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With the NHL starting to move towards its inevitable climactic end to the regular season, now seems like a good time to really dig into what teams will, and won't, make the final cut into the postseason race to the Stanley Cup.
The Lost Causes
Arizona: Another disappointing season for the Coyotes leaves them, at the time of writing, bottom of the pile, if only by a single point. Whilst theoretically possible for them to make the playoffs in terms of points, the likelihood of them winning or an overtime loss in every game, whilst everyone above them in the Pacific division loses outright is too far out there. It may be a while before the Coyotes truly get back into contention.
Buffalo: Similarly to Arizona, Buffalo have not had a good season this year. Bottom of the Atlantic, second bottom in the whole of the NHL, things have been bleak for them. Even assuming that they win all their remaining games outright, whilst every other Atlantic team loses all theirs, they won't be able to catch up to Toronto's total points at the moment. With the Metropolitan Division so close, that also means that a wild card spot is also beyond reach.
Edmonton: For a team that entered this season with so much hope, this has been a setback than no-one can truly say to have anticipated. Under the leadership of Connor McDavid, the Oilers looked like a good bet at the beginning of the season for the Stanley Cup. Now, they are already looking to next year. The team has potential, but this is not their year.
Ottawa: A bad season for them was simply compounded by failure to trade away some big unfavourable contracts at the deadline. This franchise is looks like it's heading into rebuild mode, with their performance less than satisfactory for their fans. Bad news for Senators fans, is that with the heavy contracts still there, it's looking like a rough offseason for them too
Vancouver: A season that has been coming for a while, the Canucks have been relying on the Sedin brothers for a long time. That time is coming to an end, but it has been coming for a while now. Maybe eventually, they will be able to move past it. Until then, they can only continue to be near the bottom of the pile.
The Minor Miracle Needers
Chicago: A season which caught all of the Blackhawks fanbase, and quite a few other onlookers by surprise. A poor performance by a team that is championship material has left them in need of a minor miracle. The quality of the team can't be written off, and is the only thing saving them from the no hope section of this article.
Detroit: The good news is that they are keeping within touching distance of the Panthers. The bad news is that touching distance isn't going to be good enough. When even the team above finds itself outside of the wild card spot, you know you need to put the graft in. Maybe they will make it above Florida, but in the end, the Panthers aren't the ones they are competing with.
Montreal: From a place that is historically great at hockey, the season has been awful. Finding themselves out of touch with the wild card spots by ten points just shows how bad they have played this season. They need more than a little luck, but they could just about make it should everything fall in their favour.
New York Islanders: A team that seems to yo-yo about, the Islanders have had good spots and bad spots. But being on a six-game losing streak places them in a bad position with confidence, as well as on points in what is the most competitive division in the league. They'll need the other teams to slip up if they want to get back on track this season.
New York Rangers: Despite having essentially given up in a letter to the fans earlier this season, the Rangers do still have a chance of making it. Though the points gap is considerable, (at least for the Metropolitan Division), a bit of luck may swing the Rangers way for a small, if uneventful, playoff run.
Could Go Either Way
Anaheim: The Anaheim Ducks at the time of writing this are third in the Pacific Division, if only a point ahead of the rival LA Kings. Their closest challenge will not come from Calgary within their own division, but rather from a Colorado push for a playoff space that may or may not impact them should they play poorly. This uncertainty makes it almost impossible to predict the final position of the Ducks, but relying on so many teams is not something this team want to do.
Calgary: A good season so far for Calgary, with them currently chasing a wild card spot, which can turn into a top six seed should they play well enough. Whilst not entirely in their hands, the reliance on teams in other divisions means that, much like the Ducks, Calgary's season could hinge on just one game. So they need to play every game like a must win in order to give themselves the best chance.
Carolina: One of the teams in the race for a spot in the Metropolitan, the Hurricanes have had a good season for them so far. After a below par last season, they are pushing to the limit, and doing very well at it indeed. But it really could all depend on the teams just above them, and no-one likes that.
Colorado: After last season, so far this season has gone almost as well as Colorado could have hoped. It's a close run thing certainly, with several teams in the west going for it. But Colorado have plenty of good players who could carry them all the way into the playoffs this time around.
