If the NHL season ended today, the New York Rangers would of course find themselves in the Stanley Cup playoffs and right now it’s only a matter of which wild card teams will represent the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively. Nonwithstanding a total collapse in their final games, the Blueshirts sit comfortably in third place in the Metro Division heading into the last week of March.
Stanley Cup playoff scenario:
If the season ended today, the Eastern Conference would line up with the following teams making the postseason:
Atlantic Division: Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning.
Metro Division: Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers
Eastern Conference Wild Card: New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins
On the Bubble: Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres
Boston has run away with the Atlantic Division and seems to be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Carolina has settled in control of the Metro Division after the New Jersey Devils cooled off their early season run but the Devils are in the comfortable second slot in the Metro Division with the Rangers bringing up third in the Metro Division.
The Eastern Conference wild card race looks as though the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins ride their records into the postseason. However, any last-minute stumbles by either team could allow the Florida Panthers or Washington Capitals enough room to squeak into playoff contention. The Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres aren’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention but their finals season push will have to be perfect and they will need a lot of help from other wild card contenders to make it to the playoffs as well.
On the Western Conference side, playoff spots are equally shaping up. The Vegas Golden Knights looks to be the favorite in the Western Conference (of course, they represent Las Vegas) with the Dallas Stars not far behind. The Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers (aka Connor McDavid & Co.) will also stake their claim to make a deep run for Lord Stanley’s Cup as well.
Central Division: Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche
Pacific Division: Vegas Golden Knights, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers
Western Conference Wild Card: The Seattle Kraken and Winnipeg Jets both look solid in the wild card race. For the Kraken, this would be their first playoff run in franchise history since starting last season. The Jets missed the postseason last year but under head coach Rick Bowness, they should at least make the playoffs.
On the Bubble: Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues.
If Boston runs the East this season, then Vegas seems to be their Western counterpart. However, the Stars, Kings and Oilers are all solid clubs and could offer the Golden Knights plenty of stiff competition. Don’t rule out the Seattle Kraken who look to make the playoffs in only their second year of existence. While the Nashville Predators seem to be making a last-minute playoff push, both the Preds and the Calgary Flames may be a case of too little, too late.
NHL Playoff Bracket as of March 23rd:
Eastern Conference: Western Conference:
Bruins vs. Penguins Golden Knights vs. Jets
Hurricanes vs. Islanders Stars vs. Kraken
Devils vs. Rangers Wild vs. Avalanche
Maple Leafs vs. Lightning Kings vs. Oilers
Of course, these scenarios are subject to change based on the final season standings. In reality, the only real competition left seems to be which teams wrap up wild card playoff spots with last-minute challenges from bubble teams the realistic scenario.
In most cases, it’s a case of too little, too late for some bubble teams to make the playoffs unless they play perfectly in their final games and get help from other teams as well. No, I’m not making any Stanley Cup finals predictions at this point – there’s simply way too much hockey still to be played.