Nick, Colby and Pete assess the Philadelphia Flyers’ hiring of Alain Vigneault, the Los Angeles Kings’ hiring of Todd McLellan, where does this leave the Buffalo Sabres in their search for a head coach, as well as some of the good (CBJ and NYI sweep), bad and ugly from the ongoing First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
*cue Andy Williams*
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
The Stanley Cup Playoffs have returned and all is right with the world (unless your team missed the postseason).
In the past, we here at Down the Frozen River have covered every game of every series.
This year, we’re mixing it up a bit– starting with this preview of every First Round series in the Eastern Conference, continuing with a followup preview of every First Round series in the Western Conference and as much analysis as possible on the DTFR Podcast in addition to the blog.
Ch-ch-ch-changes are inevitable and yours truly cannot cover all 16 teams in the postseason alone.
A1 Tampa Bay Lightning (62-14-6, 128 points) vs EWC2 Columbus Blue Jackets (47-31-4, 98 points)
The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the President’s Trophy (for the first time in franchise history) by mid-March and finished with the 4th most points in a season in NHL history, while star forward, Nikita Kucherov, amassed 128 points (the most by a Russian born player in a season) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (39-10-4 record, 2.40 goals against average, .925 save percentage in 53 games played) turned in a Vezina Trophy worthy performance in the crease.
Oh yeah and Steven Stamkos had 45 goals.
The Bolts also tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a regular season (62).
Backup goaltender, Louis Domingue (21-5-0, 2.88 GAA, .908 SV% in 26 GP) posted respectable numbers as well in the Lightning’s thunderous run through the season.
Tampa has home ice throughout the playoffs and kicks things off with a First Round matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who punched their ticket to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a, 3-2, shootout victory over the New York Rangers last Friday– eliminating the Montreal Canadiens from postseason contention in the process.
Duchene and Dzingel quickly fit in to their respective top-nine roles, while McQuaid struggled to find a suitor on the blue line at first in his return to the organization that originally drafted him 55th overall in the 2005 NHL Draft before he was traded to the Boston Bruins and broke into the league with the B’s in 2009-10.
Kinkaid was added solely for goaltending depth as pending-unrestricted free agent, Sergei Bobrovsky (37-24-1, 2.58 GAA, .913 SV% in 62 GP) led the league with nine shutouts on the season.
Blue Jackets backup goaltender, Joonas Korpisalo (10-7-3, 2.95 GAA, .897 SV% in 27 GP) hit some rough patches at times, but found a way to dig his team out from the backend when necessary.
In the grand scheme of things, the Bolts won the season series, 3-0-0, and outscored Columbus, 17-3, in that span.
While many consider Columbus as a Stanley Cup Playoffs pushover– given the franchise has never won a series– Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella always poses a tough challenge that can wear down his opponent.
Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, earns his own merit in his ability to keep his players cool, calm, collected and always in comeback mode, but it’s not unfathomable to see the Blue Jackets pestering Tampa about as much– if not more than– Columbus did to Washington in last season’s First Round matchup.
After all, the Blue Jackets did lead that series, 2-0.
That said, this is Tampa’s year for a Cup run or bust. The Lightning should win the series in six games.
Regular season outcomes:
5-1 TBL at Nationwide Arena on Feb. 18th, 4-0 TBL at Amalie Arena on Jan. 8th, 8-2 TBL at Amalie Arena on Oct. 13th
4/10- Game 1 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on USA , SN360, TVAS
4/12- Game 2 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS
4/14- Game 3 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 CBJ @ TBL*
4/21- Game 6 TBL @ CBJ*
4/23- Game 7 CBJ @ TBL*
A2 Boston Bruins (49-24-9, 107 points) vs A3 Toronto Maple Leafs (46-28-8, 100 points)
For the second season in a row, the Boston Bruins are hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Despite being without Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara at one point this season, the Bruins rallied from their 12th defenseman on up through the rest of the lineup to finish one win shy of consecutive 50-win seasons in Bruce Cassidy‘s third season (second full season) as head coach.
