As we enter the final stretch of the NHL season, there are only a few playoff spots up for grabs. Looking to the Eastern Conference, Washington, Columbus, Pittsburgh, and the New York Rangers have virtually locked up spots already, while Montreal and Ottawa would need to suffer major collapses to miss out.
This leaves a handful of teams vying for the remaining two spots. In the West, Chicago, Minnesota, and San Jose are all-but in, and Anaheim’s odds of missing are very long. This leaves four spots for five hopefuls.
Here is a breakdown of the odds each one of those playoff hopefuls qualifies for the postseason.
Brad Marchand is continuing his push to be known as more than a rat. His 37 goals currently lead the league, and his 79 points are tied for first with Connor McDavid. Thanks to Marchand’s rapid rise to stardom, the Bruins find themselves sitting third in the Atlantic Division.
Before getting hammered by the Oilers on Thursday, Boston had won 12 of its last 15. The spark occurred immediately after the club fired head coach Claude Julien. Interim head coach Bruce Cassidy has gotten away from the two-way, defensive hockey that plagued Boston this year, and is allowing his offensively skilled players to attack.
The Bruins have a big matchup with the Leafs on Monday. The two teams are separated by just four points in the division, and Toronto has two games in hand. Their other ten games aren’t too favorable, either. But Boston has been one of the hottest teams in the league, and I don’t see both the Leafs and Islanders passing them.
Odds to make the playoffs: 3/7
Toronto Maple Leafs
If you like watching pucks go in the back of the net, you’ve probably enjoyed the Leafs this season. Not only can they score (sixth in goals per game), they’re “good” at giving up goals, as well (22nd in goals against per game).
Toronto has its rookies to thank for the team’s success. Three of the top-four rookie scorers are Leafs (Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner), all of whom have at least 50 points. The youngsters have all been guilty of costly mistakes, though, too.
In spite of Matthews not having a single point through seven games in the month of March, the Leafs have managed to win four of their last five. Toronto also has games in hand over the other teams in the hunt. If Mike Babcock can get his squad to limit the mental errors in the defensive end, the Buds should return to the playoffs for the first time since the shortened 2012-13 season.
Odds to make the playoffs: 4/3
Tampa Bay Lightning
Everything looked so good for the Bolts, until they let the Leafs walk into their arena and pound them 5-0 on Thursday. Prior to that game, the Lightning had won four straight to climb back into the playoff race. Unfortunately, they’ll have to continue their push without Steven Stamkos, who underwent meniscus surgery in November and has only played 17 games this season.
Tampa Bay’s run comes as a bit of a surprise, considering they traded Valtteri Filppula and Ben Bishop before the deadline. Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman have had to do much of the heavy-lifting on the offensive end, especially with Tyler Johnson and Jonathan Drouin missing games here and there. The Lightning will need more players to step-up offensively to oust the Leafs or Bruins.
Odds to make the playoffs: 7/4
New York Islanders
The Islanders are another team that’s turned its season around by firing its head coach. New York was in last place in the Eastern Conference before giving Jack Capuano the axe. Since Doug Weight took over, the Isles have gone 16-9-3 and find themselves one point out of a playoff spot.
But John Tavares and company have now lost five of their last eight games, and have to deal with the Blue Jackets, Rangers, and Penguins over their next three.
New York has struggled to keep pucks away from their net, allowing 31.9 shots per game (seventh-most), and haven’t been able to punish teams for taking penalties (26th in PP-percentage). If these two things don’t change quickly, the Islanders’ hopes may be crushed over the next week.
Odds to make the playoffs: 13/7
Of the unmentioned teams fighting for the final two spots (Hurricanes, Panthers, and Flyers), Carolina has the best odds to get in. But even the Hurricanes need more than one team to completely tank to have a shot.
Odds to make the playoffs: 19/1
St. Louis Blues
And yet another team that turned its season around by firing its coach. Since dismissing Ken Hitchcock, the Blues have gone 13-7.
Though they currently sit in a Wild Card spot, Mike Yeo’s group has a ridiculously easy remaining schedule, with six games against the Avalanche and Coyotes, and only two games against teams currently in a playoff spot. I don’t expect them to finish as a Wild Card team.
Odds to make the playoffs: 1/33
These odds may seem a little low to you, given their eight-point cushion on ninth-place Los Angeles, but if something should happen to Connor McDavid, the Oilers will not win many more games.
Odds to make playoffs: 1/19
Swapping Shea Weber for PK Subban has worked out as you’d expect for Nashville: they’re a little better offensively, but a little worse defensively. The Predators remain a playoff team, though.
Nashville moved up the standings in January and February and currently sits third in the Central. Barring multiple major injuries, the Preds should be able to preserve their six-point lead over the Kings. Moving forward, they’ll have to tighten up on the penalty kill to make some noise in the playoffs.
Odds to make the playoffs: 1/19
Pardon the pun, but no team is hotter than the Flames right now, having won ten of their last 11. A month ago, Calgary was believed to be out of it. However, Brian Elliott and Johnny Gaudreau have been spectacular of late, and the Flames look playoff-bound.
Calgary sits fourth in the Pacific, just two points back of the second-placed Ducks. Their remaining schedule is a little tough, including three games against the Kings, so the likes of Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Michael Frolik will have to continue lighting the lamp.
Odds to make the playoffs: 1/7
Los Angeles Kings
There isn’t another good team that’s as boring to watch as the Kings. LA is 25th in goals per game, and fourth in goals against. But hey, if it works, it works.
Unfortunately, it’s not working; the Kings are four points out of the playoffs. That may not seem like much with 12 games to play, but the closest team is the Blues, who I mentioned have a cake-walk into the playoffs. LA will have to catch either Nashville, Calgary, or Edmonton, whom they trail by six, seven, and eight points, respectively.
Six of the Kings’ final games come against either Edmonton or Calgary, so they have the opportunity to significantly help themselves out. In order to do so, Anze Kopitar will have to continue his offensive surge. Odds are against them, though, as it would likely take a clean-sweep in those six games.
Odds to make the playoffs: 3/1
Photo Credit: mark.watmough (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].