We’re in the final stretch now.
The last major day in the regular season schedule is May 10th, which is less than three weeks away. Due to rescheduled contests, the season goes until May 19, but from the 11th onward there are no more than three games on any day. So with so little time left in the regular season, this seems like an ideal time to look at each division and see what’s still left to play for in the battle for postseason spots and positioning.
We’ll start in the West where Vegas has become the first team to clinch with its 33-11-2 record. Despite leading the league in points, the Golden Knights’ spot atop the West Division isn’t secure. The Colorado Avalanche, who have a 30-9-4 are just four points behind despite having played in three fewer contests. Colorado and Vegas have two games left against each other with the first contest being on April 28 and the second on May 10, so look out for those games in particular.
The Minnesota Wild have a 29-13-3 record and barring a big surprise, they’re going to end up in third place, so that leaves the battle for the fourth and final playoff spot between Arizona (20-22-5), St. Louis (19-18-6), San Jose (18-23-5), and Los Angeles (17-20-6). Only the Anaheim Ducks (14-26-7) are truly out of that playoff battle, though it’s fair to say that it would be surprising to see the Sharks squeak into the playoffs at this point. Given that the Sharks are on a seven-game losing streak, they’d have to do a complete 180 and fast in order to have a chance.
Arizona really needs to turn things around too or else the playoff spot will slip through their fingers. The Coyotes have lost seven of their last eight games. After suffering a 4-1 loss to Minnesota on Wednesday, the Coyotes have a breather until they play against Los Angeles on Saturday, so they have an opportunity here to regroup.
The silver lining for Arizona is that St. Louis has been struggling too, dropping each of its last two games. Right now this is a race to see who can bounce back first.
In the Central Division, there are two separate races going on. Carolina (30-10-5), Florida (30-12-5), and Tampa Bay (30-14-2) are all within striking distance of each other in the battle for first place. With three teams in the mix, the home ice advantage in the first round is also at stake. There will be a pair of key games in the battle on Thursday and Saturday with the Panthers facing off against the Lightning. Carolina and Tampa Bay won’t play each other again this season, but the Lightning will finish off their season with a pair of games against the Panthers, so those two contests might end up deciding the seeding.
Editor’s Note: Drafting is only half the battle! Get an edge on your competition with our NHL Season Tools - available in our EDGE+ Roto tier for $3.99/mo. (annually) or $9.99/mo. (monthly) - that are packed with rankings, projections, a trade evaluator, start/sit tools and much more. And don't forget to use promo code WELCOME10 to get 10% off. Click here to learn more
Meanwhile, Nashville (25-21-2), Dallas (19-14-12), and Chicago (22-20-5) are battling it out for the fourth and final playoff spot. Dallas is the hottest team among them at the moment, winning their last four games and securing at least a point in eight straight contests. Roope Hintz has been a huge part of that surge with three goals and 13 points in six games over that span. Jason Robertson has also come up big with six goals and 11 points in his last eight games. Robertson is also just three points behind Kirill Kaprizov in the rookie scoring race.
Nashville was on fire for a while themselves, but they’ve cooled off with a 1-2-1 record over their last three games. Goaltender Juuse Saros was such a big part of the Predators surge and he’s taken a step back with his teammates lately. The Predators will need him to be at their best as they attempt to hold onto their playoff spot.
The East Division is arguably the one with the most secure top-four at this point. There had been a battle between Boston, the Rangers, and Philadelphia for the fourth playoff spot, but after the Bruins won five straight games, they now have 58 points in 44 games. The Rangers meanwhile are six points behind Boston despite having played in two more games, so it would be very surprising to see them squeak into the playoffs. Philadelphia is an even bigger long shot with 47 points in 45 games.
The battle for playoff positioning is very much open though between Washington (29-13-4), the Islanders (29-13-4), Pittsburgh (29-14-3), and Boston (26-12-6). They’re are amazing teams that are reasonably comparable to each other, so any little edge they can get would be extremely helpful in the playoffs. That makes the battle for home ice advantage all the more noteworthy as that could ultimately be what gives clubs the edge in a prolonged series.
In the North Division, Toronto holds a clear lead with a 28-13-5 record even after dropping five straight games. The Leafs closest competition is Winnipeg (27-15-3) and the two will play against each other on Thursday and Saturday. If the Maple Leafs lose both of those games then the battle for the first seed will be truly open, but short of that Toronto will remain the heavy favorite for that position.
The Edmonton Oilers are on Winnipeg’s tail with a 27-16-2 record, so they very much have a chance to move up to the second spot and get that home ice advantage in the first round. Edmonton actually has a weeklong break now, after which they will play in two key contests against the Jets.
Editor’s Note: Don’t forget to download the NBC Sports EDGE app to receive real-time player news and updates. Plus, it allows you to easily track your favorite players. Get it here!
As for the battle for the fourth playoff spot, that’s a weird one. Montreal holds the position with 49 points in 44 contests while the Calgary Flames’ postseason hopes are fading. After dropping back-to-back games, Calgary has just 41 points in 45 contests. The Flames are about to start a three-game series against Montreal, so if the Flames are able to sweep it then they’ll be right back in the playoff race, but short of that it’s hard to see Calgary squeaking into the postseason.
The big X-Factor though is Vancouver. In the Canucks return from their COVID-forced pause they earned a surprising 3-2 overtime win against Toronto. Then Vancouver managed to secure a 6-3 victory against the Leafs on Tuesday. With that the Canucks have 39 points in 39 games, so purely from a statistical perspective they’re very much in the battle for a playoff spot, especially given how mediocre Montreal has been lately. At the same time, the Canucks are beginning a crazy grind between now and the end of the season, so it’s hard to envision a scenario where they aren’t running on fumes by the end of it. Consequently, it would be surprising if Vancouver actually manages to keep this up and secure a playoff spot.
If they’re even close though it will certainly be weird because Montreal’s final game is on May 12 and Vancouver has five games after that date. So the Canadiens will be done with their season and just watching Vancouver games for a week to see if they are going to the playoffs. Imagine a team that’s already done the season practicing for another week because they’re not sure if they’ll be playing again or moving on to the offseason. Such is the way of the 2020-21 campaign.