Though the actual playoff match-ups are not yet set in the East, the eight playoff teams have essentially been locked in since January, due in no small part to the fact that for the first time in NHL history all eight teams to qualify for the postseason in one conference will do so with 100+ points on the year. The Western Conference has been more wide open and with just over a week remaining in the regular season, there are still several playoff spots left unclaimed. While the Colorado Avalanche clinched a spot more than two weeks ago and the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, and St. Louis Blues have since followed (the latter two are the only known first-round series thus far), the final spot in the Pacific Division and the two Western wild card berths remain available.
The Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars currently occupy the wild card positions and the Los Angeles Kings sit in third in the Pacific. Will the status quo prevail over the remaining slate of regular season games? The Vegas Golden Knights remain in the hunt for all of these spots and certainly have the talent on paper and the pre-season expectations to keep things interesting. The Vancouver Canucks are still in the mix as well, but realistically only for a wild card spot. It would require an incredible run to end the year coupled with some help, but it certainly isn’t impossible.
Los Angeles Kings
Currently: 42-27-10, 94 points (.595) – third in the Pacific
Remaining Games: vs. ANA, @ SEA, @ VAN
Key Note: The Kings are on a three-game winning streak and need just a win on Saturday night and a Vegas loss on Sunday to lock up the Pacific. Given the caliber of their remaining schedule, the Kings appear to be in good shape – they always have the wild card to fall back on as well.
Currently: 44-28-5, 93 points (.603) – fourth in the Central, first wild card
Remaining Games: @ TBL, vs. MIN, vs. CGY, @ COL, @ ARI
Key Note: The Predators have the best points percentage and goal differential of the teams still fighting for a playoff spot. Nashville should a playoff team, but needs to play like one down the stretch with four very difficult match-ups remaining.
Currently: 43-30-5, 91 points (.583) – fifth in the Central, second wild card
Remaining Games: vs. SEA, vs. VGK, vs. ARI, vs. ANA
Key Note: Dallas is slumping at the wrong time, dropping three in a row heading into Saturday. Other than a critical clash with Vegas, they could not have asked for an easier end to the year with a homestand and several easy opponents. If they can’t clinch a playoff spot with this slate, they probably don’t belong there anyhow.
Vegas Golden Knights
Currently: 42-31-5, 89 points (.571) – fourth in the Pacific
Remaining Games: vs. SJS, @ DAL, @ CHI, @ STL
Key Note: The Knights have just as many wins as the Kings and in fewer games; overtime results are all that separate the talented team from a divisional playoff spot. The unclear situation in net is certainly a potential make-or-break issue for Vegas, but if the team should still have a good chance against two non-playoff teams and a playoff team who should be taking the night off in their regular season finale. The decision against Dallas could ultimately decide Vegas’ fate.
Currently: 38-29-11, 87 points (.558) – fifth in the Pacific
Remaining Games: @ CGY, vs. SEA, vs. LAK, @ EDM
Key Note: Losing is no longer an option for Vancouver, but it might not be anyway. The Flames are locked into their playoff spot and the Oilers and Kings will likely be as well by the time they face the Canucks later in the week; these teams lack purpose in their current match-ups and the Kraken should be a win regardless of the effort level. If Vancouver can take advantage of these situations, perhaps they still have a chance.
What do you think? Who will finish the job and who will be left on the outside looking in?