NHL Playoff Push: Western Conference race heating up

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Thursday was a good night for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings. Meanwhile, it was (another) not-so-good night for the St. Louis Blues.

The Blue Jackets’ 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers puts them a point ahead of the New Jersey Devils in the first wild card spot and ties them with the Flyers with 81 points. The CBJs have won six in a row and could pick up another big two points on Saturday when they host Ottawa.

Florida kept up in the race for a wild card place with a 3-0 shutout over the Boston Bruins. They’re currently three points behind the Devils and have two huge games in-hand on New Jersey. The Cats have been rolling having won eight of their last 10 games and have Edmonton, Montreal and Ottawa coming up before a date with the Blue Jackets next Thursday.

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Meanwhile, out west, the Avalanche won’t go away and downed the Blues 4-1, thanks to another big effort from Nathan MacKinnon. With 84 points, they reside in the first wild card but are also a point behind the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division’s third seed. St. Louis keeps hanging around but fall back to four points out of a wild card place.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The Pacific Division will see the Vegas Golden Knights as champions, but the remaining two seeds are up in the air. LA’s win over the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday gave them a bit of separation from the Anaheim Ducks, but the Calgary Flames are still lurking as well.

 

If The Playoffs Started Today
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Friday’s key games
Dallas Stars at Ottawa Senators, 7:30 p.m. ET
Nashville Predators at Colorado Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET
San Jose Sharks at Calgary Flames, 9 p.m. ET
Detroit Red Wings at Anaheim Ducks, 10 p.m. ET
Minnesota Wild at Vegas Golden Knights, 10:30 p.m. ET

Come Saturday morning, the West’s playoff picture could get even tighter. The Stars and Avalanche both hold the wild card spots, but are also chasing the Wild in the Central. Then you have the Ducks and Flames also vying for wild card and Pacific division spots.

Colorado faces a very tough test in Nashville, who can clinch a playoff spot tonight, but has taken points in 11 of their last 12 games, keeping them in the mix.

“We know there are 12 games left but in our heads we’re going to make it. We already made up our minds about that a long time ago,” said Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog via the Denver Post. “And we keep believing, and we keep doing everything that we can every day to prepare ourselves and make sure we keep getting better as the season progresses.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.