We are starting to get some clarity in the Western Conference playoff race where the Vegas Golden Knights are hanging on by a thread, while the Vancouver Canucks probably saw their last shred of optimism slip away on Wednesday night.
Let’s take a look at where things stand heading into Thursday night’s action.
Current point pace needed for playoff spot: 97 points
By points percentage the Dallas Stars occupy the second wild card spot in the west and are on a 97-point pace. Figure that is the magic number to reach.
The teams that look to be set
Colorado, Calgary, Minnesota, St. Louis, Nashville
Consider all five of them locks right now. Colorado has the best record in the league and probably already has the top spot in the Western Conference set. Calgary has also opened up a pretty solid lead in the Pacific Division, while Minnesota, St. Louis, and Nashville have all given themselves pretty substantial cushions. Every one of those teams is currently on a 100-point pace (or better) right now.
It would take a massive collapse to miss
Los Angeles, Edmonton
The Kings and Oilers seem be pretty set with the No. 2 and 3 spots in the Pacific Division, while only one team (Vegas) would seem to have a realistic chance of catching them. And even that seems like a stretch. Right now the Oilers and Kings are both on pace for around 98 points this season and have pretty strong leads over the one team (Vegas) that could realistically catch them for one of those spots.
Vegas would need to get 20 out of a possible 26 remaining points to reach 98 points for the season, while only having one head-to-head game (against Edmonton) with either of those two teams remaining.
If the Kings and Oilers can simply play .500 hockey the rest of the way they almost certainly get in.
On the bubble
Dallas, Vegas, Winnipeg
It is likely that only one of these teams gets in the playoffs, though it is possible that two of them could get in if Vegas somehow catches one of Los Angeles or Edmonton in the Pacific Division (which, again, seems unlikely).
They are all likely fighting for the second Wild Card spot.
Vegas temporarily jumped into that spot on Wednesday night thanks to its 3-0 win over Seattle, but Dallas still has a pretty significant lead when it comes to points percentage because it still has four games in hand. That is the key here. The Stars are only one point back and have an extra four games (plus a head-to-head game) with Vegas to make that up. Odds are, if all things stay the same, they will.
That means Vegas has almost no margin for error and will still need to collect at least 19 of their remaining 26 points just to have a chance. That is asking a lot, especially given the injury and salary cap situation and the fact they have almost no games against teams they are competing with.
What is working in their favor? They play eight of their remaining 13 games against teams currently out of the playoffs, while only one of those games is against a team currently in the top-10 of the league standings.
Winnipeg is in a very similar situation to Vegas when it comes to its chances. The Jets are two points back of Vegas while the Golden Knights have a game in hand. For Winnipeg to reach 97 points it would need to go something like 10-3-1 the rest of the way. Not impossible. Just not likely.
Too little, too late for Canucks
The Canucks made a valiant effort under new coach Bruce Boudreau, but their loss on Wednesday to St. Louis, combined with Edmonton and Vegas winning, probably ended whatever faint hope they may have still had.
The Canucks are 10 points behind Dallas in the Wild Card race while the Stars have four games in hand, while they are eight points back of Edmonton for a top-three spot in the Pacific Division while the Oilers have a game in hand.
To reach 97 points the Canucks would need to get 24 out of a possible 26 points the rest of the way. They can not afford to lose more than one more game in regulation, and probably no more than two games total.
No chance or already mathematically eliminated
San Jose, Anaheim, Chicago, Seattle, Arizona
the Kraken and Coyotes are already mathematically eliminated, while the Sharks, Ducks, and Blackhawks have almost zero chance of doing enough to even get close to a potential playoff spot.