Speaking of Bergeron, however, the perfect two-way center finished the season with a career-high in points (79) and matched his career-high in goals (32) while battling injury early in the season. Bergeron’s 32-47–79 totals came in just 65 games. That’s only one more game played than last season for No. 37 in black-and-gold.
Meanwhile, his linemates, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak each reached milestones of their own. Marchand reached the 100-point plateau this season and became the first Bruin to do so since Joe Thornton recorded 101 points in 2002-03.
The “Little Ball of Hate” also set a career-high in assists (64) and was not suspended in 79 games played this season (he was rested for the final two games in the regular season and missed one game due to injury).
Pastrnak set a career-high in goals (38) and points (81) despite missing time due to a left thumb injury and being limited to 66 games played.
The B’s were led in net this season by Tuukka Rask (27-13-5, 2.48 GAA, .912 SV% in 46 GP) and Jaroslav Halak (22-11-4, 2.34 GAA, .922 SV% in 40 GP) in a 1A/1B scenario. For the first time since the 1989-90 season, Boston had two goaltenders with 20-plus wins.
Back north in Toronto, the Maple Leafs added a formidable center in John Tavares in free agency and his presence was immediate, notching career-highs in goals (47 ) and points (88) in 82 games.
Auston Matthews (37-36–73 totals in 68 games) and Mitch Marner (26-68–94 totals in 82 games) continued to their thing as the $11.634 million man (starting next season) and the soon to be at least $10.000 million
boy wonder man.
Maple Leafs General Manager, Kyle Dubas, added Jake Muzzin in January in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings in effort to shore up his blue line, however, questions remain as to how head coach, Mike Babcock will limit time on ice for veterans, like Ron Hainsey, and mix in more opportunities for Morgan Rielly (20-52–72 totals in 82 games) in his breakout season.
Boston won the season series, 3-1-0, outscoring Toronto, 16-10, in that span.
Some experts are picking the Bruins in five games. They also said similar things in 2013 and 2018. This series is going six games (at least), with Boston overcoming the Maple Leafs defense in Game 7, once again.
To their credit, Toronto always makes things interesting in what’s likely to be the most unpredictable First Round matchup.
Regular season outcomes:
3-2 BOS at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 12th, 6-3 BOS at TD Garden on Dec. 8th, 4-2 TOR at Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 26th, 5-1 BOS at TD Garden on Nov. 10th
4/11- Game 1 TOR @ BOS 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 TOR @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/17- Game 4 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 TOR @ BOS*
4/21- Game 6 BOS @ TOR*
4/23- Game 7 TOR @ BOS*
M1 Washington Capitals (48-26-8, 104 points) vs EWC1 Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7, 99 points)
Just as everyone expected, the Washington Capitals led the Metropolitan Division with 104 points after Barry Trotz left for the head coaching job on Long Island. Did I mention the Capitals are the defending Stanley Cup champions?
Anyway, Alex Ovechkin scored 51 goals and collected his 8th career Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as a result– though Edmonton Oilers forward, Leon Draisaitl, was hot on his tail with 50 goals this season.
After the New York Islanders led the Metropolitan Division for what seemed like forever, it’s important to note the Metro was actually anybody’s game from puck drop in October. Here’s the thing, the Carolina Hurricanes were near the top of the division– they’ve been surging all season.
Speaking of surging, Carolina introduced their “Storm Surge” post-win celebration and the Caniacs loved it.
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to the club in Raleigh, Brett Pesce is good. Also, Sebastian Aho (30-53–83 totals in 82 GP), Andrei Svechnikov (20-17–37 totals in 82 GP) and Teuvo Teravainen (21-55–76 totals in 82 games)– they’re pretty good too.
Washington was led by Braden Holtby (32-19-5, 2.82 GAA, .911 SV% in 59 GP) between the pipes this season and is comforted to know Pheonix Copley (16-7-3, 2.90 GAA, .905 SV% in 27 GP) is quite capable of playing this season’s role of Philipp Grubauer (since traded to the Colorado Avalanche after last season’s Cup celebrations).
The Canes were led by a duo of goaltenders who were once thought of as an after thought in Curtis McElhinney (20-11-2, 2.58 GAA, .912 SV% in 33 GP) and Petr Mrazek (23-14-3, 2.39 GAA, .914 SV% in 40 GP).
