Rangers, Islanders, Senators Likely to Clinch Playoff Spots in Tight Eastern Conference

Derek Stepan, Henrik LundqvistOnly a few more weeks of regular-season action remain in the NHL, and so far, only two teams have clinched playoff berths. While the playoff picture might seem wide open, only four playoff spots are really up for grabs — three in the East and one in the West. Let’s take a closer look at the teams involved and project how the musical chairs will end.

The Rangers were the Stanley Cup favorite at the beginning of the season, but now they are listed at 20-1 odds and are fighting for their playoff lives. They’ll have to survive the final couple of weeks just to qualify.

The good news is that they are 4-1-1 in their last six games, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is hot. That should be good enough to get them into the playoffs with the sixth seed in the East.

The Rangers, Islanders and Ottawa Senators are tied for sixth, seventh and eighth with 44 points. The Winnipeg Jets are two points back, the New Jersey Devils are four out and the Buffalo Sabres are six behind.

Of this mini crowd, the Isles (60-1) have been the best team of the bunch over the last month, so it looks like this perennial doormat will be one of the teams punching its ticket. They are 7-1-1 in their last nine and are playing with plenty of confidence. If they keep this up, they could be a very challenging first-round opponent.

The Sens have gone into the tank as they’ve lost five straight. The only thing working for them is that the teams chasing them are playing even worse. The Jets have lost five of seven, while the Devils have lost eight straight. The Senators also have two games in hand on the Jets and one on the Devils, so that will likely be the difference.

It will be odd not to see the Devils in the playoffs after they played in the Stanley Cup final last year. The Devils have played in the postseason in 15 of the last 16 seasons.

In the West, just one spot is realistically available. The Dallas Stars (100-1) and Columbus Blue Jackets (60-1), who are ninth and 10th, are just two points behind the Detroit Red Wings (30-1) for the eighth spot. Minnesota and St. Louis are five points up on Dallas and Columbus, so don’t expect the Stars or Blue Jackets to close that gap with just nine games remaining.

That being said, the Red Wings could be ripe for the picking, as they have lost four of six and still have five road games left. It would be a heartwarming story to see Columbus make the playoffs, but six of their final eight games are on the road. Look for Dallas to give Detroit a bit of a run, but the Stars sold too much at the deadline to win this race.

Hockey’s brightest stars have their eyes on the prize. It’s time to shoot and score with NHL Props at Bovada.

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