Playoff Push: Which teams have the toughest remaining schedules?

NHL insider Elliotte Friedman joins Jeff Marek to explain why he's not that surprised by the recent L.A. Kings surge in the standings, and why he thinks their style could cause real trouble for opposing teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

We’re getting near the wire in the NHL’s regular season with April around the corner, and who you play against is becoming nearly as important as how many games you have left.

So, as we look at the playoff picture, we’re considering how strong, or weak, everyone’s remaining schedule looks. With a little help from Tankathon.com, we can get an idea of whose position is advantageous and who has a little more work left to do before they cross the finish line.

In today’s playoff push, we’re listing several teams still in a playoff race, along with the combined points percentage of all their remaining opponents. If the number is high, so is the degree of difficulty.

Of course, for fans of non-playoff teams, you might be interested in this for different reasons. Take the Calgary Flames, for example, whose fans might prefer losses right now to improve their lottery odds. They actually have the NHL’s easiest remaining schedule by this measure, though there are some challenging opponents mixed in with the weaker ones. The Montreal Canadiens, meanwhile, have the league’s second-hardest rest-of-season schedule, with all their remaining games against playoff teams, or those still in the heat of a race.

But I digress.

This is the playoff push, after all, so let’s push on to the playoff picture…

Boston Bruins, .606: With first place in the Atlantic Division still on the line, as well as home ice advantage through the playoffs with the Presidents’ Trophy, the Bruins have 10 games remaining and face the toughest schedule of all. They’ll go head-to-head with rival Florida twice more — including Tuesday night — twice against Carolina, and once each against Tampa Bay and surging Nashville. Seventh in the league by points percentage, Boston’s climb to the top may be the steepest, and their final two games (against Washington and Ottawa) are on a road/home back-to-back.

Detroit Red Wings, .576: Detroit’s recent 3-9-0 stretch has put them on a pursuit of a playoff spot for the first time since 2016. They have the second-most challenging remaining schedule among Eastern Conference playoff contenders, having to face Tampa, Toronto, Florida, Carolina and the New York Rangers over their final 11 games. They do, however, get to face the Washington Capitals two more times — one at home and one on the road — as those loom large since the Lightning have pulled seven points ahead. If they’re in it until the end, the Wings will wrap up the regular season with a home-and-home against Montreal.

Washington Capitals, .574: Washington has the advantage of holding the East’s second wild-card spot with at least one game in hand of everyone chasing it. The Capitals would have ranked much higher on this list just days ago and have helped themselves greatly with recent wins against Winnipeg, Carolina and Vancouver. Alex Ovechkin could not have timed a better hot streak, with eight goals in his past five games, over which time Washington has gone 4-1-0.

Toronto Maple Leafs, .557: Seemingly locked into the Atlantic’s third seed not all that long ago, the Maple Leafs are beginning to feel pressure from the Lightning, whose recent hot streak has pulled them to within four points. And it’s Toronto that faces the marginally more difficult schedule the rest of the way. The Leafs still have to face the tough Florida Panthers two more times, but those may not be their most important games. Toronto will also have to face Tampa Bay two more times, including in the season finale. The Leafs play the New Jersey Devils more than anyone in their final 12 games, having to face them three times.

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New York Islanders, .549: Still just hanging on by a thread after winning just once in their past eight games, the Islanders’ toughest opponents the rest of the way include Tampa, Florida, Nashville and two games against the rival Rangers, who themselves have something to play for. The Islanders’ next three games could be especially important, with difficult road matchups against the Panthers and Lightning followed by a trip to Philadelphia, where they have an outside chance of still catching the Flyers.

Florida Panthers, 544: Third in the NHL by points percentage, the Panthers have one less game played than the Bruins, who they also hold a sizeable lead on for the first tie-breaker (regulation wins). The Panthers could have a big role to play in how the East shakes out, given they play both Boston and Toronto twice more, and also will meet wild-card contenders in Detroit and the Islanders. When it comes to Florida’s pursuit of the Atlantic title or Presidents’ Trophy, they have a fairly nice home schedule to finish off with, facing Ottawa, Columbus and Buffalo before wrapping against the Leafs in the season’s final week.

Tampa Bay Lightning, .538: Here they come, folks. Over the past month, Tampa’s .727 points percentage is fifth in the league and second in the Eastern Conference, as they’ve gone 7-2-2 and averaged nearly four goals per game. Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point have been dominant. The only thing missing has been Andrei Vasilevskiy returning to scary playoff form (so far), as he’s allowed three goals or more in eight of his past 10 starts. The first wild card has all but been sewn up, so now Tampa has the Leafs in its crosshairs and get to face them twice in April. Seven of the Lightning’s last 11 games come against non-playoff opponents, a great opportunity to build confidence and pile up points. But, ultimately, the two remaining games against Toronto are must-haves for Tampa if it’s going to push for the Atlantic’s third seed.

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New York Rangers, .526: First in the NHL by points and points percentage, the Rangers may have the inside track for the Presidents’ Trophy given that they only have three more games against teams occupying a playoff spot — and two of them come this week (vs. Philadelphia; at Colorado). The Rangers will also have to face the motivated Red Wings and Islanders (twice) as they’ll be hungrily making playoff pushes, but there are no more back-to-backs to contend with or any road trip longer than this week’s two-gamer west.

Philadelphia Flyers, .513: The Flyers have been the popular pick to fall out — certainly the Devils, Islanders and Penguins were counting on that — and while they are hanging on, we should note Washington has passed the Flyers in points percentage. Philadelphia faces the top-seed Rangers two more times (including Tuesday night), the Islanders next week, and there’s a potential for fireworks in their final game of the season against the Washington Capitals if third in the Metro is still on the line. Although all those games are huge, the Flyers have no more room for error if they’re to stay ahead of the Capitals and need to get their points against lightweights Chicago, Montreal (x2), Buffalo and Columbus. Don’t let those be the ones that burn you.

