Push to the Playoffs

One week from today, the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be oh so close to being completely decided.  However, with 8 days remaining in the regular season thanks to two make up games next Sunday, there is still oh so much to be decided.

As of today, the Western Conference is starting to take shape.  Seven of the Eight teams in the West have been clinched, with the only remaining spot up for grabs being the last Wild Card spot.  That spot can only be taken by either the Colorado Avalanche or the Minnesota Wild.

As for the Eastern Conference, the only thing anyone knows up to this point is the Washington Capitals are really good; whoever is going to advance to the Finals from the East are going to have to go through the President Trophy clinching Caps.

Even thought there is still a lot of clinching left to do (literally and figuratively) in the East, things are starting to work themselves out.  In the Atlantic, both the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning can clinch today with a little help from the Toronto Marlies Maple Leafs.  In the Metropolitan, the Capitals remain the top seed with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers looking to clinch today as well.  That leaves three spots left, and four teams battling for them: The Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers.

So which teams will make their final push into the playoffs?

In the West, it is the Wild’s to lose.  They are currently up on the Avalanche by 5 points and have a much easier remaining schedule (at Jets, vs Sharks, vs Flames) than the Avalanche (vs Blues, at Predators, at Stars, vs Ducks).  Even though the Wild have opened the door a little bit the past few nights by losing to the Senators and the Red Wings, the Avalanche couldn’t capitalize against the Caps in a game in which they had to win.  The Avalanche are 1-4 in their past 5 games during a crucial stretch and look highly unlikely to sweep 4 playoff teams while getting a little help from their rivals up north.  All things considered, it appears the Minnesota Wild will be the final playoff team in the Western Conference.

The Eastern Conference is something else entirely and will most likely come down to a make up game next Sunday between the Flyers and Islanders to determine where all the cards fall.

The Islanders looked like they were a lock for the playoffs a month ago, but a 2-5-2 stretch during March dropped them down and put their playoff appearance in question.  They still have a little bit of a cushion with at least a three point lead over the other teams chasing them and have six games left to play.  Those six games could be treacherous (vs Penguins, vs Lightning, at Capitals, at Rangers, vs Sabres, vs Flyers) depending on which Islanders team shows up.  However, with more games to work with and sitting on a few more points, the Islanders should sneak into the playoffs as the first Wild Card team, but they better find a way to win a couple big games during the final week.

Philadelphia is hot.  Their victory against the Capitals on Wednesday Night Rivalry was one of the best games all year and could have been a preview for a first round match-up if they can keep up their intensity and make it back to the playoffs.  Their schedule is tough and full of back to backs (4/2 vs Senators, 4/3 at Penguins, 4/6 at Red Wings, 4/7 vs Maple Leafs, 4/9 vs Penguins, 4/10 at Islanders) but they have been playing playoff hockey for over a month now and are showing no signs of slowing.  Expect the Flyers to be sitting in the final Wild Card Spot when the playoffs start, but they better not overlook their tricky game against the young Marlies Maple Leafs that could derail their mojo.

Now if you’re keeping track, that leaves the 3rd slot in the Atlantic to be decided between the Detroit Red Wings and the Boston Bruins.  Both teams have been playing .500 basketball as of late but both had huge wins against respectable Central teams on Friday.  Both have the same number of games remaining and the same number of regulation and overtime wins (ROW) with 37.  Boston does hold a one point advantage on Detroit (90/89) and sits in that 3rd spot as of now.  So how will it shake out?  The Red Wings arguably have the toughest remaining schedule with only one more game at home (at Maple Leafs, vs Flyers, at Bruins, at Rangers) compared to the Bruins who close their season on a three game home stand (at Blackhawks, vs Hurricanes, vs Red Wings, vs Senators).  If you noticed, a huge match-up between the two looms next Thursday between the two as Detroit travels to Boston in what very well could decide who travels to Florida to play playoff hockey, or who travels to Florida to mope on the beach.  They way the final week looks on paper, and with their inconsistent play as of late, the Red Wings will be the ones moping for the first time in 25 years and the Bruins will be the ones packing up their sticks instead of sunscreen.