Though his record might not show it, Mrazek has been hitting his stride for the last month and is locked in. Ride that wave until it crests.
The Hurricanes had a league-leading ten skaters play in all 82 games. There’s no such thing as playing too much hockey– especially when it’s the first postseason appearance since 2009.
Last year, the Columbus Blue Jackets gave the Caps some interruptions coming out of the gate.
Despite Washington having swept the season series, 4-0-0, the Hurricanes kept things close in their most recent matchup with a, 3-2, loss at PNC Arena on March 28th.
Carolina almost pulled off the victory in a shootout on Dec. 14th, but lost, 6-5, on home ice to the Capitals.
Washington is beatable. Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour knows that, his team just hasn’t done it yet. Caps head coach, Todd Reirden, is also making his postseason debut at the reigns behind the bench for his respective team.
Though they won the Cup last season– that was then. This is now.
This series is going seven games and the Hurricanes will make sure there’s no repeat Cup winner this year.
Regular season outcomes:
3-2 WSH at PNC Arena on March 28th, 4-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on March 26th, 3-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on Dec. 27th, 6-5 F/SO WSH at PNC Arena on Dec. 14th
4/11- Game 1 CAR @ WSH 7:30 PM ET on USA, SN360, TVAS2
4/13- Game 2 CAR @ WSH 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2
4/18- Game 4 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on TBD, SN360, TVAS
4/20- Game 5 CAR @ WSH*
4/22- Game 6 WSH @ CAR*
4/24- Game 7 CAR @ WSH*
M2 New York Islanders (48-27-7, 103 points) vs M3 Pittsburgh Penguins (44-26-12, 100 points)
Barry Trotz figured out how to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins last season with the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. Trotz is the key. Trotz knows the secret stuff to beat Mike Sullivan and his Penguins.
That’s why the William M. Jennings Trophy winning duo of Robin Lehner (25-13-5, 2.13 GAA, .930 SV% in 46 GP) and Thomas Greiss (23-14-2, 2.28 GAA, .927 SV% in 43 GP) will backstop the New York Islanders past Pittsburgh in their First Round matchup in six games.
Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably.
New York split the season series with the Pens, 2-1-1, with their most recent result against Pittsburgh coming in a, 2-1, shootout loss on Dec. 10th at NYCB Live (that’s the Nassau Coliseum, if you haven’t already heard. The Isles will host their First Round games there).
Islanders General Manager Lou Lamoriello put together a team without John Tavares. Trotz figured out how to get the most out of his players– guys like Matt Martin, Leo Komarov, Casey Cizikas and even Andrew Ladd (until Ladd got injured)– while playing the trap.
That same trap won the Cup last season.
Long Island residents have long memories– the Penguins are one of their greatest rivals– and the added energy of Tavares’ departure has only fueled more passion all season long.
Can New York flip the switch from their late season bumps in the road?
Obviously, Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby. They also have Evgeni Malkin. Crosby and Malkin are ready to go for another deep postseason run after watching their biggest rival not only beat them in the Second Round last year, but go on to take the Cup out of the hands of the Penguins’ recent streak of dominance in 2016 and 2017.
The Penguins were led in the crease by Matt Murray (29-14-6, 2.69 GAA, .919 SV% in 50 GP) this season with some helpful bailout backup goaltending from Casey DeSmith (15-11-5, 2.75 GAA, .916 SV% in 36 GP). If Murray shows any signs of wavering, Sullivan shouldn’t have a hard time going to DeSmith to push his team over the edge.
How will Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann play into the fold as Jim Rutherford‘s biggest prize acquisitions this season? Who might be the breakout star for Pittsburgh that outshines Crosby in the Conn Smythe Trophy vote?
Aren’t these questions supposed to be answered in an editorial preview? Sure.
