This week, we take a look at where the teams in the East playoff race stand with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season. Since our last checkup, we’ve cut down significantly on the number of teams, to where there are only three teams competing for two wild card spots. We’ll also take a look at the teams above the Hurricanes at the standings, who they may be able to catch in the final few games of the season.
101 Point Pace | 40 ROW | 30th in Strength of Schedule Remaining
The Penguins know how to win. That much is apparent in their play of late as they push towards the playoffs without Evgeni Malkin. They’ve won their last three games despite missing one of their most impactful players.
They picked up seven out of a possible eight points on their recent road trip — a near perfect record that was spoiled by an overtime loss in Raleigh. But things just got tougher as they announced Kris Letang is out of the lineup day-to-day with an upper body injury.
Luckily, they’re looking at the second-easiest strength of schedule in the entire NHL for the remainder of the season. Their only remaining hurdles are games against the Predators and Hurricanes before a final three game set against the Red Wings (two games) and Rangers. They currently sit in second place in the Metropolitan, and anything less than home-ice advantage in their first round matchup would probably feel like failure to Mike Sullivan and his team.
New York Islanders
101 Point Pace | 40 ROW | 15th in Strength of Schedule Remaining
The Islanders were shutout by the Blue Jackets — err, by Sergei Bobrovsky — last night in Columbus in a game that allowed the Penguins to take control of the second spot in the Metropolitan Division.
That’s the third time the Islanders have been shutout in their last five contents. As good as their goaltending has been over the past few months, they need some run support if the team is going to keep pace with the top three in the Metropolitan Division. The bad news for this club is that Andrew Ladd is done for the season with a torn ACL and they’re 5-5-0 in their last 10 and 10-9-1 in their last 20.
As they slowly fall down the playoff standings, games against the Jets, Maple Leafs, and Capitals remain on their schedule. They still have some work to do to secure a spot in the Metropolitan Division top three.
98 Point Pace | 40 ROW | 13th in Strength of Schedule Remaining
Last night could not have gone worse for the Carolina Hurricanes. A dud of a third period that resulted in a regulation loss to one of the league’s best teams was exacerbated by regulation wins from the Blue Jackets and Canadiens. With both clubs seemingly picking up steam over the past week and inching closer to a playoff spot, the Hurricanes will need to walk away from Thursday’s game with something to show for it.
Another regulation loss would allow Montreal the opportunity to leapfrog into the WC1 position with the Blue Jackets close behind. We’ve talked a lot about how difficult the March schedule is for the Hurricanes, and it looks like it’s finally catching up to them. They’ve lost four out of their last 10 in regulation, but three out of those four losses came at the hands of a division leading hockey teams. I wouldn’t really chalk that up to poor performance as much as strength of competition. But unfortunately, they don’t have much more room for error from here on out. They’ll need to win some hockey games to keep pace.
96 Point Pace | 39 ROW | 1st in Strength of Schedule Remaining
The Montreal Canadiens made a statement last night as they throttled the Florida Panthers in the Bell Centre in Carey Price’s 33rd win of the season. They’ve won four out of their last five, with their only loss coming in Raleigh in overtime on Sunday.
The good news for the Canadiens is that Carey Price has been absolutely dominant lately and that they’re no longer fighting an uphill battle to get into the playoffs. Their recent string of solid play has throttled them into the WC2 spot with a two point lead on Columbus (with one less game in hand). The bad news is that they have the hardest remaining schedule in the NHL.
That begins on Thursday with a matchup against the Blue Jackets in a game that Hurricanes fans should keep an eye on. After that game, they finish out their season against the Jets, Lightning, Capitals, and then Maple Leafs. All four of those teams are top ten in the league standings — three of them are top five.
Columbus Blue Jackets
95 Point Pace | 40 ROW | 26th in Strength of Schedule Remaining
The Blue Jackets were dominated in their tour through Alberta last week, scoring three goals relative to their eight conceded while losing both games in regulation. Coach John Tortorella clearly got the message across to his club after that — they haven’t been scored on in their two contests since.
They put up five on the Canucks and four on the Islanders last night and picked up a critical pair of wins to remain in the race. Captain Nick Foligno returned to the lineup last night against the Islanders after missing the ten day road trip to care for his critically ill son.
Similar to the Penguins, the Blue Jackets do not have a very difficult remaining schedule. Their final two games of the season are against the battered Rangers and Senators in games that they will be enormous favorites. They remain three points behind the Hurricanes and two behind the Canadiens with their biggest game of the season coming up on Thursday against Montreal. A loss in that game would be devastating for their playoff hopes.