Skip to main content

Wild-Card Roundup: Final week primed to end with photo finish

Get ready for a frantic finish to the campaign. With one week remaining, several teams remain in the wild-card race in their respective conference, and playoff seeding might not be determined until the final night.

Two conferences, four wild-card spots and seven teams in the hunt. That’s the snapshot of post-season race as we enter the final week of the campaign, and with anywhere from three to four games to be played by each hopeful over the next six days, there’s a good chance that the entire playoff picture doesn’t come into focus until the final hours of the season.

In the Eastern Conference, the teams whose fates still hang in the balance include the Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens. And with two points separating the top wild-card club, the Blue Jackets, from the club on the outside looking in, the Canadiens, every single outing involving the three teams this week will be pivotal in determining which teams punch tickets to the dance and which club is left securing an all-too-early tee time.

Meanwhile, the Western Conference features a four-team race, though the Dallas Stars have opened up a large enough lead in the top wild-card spot that they’ve likely booked their ticket to the first round of the post-season. The final wild-card spot, however, remains up for grabs, with the Colorado Avalanche, Arizona Coyotes and Minnesota Wild battling it out. The latter has slipped out of the race somewhat, but the Avalanche and Coyotes are separated by a single point with Colorado holding a game in hand over Arizona.

Here’s your look at each team in the race, and how difficult their schedule is entering the final week as they look to play for the Stanley Cup this season:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

IN:

Pittsburgh Penguins
43-25-11 — 97 pts.

The Penguins remain on this list, but let’s be honest: Pittsburgh is home free now. A win over the Hurricanes all but secured the Penguins’ place in the dance, and if there’s any focus for Pittsburgh during the final week of the campaign, it’s likely on rattling off three consecutive wins in an attempt to overtake the New York Islanders for second spot in the Metropolitan Division. That would give the Penguins home-ice advantage in Round One.

Remaining Schedule: Three games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .464

Columbus Blue Jackets
45-30-4 — 94 pts.

Let it not be said that the Blue Jackets folded under the pressure of missing the post-season. And that goes double for Sergei Bobrovsky. Winners of five consecutive games, Columbus has vaulted over the Hurricanes and past the Canadiens into top spot in the Eastern Conference wild-card race, and Bobrovsky has done his part with three shutouts in those five affairs. Only one game left on the slate is against a playoff team. After a scare, Columbus is inches from safety.

Remaining Schedule: Three games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .510

Carolina Hurricanes
43-29-7 — 93 pts.

Carolina’s run towards the post-season has been a blast, highlighted by the now-defunct Storm Surge celebrations that captured the attention of the sporting world. The Hurricanes have hit a rough patch, though, and a playoff berth is no guarantee just yet. Back-to-back losses to the Washington Capitals stung, as did a defeat by the Penguins. The Hurricanes’ remaining schedule isn’t as tough as, say, the Canadiens’ remaining dates, but Carolina can’t rely on that alone. They have to take care of their own business this week, and that starts against the Maple Leafs Tuesday in Toronto.

Remaining Schedule: Three games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .524

OUT:

Montreal Canadiens
42-29-8 — 92 pts.

The past week saw the Canadiens lose two games that were considered must-wins – Sunday against Carolina, Thursday against Columbus – but Montreal then rattled off a big win against the Winnipeg Jets to get back on track. The win was important, too, because not only did it keep the Canadiens right on the playoff bubble, it showed that Montreal isn’t ready to shrink in the face of the toughest homestretch of any club in the NHL. The Canadiens will have to take points from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Capitals and Maple Leafs this week in order to secure a playoff berth.

Remaining Schedule: Three games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .683

WESTERN CONFERENCE

IN:

St. Louis Blues
42-28-8 — 92 pts.

Clinched. What a turnaround. Up next: Top spot in the Central Division? It’s still possible. The Blue are two points back with four games remaining.

Remaining Schedule: Four games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .516

Dallas Stars
41-31-7 — 89 pts.

The Stars lost starter Ben Bishop to a lower-body injury earlier in the week, but Dallas has the benefit of one of the best backups in the league this season. Anton Khudobin’s numbers are in many ways similar to Bishop’s, and that means the second-stringer can be relied upon to shoulder the load while the No. 1 netminder heals up. The good news, too, is that the Stars have all but locked up a playoff spot. They’re four points clear of the second-wild card club and five ahead of the first team outside of the playoff picture.

Remaining Schedule: Three games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .513

Colorado Avalanche
36-29-13 — 85 pts.

Hot at the start of the season, a lull in the middle and then hot again right as the campaign prepares to close. The Avalanche have rattled off six victories in their past seven games, and Colorado is winning the games that matter. Case in point, Friday’s tilt against the Coyotes was crucial given the battle between the two clubs for a post-season berth, and despite a late scare, the Avalanche were able to get past the Coyotes in a shootout. That single point is all that stands between Colorado and Arizona right now.

Remaining Schedule: Four games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .575

OUT:

Arizona Coyotes
38-33-8 — 84 pts.

A five-game losing streak that began in mid-March and carried through to last Sunday threatened to sink the Coyotes’ season, but Arizona got back on track this past week by taking five of a possible six points from three games. Included in those were two shutout victories, the first coming over the Chicago Blackhawks and the second in an all-important meeting with the Wild. The only blemish on the record was a shootout loss to the Avalanche. Arizona has a tough run into the playoffs, meeting the Vegas Golden Knights and the Jets in the final two games of the season.

Remaining Schedule: Three games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .536

Minnesota Wild
36-34-9 — 81 pts.

It’s not over yet, but it’s awfully close. The Wild have simply lost too many important games at this time of year. Since March 8, Minnesota has bested the New York Rangers, Capitals and Golden Knights. The other eight games played over the past three-plus weeks have been losses. The Wild enter the final week with a sliver of hope, but the reliance on the Avalanche and Coyotes dropping almost every single on the way in doesn’t inspire confidence in Minnesota’s playoff prospects.

Remaining Schedule: Three games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .606

TOP HEADLINES

WJC 3 Stars

World Junior Championships 3 Stars: McTavish, Mazur, and Kulich Star on Day 3

The best game of the World Junior Championship came on the third day of play, while Canada and USA had performances to remember. Tony Ferrari returns for his three stars of the day.

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane
Play

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews Could Start The Season With The Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks' roster rebuild has made franchise stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews the subject of trade gossip this summer. However, we shouldn't be surprised if both are in the lineup when the Blackhawks open their season.

Connor Bedard

World Junior Roundup: Canada, USA Score Big Wins, Finland Edges Czechia

Canada and USA move to 2-0 with big wins, while Finland needed a shootout to beat Czechia on the third day of the World Junior Championship in Edmonton.