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Wild-Card Roundup: East, West races look as though they will come down to the wire

The Eastern and Western Conference wild-card races are as close as ever as the final week of the 2017-18 season begins, and there's a chance the final playoff seedings won't be determined until the final day of the season.

The final week of the campaign is upon us, and the separation between the teams holding down a playoff spot and those on the outside looking in is remarkably thin in many cases. And depending how the final week of the season shakes out, who heads to the post-season and who hits the links could be decided in Game 82:



Columbus Blue Jackets

44-29-6 — 94 pts.

After their run of 10-straight victories, the Blue Jackets had a couple of hiccups over the past week. First, the loss to the Blues set Columbus back a bit, and dropping points to the lottery-contending Canucks most certainly wasn’t in the plan. Another contest against a team in the hunt for the first overall pick, the Red Wings, should help the Blue Jackets get back on track, but they’ll finish out the year with two tough contests against the Penguins and Predators. It might be imperative that Columbus gets at least a few more points, too.

Remaining Schedule: Three games

Average Opponent: 92.7 points

Philadelphia Flyers

39-25-14 — 92 pts.

Inconsistency has haunted the Flyers for most of the season, and it has reared its ugly head again at the most important time of year. After winning six in a row, Philadelphia dropped five straight and almost every win has been followed by a loss over the past month. Luckily, the Flyers have a six-point edge on the Panthers for the top wild-card spot, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Philadelphia drops their remaining four contests given how the season has gone.

Remaining Schedule: Four games

Average Opponent: 85.3 points

New Jersey Devils

41-28-9 — 91 pts.

After starting the month on a three-game slide, the Devils appear determined not to blow their chances at earning a playoff berth. New Jersey has won eight of their past 12 outings, including road victories in Nashville, Vegas and Pittsburgh, not to mention a home defeat of Tampa Bay. The Devils don’t have the toughest schedule to end the season, but they’ll end the season by squaring off against two top playoff contenders, the Maple Leafs and Capitals. The bonus might be that both teams rest players with the playoffs on the horizon.

Remaining Schedule: Four games

Average Opponent: 86.3 points


Florida Panthers

39-30-8 — 86 pts.

The Panthers seemed to control their own fate, and, as one of the hottest second-half teams in the league, it looked as though Florida was going to push for a playoff spot. Unfortunately for the Cats, they haven’t been able to win a game in nearly a week and the three-game skid means Florida is running out of runway in the wild-card race. Games against the Hurricanes and Sabres should add up to four points for the Panthers, but a home-and-home with the Bruins and one outing against the Predators makes the last week a worrisome one for Florida fans.

Remaining Schedule: Five games

Average Opponent: 94.4 points



Minnesota Wild

43-25-10 — 96 pts.

At this point, the Wild should have enough of a gap between themselves and the Blues that the third spot in the Central is sewn up. The four-point gap with an even number of games remaining means Minnesota would basically have to lose out with St. Louis charging hard for the divisional placement to switch hands. Here’s the thing, though: the Wild end the season with three road games against the trio of Pacific Division teams battling for playoff seeding, and the Kings, Ducks and Sharks are going to be gruelling. Making matters worse, Minnesota could be without Ryan Suter, who fell injured Saturday against the Stars.

Remaining Schedule: Four games

Average Opponent: 89.8 points

Los Angeles Kings

43-28-8 — 94 pts.

The Kings get the benefit of ending the season on home ice, but all three of their remaining games are against playoff teams or those battling for the final wild-card spots out West. There are no gimme wins. The good news is that Los Angeles enters the final week up a point on the Ducks for the final divisional spot. The bad news is the Ducks have a game in hand. The seeding in the Pacific is going to come down to the wire, and it might not be decided until the final hours of the season.

Remaining Schedule: Three games

Average Opponent: 92.0 points 

Anaheim Ducks

40-25-13 — 93 pts.

One game in hand on the Kings gives the Ducks an extra shot at drawing level or even surpassing their rivals, but the remaining strength of schedule is deceiving. Sure, it’s the second-lowest among Western wild-card contenders, but the final outings include games against the Avalanche, Wild, Stars and Coyotes. Three of the four are still in the hunt, even if Dallas is barely clinging to their playoff lives, and Arizona has been far better than their record over the past two months. Don’t write off the possibility of the Coyotes playing spoiler in the Ducks’ final game.

Remaining Schedule: Four games

Average Opponent: 85.8 points

St. Louis Blues

43-29-6 — 92 pts.

The Blues start their final week of the season off against the Capitals, but a home-and-home series with the struggling Blackhawks could be the perfect recipe for locking down a wild-card spot, particularly with Chicago mixing in and getting a look at the youth. However, an end-of-season tilt with the Avalanche stands to be the season-deciding game right now. The two clubs are deadlocked at 92 points with four games remaining in their respective campaigns.

Remaining Schedule: Four games

Average Opponent: 84.8 points


Colorado Avalanche

42-28-8 — 92 pts.

The Avalanche went out and snapped a brief two-game losing streak with a 5-0 shellacking of the Blackhawks on Friday, but will now be without goaltender Semyon Varlamov and defender Erik Johnson for the remainder of the season. If that’s not bad enough, Colorado has to head out on the road — embarking on a three-game run through California — with their playoff lives hanging in the balance. That’s not good given the Avalanche are two games below .500 on the road. If they can pull off a successful trip, though, Colorado could be in for a massive season-ending tilt with the Blues.

Remaining Schedule: Four games

Average Opponent: 94.3 points

Dallas Stars

40-31-8 — 88 pts.

Dallas doesn’t control their own fate at this point. Winning out is the only way to make the post-season, but even then, the Stars would need the Ducks, Blues and Avalanche to pick up no more than a single point each across the final week. Impossible? No. Improbable? Yes. Making matters worse, Dallas’ final three games are all on the road where the Stars have a mediocre 14-19-5 record. Not only that, Dallas has to travel through California, where each club is desperate for points with the playoffs on the line.

Remaining Schedule: Three games

Average Opponent: 95.0 points

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