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 Friday’s biggest games.
The Avalanche clinched the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, while the teams above them in the Central Division are jockeying for positioning, with the Predators on top, at least for now. The Penguins and Hurricanes clinched spots out East, while the Capitals locking down the Metropolitan Division was rough on Montreal, who lost to the Capitals in regulation. That Habs loss made it a big day for the Blue Jackets … who didn’t even play on Thursday.
For some big numbers and highlights, check The Buzzer.
Thursday’s East playoff clinchers
- The Carolina Hurricanes clinched a spot, their first since 2008-09. They are currently ranked as the first wild-card team, but have a chance to pass Pittsburgh and take the third Metro spot, depending upon how the final days of the season pan out. It’s also possible that Columbus could push Carolina to the second wild-card spot.
- For the 13th season in a row, the Penguins clinched a playoff spot. As mentioned before, they could lose their current spot (third in the Metro) to Carolina. That said, the Penguins also have a chance to jump to second in the Metro, though the Islanders reduced those odds by beating the Panthers on Thursday.
- The Capitals clinched the Metropolitan Division title, and left the Canadiens’ playoff hopes dreadfully wounded.
Thursday’s West playoff clinchers
- The Avalanche clinched the final playoff spot in the West. As you can see above, the Coyotes stand at 86 points, so they’d max out at 88 if they won their last game. It’s unlikely, but there’s a slight chance the Avs could overtake the Stars for the first wild-card spot. Considering how much of a grind it was for Colorado to lock this spot down, the Avs would probably be wiser just to rest Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog (with Landeskog’s health being easy to question, considering that he seemed to return to the lineup far earlier than expected).
- Nothing clinched beyond spots there, but the Central Division title race is coming down to the wire. The Predators have the edge after winning and the Jets losing in overtime. The Blues took care of their end by winning, giving them a shot at either the division crown or a round of home-ice advantage.
BUF 5 – OTT 2
TBL 3 – TOR 1
NYI 2 – FLA 1 (SO)
PIT 4 – DET 1
WSH 2 – MTL 1
CAR 3 – NJD 1
STL 7 – PHI 3
NSH 3 – VAN 2
BOS 3 – MIN 0
COL 3 – WPG 2 (OT)
SJS 3 – EDM 2
ARI 4 – VGK 1
IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Capitals vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Penguins
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs — series clinched
Flames vs. Avalanche
Jets vs. Blues
Sharks vs. Golden Knights — series clinched
Predators vs. Stars
FRIDAY’S BIGGEST GAMES
Blue Jackets at Rangers (7 p.m. ET): If the Blue Jackets win any of their next two games, they’re in. They can also crawl in by gaining two points over those final two games, but considering the exhausting few months they’ve had — both on and off the ice — it sure would be more pleasant to just win on Friday, right? The Rangers have every incentive to lose out, as maybe they’d fall behind the Sabres and/or Red Wings and improve their draft lottery odds. It’s tough to imagine there being a lot of incentive to spite John Tortorella (did Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist like Torts??), but then again, the Red Wings were just on a six-game winning streak, so it’s also not so easy to get players to tank.
Stars at Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET): This could be a tricky “trap” game in that the Blackhawks are a proud bunch, and also because as flawed as Chicago has been this season, that offense can often be explosive. If the Blackhawks make this about trading goals, consider that the Stars have only averaged 2.56 goals per game this season, the fourth-worst average in the NHL. They’re the only team in the bottom 12 to secure a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs because they’re even better at preventing goals, but just saying. As mentioned earlier in this post, there’s a remote chance Colorado overtakes Dallas for the higher wild-card spot, so Dallas has at least some motivation. Enough to value “staying sharp” over resting key, leaned-upon players? That’s up to Jim Montgomery.
(Personally, I’d rest the likes of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, so they’re less likely to be horse-blank when the games matter.)
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.