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Wild-Card Roundup: Blue Jackets, Wild begin solidifying spots as Islanders, Hurricanes fall

The Eastern Conference wild-card race has started to shrink with three weeks left in the campaign, but the Western Conference battle is as close as ever.

Three weeks remain in the 2017-18 campaign and bubble teams are reaching the time of year when every contest has make-or-break potential. Some squads, such as the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild, have made the most of their opportunity in recent weeks, while others, namely the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes, seem to have passed point of no return.

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

IN:

Columbus Blue Jackets
39-28-5 — 83 pts.

There hasn’t been much that has stood in the Blue Jackets’ way of late. Once a distant contender in the wild-card race, Columbus has rattled off seven consecutive victories — including wins over playoff contenders San Jose, Vegas, Colorado and Philadelphia — and now head into the final 10 games of their schedule with a six-point edge on the top non-playoff team in the Eastern Conference. That the offense has finally come alive, scoring 25 times over the past seven games, has played a major part in the Blue Jackets’ pursuit of its first consecutive playoff berths in franchise history.

Remaining Schedule: 10 games
Average Opponent: 78.8 points

New Jersey Devils
37-26- — 82 pts.

Losing four of five before heading out on a six-game road trip seemed to put New Jersey’s playoff hopes in more jeopardy than anyone in the Devils organization would have liked, particularly considering the strength of schedule. But visiting Nashville, New Jersey skated away with two points. Then they went into Vegas and earned a win. Next up was a shutout of Los Angeles. Now, with 11 games remaining, the Devils will simply have to ward off the oncoming wild-card contenders if they want to punch their ticket to the dance. They’ll have to do so while facing the highest quality of opponent of all bubble teams, however.

Remaining Schedule: 11 games
Average Opponent: 82.4 points

OUT:

Florida Panthers
35-27-7 — 77 pts.

Here is the complete list of teams who have been better than the Panthers since the start of February: the Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators. That’s it, that’s all. After it appeared all but certain Florida was destined to miss out on the post-season for a second season in a row, the Cats have pieced together a 15-5-1 record over their past 21 games to rack up 31 points. That has allowed the Panthers to gain six points on the Blue Jackets, seven on the Devils and more than a dozen on every other Eastern wild-card club. Now Florida has to attempt to finish the job and cap off their incredible run. The upcoming meeting with Columbus will be crucial. 

Remaining Schedule: 13 games
Average Opponent: 78.5 points

Out Of Contention: 

New York Islanders: The Islanders have dropped 10 of their past 11 games to fall a dozen points back of the Devils. Even if New York was able to win out, they would still be in tough. And when SportsClubStats has their chances of a playoff berth at 0.1 percent, it seems fair to write the Islanders off. What an unfortunate end to what was a promising start to the season.

Carolina Hurricanes: There was a glimmer of hope when the ‘Canes picked up wins over the Flyers, Devils and Blackhawks in a span of five games, but subsequent losses to the Rangers, Bruins and Flyers have put Carolina out of the race. They’re 11 points back of the Devils and earning a divisional berth at this point would require a dozen-point swing for third spot in the Metropolitan. The eight-year playoff drought is all but certain to extend to nine.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

IN:

Minnesota Wild
41-24-7 — 89 pts.

It might not even be fair to include the Wild in a discussion of the wild-card race anymore, honestly. Minnesota has opened up a five-point gap on the next-best Central team and have seemingly locked themselves into third spot in the division. That’s thanks in large part to a hot streak that has seen the Wild win 10 of the past 14 games. The Predators are the only Western Conference team that has been better than Minnesota since the start of February and the Wild attack has been sneaky scary over that span. If they meet Winnipeg in the first round, Minnesota could put more than a scare into one of the West favorites.

Remaining Schedule: 10 games
Average Opponent: 88.2 points

Los Angeles Kings
39-27-6 — 84 pts.

