There are two days left in the NHL regular season (plus one game) and much has been decided. The Nashville Predators are the Presidents’ Trophy winners for the first time in their history and one year after they made it to the final. The Buffalo Sabres locked up 31st place for the first time in their history and one year after they finished 26th.
In between those two extremes there is much to be decided.
Eastern Conference Races
The Leafs are who they are — third. We should make that our slogan. We are Third! We can claim it means we’re always winning by the third period or something. But the two teams ahead of the Leafs in the Atlantic simply can’t sort themselves out. By losing to the Florida Panthers on Thursday night, the Boston Bruins flipped to second place to Tampa Bay. They now each have 110 points, but Tampa holds the first tiebreaker with one more ROW. They each have two games to play.
Tampa plays Buffalo tonight, and with a win can solidify, but not clinch their spot in first place, and really, Tampa, if you don’t win that, you should just slink off in shame. On Saturday, when every team save Pittsburgh is on the ice, they play Carolina, which might be a contest.
Boston plays Ottawa on Saturday night, and then Florida on Sunday. My money is on Florida getting eliminated on Saturday afternoon when Philadelphia plays the New York Rangers — any point to the Flyers kills the faint hopes of the Panthers. Not actual money, you understand; I don’t gamble.
And that is the Panthers’ situation. They have to win their games, and the Flyers have to lose theirs, and while they have the proverbial game in hand they’ve had ever since that Boston game was cancelled back in January, they have yet to actually win into a playoff spot.
So Tampa or Boston? I think if the Panthers are eliminated, the Bruins might get snarly, angry cats on Sunday and might have a tough time. They really took it to the Bruins at times on Thursday, and Tuukka Rask looked very beatable. If the Panthers have a chance, the Bruins get desperate players and Roberto Luongo in net. I think Tampa is taking the division. But it’s a coinflip at this point.
So who takes what wild card? That’s the big question the winner of the Atlantic wants answered, I would think. It can still be any of Columbus, New Jersey, Philadelphia or Florida. The Flyers, who seemed like they were trying to miss entirely Thursday night, can finish out of the playoffs, third in the Metropolitan Division or with either wild card.
New Jersey, who clinched thanks to the Leafs, can be second in the division or the last wild card. Columbus holds the second tiebreaker with the Devils (the head-to-head games), so they can’t finish in the last wild card, but they can get bumped out of the top three or finish second.
There’s a scenario here where Washington, who won the Metro again to no fanfare, could play the Penguins in the first round. Garity is fun.
Western Conference Races
The west has one team trying to get in, St. Louis, and one team that can be kicked, Colorado. The rest is a question of rankings, just like in the east.
The Central Division top three are set and can’t move, and Vegas has the Pacific title, but after that it’s all up for grabs.
There are only two points between Los Angeles and San Jose, and the Kings hold the ROW advantage to win any tie. Anaheim can vault over LA to make the third place spot, but they can’t fall below the first wild card.
The second wild card spot is between St. Louis, who play Chicago on Friday night, and Colorado who have one game left. If the Blues beat Chicago, which they failed to do in their last game, they are only one point ahead of Colorado, so no matter what happens in that game, the decider is the Saturday matchup between the Blues and the Avalanche. These two teams hate each other, and they both have goalie disasters which will pit Jonathan Bernier, the Avs only starter right now, against either the flailing Jake Allen or the surprise of the season in Carter Hutton.
The Blues seem to be set to play Allen again against Chicago, so it looks like the setup is for Hutton to come in on the last game. Battle of the backups for all the marbles — this really is going to be the game of the night on Saturday. Not that the Leafs trying to set a points record and a goalie wins record against the Habs won’t be exciting. It will be, but we’ll forgive you if you check the other scores occasionally.
For everyone still fighting, but particularly the Avs: