By: Colby Kephart
Whether you like the title or not, in this article I will be discussing the last wildcard spot in both the Eastern and Western conferences. Most teams are down to the final 10 or so games in the season and it’s make-or-break time.
The Eastern Conference is up first, and there are four teams who are playing this thing down to the end. These teams are: Pittsburgh Penguins, 82 pts; Detroit Red Wings 81pts; Philadelphia Flyers, 80 pts, and Carolina Hurricanes 75 pts. The two Pennsylvania teams are my pick to hold these wildcard spots until the end. I don’t think the Penguins will play that badly down the stretch to have to really worry. Even though Detroit has a one point ahead of the Flyers, I see the Flyers taking and not giving up that last spot.
The Flyers have been playing really good hockey at the moment: they are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. They are doing all this without a key member of their team, Jakub Voracek, who has missed the team’s last 9 games. They have been able to do this because of a great play from Brayden Schenn, Michael Raffl and stellar rookie Shayne Gostisbehere. Schenn is having a career year with 24 goals and 24 assists, for a 48-pt total, including a huge goal Wednesday, March 16th versus the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Carolina Hurricanes are a far stretch, but it is still possible for them. Overall, I think both Carolina and Detroit will be on the outside looking in as the season concludes, ending Detroit’s playoff streak.
The Western Conference is much clearer to me as two teams, the Minnesota Wild and the Colorado Avalanche, are battling out for the final wildcard. The Avalanche have 76 pts and the Wild have 75 pts. These two teams will battle to the wire, I feel.
I am going to pick Colorado on this side, I feel they added better at the deadline and I think it will pay off in the long run. I think Colorado would also be in a much better position if all their goalies weren’t hurt every other game this season.
Even though I picked Colorado, I think Minnesota is playing better hockey at the moment. Ever since they fired Mike Yeo, the team stormed out the gate and put them in position to battle for this spot. I picked Colorado at the beginning of the season and I am sticking with them. I think Minnesota will regret not firing Yeo sooner, and I think they will join him in spending the offseason golfing while Colorado is still playing hockey.