1. Carolina Hurricanes: 114 Points (53-20-8)
With a win Tuesday night the Canes now have 114 points, which is a new franchise record with one game to play. The 4-3 win over the New York Rangers secured the Canes' first Metropolitan Division Championship and is the first time that they have won back-to-back division championships. The Canes will now most likely face the Boston Bruins who have a four-point lead over the Caps and a three-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Canes were able to beat the Rangers even with rookie Pytor Kochetkov in net in his second career NHL start. Outside of two late third-period goals, Kochetkov was solid in net and is showing that spark in net that a prospect needs to show. His ability to fill in this game and play the entire time will help with Antti Raanta’s rest and recovery from the injury/cramps that he suffered in his last outing against the New York Islanders.
While it was reported that Raanta’s injury was light, this still opens huge questions for the Canes heading into the postseason. Frederik Andersen has only received good news from the injury he sustained last week, but reports are he will not be ready to start the first round. Raanta could still be ready to start in the first round, but any tweak to an injury opens the door for a real possibility that Kochetkov starts in the playoffs. The team has rallied around him well late in the season, but the toughest test for the Canes will be getting past the Kryptonite of the Bruins.
2. New York Rangers: 108 Points (51-23-6)
Both Andrew Copp and Artemi Panarin were held out of the game heading into the third period with injuries. Head coach Gerard Gallant said that both could have returned, but their health heading into the playoffs was paramount. This mirrors the Canes keeping Raanta out of this game and also ensures that the Rangers play either the slumping Penguins or slumping Caps, both of whom have key injuries.
Here's to you, Kreids. What a season + what a leader. pic.twitter.com/WmLa8L2kq6— x - New York Rangers (@NYRangers) April 26, 2022
Despite not winning the division this is still a wildly successful season for the Rangers who have not been to the playoffs since the 2016-2017 season, they did make the “Qualifying Round” in the bubble and were swept by the Canes. The Rangers made strides over the last four seasons to go from seventh in the division to second. The hope for the Rangers and their fans is that this is the start of their next dominant core and not just a flash in the pan season.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 101 Points (45-25-11)
With a 4-6-1 record in April heading into last night’s game, the Penguins decided to shake up all of their lines. The most notable change, forward Brock McGinn has moved up to the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Rickard Rakell. The changes have also seen Evan Rodriguez move from a scoring line down to the fourth line with Teddy Bleuger and Danton Heinen. The moves looked necessary after what should have been a casual Sunday against the reeling Philadelphia Flyers ended in a 4-1 loss.
Coach Sullivan: "Your biggest foundation for confidence, for me, is preparation and readiness. That's what we need to build. I know this group is capable." https://t.co/6C6WhojB7q— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 27, 2022
The line changes did not seem to help the Pens in a 5-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. Since March 31st the Penguins have been relying on Casey DeSmith in net due to an injury to Tristan Jarry. They have not been supporting their backup goaltender. Since that date, they have let up the most shots per game in the league with 36.3 allowed per game. That's nearly 11 more per game than the Canes in that time frame. That's how in a 5-1 game he can still have a save percentage over .900. The Penguins desperately need to straighten out their team defense before the first round starts.
4. Washington Capitals: 100 Points (44-24-12)
Alexander Ovechkin is officially listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury that he sustained in the loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday. During the game on a breakaway, he was tripped up by the goaltender and went shoulder-first into the end boards, and did not return to the game. Ovechkin missed last night’s game which was his first missed game of the season for non-COVID reasons. He is currently listed as day-to-day but yesterday head coach said he didn’t know if Ovi would be ready to return by the start of the playoffs.
The good news for the Caps, they sit just one point behind the Penguins with a game in hand. They control their destiny to avoid the Florida Panthers. The Caps will end their regular season on Friday at the New York Rangers, their most likely first-round opponents. It will be a great game to watch to see the chess that both coaches will play before a do-or-die series.
5. New York Islanders: 82 Points (36-34-10)
The Islanders have just two games remaining on a season that can only be described as disappointing. The Isles do have positives to look forward to. Next season they will not have to start the season on a 14-game road trip something that helped doom their season before it got started this year. This team hasn’t had a lot of reason to be motivated, they had just a 1% chance to make the playoffs on New Year’s Day. That led to them taking the foot off the gas.
FROM THE GROUND TO THE BACK OF THE NET. pic.twitter.com/eRTCZOFKbb— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) April 27, 2022
The Isles team is still largely the same as the team that made back-to-back conference finals appearances and they will continue with that group moving forward. They are full of vets, which means they have not lost long-term confidence. They also still have Barry Trotz as their head coach which has an incredible track record of getting the most out of his team. All things being considered, the Isles will be looked at as a favorite to make the playoffs next season.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets: 79 Points (36-37-7)
The Columbus Blue Jackets were able to trade Seth Jones last offseason because they were confident they had a replacement top defenseman in Zach Werenski. Werenski signed a six-year, $57.5 million deal this offseason.. This season Werenski has proved the team was right for investing in him. He led the team in ice time averaging 25:42 per game, more than three minutes more than Vladislav Gavrikov in second place. Werenski’s 47 points rank fifth for all Columbus skaters and leads the defensemen.
Werenski has now missed three straight games for the Blue-Jackets and is likely done for the season. The defenseman may have suffered his third concussion of the season against the Anaheim Ducks. While it was not officially ruled a concussion he did note that he was “seeing stars” after the hit. Werenski does not have a history of concussions but any time a player suffers multiple in the same season can be worrisome. Since they don’t have anything to play for it makes the most sense to give him an early start to the offseason to preserve his long-term health.
7. New Jersey Devils: 63 Points (27-44-9)
The New Jersey Devils’ youth movement has been fun to watch this season. One player that has flown under the radar has been Yegor Sharangovich who recently scored against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday. Sharangovich is playing in his second NHL season at the age of 23. This season he has 24 goals and 22 assists for 46 points which includes three game-winning goals. This season he has proved that he belongs in the top-six plans moving forward.
The toughest part of this movement for the Devils will be managing all of the upcoming contracts. This off-season they will have to focus on signing Jesper Bratt who is a pending arbitration-eligible restricted free agent. His name has been thrown around as a possible trade target this offseason, but the Devils would struggle to replace his 70 points and 25 goals. He certainly looks to be one of the three or four most important players for the Devils' future.
8. Philadelphia Flyers: 61 Points (25-44-11)
The Flyers were able to play spoilers against their in-state rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday. They beat the playoff-bound Pittsburgh team by a score of 4-1 and were never behind in the game. The Flyers were led by rookies Morgan Frost and Noah Cates in that game with the pair combining for their first three goals. Cates, who scored two goals on Sunday, is the most recent acquisition for the Flyers after he signed an entry-level deal with the Flyers on March 27th. He now has five goals and four assists in 14 games played.
The two rookie forwards join Cam York who has played 31 games this season with the Flyers at 21-years-old. The Flyers failed to win three games in a row for the first time since December. The Flyers have only won consecutive games just three times since the start of 2022. They have a chance to do it again to end the season on a high note.