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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Playoff positions still up in the air with final games remaining

The Carolina Hurricanes have spent the entire season in first place in the Metropolitan Division, but it will all come down to the final matchups of the season.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 111 Points (51-21-9) 81 GP

The Carolina Hurricanes had been struggling down the stretch, but a win last night means they will head into the final matchup of the season against the Florida Panthers with a chance to win the Division for back-to-back seasons.

Meanwhile, the Devils will have the injured and struggling Washington Capitals in their final matchup while still trailing the Canes by only one point.

The tough news for the Canes, is that New Jersey has the first tie-breaker, regulation wins, locked up. The Devils will enter the final game with 39 regulation wins to the Hurricanes’ 38. This means if the Canes lose in overtime or in the shootout and the Devils win in any fashion, the Devils will tie the Canes in points and win the division based on the tiebreaker.

The good news for the Canes though, is that the Florida Panthers come into the matchup having already clinched a playoff berth. With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ loss last night, the Panthers clinched their fourth-straight postseason appearance. They have a one-point advantage over the Isles and hold the regulation wins tiebreaker over both the Isles and Pens. They are still playing for seeding to avoid the Boston Bruins, but there is a lot less on the line than could have been if the Penguins won last night.

2. New Jersey Devils: 110 Points (51-22-8) 81 GP

With a win over the Buffalo Sabres last night, the Devils eliminated the Sabres’ from a possible postseason bid. They also stayed within striking distance of the Canes and could end up avoiding the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs should the cards fall their way.

Last night also saw the debut of Luke Hughes, the third Hughes brother to make the NHL. Hughes is the top prospect for the Devils who have the second-best prospect pool according to Scott Wheeler of The Athletic. Hughes just finished his sophomore season at the University of Michigan where he had 48 points in 38 games.

Throughout his two-year college career, Hughes scored over a point per game pace with 87 points in 80 games. He was selected fourth overall by the Devils in the 2021 NHL draft.

In his first NHL game, Hughes had 13 shifts and logged 11:15 of ice time. The plan is to have Hughes play time and give other players time off heading into the playoffs. He is also ineligible to play in the AHL playoffs so this will maximize his time with the NHL club. It is also important to note for the Devils, that regardless of if he had played last night, the first year of his three-year entry-level contract is burned. He will have two years remaining, getting him closer to eventual free agency.

3. New York Rangers: 107 Points (47-21-13) 81 GP

Center Mika Zibanejad and forward Artemi Panarin both recorded points on Monday night against the Buffalo Sabres. They became the 17th and 18th players this season to reach the 90-point mark for the season. This is the first time that Zibanejad has hit this benchmark, besting his career-best 81-point season from the 2021-2022 campaign, and the third time for Panarin, but this is the first time he has achieved that mark in back-to-back seasons. He scored 96 points last season while playing only 75 games.

The Rangers have just one more game remaining in the regular season, as they host the Toronto Maple Leafs tomorrow, and both teams are already locked into their current standings positions. The Rangers’ hopes to win the division were still alive heading into last night’s matchups, however with points by both the Canes and Devils, the Rangers are no longer able to move up. The Leafs and the Rangers will likely sit players and bide their time for the playoffs.

4. New York Islanders: 91 Points (41-31-9) 81 GP

Heading into April, the New York Islanders had an 85% chance to make the playoffs. However, since the start of the month, they have a 2-3-0 record. The loss took control away from the New York Islanders and gave them just a 49% chance to make the playoffs heading into Tuesday. Luckily for the Islanders, the Penguins lost to the last-placed Chicago Blackhawks to give control back to the Islanders heading into the 82nd game of the season. Just a single point will be enough to secure a playoff position since they hold the regulation wins tiebreaker. Their final game is tonight against the Montreal Canadiens who are dead last in the Atlantic Division.

