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Wild-Card Roundup: Blues widen gap, Coyotes keep pace and Blue Jackets back in

St. Louis continues to take steps towards locking down a playoff berth, but the wild-card race remains wide-open in both conferences.

There’s no asterisk next to the Blues’ name quite yet, but St. Louis is inching ever closer to a playoff lock. For that, they can thank a big week on the West Coast.

Really, the past seven days spent marauding through California couldn’t have gone all that much better. Beginning with a date with the Anaheim Ducks — a 5-4 St. Louis victory — the Blues took five of a possible six points from three dates against the league’s three Californian teams, and St. Louis came within a single shot of nabbing all six. Barring the overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, the Blues bordered on perfection.

The result of the trip is that St. Louis now finds themselves four points clear of the Dallas Stars, who are holding down the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference, and five clear of the second wild card Minnesota Wild. The way things have gone throughout the second half of the campaign, too, there’s little way the Blues are about to blow their standing as the third divisional seed in the Central. And after beginning the season as a surprise for all the wrong reasons, St. Louis is surely set to end it as a surprise for all the right ones. No one should want to draw the Blues in the opening round.

But who joins St. Louis in the post-season? Here’s your look at the state of each wild-card contending club and their respective strengths of schedule, determined by the average points percentage of remaining opponents:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

IN:

Pittsburgh Penguins
37-23-9 — 83 pts.

A week with three wins in four games is worth applauding, though one can’t help but wonder if the Penguins won’t rue their inability to really put the screws to the Blue Jackets when they had the chance. After defeating Columbus in the first of a home-and-home set, Pittsburgh dropped the second contest to essentially nullify the edge they had gained with the win two nights earlier. Whatever sour taste that may have left, it was gone by Sunday when the Penguins dropped the red hot Boston Bruins. No surprise to see Pittsburgh doing everything they can to hold down a post-season position.

Remaining Schedule: 13 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .542

Carolina Hurricanes
37-24-7 — 81 pts.

Yes, there’s been a lot to celebrate in Carolina, but boy, what a forgettable week. After blowing a two-goal lead against the Bruins, the Hurricanes fumbled their chance at next-time-out redemption when they were obliterated by the Winnipeg Jets last Friday. The 8-1 scoreline looked more like last year’s Hurricanes than this season’s iteration. Carolina ended the week on a positive note, however, by downing the Nashville Predators and picking up some much needed points. They remain right in the thick of things despite their difficult schedule.

Remaining Schedule: 14 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .583

Columbus Blue Jackets
38-27-3 — 79 pts.

Columbus got the job done against the Devils to start the week, but the big games were the home-and-home tilts against the Penguins, which got off to an inauspicious start when the Blue Jackets were shutout. Thankfully, a 4-1 win on Saturday night put Columbus right back into a wild-card spot. Here’s the biggest problem for the Blue Jackets: down the stretch, no team in either wild-card race has a tougher schedule. The combined points percentage of opponents is more than 30 points higher than the next-toughest, the Canadiens.

Remaining Schedule: 14 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .618

OUT:

Montreal Canadiens
36-26-7 — 79 pts.

The West Coast road swing started the right way with Montreal taking two points from the Kings. After that, though, things went south for the Canadiens. A loss to the Sharks could have been expected, but the 8-2 blowout at the hands of the Ducks is what hurt most. Getting those two points, or even a point, would have kept Montreal in a spot. Dropping points with such a tough road to hoe was, uh, less than ideal for the Canadiens. Montreal can’t let this come down to the final week, when they play Tampa Bay, Washington and Toronto.

Remaining Schedule: 13 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .586

Philadelphia Flyers
33-27-8 — 74 pts.

The Flyers could have made a statement by downing the Washington Capitals, but a win over the New York Islanders will have to do. That helped Philadelphia keep pace, too, though it’s going to take some favorable results in order for the Flyers to wiggle into a playoff spot. Philadelphia can’t afford to drop any winnable games from here on out, though how many “winnable” games the Flyers have remaining is debatable. Only two of their final 14 games come against opponents with a sub-.500 points percentage.

Remaining Schedule: 14 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .578

WESTERN CONFERENCE

IN:

St. Louis Blues
36-25-7 — 79 pts.

A subpar showing against the Ducks saw Jordan ‘Winnington’ Binnington allow four goals on 27 shots as the Blues eked out a one-goal win against a lowly Anaheim club, and that gave way to two starts for Jake Allen. He answered the bell, too, beginning with a 28-save shutout of the Kings before stopping 30 of 33 against the high-powered Sharks. That both goaltenders are going as the Blues head towards the post-season is the best possible news for St. Louis, who may have no choice but to simply ride the hot hand.

Remaining Schedule: 14 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .518

Dallas Stars
35-28-5 — 75 pts.

We repeat: Can Ben Bishop get some freakin’ love? The Stars keeper went out last week and posted back-to-back blankings. The first, against the New York Rangers, came in a nail-biting 1-0 affair in which Bishop turned aside 28 shots, and he followed that up two days later with a 31-stop shutout of the Colorado Avalanche. Bishop now boasts a 2.13 GAA, the league’s lowest among starting netminders, and has matched last season’s shutout output — in 14 fewer games. He has to be in the Vezina Trophy conversation. The Stars will need him to remain there, too, with a tough schedule down the stretch.

Remaining Schedule: 14 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .539

Minnesota Wild
33-28-8 — 74 pts.

Taking three of four points from the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning — the latter game seeing the Wild become just the second team to blank the Bolts this season — was a great way to start a three-game road trip. Getting picked apart and blown to shreds by the Florida Panthers was the worst way to close it out, though. Don’t expect life to get any easier in Minnesota, either. They’ve got the Sharks next before a tete-a-tete with the wild-card counterpart Stars. Both are huge games.

Remaining Schedule: 13 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .589

OUT:

Arizona Coyotes
34-29-5 — 73 pts.

Who in the world are these Coyotes? Just when it looks like it’s all about to fall apart — losing a should-be gimme game against the Ducks in the midst of a massive wild-card race — Arizona shut out the Calgary Flames, who possess one of the league’s best attacks, before skating by the Kings. That's a successful week. The Coyotes have now won eight of their past nine and continue to win by committee. The schedule isn’t getting any easier, but it’d be foolish to count Arizona out at all. They’re beginning to look as though they’re destined for a wild-card berth.

Remaining Schedule: 14 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .539

Colorado Avalanche
30-27-12 — 72 pts.

Getting blanked by the Stars didn’t help. Otherwise, though, the week couldn’t have gone better. Colorado downed the Detroit Red Wings and then shutout the Buffalo Sabres. That’s four of a possible six points. Given how poor the wild-card race has been in the Western Conference, that should have been enough to gain some ground and leapfrog at least one club. But those pesky Coyotes… This week’s slate provides a great opportunity for the Avalanche, however, with meetings against the lowly Ducks and New Jersey Devils. It will begin with a battle against the streaking Carolina Hurricanes, though.

Remaining Schedule: 13 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .540

GONE:

Edmonton Oilers: It was basically a prayer at this point, and in order to keep even a glimmer of hope alive, the Oilers would have had to win out last week, which meant getting by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Edmonton failed to do so, and that moved them seven points back with 14 games remaining. There’s simply not enough time left to make up the ground. Another year lost for the Oilers.

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