Regular season outcomes:
2-1 F/SO PIT at NYCB Live on Dec. 10th, 6-2 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 6th, 3-2 F/SO NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 1st, 6-3 NYI at PPG Paints Arena on Oct. 30th
4/10- Game 1 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2
4/12- Game 2 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2
4/14- Game 3 NYI @ PIT 12 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 NYI @ PIT 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2
4/18- Game 5 PIT @ NYI*
4/20- Game 6 NYI @ PIT*
4/22- Game 7 PIT @ NYI*
The DTFR Duo talk a little college hockey, other stats from the week, the CWHL folding and NWHL expansion opportunities, as well as hand out more awards and a look at how things should sort out in the Atlantic Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There’s only one week remaining in the 2018-19 regular season, so let’s make this quick. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on April 10th.
The stretch run is almost complete. If you’re mathematically alive, you still have a chance. Already clinched a playoff berth? Isn’t a great feeling to be ahead of things for once?
If you’re not, then there’s a good chance you’re looking forward to the 2019 NHL Draft lottery (unless you’re the Ottawa Senators– you see, they traded their 2019 1st round pick last season to the Colorado Avalanche after opting to keep their 2018 1st round pick instead– it’s a long story).
Without further ado, here’s the latest standings forecast through the end of March 31, 2019– keeping in mind this is not an exact science.
Given recent and season long trends, as well as records from the last few seasons, the forecasted standings that appear below are only an educated guess.
Anything can happen (for teams that aren’t otherwise already elimination from postseason contention and/or division, conference of President’s Trophy winners).
Projected Standings After Six Months
- p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 126 points (78 games played entering April 1st)
- x-Boston Bruins, 110 points (79 GP)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 100 points (78 GP)
- Montreal Canadiens, 95 points (79 GP)
- Florida Panthers, 87 points (79 GP)
- Buffalo Sabres, 75 points (79 GP)
- Detroit Red Wings, 74 points (79 GP)
- Ottawa Senators, 65 points (78 GP)
To no surprise, the Tampa Bay Lightning have already clinched the President’s Trophy in real life and come close to a 130-point season. Though the Bolts didn’t set an NHL record for “best regular season ever”, they did become the third team in league history to amass 60-plus wins in a season.
Also, sorry Nikita Kucherov, but you can’t spread out your 120-plus points over the course of the playoffs. Everything is reset to “zero” as if it’s a new season within a season altogether.
Is this the year Steven Stamkos records a point in a Game 7?
Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs keep running into each other as Toronto is looking to avenge last postseason’s seven-game series loss to the Bruins.
Unless David Pastrnak has anything to say about that on the scoreboard.
The Montreal Canadiens come up short of a playoff berth thanks to the current tiebreaker format, whereby both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes had more regulation-plus-overtime wins. If anything, there’s more hope for next season than this time around last season in Montreal.
And if you’re a Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres or Detroit Red Wings fan, for some reason you still think your teams are on the cusp of playoff contention– especially now that you’ve already reset your focus on being tied with all 31-NHL teams for 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff action.
However, unless the Panthers make some serious moves in the offseason, the Sabres find a system (and goaltender) and stick with it and the Red Wings try to speed up their rebuild, it might be Groundhog Day for another season or two.
Finally, Ottawa Senators fans, you exist. You’re real fans.
- y-Washington Capitals, 105 points (79 GP)
- x-New York Islanders, 102 points (79 GP)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 99 points (79 GP)
- wc1-Columbus Blue Jackets, 95 points (79 GP)
- wc2-Carolina Hurricanes, 95 points (79 GP)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 83 points (79 GP)
- New York Rangers, 77 points (78 GP)
- New Jersey Devils, 70 points (79 GP)
In the Metropolitan Division, the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals found a way to once-again reign as the division winner heading into the postseason.
After the New York Islanders charged out of the gate on the heels of Barry Trotz’s defensive masterplan and stellar goaltending from Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss, things have started to slide in Long Island.
The good news? Trotz is their head coach and is the defending Stanley Cup champion head coach.
The bad news? They’ll suit up against the Pittsburgh Penguins– annual Stanley Cup contenders as long as Sidney Crosby is still playing and Mike Sullivan is within his five-year window of being the game’s best coach in the playoffs– and that’s just the First Round.
In the Eastern Conference wild card race, Columbus entered April with 44 regulation-plus-overtime wins, leading the Hurricanes (41) and Canadiens (40).
Given the forecasted tie and methods in which each team would need to reach 95 points on the season, it appears as though nothing is going to change over the last week of the season.
Nothing should change anyway.
Not to jinx them or anything, but Carolina is looking to end the longest postseason drought in the major four North American professional sports. The Canes haven’t appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2009.
For the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, there’s 1) maybe a goaltender you can rely on, 2) a goaltender who still hasn’t won a Cup and is sticking with a team that’s rebuilding and 3) a goaltender that finally won a game this season (Cory Schneider) and a goaltender that should be your starter next season (Mackenzie Blackwood).
- y-St. Louis Blues, 99 points (78 GP)
- x-Winnipeg Jets, 98 points (78 GP)
- x-Nashville Predators, 97 points (79 GP)
- wc1-Dallas Stars, 93 points (79 GP)
- wc2-Colorado Avalanche, 89 points (78 GP)
- Minnesota Wild, 85 points (79 GP)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 81 points (78 GP)
Ever hear of a team going from worst to first? Now have you ever heard of a team doing that in the same season? Because the St. Louis Blues are that team this season (at least in the Central Division alone).
However, the point spread in the expected forecast from 1st to 3rd in the Central is only a two-point difference, which means it’s still anybody’s guess as to who will come out with the top-seed in the division.
Should the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators end up in a First Round rematch of last season’s Second Round battle, then you can expect the Jets to take flight. Just a hunch.
Meanwhile, the Western Conference wild card race came down to the wire and– you guessed it– another tiebreaker.
While the Dallas Stars laid claim to the first wild card spot, the Colorado Avalanche came out on top of the Arizona Coyotes for the last playoff spot by virtue of having won their regular season series, 2-1-0.
Things didn’t go so well for the Minnesota Wild this season, both because of injuries and because of a lot of inconsistency (so… injuries?).
For the Chicago Blackhawks, the season started in October, not January.
- z-Calgary Flames, 109 points (79 GP)
- x-San Jose Sharks, 101 points (79 GP)
- x-Vegas Golden Knights, 95 points (79 GP)
- Arizona Coyotes, 89 points (79 GP)
- Edmonton Oilers, 83 points (78 GP)
- Anaheim Ducks, 80 points (80 GP)
- Vancouver Canucks, 80 points (79 GP)
- Los Angeles Kings, 70 points (78 GP)
The Calgary Flames clinched the best record in the Western Conference for the first time in almost 30 years. Conveniently, the Flames last won the Cup 30 years ago.
Guess it’s about time for another repeat of 2004, even though goal line technology could surely keep that from ever happening again whether you believe it was in or not.
Things are looking like business as usual for the San Jose Sharks as they gear up for another taxing First Round battle– this time around in a rematch from last year’s Second Round matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights, by the way, are the 7th team to reach the postseason in their first two seasons of existence.
It’s too bad the Arizona Coyotes couldn’t pull off an incredible run, despite losing their starting goaltender to injury for the season before American Thanksgiving.
The fact that they’re not in the Jack Hughes vs. Kaapo Kakko conversation is about as close as you can come to winning the Cup this season when you’ve relied on Darcy Kuemper for over 20-consecutive starts.
That’s not a shot at Kuemper. That’s just [heck-]ing incredible (pardon my French).
Back up north in Edmonton, the Oilers are gearing up for another rebuild? Is it that time already? Probably not, but if it’s what Connor McDavid wants… (it’s not).
Thanks to that good old ROW tiebreaker, the Anaheim Ducks managed to climb above the Vancouver Canucks in the standings. That’s not saying much.
Vancouver should be this season’s Arizona, next season (minus the injuries). If that makes sense.
Anaheim, on the other hand, should sell, sell, sell this summer.
Finally, the Los Angeles Kings were crowned 2014 Stanley Cup champions for the 5th year in-a-row and finished in the basement of the Pacific.