The Islanders head into a potential postseason without Mathew Barzal who has been out with injury since mid-February. The Isles' power play has continued to struggle during his absence. They have been unsuccessful in their last 16 attempts on the man advantage and have only scored five goals in their last 54 attempts. Their 15.5% success rate is ranked 31st in the league since mid-February.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins: 90 Points (40-31-10) 81 GP

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ season was on the line last night, and instead of standing tall, they rolled over and died. The Penguins’ 81st game of the season came against the bottom-dwelling Chicago Blackhawks who have purposefully tanked heading into the season and the Penguins still lost 5-2.

The game was a microcosm of their entire season. The Penguins played well, they had a 63.95% Corsi and out-chanced the Blackhawks 30-16. But despite also having a 54% expected goals for, they lost because of goaltending and Tristan Jarry having a .840 save percentage. Where do the Penguins go from here?

In other news, the Pittsburgh Penguins nominated Kris Letang for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. The trophy is awarded to the player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. There’s not a better person for this award than Letang this season. Letang suffered his second stroke this season and lost his father just after Christmas. He has battled through a ton of adversity this season and hasn’t batted an eye once. The trophy will be a tiny reprieve from the stress and challenges he faced this season.

6. Washington Capitals: 79 Points (35-37-9) 82 GP

On Monday the Washington Capitals shut down forward T.J. Oshie for the remainder of the season. He has not played since March 30th and will end the season playing just 58 games. Oshie has never played a full 82-game season in his 15-season career. He has two more seasons left under contract with a $5.75 million cap hit. Coming off of their first playoff-less season since the 2013-14 season, the Caps may have a difficult decision on the future of Oshie.

Oshie is not the Caps' only player struggling with injuries. The Caps have also been without Alex Ovechkin, Anthony Mantha, and Trevor van Riemsdyk lately and have limited options for reinforcements. They were able to recall Joe Snively from the AHL, but the cap-strapped Caps had to play with just 17 skaters on Monday against the New York Islanders. The Caps now head into the offseason with a small hope to win the draft lottery and the belief that they can re-tool quickly to become contenders again.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: 73 Points (30-38-13) 81 GP

The Philadelphia Flyers are set to end their transitional season by having the seventh-best odds in the draft lottery. Despite believing they were a playoff team heading into the season, the end goal was quickly changed to see what they had in their young players and understand what veterans they should keep around.

They’ve managed to experience success with their younger players making the next logical jump in performance and so they will have a busy offseason filling out their front office and moving the larger pieces that weren’t deadline candidates like Kevin Hayes and Tony DeAngelo.

One player they hope can find his game over the offseason is Travis Sanheim. The young defenseman has an eight-year deal with a $6.25 million AAV that kicks in next season. Sanheim’s performance has regressed. He has just 22 points which is down from his 31 points last season. His possession stats have also regressed, he has a 46.8% Corsi. This ranks fifth out of the six regular starters only ahead of Rasmus Ristolainen. As it stands now he will be the Flyers’ second highest-paid defenseman behind only Ivan Proverov and his $6.75 million cap hit.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets: 57 Points (24-47-9) 80 GP

The Columbus Blue Jackets made a wave of emergency recalls yesterday for their final three games and a pivotal matchup against the Flyers last night. The biggest name in the callup list was David Jiricek, the sixth overall pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. Jiricek is a 19-year-old defenseman from Czechia who has spent the full season in the AHL adjusting to North American play. He has found success in North America, scoring six goals and 32 assists in 52 AHL games. He previously had a two-game stint with the Blue Jackets in October and is now poised to finish out the season in the NHL.

The team is expanding his role at the NHL level. In his previous NHL stint, he averaged 15:00 of ice time, and now at the end of the season, he is playing over 20:00.

Getting to end the season at the NHL will be huge for the growth of the game. Defensemen generally take longer to transition to the NHL and understand the speed of the game and reaction times. The team hopes he can compete for a roster spot out of camp, and getting more time with the club will help him understand what he needs to work on over the offseason.