April never comes soon enough for the die hard NHL fans. It means playoff push style hockey that will determine whether or not teams will have a chance to compete for the highly coveted Stanley Cup.
As the season winds down, the league is looking at its first “Canadian-less” Stanley Cup playoff since the 1969-1970 season. All seven of Canada’s team have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Here is what the playoff picture looks like in the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan and Atlantic Divisions and the Western Conference’s Central and Pacific Divisions.
Six of the eight playoff slots are currently clinched in the Western Conference. A power packed Central Division is locked up tight. Teams that have have clinched a playoff spot are the Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues and defending Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks.
Over on the West Coast in the Pacific Division, California-based teams dominate the ranks. The Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks all have their respective slots locked in. Only two wildcard playoff spots remain, currently held by the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild. Chasing the tails of Minnesota are the Colorado Avalanche, who remain 5 points behind the Wild with only four games left in their season.
In the Eastern Conference, only three teams have clinched one of the eight playoff spots: the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Florida Panthers. The Capitals are the President’s Trophy winners for the 2015-16 season – awarded to the team with the best record. Capitals’ goaltender Braden Holtby is the fan favorite to win this year’s Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender. Meanwhile, teammate Alexander Ovechkin’s 44 goals have him well on his way to yet another Rocket Richard Trophy — awarded to the league’s top goal scorer. The Washington Capitals are the only team in the league who has yet to lose back to back games in regulation this season.
The rest of the Eastern Conference playoff slots are up for grabs, and the race is tight with just five games remaining. The New York Rangers sit third in the Metropolitan Division with 95 points. The Tampa Bay Lightening and Detroit Red Wings round out the second and third spots in the Atlantic Division. The New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers occupy the two wild card spots in Metropolitan Division. Behind the Flyers is the Boston Bruins with 91 points. The Detroit Red Wings — who have qualified for the playoffs a record 24 seasons in a row — are in jeopardy of closing the book on that chapter of their history for the first time since the 1989-90 season. The Flyers will play a make up game against the New York Islanders, after the original game was cancelled during New York’s blizzard closures earlier this year, giving them a game in hand against the playoff hopeful Red Wings.
Even though it seems that most of the teams are within grasping distance of a playoff berth, anything can happen in the last two weeks of the season. Big conference games will determine the outcome of crucial points towards seeding in the playoffs. The Washington Capitals have secured home ice advantage throughout the playoffs after winning the President’s Trophy. Only eight teams have won both the President’s Trophy and Stanley Cup in the same year since its beginning. The Capitals know this all too well, having won the honor in the 2009-10 season only to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
NHL fans rejoice at the coming of the Stanley Cup playoffs a little over two weeks away. A champion will be crowned and a team will hoist the coveted Stanley Cup above their heads. After a long 82 game season of countless road trips, injuries, highs and lows and four rounds of best of seven hockey, only one team will be able to call themselves Stanley Cup Champions. Will it be your favorite team?