The DTFR Duo breaks down Jimmy Howard’s one-year extension with the Detroit Red Wings, Gritty’s allegiance in the 2019 NHL Global Series, the New York Islanders’ bottom-six dilemma, Ilya Kovalchuk’s relationship with the Los Angeles Kings, more awards and a look at how things should stack up in the Metropolitan Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The DTFR Duo runs through some Tampa Bay Lightning franchise records, Conor McGregor reactions, hands out more awards, fixes the NHL and takes a look at how things are shaping up in the Pacific Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
We’re less than a month away from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so let’s take a gander at how things should shape up for the Central Division.
The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the first postseason berth this season, Quinn Hughes signed his entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks, Shane Wright was granted exceptional status and the DTFR Duo presented the first few individual season awards.
*Zach Boychuk wasn’t actually on… …this time around, anyway.*
The DTFR Duo honors Ted Lindsay, addresses a potential outdoor game hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes, talk John Tavares’ “welcome” back to Long Island, can’t figure out the Ottawa Senators coaching change circus and more.
Happy Meteorological Spring (and when the time comes, actual Spring too as the Spring Equinox falls on… well, it’s written on the calendar in your office somewhere).
Of course, the only day that really matters in March is the 18th (you thought I was going to say the 17th, but we can’t all pretend to be Irish now, can we?).
If you’re new to the sport, that’s the day the Lord Stanley of Preston first presented the idea of the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup back in 1892 and thus the Stanley Cup was first played for and awarded in 1893.
The original Cup resides in an old bank vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario and was purchased for ten guineas, which was $48.67 at the time or almost $1,400 in contemporary times.
Anyway, March is a pretty important month.
Teams have added or subtracted to their rosters from the trade deadline and are looking to go down the stretch without any additional injuries or worries heading into the postseason (or for some, the offseason).
Feeling lucky? Is this the year your bracket won’t be busted in the First Round? Let the madness begin with a look at the latest standings forecast* across the league based on all 31 NHL teams’ performances through February 28, 2019.
*Standard disclaimer: This forecast is not an exact science, but rather an educated guess among recent and season long trends, with a foundation steeped in recent records over the last few seasons.
In simple terms, just focus on the standing within the division and less on the point spread. A team isn’t eliminated from postseason contention until they are mathematically eliminated.
Anything can still happen (relatively, of course).
Projected Standings After Five Months
- p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 121 points (65 games played entering March 1st)
- x-Boston Bruins, 115 points (64 GP)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points (64 GP)
- wc1-Montreal Canadiens, 103 points (64 GP)
- wc2-Buffalo Sabres, 90 points (63 GP)
- Florida Panthers, 82 points (63 GP)
- Ottawa Senators, 61 points (64 GP)
- Detroit Red Wings, 60 points (64 GP)
In the Atlantic Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning are still on pace for what could almost be the best regular season in league history. Their franchise record ten-game winning streak was halted by the re-hot Boston Bruins on Feb. 28th.
Tampa should still lock up the division (if not the President’s Trophy) with ease, though they are beatable– as proven by the Bruins recent win (ignoring the back-to-back games), as well as the St. Louis Blues’ 1-0 overtime victory on Feb. 7th (more on the Blues later).
Boston, meanwhile, is surging at the right time. After going 7-7-0 in December and 6-3-3 in January, the B’s went without a regulation loss in the month of February, finishing with an 11-0-2 record.
It was the 9th time in franchise history and first time since November 2011, that the Bruins went without a regulation loss in an entire calendar month.
Not to be outdone, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still very alive and well in a divisional spot and for the second straight season appear destined to battle the Bruins in a First Round rematch from last season.
At least one of the Eastern Conference wild card spots in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be filled by an Atlantic Division team– the first of which being the Montreal Canadiens.
The Habs are in the hunt and could knock the Maple Leafs out of the last divisional spot with a good run down the stretch, while the second wild card spot is a little harder to project.
It could be the Buffalo Sabres or it could very well be a team that’s surging in the Metropolitan Division.
- y-New York Islanders, 113 points (63 GP)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 101 points (63 GP)
- x-Washington Capitals, 92 points (64 GP)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 89 points (63 GP)
- Pittsburgh Penguins, 87 points (63 GP)
- New York Rangers, 77 points (63 GP)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 74 points (64 GP)
- New Jersey Devils, 61 points (64 GP)
John Tavares wasn’t well-received in his first trip back to Long Island since leaving the New York Islanders for the Leafs in free agency last July, however, Barry Trotz has been adored by Isles fans as the coach of the Metropolitan Division’s best team.
