(Photo via neontommy.com)
With only a month left in the NHL season, the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs is as tight as it can be. Aside from the Washington Capitals who have an 18 point lead in the Metro Division, the top teams in each division are separated by 3 points at most. It’s crunch time for these teams. It’s time for these teams to show that they belong in first place.
In the Metropolitan Division, the Capitals have been running away with the division since the second month of the season. However, the race for home ice in the first round against the Rangers and Islanders is separated by just 3 points. The Islanders, with 82 points, have 3 games in hand on the Rangers, who have 85 points. So if the Isles can win 2 of those 3 games they will have the lead on the Rangers. These two teams still have one head to head matchup left. And you can’t count the Penguins out either. The Pens sit in the first Wild Card spot in the East with 80 points. So if the Islanders go on even the smallest losing streak, Pittsburgh will have the opportunity to jump into third place.
The Atlantic Division can’t get any tighter. Right now, the Bruins, who surprisingly missed the playoffs last season, are in first place with 86 points. However, the surprising Panthers and the Lightning are tied for second just one behind, each with 85 points. Also, the Panthers and Lightning have games in hand on the Bruins. So tomorrow maybe the Panthers will be in first, or maybe the Lightning. This division race with be going back and forth until the very last game of the season.
The Central Division is a battle between three of the top offenses in the league. The Stars and Blues are tied atop the Central with 91 points. But the Blackhawks are right behind with 88 points and one game in hand. Because of their success in the playoffs in the past 6 seasons the Blackhawks were the favorite to win the division at the start of the season. But the Stars have had the best offense in the Western Conference this season, as have been able to hold off the Blackhawks up to this point. Chicago plays both the Stars and Blues one more time so they’ll have their chance to take over the division lead.
Finally, in the Pacific Division, The LA Kings, who shocked the league last season by missing the playoffs, sit in first place with 85 points. The Ducks, who got off to an extremely slow start this season are right behind with 83 points, thanks to a recent 11 game winning streak. Then the Sharks are just one point behind them with 82 points. The Ducks and Sharks each play the Kings one more time this season, so the Kings will need to win those games to stay in first place. Also, the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche are tied for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference with 74 points. These two teams still have one more head to head matchup so if the standings stay this close until then, that game will have a huge impact on who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t.
Every game between all of these teams is going to have the atmosphere of a playoff game. They all want the home ice advantage that is so important in these playoffs. It’s going to be exciting to watch how the standings are going to change from now until the end of the season.
– T. Ilardi