1. Washington Capitals: 114 Points (53-18-8)
With a win last night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Caps have all but secured the President’s Trophy. The Caps would have to go winless in their last three and Pittsburgh would have to win their last three to overtake the Caps for home-ice throughout the playoffs this year. Even with just three games left in the season, though, the Caps’ opponents are not set. The Maple Leafs, Bruins, and Senators are all within one point of each other.
Out of these teams, the Senators would be the most favorable matchup for the Caps. With the Bruins and the Leafs both locked in a playoff battle, both teams have been in do or die mode for the past month and are playing their best hockey of the season. Meanwhile, the Senators have been in a little bit of a free fall. Before beating the Red Wings last night, the Senators had lost their last five games. Craig Anderson has struggled since the start of March and has a .909 sv%, which is not how the Sens want to enter the playoffs.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 109 Points (49-19-11)
Despite facing even more injuries than last week, the Pens won their biggest game of the year last night, defeating the third-place Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1. After this big win, Pittsburgh now has a three-point advantage over Columbus with three games remaining. This win goes a long way toward securing home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, which will be against the Blue Jackets.
The Penguins did this without their latest injury victim, Chris Kunitz, who is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. At 37 years old, Kunitz has possibly played his last game in a Penguins uniform. The Penguins now have to hope that Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang will be able to come back from their injuries for the playoffs. After blocking a shot with his shoulder Malkin has missed significant time, and if he comes back before he's 100% his shot could be affected. The Pens have been very quiet about Letang’s injury so his status is still uncertain.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 106 Points (49-21-8)
With the second seed and home ice in the first round hanging in the balance last night, the Blue Jackets couldn’t pull out a win against the Pens. The Jackets outshot the Pens (39-27), out hit the Pens (49-36), and dominated the faceoff circle (64%-36%) - but fell short between the pipes. Vezina favorite Sergei Bobrovsky was only able to stop 23 of 27 shots for a .852 sv% in the pivotal game.
The Blue Jackets now have three games left against the Jets, Maple Leafs, and Flyers. These last three games will be tough as the Jets are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now (yes, really; you can look it up), and the Maple Leafs are fighting for seeding in the Atlantic Division. Pittsburgh has the Devils, Leafs, and Rangers left which may be a slightly easier schedule. The Blue Jackets will need to win their remaining games and hope that the Pens fall in at least two of theirs to have a chance to secure home ice in the first round.
4. New York Rangers: 100 Points (47-26-6)
The New York Rangers have earned the playoff position they were hoping for, the top wild card position in the East. Given tiebreakers and results elsewhere, the Rangers are locked into playing the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs. If the standings stay the same, the winner of that series would face the winner of the Maple Leafs and Senators series. Both opponents are much easier opponents than the Caps, Pens, or Jackets.
Henrik Lundqvist has played just four games since returning from an injury. In these five games, he has not looked great, but he is trending in the right direction. Since returning he has just a .873 sv% and a 3.92 GAA. However, in his last two games, he is hovering around a .900 sv% and has a 2.91 GAA. Though this isn’t what the Rangers hoped for out of him, he still has a week to return to his regular form.
5. New York Islanders: 88 Points (38-29-12)
With just three games remaining the Islanders are five points out of a playoff position, which means barring any miracles their season will end after game 82. For the Islanders, it was a tale of two seasons, the season under Jack Capuano and the season under Doug Weight. It’s impressive to think that when Weight took over as head coach in January this team was at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. What he has been able to do in 36 games has been very impressive, with the Islanders earning 44 points, the sixth best in the league in that time.
Much like the Canes, the Islanders will finish just a few points short of the playoffs, agonizingly close for the fans. If Weight took over the team even a week before he did, we could be looking at the Islanders with a playoff berth preparing for a series against the Caps.
The Islanders aren’t far off. This offseason, they will look to get rid of Jaroslav Halak’s $4.5 million contract and will look to add another top six forward to help with scoring. The Islanders are still a fun team to watch, and with John Tavares, they are a threat to win night in and night out. Much like what Yzerman did with the Lightning, Snow will have to do with the Isles to convince Tavares that re-signing with the team is the right move to make.
6. Philadelphia Flyers: 85 Points (38-33-9)
The Flyers have a one point advantage over the Canes for sixth place in the Metro but have also played one more game than the Canes. The Flyers have largely been overshadowed by the Canes’ play down the stretch, but have done their part to hang with the wild card teams until the end of the season. Though they are sixth in the Metro, the Flyers still rank 11th in the East.
The Flyers are a very similar team to the Canes, having a young defense and sub-par goaltending. They aren’t too familiar with finishing outside of the playoffs in the last decade, but they will need to continue on the same path that they have been on. Much like the Canes, they are not far off and only need a couple of more pieces to make a run in the playoffs. The Flyers just need another top six forward and a better goaltender to make a run. With another year of experience both Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov will be much further along in their development and will be much larger contributors next season (think Noah Hanifin).
7. Carolina Hurricanes: 84 Points (35-29-14)
With a 2-0 Senators win last night, the Carolina Hurricanes are officially eliminated from the playoffs. Tripp Tracy made a great point in last night’s broadcast that with the way that the Bruins, Leafs, and Senators have been playing, even if the Canes were perfect throughout the end of March and all of April they still might not have made the playoffs, which is true but doesn't make an eighth straight season without the playoffs any easier to take.
The Canes fell into the same trap they have fallen into the past few years when you start off slow, it is incredibly hard to recover. The Canes have had their fair share of issues, none bigger than the number of blown leads and overtime losses they gave up this year. Over the last two seasons, no team has lost more games in overtime than the Canes. It cost them a playoff spot last year, and it likely cost them a playoff position this season as well. Blowing a chance for two points at any point in the season is not good, but when you lose games where you have two-goal leads in the third it is detrimental to a bubble team.
The Canes and their fans have a lot to build off of this season and have a lot to be excited about next season. The Canes defense is one of the most impressive in the league, and have Jake Bean, Roland McKeown, Haydn Fleury, and Trevor Carrick who have had good seasons and will be in the system next season. Andrew Poturalski is currently a finalist for the AHL rookie of the year, and new signee Aleksi Saarela has five goals in five games for the Charlotte Checkers. The talent that Francis has been acquiring through trades and drafts is finally starting to develop, which will make the next few seasons very fun to watch.
8. New Jersey Devils: 70 Points (28-37-14)
Going into last night the Devils were tied with the Canucks and just two points ahead of the Arizona Coyotes for second to last place in the NHL. Inexplicably the Devils were able to beat the Flyers in a 1-0 overtime barn burner. The Devils still have great draft lottery odds with a 26% chance to climb into the top three for draft picks.
This season’s draft is weaker than the last few drafts with only a couple of top prospects, Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick leading the way. The Devils need to go the same path the Canes have been going down and go into a full rebuild. The Devils still have some good aging players that they can trade to Cup contenders for picks and prospects at the draft. If the Devils do not go this route, their fans could be in for a very long haul until the organization finally gives in.