Despite adding a lot of firepower leading up to the trade deadline, the Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t quite a surefire powerhouse in the division, but they should be good enough for home ice advantage in the First Round and a rematch with the defending Stanley Cup champion, Washington Capitals.
It’s a wide-open race for two or three potential playoff spots in the Metropolitan Division, as the Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins all have their sights set on one of two remaining divisional spots or at least one wild card spot in the postseason.
Despite the Capitals edging the Hurricanes and Penguins in this forecast, gut feeling indicates there’s sure to be an upset before the brackets are even finalized.
Carolina is playing really well lately and as those bunch of jerks have shown all season long– you can’t count them out. They also reached 70 points in 61 games played for just the second time in franchise history this season.
The last time they did that was in the 2005-06 season– you know, the one they went on to beat the Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.
As for the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, well, there’s always a chance things go south for some of the teams ahead of them– except the Rangers are rebuilding and the Flyers have gone zero weeks without an injury to one of the eight goaltenders they’ve used this season.
- y-Winnipeg Jets, 104 points (63 GP)
- x-St. Louis Blues, 100 points (63 GP)
- x-Nashville Predators, 93 points (66 GP)
- wc1-Colorado Avalanche, 92 points (64 GP)
- Minnesota Wild, 85 points (64 GP)
- Dallas Stars, 84 points (64 GP)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 75 points (64 GP)
The Western Conference as a whole has been weaker than the Eastern Conference this season, but no division has been quite as lively as the Central Division.
While the Winnipeg Jets soar into the postseason as the top-team in the Central, the St. Louis Blues are attempting to go from last to first– and then some.
St. Louis might not stop at potentially leading the Central Division by the time the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin– they could just very well go on to win the Cup. The Blues are that hot.
Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators added a lot of grit leading up to the trade deadline, acquiring Cody McLeod, Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds to bolster their crunch to go along with new addition, Mikael Granlund‘s scoring ability.
Anyway, they’ve been slipping as of late and appear destined to miss out on home ice advantage in what will likely be a First Round matchup with St. Louis.
Finally, one of the Western wild cards will surely come from the Central Division teams. Whether that’s the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild or Dallas Stars will depend on how hot Colorado’s first line is and/or how injured the Wild and Stars are.
Kudos to the Chicago Blackhawks for setting the second half of the season ablaze, though not nearly as mightily as the Blues have, but they’ll still end up last in the Central, but about mid-pack league-wide.
- z-Calgary Flames, 111 points (64 GP)
- x-San Jose Sharks, 107 points (64 GP)
- x-Vegas Golden Knights, 100 points (65 GP)
- wc2-Arizona Coyotes, 91 points (64 GP)
- Vancouver Canucks, 88 points (65 GP)
- Edmonton Oilers, 84 points (64 GP)
- Anaheim Ducks, 75 points (64 GP)
- Los Angeles Kings, 68 points (64 GP)
In the most disappointing division of the season, the Calgary Flames have risen a cut above the rest in the West. Not only do they look to lead the conference, but they look to do so in style.
The Flames are a team that’s destined for a deeper run than just a First or Second Round exit in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but how much will recent playoff experience for the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights play into Calgary’s chances of going far?
Vegas hasn’t been as dominant as they were in their inaugural season, however the Sharks have also had a few slip ups in the last month.
Both teams are looking like they’ll meet in the First Round– a round sooner than their Second Round matchup last postseason. It’s a rematch for the ages for the Golden Knights, as the young franchise looks to continue to add to the nearly 30 years of dismal playoff failure for San Jose.
One of the biggest– and most pleasant– surprises in the Western Conference? The Arizona Coyotes.
The team is destined for a wild card spot this season and just might spoil the party for more than just who they cut out of the playoff picture.
For the Vancouver Canucks, it’s a battle until the end. They might make it, they might not, but next season should be better– just stay the course.
And if you’re the Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks and/or the Los Angeles Kings, you’ve got a lot of work to do in the offseason.