The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a hellscape. NHL teams have to run a gauntlet of seven-game series, needing to win four rounds to be crowned champion. The intensity is dialed up, and travel is relentless. That’s why playoff matchups are so critical to which teams advance to the next round.
Here’s what the playoff brackets would look like if the postseason started today.
|No. 1 Atlantic Division – Boston Bruins||No. 2 Wild Card – Pittsburgh Penguins|
|No. 1 Metropolitan Division – Carolina Hurricanes||No. 1 Wild Card – New York Islanders|
|No. 2 Metropolitan Division – New Jersey Devils||No. 3 Metropolitan Division – New York Rangers|
|No. 2 Atlantic Division – Toronto Maple Leafs||No. 3 Atlantic Division – Tampa Bay Lightning|
The playoff landscape in both conferences has remained relatively static. Only the wild card teams swapped spots in the Eastern Conference, while there have been no changes on the Western side of the bracket.
By virtue of their win over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche, the Pittsburgh Penguins have moved back into the second wild-card spot. Pittsburgh relinquished its playoff position by dropping four in a row, only to turn things around on the road against an unsuspecting opponent. They’ve pulled level with the Florida Panthers in games played and only have a one-point advantage over their competitors. Now, the Pens will have to fend off challenges from several up-and-comers, only for the chance to try and make an opening-round matchup against the Boston Bruins last longer than four games.
After a brief down period, the Carolina Hurricanes have re-established a little breathing room atop the Metropolitan Division. The Canes sit two points ahead of the New Jersey Devils, having played two fewer games than their division rivals. With two wins, Carolina could take a commanding lead into the last few weeks of the season, setting up a first-round meeting with the first wild-card team. At this point, it’s looking more likely that it will be the New York Islanders.
The other four teams remain idle in their positioning. It seems inevitable that the Devils will host the New York Rangers, and the Toronto Maple Leafs will finally have the home-ice advantage they desperately need to get past the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts are doing themselves no favors to end the campaign, dropping nine of their past 14. Conversely, the Rangers have made a stoic rise, going 6-1-1 over the past couple of weeks, but it’s still not enough to catch the Devils or Hurricanes.
|No. 1 Pacific Division – Vegas Golden Knights||No. 2 Wild Card – Winnipeg Jets|
|No. 1 Central Division – Dallas Stars||No. 1 Wild Card – Seattle Kraken|
|No. 2 Pacific Division – Los Angeles Kings||No. 3 Pacific Division – Edmonton Oilers|
|No. 2 Central Division – Minnesota Wild||No. 3 Central Division – Colorado Avalanche|
Although teams hold steady in their current positions, the playoff races are far from over on this side of the bracket.
Two points separate the first-place Dallas Stars from the third-place Avalanche in the Central Division. If Colorado wins their game in hand, they will pull level with the Stars and Minnesota Wild, with all three teams having 90 points with 11 games to play. As it stands, the Wild would take on the Avs in Game 1 of the divisional series while the Stars match up versus the top wild card team, which at this point is the Seattle Kraken. But don’t hold your breath, as surely the Stars, Wild, and Avs aren’t done jockeying for position.
The race in the Pacific Division isn’t as tightly contested, but teams could change position by the end of the season. Right now, the Vegas Golden Knights are leading the charge. Vegas has overcome several critical injuries to assert itself as the pre-eminent contender. They could potentially face off against the Winnipeg Jets, who are running out of fuel to end the season. Winnipeg is just four points up on the Calgary Flames with ten games to go.
Still, the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers remain within striking distance of the Knights for the wild card series. The Kings are an astounding 8-0-2 over their past ten, sitting two points shy of Vegas for the top spot.
Although they’ve made things interesting, needing overtime to get past the San Jose Sharks and Arizona Coyotes over their previous two games, the Oilers are only four points back, albeit with one more game played. With two games left against the Kings and Golden Knights, the Pacific Division could be in for some radical changes before the year’s done.