By: Nick Lanciani
The Wild Card spots are pivotal in determining first round Stanley Cup Playoffs matchups. As things are right now, we’re in for a special treat. All standings are as they were at the time of when this was written at approximately 1 PM on Saturday.
Eastern Conference Standings
- MTL 97 pts. (72 GP, 45-20-7)
- TB 95 pts. (72 GP, 44-21-7)
- DET 87 pts. (70 GP, 38-21-11)
- NYR 95 pts. (69 GP, 44-18-7)
- NYI 90 pts. (72 GP, 43-25-4)
- PIT 88 pts. (71 GP, 39-22-10)
- WSH 88 pts. (72 GP, 39-23-10)
- BOS 83 pts. (71 GP, 36-24-11)
- OTT 81 pts. (70 GP, 35-24-11)
- FLA 78 pts. (71 GP, 32-25-14)
- NJ 73 pts. (71 GP, 31-29-11)
- PHI 73 pts. (73 GP, 29-29-15)
- CBJ 68 pts. (71 GP, 32-35-4)
- CAR 61 pts. (70 GP, 26-35-4)
- TOR 60 pts. (72 GP, 27-39-6)
- BUF 47 pts. (71 GP, 20-44-7)
The Eastern Conference divisional standings are pretty much set with roughly ten games to go across the league. In the Atlantic Division a raging battle for first place continues for the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Detroit Red Wings sit comfortably in third place.
The red hot New York Rangers sit atop the Metropolitan Division lead with the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins battling for second, while the Washington Capitals are in control of the first Eastern Conference wild card spot and tied with the Penguins at 88 points.
Realistically, the Capitals are a shoe in for making the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season given that their wild card status could become a divisional spot earned in the playoffs, meanwhile the battle for the second wild card position is anybody’s guess.
Last year’s President’s Trophy winners, the Boston Bruins, find themselves in a bit of a predicament. Jekyll and Hyde hockey certainly isn’t Eddie Shore hockey. With 83 points on the season, the Bruins sit two points ahead of the Ottawa Senators who have 81 points and a game at hand on the Boston.
The Sens hot streak is just as fiery red as their jerseys currently. With Andrew Hammond stealing games and Curtis Lazar stealing burgers off the ice, the Senators look to be a point eating machine.
At one point in the year, the Florida Panthers looked like they were capable of the seemingly impossible- making the playoffs. After both Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya were injured at the same time, creating a desperation situation in net for the Panthers, at least Luongo is back in the lineup as Florida maintains a shred of hope.
The Bruins take on the Panthers Saturday night in what should be one of Boston’s biggest tests in the month of March. If the Bruins cannot beat the Panthers, then not only are the Senators that much more of a legitimate playoff contender, but they become that much more of a threat to thwarting Boston’s playoff run.
We know Boston is coming off of a loss to Ottawa heading into the game with Florida, however one loss to the Senators in an otherwise dominating month of March for the Bruins isn’t enough to knock them off of their game entirely. The Bruins effort was questionable, but if they are able to come out playing like a team that wants to win and ensure a win against the Panthers, then there’s a chance they can hold off the rallying Senators.
Past Boston, Ottawa, and Florida in the standings the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers still have a chance at pulling themselves up in the standings and stealing the last wild card spot. However, realistically the Devils haven’t been a contender all season (or for that matter, since the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals), while the Flyers have plenty to do to make their franchise better before taking on a playoff run in the next couple of seasons.
Ultimately for Bruins fans, they hope their team decides to make a choice and stick with it- either win and be in, or be ready to do some restructuring in the offseason, without any playoff hopes for 2015. For Senators fans, streaking at the right time with a youthful and energetic roster just might make them the unlikely heroes of this season, similar in fashion to the Los Angeles Kings recent playoff success.
And if Florida, New Jersey, or Philadelphia somehow remarkably made the playoffs at this point, then perhaps it is time to head to the bunkers.
Western Conference Standings
- STL 96 pts. (71 GP, 45-20-6)
- NSH 94 pts. (72 GP, 43-21-8)
- CHI 92 pts. (70 GP, 43-21-6)
- ANA 99 pts. (73 GP, 46-20-7)
- VAN 84 pts. (70 GP, 40-26-4)
- CGY 83 pts. (71 GP, 39-27-5)
- MIN 85 pts. (71 GP, 39-25-7)
- WPG 84 pts. (71 GP, 36-23-12)
- LA 82 pts. (70 GP, 34-22-14)
- SJ 78 pts. (71 GP, 35-28-8)
- COL 78 pts. (71 GP, 33-26-12)
- DAL 76 pts. (71 GP, 33-28-10)
- EDM 51 pts. (71 GP, 19-39-13)
- ARI 50 pts. (71 GP, 21-42-8)
The Western Conference has been the more dominant conference for the last five or six years. The top three teams in the Central Division are comfortably perched with enough points spread between them and the first wild card spot. The St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, and the Chicago Blackhawks all make great choices for potential deep runs in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In the Pacific Division, the Anaheim Ducks are much further than the Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames- so much so in fact, that Anaheim’s 99 points currently hails them as first in the league standings and the race for the President’s Trophy.
All season long, the Minnesota Wild and the Winnipeg Jets have looked like teams that could make a playoff run and be surprised by what happens. While the Wild look like a much better team than they were earlier in the season, the Jets are beginning to trend the other way.
The Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche, and even the Dallas Stars look hungry enough to try to take one of the current Western Conference wild card teams out of contention. While the Kings and Sharks could certainly pressure the Flames and Canucks and bump them out of their current divisional tickets to the playoffs, both teams are just as capable of obtaining a wild card position.
While earlier in the season the Avalanche and Stars looked like they would be immensely distanced from playoff hopes, they find themselves in position to strike as long as they win and their divisional, conference, and current wild card holding foes lose. Colorado now has 78 points on the season, which is exactly what San Jose has.
Whereas the Sharks have been trending away from playoff hopes, the Avalanche have been quietly stepping towards a potential playoff run. Intriguingly the defending Stanley Cup champion, Los Angeles Kings, are on the outside of the playoffs looking in. While there’s a chance they’ll miss out on being able to defend their 2014 title, the Kings still are the Kings.
It is unimaginable to count out Los Angeles at this point of the season. Both of their Stanley Cup championship runs began with a late season surge that continued well into and all the way through the playoffs. Would the Kings like to be a bit more comfortable at this point than they are now? Certainly. But at the end of the day, they have risen above the pressure they’ve felt before and could make a statement to do that again.
Although the Stars have a mathematical chance, their realistic playoff hopes are just about as doomed as the Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes seasons have been. So for Calgary fans and Canucks fans, maintaining ground in the divisional standings is everything right now. The Wild look to continue to improve and solidify their wild card position, as the Jets look to start turning things around and distancing themselves from potential organizations that could overtake them.
San Jose fans simply look for a redeeming horizon from last year’s playoff exit that has them as the current annual playoff joke, as Avalanche fans simply look for pulling the goalie with five minutes left to actually work in their favor. The Sharks season is a bit of an embarrassment, considering the occasional lack of drive in their roster. At least Colorado can say that they’ve had the kind of season that they’ve had based on the fact that injuries have plagued their goaltending all year long.
In any case, the race is on for Western Conference wild card teams to make the playoffs. And like I said, we’re in for a treat as hockey fans that can’t get enough of watching every waking minute of game action and the playoff atmosphere that is just about to come around this time of year.