Following action on Friday night, which saw both the Edmonton Oilers and the Anaheim Ducks lose, the San Jose Sharks are the only team that’s sitting pretty when it comes to the various races. The Sharks have gone 7-1-2 over their last ten games while both Anaheim and Edmonton have been unimpressively mediocre. Heading into the weekend, San Jose have a seven-point lead on Anaheim with games at hand on both the Ducks and the Oilers. Whether we’re looking at the Wild Card race or the divisional races, everything is currently close except for in the Pacific.
The Minnesota Wild and the Chicago Blackhawks are in a two-horse race in the Central Division, one that currently sees the Wild up three points with a game at hand. The Wild won on Friday night as Chicago lost to increase their lead slightly. In one of the more tantalizing games this weekend, Minnesota will be in the Windy City to face the ‘hawks directly. With a potential four-point swing hinging on the result, a Minnesota win in regulation promises to be a huge boost as both teams head into the final four weeks of the season.
In the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference, there’s another two-horse race developing. The Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators are neck-and-neck in the standings with Montreal clinging to a slim two-point advantage. The Canadiens saw their huge winning streak ended the other night in Calgary while Ottawa now have their own five-gamer active. Sitting just two points back, the Senators have two games at hand and look very threatening. Montreal will be in Edmonton on Sunday while Ottawa have what should be a dunk as they face the Avalanche in Denver.
In the Metro, arguably the three best teams in the NHL are scrunched up atop the standings. Washington have a three-point edge over both the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Pittsburgh Penguins. All three teams will be on the road on Saturday with Washington looking to get back on track against the Los Angeles Kings. The Blue Jackets have a favorable match-up against the sinking Buffalo Sabres, while Pittsburgh will have to deal with a back-to-back scenario as they travel to Vancouver.
In the east’s Wild Card race, the New York Rangers have a very comfortable lead as the first Wild Card. However, there is a tight race emerging for the final playoff spot. Heading into this weekend, the New York Islanders hold that spot following two wins over Edmonton and Vancouver. All of Toronto (-1), Tampa Bay (-4), Philadelphia (-5), and Florida (-6) remain in contention for the last playoff spot out east. Of note, the Lightning are the team that have made the strong surge as they have gone 6-2-2 in their last 10 to stay relevant this season.
In the west’s Wild Card race, the Calgary Flames have scythed their way into a comfortable position. Heading into this weekend, they are eight points clear of the Los Angeles Kings, the team currently on the bubble in the west. The Kings aren’t really focused on Calgary, however, as they will be aiming for the St. Louis Blues, a team that LA trails by three points.
The final day of the NHL’s regular season is on April 9th, just less than a month away now. Lots can change, but when it comes to fast changes, it will take a lot of games before San Jose can lose their lead. In the other races, don’t be surprised if things look different by this time next week.