NHL Playoff picture after Monday: Blackhawks survive — barely

For the final week of the 2018-19 NHL regular season we will take an updated look at the Stanley Cup Playoff picture — what the standings look like, the potential matchups, who clinched, and set the stage for Tuesday’s biggest games.

The Maple Leafs locked down a spot, and a series with the Bruins. The Central races are still a puzzle. The Avalanche managed to grind out a point, keeping the West bubble situation interesting. It’s not the end of the line for the Blackhawks, but it is for the Oilers.

For some big numbers and highlights, check The Buzzer.

X – Clinched Playoff Spot, Y – Clinched Division, Z – Clinched Conference

Sunday’s East playoff clinchers

  • It felt like a foregone conclusion, but the Maple Leafs clinched a playoff spot for the third season in a row. With that, we know for sure what we suspected for a while: the Maple Leafs will engage in a rematch with the Bruins, who they faced in a series during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
  • Nothing else was clinched. The Capitals had a chance to clinch the Metropolitan Division title, but both Washington and the Islanders lost on Monday. The most heated East races in the longer ranks were all idle.

X – Clinched Playoff Spot, Y – Clinched Division, Z – Clinched Conference

Sunday’s West playoff clinchers

  • The Blackhawks avoided being mathematically eliminated. They’re at least technically alive … barely, but technically they are alive.
  • The Oilers, meanwhile, are officially eliminated.
  • The Central Division is very much up for grabs. The Jets (96 points in 79 GP) maintained their slight edge by winning, while the Blues have a chance to a) win the division or b) at least gain a round of home-ice advantage, as St. Louis (94 points in 79 games, 41 ROW) matches Nashville’s 94 points while having one more ROW (Predators also have played 79 games). Those race may indeed go down to the wire.

MONDAY’S SCORES
Panthers 5, Capitals 3
Devils 4, Rangers 2
Maple Leafs 2, Islanders 1
Lightning 5, Senators 2
Blues 3, Avalanche 2 (SO)
Jets 4, Blackhawks 3 (OT)
Golden Knights 3, Oilers 1
Flames 7, Kings 2

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Hurricanes
Capitals vs. Blue Jackets
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs — series clinched

Flames vs. Avalanche
Jets vs. Stars
Sharks vs. Golden Knights — series matchup clinched
Predators vs. Blues

TUESDAY’S BIGGEST GAMES

Bruins at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN): The first of two games featuring a playoff team with its spot already confirmed (in this case, Boston), against the Blue Jackets, who are absolutely still fighting for both their position in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and, if things go especially well, their position in seeding. The Bruins seem especially wise to rest players, as they’ve been pretty banged up this season.

The Blue Jackets are currently on a five-game winning streak, so we’ll see if they can stay hot going into the postseason — you know, if they make it that far.

Hurricanes at Maple Leafs (7:30 p.m. ET): Here’s the second of those matchups, with Toronto possibly resting after clinching the postseason, while the Hurricanes want to strengthen their spot, both to stay in the top eight, and ideally to move back up. Toronto played on Monday, so there’s that much extra inspiration to let players rest. Maybe Auston Matthews makes extra sense, as he seemed to smart from blocking a shot during that win against the Islanders?

Lightning at Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET): As you can see, the Canadiens head into Tuesday two points behind Columbus for the first wild-card spot, and one behind Carolina for the second one. All three teams have played 79 games so far this season.

Like Carolina and Columbus, the Canadiens face an Atlantic team that already has things locked up. Tampa Bay played on Monday, but they’re also chasing lofty numbers, so who knows who will be rested? And, really, even if the Lightning rest players, the team is deep enough that they could give the Habs headaches.

Penguins at Red Wings (7:30 p.m. ET): The Pens are close to clinching a spot, even if they haven’t technically locked one up yet. Still, they’re trying to at least maintain the third spot in the Metro, with a chance to even move up and possibly grab the second seed after the Islanders lost on Monday.

They’re the only team with motivation, really, on Tuesday but the Red Wings are on a baffling but fairly impressive five-game winning streak, and the Red Wings might want to spoil things for a team they faced in consecutive championship rounds during better, not-that-long-ago times.

Jets at Wild (8 p.m. ET): If Minnesota has any chance to make the playoffs, they need to win this game. The Jets were pushed to overtime by another desperate team (the Blackhawks) on Monday, so they face a challenge in winning again on Tuesday. If they do, they’ll greatly improve their chances of maintaining their grip on the Central Division crown.

Flyers at Stars (8:30 p.m. ET): The Stars probably can’t take their feet off the pedal. They’re close to clinching, but not guaranteed a spot yet. While the other Central teams seem to be pulling away, they’re also not totally out of the running for, say, the third seed in the division.

Then again, they play such a grinding style (just a +6 goal differential) that maybe giving top players a breather would be wise. Maybe they’d even score some cool points with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn! Are they still horse … stuff, by the way? What’s the update, Jim Lites?

Oilers at Avalanche (9 p.m. ET): What’s seemed inevitable for a while ended up happening: the Oilers have officially fallen short of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both the Avalanche and Oilers played (and lost) on Monday, so while Colorado is tired, they don’t have a clear rest disadvantage.

The Avalanche have a slight edge on the team below, but they can’t afford to let up. As much as the Oilers are a mess right now, Colorado hasn’t exactly been winning easily, and Edmonton touts one of the few players better than Nathan MacKinnon in Connor McDavid. So this could be tough for the Avalanche, at least if the Oilers aren’t totally checked out.

Kings at Coyotes (10 p.m. ET): The Kings have been out of it for a while, and have often looked terrible. Maybe a 7-2 humiliation from the Flames on Monday will make the Kings motivated and angry, for pride reasons, on Tuesday?

The Coyotes are two points behind the Avalanche, with each teams having three games to go. If they want to overcome Colorado, the Coyotes very well might need to win out. Like the Avs, Arizona’s had to grind for their wins more often than not lately, but at least the Coyotes have a rest advantage that the Avs lack.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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