Columbus: The Blue Jackets have followed up a good season with another, but now it's crunch time. Only a point ahead of Florida in the wild card spot, concentration and resilience are now key for the Blue Jackets should they want to qualify for these playoffs.
Dallas: Going from one of the worst to being on the brink of the playoffs isn't easy. But Dallas are doing exactly that. From sixth last year to holding the top wild card this time around. Although in a very close contest with the Avalanche and others, as it stands, its advantage Dallas.
Florida: Starting off with the disadvantage of just a point, Florida could very well be looking at a playoff berth here, and possibly a match up with local rivals Tampa Bay if they do. But they are behind, with plenty of work to do, and just that one point could mean everything between the postseason, and going home. The three games in hand help a bit too.
LA: The Kings are stuck beneath local rivals Anaheim in the increasingly tight west contest. But they are within a win of climbing up to the Sharks and claiming a top six spot as well. Second to fifth places in the Pacific are in the race here, so anything could happen.
New Jersey: The advantage would belong to the Devils, if only it wasn't for the three games in hand that the Panthers hold. But leading the wild card pack in the Metropolitan could be decisive coming into the final games of the season, no matter what happens with Florida. The points above their own divisional rivals are likely to be the ones that count.
San Jose: The team with the slight advantage in the Pacific race, the Sharks need to keep on their toes. Any slip could see them drop into only the wild card spot, or even out of the race entirely. Slip-ups can't happen should the Sharks want to reach the playoffs.
St Louis: A rocky season for the Blues has settled them down just behind the Avalanche. The need to win is only limited as to catch the Dallas Stars, and a couple of wins may do the trick. But there is the possibility that the Avalanche and the Stars win too many for them to be caught in the last weeks of the season.
The Likely Contenders
Minnesota: Quite comfortable between the Winnipeg Jets and the Dallas Stars. Although only a win ahead of the Stars, they should at least keep a wild card spot should they slip up slightly. A likely chance to make it more than one series into the playoffs this year.
Philadelphia: A good lead on the Devils means that the Flyers are indeed flying. A chance to knock the Capitals off the top of the Metropolitan comes with every game potentially, leaving Philadelphia very likely to secure their spot in the playoffs.
Pittsburgh: Who would bet against the Penguins? Coming off a poor start to come into third place in the Metropolitan, they are showing brief glimmers of last year's quality. Expect them to make it in this year as well.
The Sure Things
Boston: The only thing in question for the Bruins is in which space they will end up. A strong run so far has seen them go from a mediocre start to almost top of the pile in the Atlantic Division. Winning their three games in hand will see them tie up on points with the division leading Lightning, whilst helping strand the fourth placed Florida Panthers outside the wild card spots, with the help of the Maple Leafs. No chance for the Bruins to mess this one up, means that they are a dead certain for a playoff berth.
Nashville: A good season to follow up on their surprise trip to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, they lead the Central Division by six points. Devoid of more traditional rivals for the top spots in Chicago and St Louis, the Predators should have no problem in sealing their place in the postseason.
Tampa Bay: A brilliant season for an unfancied team has seen them be made at some points to be favourites for the Stanley Cup. With the Bruins coming up behind them fast, they might not end up the top seed in the East, but there is no chance of them slipping out of the playoffs now.
Toronto: The Maple Leafs have had a good season, building a strong lead over fourth placed Florida. Its not been a special season, but they've done enough to more or less secure their spot in the postseason this year, where they will hope for a better ending.
Las Vegas: The inaugural season of all inaugural seasons, it's been a magnificent performance by the Golden Knights. With no real worries of being pushed out of the playoffs, their work is nearly done to secure the top spot. Whether they get as far in the playoffs as people think will be interesting, but they aren't going to be missing out this year.
Washington: The Capitals are a strange phenomenon. A team that does well in the regular season, but never beats the Penguins in the postseason. Nonetheless, they are still top of the Metropolitan, if only just, and the winners of the President's Trophy the last two years, whilst maybe not getting it this time, will get another shot at playoff glory.
Winnipeg: An outstanding season for Winnipeg will be leading them into the playoffs. How far they get is completely up to them, as is what seed they eventually get given. But it is unlikely that a large slip in form will happen at just the wrong moment, and they should make it in quite comfortably.