The Pacific can turn on a dime, but with three weeks left in the campaign, it’s the Kings who have the edge. Los Angeles has had every opportunity to stretch their lead, though, and failed to take advantage. After a three-game win streak, including two wins over the Golden Knights, the Kings have gone 3-3-1 and losses to the Blues, Coyotes and Devils could be classified as games Los Angeles should have won. The next week isn’t going to be easy for the Kings, who head out on a four-game road trip against three playoff clubs. After that, only one of Los Angeles’ final games is against a clear-cut non-contender.

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Remaining Schedule: 10 games
Average Opponent: 81.2 points

Colorado Avalanche
38-25-8 — 84 pts.

The Avalanche have earned their way to the top of the wild-card heap thanks to a recent three-game winning streak but have their work cut out for them in holding off the rest of the bubble teams. Half of their remaining games are against one of the teams in the Western wild-card race and each contest is going to have a playoff atmosphere from here on out. Colorado also faces an interesting predicament in that, when it comes to the Central, they won’t control their fate when it comes to potentially sliding into third place. They have three games remaining against divisional opponents, but only one — the last game of the season against the Blues — sees them take on a playoff team. No contests with the Wild or Stars means no swing games.

Remaining Schedule: 11 games
Average Opponent: 81.3 points

Dallas Stars
38-26-8 — 84 pts.

March hasn’t been kind to the Stars. Since the start of the month, Dallas has dropped all but two of their nine outings and the Stars’ victories were by the skin of their teeth — a one-goal win over Anaheim and overtime defeat of St. Louis. It hasn’t helped one bit that Ben Bishop has been out of commission or that Martin Hanzal is out until next season, of course, but the Stars need to regroup. Nine of their final 10 games are against playoff bubble teams or those destined for the dance, but no pair of games is going to be more important than a home-and-home with the Wild. Winning both could change the look of the Central, especially if Dallas can get hot and stay hot before and after those contests.

Remaining Schedule: 10 games
Average Opponent: 85.8 points

OUT:

Anaheim Ducks
36-24-12 — 84 pts.

There’s a consistency we’ve come to expect from the Ducks, especially now that they’re relatively healthy, but Anaheim hasn’t found it. Since mid-February, the Ducks have won four in a row, then dropped two straight and followed it up with subsequent three- and two-game win streaks that bookended a three-game slide. That’s not going to make Anaheim a lock to return to the post-season for a sixth consecutive season. The good news is the Ducks have one of the weaker schedules down the stretch. That could play into their hands, as could the fact there’s literally no gap between Anaheim and Los Angeles for the final spot in the Pacific.

Remaining Schedule: 10 games
Average Opponent: 78.0 points

St. Louis Blues
38-28-5 — 81 pts.

It was a bold decision to ship out Paul Stastny at the trade deadline, but the Blues have really been no worse for wear since sending the center to the Jets. Mired in a seven-game losing skid at the time, St. Louis has since rattled off four wins in their past seven contests and took at least a single point from the Stars in one other outing. Now, with 11 games remaining, St. Louis has a realistic shot at sneaking into the final wild-card spot. The Blues have two things working in their favor, too: a game in hand on every team save the Avalanche and a strength of schedule that’s tied for the weakest among the bubble teams.

Remaining Schedule: 11 games
Average Opponent: 78.0 points

Calgary Flames
35-27-10 — 80 pts.

Calgary has been on the bubble for much of the season, but their recent lack of success has put them at risk of falling out of a tight Western Conference wild-card race. Despite the return of starting netminder Mike Smith, Calgary has been outscored 12-7 over their past three games, two of which have been significant losses to the Islanders and Sharks. The Flames desperately need to get back on track, too, as meetings with the Golden Knights, Ducks, Sharks and Kings across their next five games could help them get right back into the thick of things. The offense has been there, and now it’s time for the defense to follow suit.

Remaining Schedule: 10 games
Average Opponent: 80.5 points

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