While the race to make the NHL playoffs is in the stretch, as only one week left to qualify. Teams have clinched either the divisional or “just below” places, but final wild-card berths are undetermined, potentially until the regular season’s final day.
That’s indeed true in the East. There are three teams within a point of one another, while both the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators are lurking at 81 points apiece, and the Detroit Red Wings are next with 79. It is a similar dilemma in the West. The second-season Seattle Kraken has 94 points to lead the wild-card race, three teams are within three points and eyeing the last spot.
Here is a breakdown of where those teams stand and their paths to the playoffs…
NHL Eastern Conference
The Florida Panthers and New York Islanders sit in the last two spots, each with 87 points. They also each have a +13 goal differential on the season. Lurking a point behind them are the Pittsburgh Penguins, despite a goal differential of minus-5.
Perhaps no team has a better path forward than the Penguins, a poor showing at New Jersey Tuesday notwithstanding (As an aside, Jersey is 8-1 (+800) to win the Metropolitan, according to NHL division odds).
Pittsburgh finishes at home against the Minnesota Wild, visiting the Red Wings, hosting the Chicago Blackhawks and visiting the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Wild is a difficult draw, but it is possible the Penguins can skate away with nine points and the last berth.
The Panthers have it a bit tougher, games against the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs (each with more than 100 points and already in the playoffs), then the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals (both done).
The Islanders have the Tampa Bay Lightning, but finish with the Philadelphia Flyers, Caps and Montreal Canadiens. As with the Penguins, nine points aren’t inconceivable.
Ottawa’s apparent longshot chance sees the Senators with games against Carolina and Tampa Bay, along with the Panthers and Sabres.
They haven’t played the best hockey this season, but the schedule suits the Penguins. If they can take care of business, Pittsburgh is able to leapfrog the Panthers by securing an extra win and, along with the Isles, take the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
NHL Western Conference
It’s not impossible that the Seattle Kraken climb out of their current wild-card position to move past either the Edmonton Oilers (101 points) or Los Angeles Kings (100) in the Pacific. However, with 94 points, that’s a tough task facing the Kraken.
The schedule does play in favor of Seattle. It ends with two games apiece against the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes, a fifth game against the Blackhawks. Both the potential to grab points and the quality of foes (at least the last two) give Seattle a shot.
However, the hottest race in the West is between the Winnipeg Jets (89 points), Calgary Flames (87) and Nashville Predators (86) going after the final wild-card spot. The Jets have a +18 goal differential, the Flames are at +6, while the Predators are at minus-11.
Winnipeg has a chance to take care of its own business, games against the Predators and Flames down the stretch. The Jets also play the Wild and San Jose Sharks.
Calgary’s brutal home loss to the Blackhawks Tuesday didn’t help. There are road games at Winnipeg and the Vancouver Canucks, then ending with home matches against the Predators and Sharks. Meanwhile, the Preds get the Hurricanes, Wild and Colorado Avalanche, with two road games against the Jets and Flames.
Calgary is largely favored to miss the postseason, as per NHL playoff odds by BetUS Sportsbook.
The imbalance of games works against the Flames. While only having four opportunities is tough, all of them figure to be winnable.
Meanwhile, Nashville has two opportunities to get points against the teams it’s fighting against, which is important, seeing as the Preds’ other three games are against playoff teams who may not be resting players down the stretch.
Winnipeg has winnable games against each team it’s looking to fend off. We are predicting the Jets do just that.