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In The Crease

Final Playoff Spots Battles

by Ryan Dadoun
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

There's a little more than four weeks left in the regular season and while there's still a lot of remaining battles for positioning, most teams know at this point if they will or won't make the playoffs.  There are a few exceptions though and playoff spots that might not be locked up until the final days of the season.

 

With that in mind, today we're looking at the teams vying for those open positions.

 

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EASTERN CONFERENCE

 

Washington Capitals

 

Record: 38-23-10 (86 points)

Position: First Wild Card Seed

Min. finish needed for 50%+ chance of making playoffs (per Sports Club Stats): 2-5-4

Key matches remaining: @OTT on April 4, vs. BOS on April 8

Player to Watch: Alex Ovechkin has all-but won the 2014-15 Rocket Richard Trophy, but he's also got a shot at his second Art Ross.

Summary: At this point nothing short of a complete collapse would cause Washington to miss the playoffs.  They still has a shot of moving from the first Wild Card spot to third or even second place in the Metropolitan Division, but the bigger threat comes below them in the surging Boston Bruins.  If Washington merely treads water in the final weeks of the season, then Boston might push Washington to the second Wild Card seed.

 

Boston Bruins

 

Record: 36-23-10 (82 points)

Position: Second Wild Card Seed

Min. Finish Needed: 4-5-4

Key matches remaining: @OTT on March 19, @FLA on March 21, vs. FLA on March 31, @FLA on April 9

Player To Watch: Milan Lucic has taken a step back overall from an offensive perspective in 2014-15, but he has been hot lately with three goals and seven points in his last eight games.

Summary: The Bruins have managed to win seven of its last 10 contests.  If it wasn't for the surging Ottawa Senators, they would have their playoff spot all-but sewn up.  The Florida Panthers are less of a threat at this point, but can't be completely overlooked given that they'll play against Boston three times over the Bruins' final 13 games.

 

Ottawa Senators

 

Record: 33-24-11 (77 points)

Position: Five points behind in Wild Card race

Min. Finish Needed: 8-2-4

Key matches remaining: vs. BOS on March 19, vs. FLA on March 29

Player To Watch: Rookie goaltender Andrew Hammond has started in 11 games and hasn't allowed more than two goals in any of those contests.

Summary: Thanks in large part to Hammond, Ottawa is 11-1-1 in its last 13 games.  Although the Florida Panthers can't be completely ruled out either, it's Ottawa's rise that's made the Eastern Conference Wild Card race interesting at this stage of the season.  It's hard to imagine Hammond or the Senators keeping this up for another four weeks, but then again, they've already showed that they can defy expectations.

 

Florida Panthers

 

Record: 31-24-14 (76 points)

Position: Six points behind in Wild Card race

Min. Finish Needed: 10-2-1

Key matches remaining: vs. BOS on March 21, @BOS on March 31, vs. BOS on April 9

Player To Watch: Jonathan Huberdeau has been leading the charge lately with two goals and eight points in seven March contests.

Summary: Realistically, the Panthers are already out of the hunt.  The main reason I'm mentioning them at all is because they still have three games remaining against the Boston Bruins.  If the Panthers sweep those three contests, then we could be in for an interesting finish to the 2014-15 campaign.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

 

Vancouver Canucks

 

Record: 39-25-4 (82 points)

Position: Second Pacific Division Seed

Min. Finish Needed: 4-6-4

Key matches remaining: @LAK on March 21, vs. WPG on March 24, @WPG on April 4, vs. LAK on April 6

Player To Watch: With Ryan Miller (knee) sidelined, the Canucks have been leaning on Eddie Lack.  That's worked out fine for Vancouver, but obviously the Canucks need Lack to continue to stay sharp going forward.

Summary: Vancouver only technically has a two point edge in the battle for a playoff spot, but in order to miss the postseason entirely, the Canucks would need to be surpassed by at least the Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings.  Even if that happens, there's still a chance that Vancouver would be able to squeak by with a Wild Card spot.  In other words, it would take a lot for the Canucks to miss the playoffs at this point.

