I’ve said it many times recently folks, but I really do mean it; we are in the final stretch of the NHL regular season and there is truly no better time to be a hockey fan. So, let’s take a look at where we stand heading into Sunday.
1. The battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference is quite intriguing as it pits the Penguins and Rangers against each other, which is an Atlantic Division rivalry. Therefore, regardless of their high point totals, one has to drop all the way to 4th when the playoffs begin — a huge blow to home ice later in the postseason. Currently it is Pittsburgh that is rolling (11 straight wins), but New York is slightly ahead with 11 games to go.
2. All three division races are unbelievably close at this point. Boston leads the Northwest by just one point, New York leads the Atlantic by three, and the Panthers have pulled ahead by five after winning Saturday. This is obviously huge to watch, as the difference between winning and losing a division is typically home ice advantage in the first round — or, in the case of the Southeast, it could be making/not making the playoffs at all.
3. Although the Senators are pretty comfortable in the 7th spot, the race for 8th is completely up for grabs. Right now it is Washington that is clinging to it, but they hold only a two point lead over Winnipeg and Buffalo. And, in all fairness, we cannot discount Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Carolina, who are all technically within reach. This could be something that is fought for until the final day.
1. The St. Louis Blues have almost guaranteed themselves the top record in the NHL after an unbelievably slow start to this season. They have 100 points with nine games remaining, and have won seven of 10. Also, their 142 goals allowed is lowest in the league, and as many people say, defense wins championships. Keep an eye on this bunch come April.
2. Notice how open the playoff race is from seed six, down to the 11th spot in the standings. Chicago (currently 6th) holds only a six point advantage over Calgary, who would miss the postseason if it began today. With that being said, expect a lot of shake ups throughout the bottom part of the standings before it is all decided. None of these squads are safe.
3. Not to poke fun at Columbus, but it is a little funny to note that the Blue Jackets (51 points) are officially the ONLY team in the league that is eliminated from playoff contention. But, the good news for ‘Jackets fans is that they have to survive this miserable season for a couple more weeks and then it is finally over.