff race looks like today…

Can Pittsburgh stay atop the East?
The East Division is the first to have all four playoff spots spoken for, but with only five points separating the fourth-place Islanders and the first-place Penguins and less than a handful of games left for each team to play, the final order of things is far from set in stone.

Sidney Crosby and the Penguins took over the top spot Tuesday night, looking as dangerous as ever with a big offensive showing against Philadelphia. Washington, meanwhile, can snatch it right back with a victory over the New York Rangers Wednesday — a game that will ultimately be about much more than the standings, however.

Boston has ridden its momentum since the trade deadline into third place, taking advantage of the New York Islanders’ current slump. A 4-4-2 record in New York’s past 10 games, including back-to-back losses to the Buffalo Sabres this week, could raise a few questions about whether they can regain their composure in time for the post-season.

Important upcoming games…

• Wednesday night’s rematch between the Capitals and Rangers will be a heated affair in the wake of Monday’s Tom Wilson incident and the reaction that followed Tuesday. A win for Washington brings them back atop the East with a game still in-hand over Pittsburgh. A loss opens the door for Pittsburgh to get a little more comfortable in first. Either way, the stakes here are high.

• After defeating the Flyers on Tuesday to take over first place in the East Division, the Penguins can pick up another crucial four points Thursday and Saturday as they close out their season against Buffalo. The Sabres, while long out of the playoff race, seem to be embracing the role of spoiler this week thanks in part to an incredible story in net, and are the lone team standing in the way of the Penguins being able to tighten their grasp on the division lead.

• The Islanders have cooled off at the wrong time down the stretch, and back-to-back losses to Michael Houser and the Sabres don’t exactly help morale. While they can rest easy knowing they’re playoff-bound anyway, thanks to their success through most of the season, they’ve got two more chances to get things back on track when they take on the New Jersey Devils Thursday and Saturday before a playoff-calibre season finale against the Boston Bruins that could very well determine each club’s first-round opponent.

• Boston has been one of the league’s hottest teams down the stretch since the NHL’s trade deadline, but had their four-game win streak spoiled by the New Jersey Devils in overtime Tuesday night. Four points behind the first-place Penguins with four games to go makes things interesting.

CENTRAL DIVISION

If the season ended today…

(1) x-Carolina vs. (4) Nashville
(2) x-Florida vs. (3) x-Tampa Bay

What the playoff race looks like today…

All eyes on Predators, Stars
Saturday’s single-goal showdown between the Predators and Stars was light on goals but high on playoff implications, with Nashville’s 1-0 overtime victory handing the Stars their fourth straight loss at the worst time. This race for fourth place has seen both clubs rise from the divisional basement to challenge for the post-season, and while Dallas’ hot streak in April had them looking poised to jump into the picture, four straight losses — including back-to-back overtime losses for a total of 14 extra-time defeats on the season — leaves exactly zero room for error.

Important upcoming games…

• The Nashville Predators are in the driver’s seat here, and while this race is theirs to lose, they alone cannot control their playoff fate just yet. The Predators can clinch that fourth and final playoff berth Wednesday night with a victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets AND a Tampa Bay victory over Dallas in regulation. The odds of both outcomes coming to fruition are quite favourable for Nashville: the Predators are 6-1 against the Blue Jackets this season, and Dallas has a 1-5 record against their old Stanley Cup Final foes in Tampa Bay.

• Here’s where things could get really interesting, though: Should Nashville lose, and Dallas win on Wednesday, the Predators’ path to the post-season gets tougher. Their final two games are against the mighty Carolina Hurricanes, against whom they have a 0-6 record on the season. The Stars’ remaining three games after Wednesday (another at Tampa Bay, followed by two at Chicago) aren’t exactly easy either, but should that fourth place spot remain up for grabs after Wednesday’s games, there’s still hope.

• Atop the division, Carolina looks to add another two points to their incredible streak when they face Chicago for the final time Thursday night. The Hurricanes’ 9-0-3 record over the past 12 games is the second-longest point streak this season (only Colorado’s was longer, spanning 15 games from March 10 to April 5).

• Depending on how the Predators and Stars fare Wednesday, the dominant Hurricanes could either close out the season against their future first-round foes in Nashville to give us all a preview of what’s to come, or hand them season-ending heartbreak and pave the way for Dallas.

• Meanwhile, it’s looking like Florida’s final two games, both against Tampa Bay, will give us all a glimpse into what’s to come in Round 1 as the Sunshine State teams go head-to-head. The Panthers have won four straight games as one of the league’s hottest teams.

WEST DIVISION

If the season ended today…

(1) x-Vegas vs. (4) St. Louis
(2) x-Colorado vs. (3) x-Minnesota

What the playoff race looks like today…

Fourth place is Blues’ to lose
After a few weeks of the fourth-place spot changing hands on a near-nightly basis with every win and loss for the St. Louis Blues and Arizona Coyotes, St. Louis can officially complete their playoff push Wednesday night.

The Blues can officially punch their tickets to the playoffs with a win over the Anaheim Ducks AND a Coyotes regulation victory over the Los Angeles Kings.

Important upcoming games…

• While the Blues and Coyotes battle for their playoff lives, the top three in the West have been playing like they’re in a league of their own — a whopping 15 points separates the Blues from the third-place Minnesota Wild, who are just four points behind first-place Vegas. Wednesday’s duel between Vegas and Minnesota, two of the NHL’s most exciting teams right now, could go a long way in crowning the divisional champ.

• With 72 points, a game in-hand over both the Golden Knights and Wild, and a relatively easy schedule to close out the season, Colorado could very well wear the crown. Of their remaining six games, only one — Monday in Vegas — is against a playoff-bound opponent.

• Should Vegas maintain that top spot, and if the Blues can lock up fourth, we’re in for a two-game playoff preview this weekend when the Blues visit Vegas Friday and Saturday night.

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