The worst-kept secret and maybe the best-kept secret in the NHL are both in the Eastern Conference.
The Metropolitan Division is on a crash course and they have been since the start of the season. Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs are making a strong run for the playoffs with one of the league’s youngest rosters.
Out West, the Wild have hit a very rough patch and teams are taking advantage of it.
Here are some headlines from the past week in the NHL.
The Not so Wild, Wild West
Several weeks ago, the Minnesota Wild were the hottest team in hockey. They were winning games left and right and it looked like they were well on their way to winning the Central Division.
Things can change fast in the NHL.
Minnesota has lost five straight games and eight of their last ten, including a 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.
As of late, nothing has been able to click for the Wild. One night, they’ll throw lots of pucks on net and be very dangerous offensively but they can’t keep the puck out of the net. The next night, they shut teams down and keep them to just a goal or two, but their offense can’t back up that defensive effort.
As Minnesota has fallen, the Chicago Blackhawks have become one of the hottest teams in the league. Polar opposite of Minnesota, Chicago has won five straight games and eight of their last ten.
The shift in power in the Central Division has resulted in a big lead for the Hawks, now up nine points on the Wild with just 11 games to go in their regular season.
Of course, there still is time for Minnesota to turn things around, and they certainly need to. What you do over the course of the season is important, but not nearly as important as how you play down the stretch. We’ve seen time and time again the overall best team over the course of 82 games get knocked out by the team that got hot at the right time.
Here Come the Maple Leafs (No, Really)
The Toronto Maple Leafs are dangerous.
They took down the Boston Bruins last night and have gone 5-3-2 over their last ten.
Sure, their overall record hasn’t been extremely impressive, but they have the pieces to make things interesting down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Auston Matthews will win rookie of the year, William Nylander and Mitch Marner have had spectacular rookie seasons, and the likes of Connor Brown, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk have rounded out a forward core stacked with firepower from top to bottom.
On the back end, Jake Gardner has been this team’s most consistent source of offense and his team-leading plus-23 rating certainly looks pleasant to the eye. Morgan Rielly, of course, has the biggest upside on that blue line despite struggling at times alongside rookie Nikita Zaitsev.
It won’t be easy for the Leafs in their final 11 games. They have the likes of the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning hot on their trail just two and three points behind them for the second wild card spot, respectively.
Breaking: the Metropolitan Division is really good.
This trio of top teams has gone a combined 20-8-2 over their last ten games, with Columbus and Pittsburgh leading the way at 8-2-0 and 7-2-1, respectively.
This has been a really fun thing to watch. The West has been the dominant conference more often than not as of late, but this year has been different because of the Metropolitan Division.