Carolina Hurricanes, .511: The hottest Eastern Conference team at 8-1-1 in their past 10, the Hurricanes have gotten points in seven straight games, five of which came against teams holding a playoff spot. Though Carolina has the easiest remaining schedule of all the East teams, we should note that they play Boston twice more and also draw Detroit and Washington in the middle of their races; and if the St. Louis Blues are still alive on April 12, that means they’re probably on a heater and ready to give the Canes a run at home. If the Metro or Presidents’ Trophy is still up for grabs in the last week of the season, Carolina will benefit by having only Columbus and Chicago left to play.

Winnipeg Jets, .592: Dropping three straight games, only one of which was against a playoff opponent, and really running along closer to .500 over the past two months, the Jets are losing ground in the Central race. And though they’ll return home from a five-game road trip on Tuesday, they’ve got to face Edmonton and Vegas this week. And if you don’t think that’s difficult enough, in April the Jets set off on another week-long road trip, where they’ll meet Nashville, Dallas and Colorado, and in their final game of the season, Winnipeg hosts Vancouver. As we consider that difficult stretch and meander down this list to get a glimpse of Nashville, when should we start wondering if the Predators’ run could end up in the third seed of the Central?

Colorado Avalanche, .588: Winners of nine straight, the Avalanche have taken care of business over a stretch where seven of their opponents are outside the playoffs. But after Tuesday’s game against Montreal, Colorado will host the Rangers and Nashville, which handled the Avalanche 5-1 at the start of March. Then, as it also takes a run at divisional and league regular-season titles, Colorado will meet only one team that has a sub.-500 points percentage (Columbus) and also has two back-to-back situations, with Edmonton and Vegas as the back-end opponents on the road. It won’t be the easiest path to a regular season accomplishment, but at the very least this stretch should help ramp up the Avalanche for Round 1.

Vegas Golden Knights, .561: With Monday’s win against St. Louis, Vegas created a little buffer in the wild card and is setting up now to take a run at Los Angeles for third in the Pacific — and, who knows, maybe Edmonton for second. Vegas is 6-2-0 since its trade deadline mayhem and, ahem, Tomas Hertl hasn’t played a game yet. With 11 games remaining, five of those will come against teams in a top-three spot within its Western division. Adin Hill is now out, too, though having 2022-23’s season-opening starter Logan Thompson ready to jump back in is a nice solution. If the Golden Knights are playing for any position in the last week of the season, their final two games are at home, against Chicago and Anaheim.

Vancouver Canucks, .554: A nice run of recent home games by Casey DeSmith, in for injured Thatcher Demko, has the Canucks on the brink of clinching a playoff spot and has all but locked in the Pacific’s top seed and home-ice advantage through the first two rounds, at least. Tied with the Rangers atop the NHL in points, as the Canucks are in the running for the Presidents’ Trophy, we wonder if load management is a bigger concern for them in the final weeks. Demko is still working his way back, and Elias Lindholm is meeting with a specialist this week to look over something that’s been nagging at him after missing Monday’s game. After this home stretch ends next week, Vancouver will spend more time on the road in April, including stops in Vegas, Los Angeles, Edmonton and Winnipeg.

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Edmonton Oilers, .554: With the Pacific Division crown probably out of reach, even for a Connor McDavid-led team, the Oilers have an eye on the two teams lining up behind them that are on four- and three-game winning streaks. With 13 games remaining, the Oilers have more left to play than any other team and have three remaining back-to-back situations, including their final two games of the season (will we get Jack Campbell along the way?). They’ll have to face Vegas and Los Angeles once more each, but also all three of the teams atop the Central.

Nashville Predators, .534: Still riding that streak of 17 games of getting at least a point, the Predators can’t set a record, but if they keep it going to the end of the season, they’ll tie for second on the all-time list (1977-78 Montreal Canadiens, who had 28). While they have two more back-to-backs left, none of those opponents are in a playoff spot. But there are still tough opponents left in Vegas (Tuesday night), Colorado, Boston and Winnipeg, so if the Predators can ride this wave to the playoffs, not only will they be a tough out, but they may have a chance to pass the Jets ahead of them.

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Dallas Stars, .531: Currently in the middle of a four-game road trip where Vancouver will be their only playoff opponent, the Stars end up with a heavy home schedule in April, where three of their final four games come against Buffalo, Seattle and St. Louis. Winners of four straight, the Stars may be the Western Conference team best positioned to take a run at the league’s regular season title.

Los Angeles Kings, .487: After going a weeks-long stretch playing around .500 hockey, the Kings have won four in a row, and five of six, to stay ahead of the Golden Knights and within range of the Oilers. After they face Edmonton and Winnipeg on their current road trip, and then Vancouver at home on the first Saturday in April, the Kings’ last five games all come against non-playoff teams, with two against the Ducks and one each against the Flames, Wild and Blackhawks. They have one back-to-back remaining, with San Jose as the back-half opponent.

St. Louis Blues, .487: The Jekyll and Hyde Blues had a nice little run to give the Golden Knights a scare, and then got into extra time against Vegas Monday night, but that 2-1 loss was a real setback in their push. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that St. Louis has one of the easier remaining schedules, with San Jose up twice, and Anaheim and Chicago once. That’s not to say there won’t be challenges, as Edmonton and Carolina await, and a road game against Dallas is how St. Louis’ season will finish.

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