Push for the Playoffs: Key battles for Central Division top four spots

Push for the Playoffs will run every morning through the end of the 2020-21 NHL season. We’ll highlight the current playoff picture in both conferences, take a look at what the first-round matchups might look like, see who’s leading the race for the best odds in the draft lottery and more.

With the Panthers facing the Predators and the Hurricanes squaring off vs. the Stars, Monday features key Central Division matchups with plenty on the line. The difference is that one team in each match wants to thrive (Panthers, Hurricanes) while their opponents are desperate to survive (Predators, Stars).

The Stars and Predators look likely to be locked into a very tight battle for the final playoff spot in the Central Division. Players aren’t denying that they’re eyeing the scoreboards and standings, either.

“We don’t have a lot of time left, and we’re doing a bit of standings watching, but we know we’ve got to take care of business in our end,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said, via Field Level Media.

The Panthers won the last four consecutive games vs. the Predators, so Nashville indeed needs to “take care of business” in their end.

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

As you can watch on NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN livestream), the Hurricanes can clinch their playoff spot on Monday, depending upon how things go against a desperate Stars team.

When you’re nearing that clinch level this soon, it’s probably a matter of time. So, ultimately, the Hurricanes are most interested in building their lead for the Central Division title. Currently, Carolina holds a game in hand over Tampa Bay, and two more than Florida. With 68 standings points, the Hurricanes also hold a one-point advantage over the Panthers, and two more than the Lightning.

Overall, the Hurricanes are in a strong position — unless they can’t exploit those games in hand. The Stars have even more on the line, and both teams have been hot, so this should be a real test for both teams.

We could see some of the better moments of this Push for the Playoffs.

IF PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY (matchups by total points)

1. Penguins vs. 4. Bruins
2. Capitals vs. 3 Islanders

1. Maple Leafs vs. 4. Canadiens
2. Jets vs. 3. Oilers

1. Hurricanes vs. 4. Predators
2. Panthers vs. 3 Lightning

(NOTE: Dallas currently holds a better points percentage than Nashville — .553 to .551.)

1. Golden Knights vs. 4. Coyotes
2. Avalanche vs. 3. Wild

(NOTE: St. Louis currently holds a better points percentage than Arizona — .511 to .490.)

Canadiens vs. Flames, 6:30 p.m. ET
Avalanche vs. Blues, 7 p.m. ET
Hurricanes vs. Stars, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN livestream)
Panthers vs. Predators, 8 p.m. ET
Oilers vs. Jets, 9 p.m. ET
Coyotes vs. Sharks, 10:30 p.m. ET

• Carolina will clinch a playoff spot if they earn at least one point vs. Dallas or Florida beats Nashville.

• Florida will clinch a playoff spot if they beat Nashville or they earn at least one point vs. Nashville and Carolina tops Dallas in regulation.

• Tampa will clinch a playoff spot if Florida beats Nashville in regulation.

East Division standings update April 26


Penguins – 99.99%
Capitals – 99.94%
Islanders – 97.4%
Bruins – 94.5%
Rangers – 7.5%
Flyers – 0.2%
Devils – eliminated
Sabres – eliminated

Push for the Playoffs: North Division standings April 25


Maple Leafs – 100%
Jets – 99.7%
Oilers – 99.6%
Canadiens – 72.3%
Flames – 21.2%
Canucks – 7.2%
Senators – 0%

Central screen

Push for the Playoffs: Key battles for Central Division top four spots


Hurricanes – 100%
Panthers – 100%
Lightning – 100%
Predators – 60.2%
Stars – 38.5%
Blackhawks – 1.3%
Red Wings – 0%
Blue Jackets – eliminated

Push for the Playoffs: West Division standings April 25


Golden Knights – Clinched
Avalanche – Clinched
Wild – Clinched
Blues – 50.4%
Coyotes – 38.6%
Kings – 7.7%
Sharks – 3.3%
Ducks – 0%

draft lottery
Getty Images


Sabres – 17.2%
Ducks – 13.1%
Devils – 10.8%
Blue Jackets – 10.1%
Senators – 8.7%
Red Wings – 7.5%
Sharks – 6.3%
Kings – 5.6%
Canucks – 4.5%
Blackhawks – 3.2%
Coyotes – 2.6%
Flames – 2.5%
Flyers – 2.1%
Blues – 2%

Connor McDavid, Oilers – 77 points
Leon Draisaitl, Oilers – 64
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche – 59
Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs – 59
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks – 58
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 58

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs – 34 goals
Mikko Rantanen, Avalanche – 26
Connor McDavid, Oilers – 25
Brad Marchand, Bruins – 25
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – 24
Tyler Toffoli, Canadiens – 24

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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