 

Calgary Flames

 

Record: 38-26-5 (81 points)

Position: Third Pacific Division Seed

Min. Finish Needed: 5-5-3

Key matches remaining: @MIN on March 27, vs. LAK on April 9, @WPG on April 11

Player To Watch: Sean Monahan has been one of the best players in the league since the All-Star break with 12 goals and 21 points in 22 games.  Jiri Hudler is right up there with him with 11 goals and 21 points in 21 contests.

Summary: There were plenty predicting the Flames' fall after captain Mark Giordano's season ended due to a biceps injury.  However, in eight games without Giordano, Calgary has gone 5-2-2.  The Flames have proven to be a resilient team this season and no matter what happens, the 2014-15 campaign is a big step forward for the franchise.

 

Minnesota Wild

 

Record: 38-24-7 (83 points)

Position: First Wild Card Seed

Min. Finish Needed: 4-6-3

Key matches remaining: vs. CGY on March 27, vs. LAK on March 28, vs. WPG on April 6

Player To Watch: Devan Dubnyk naturally.  The acquisition of him from Arizona marked the turning point in the Wild's season.  He's posted a 1.56 GAA and .944 save percentage in 23 games since the All-Star break, but can he really keep this up for the rest of the campaign?

Summary: The Wild were just 18-19-5 in mid-January, but as mentioned above, their fortunes were quickly reversed when Dubnyk was brought on board.  There's not much chance of them climbing higher in the Central Division given the campaigns St. Louis, Nashville, and Chicago have had, but Minnesota looks like a lock to secure the top Wild Card seed, even if the standings suggests the Wild are still vulnerable.

 

Los Angeles Kings

 

Record: 34-22-13 (81 points)

Position: Second Wild Card Seed

Min. Finish Needed: 5-5-3

Key matches remaining: vs. VAN on March 21, @MIN on March 28, @VAN on April 6, @CGY on April 9, @SJS on April 11

Player To Watch: Justin Williams was terrific in the 2014 playoffs, but he hasn't been nearly as effective in the 2014-15 campaign.  With the season on the line though, the three-time Stanley Cup champion might step up.  We already got a taste of that last week when he recorded five points in just two contests.

Summary: The defending Stanley Cup champions have been inconsistent this season, but they have gone 13-4-1 dating back to their win on Feb. 7.  Their history of stepping up in clutch situations should also serve them well as this might prove to be a photo finish.

 

Winnipeg Jets

 

Record: 34-23-12 (80 points)

Position: One point behind in Wild Card race

Min. Finish Needed: 5-3-5

Key matches remaining: vs. SJS on March 17, @VAN on March 24, vs. VAN on April 4, @MIN on April 6, vs. CGY on April 11

Player To Watch: The change of scenery from Buffalo to Winnipeg has done Tyler Myers some good.  He's recorded two goals and nine points in 12 games with the Jets.  He did miss Saturday's contest due to an upper-body injury, but he should be back on Tuesday.

Summary: Statistically the Jets aren't in a bad place, but you look at the teams ahead of them and it's hard to see this ending well for Winnipeg. After all, Minnesota has been on fire for months while Los Angeles is not only hot right now, but also the defending Stanley Cup champions.  Calgary arguably looks a bit more vulnerable, but losing captain Mark Giordano hasn't slowed the Flames down.  Even if Sports Club Stats predicts that Winnipeg just needs a very obtainable 5-3-5 record to have a better than even chance of advancing, the Jets in particular shouldn't count on getting by with the bare minimum.  They haven't won more than two games in  a row since Jan. 13-21.  That has to change so that they can match some of their surging competitors.

 

San Jose Sharks

 

Record: 34-27-8 (76 points)

Position: Five points behind in Wild Card race

Min. Finish Needed: 8-2-3

Key matches remaining: @WPG on March 17, @LAK on April 11

Player To Watch: Joe Thornton's relationship with GM Doug Wilson seems to have soured, as evidenced by their recent and public verbal battle over why Thornton lost the captaincy.  There's no question that the Sharks still need Thornton to make the playoffs though and he's been doing what he can to help out with four goals and a team-high 21 points in 21 games since the All-Star break.

Summary: The Sharks went 3-8-2 in February and that's largely knocked them out of contention.  It's at least feasible for them to bounce back, but their margin for error is close to zero.  To complicate matters, the Sharks are about to begin a rough seven-game road trip.

Ryan Dadoun
Ryan Dadoun is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him on Twitter or check out his blog.