With exactly a week left in the NHL regular season, there is still a lot to be decided in the Eastern Conference before the playoffs begin.
The Eastern Conference race is down to 10 teams, though there are a lot of intriguing seeding battles. The regular season officially ends on April 11, and no team has more than five games left, and a few just have three contests remaining.
Here is a look at how the playoffs work, how things stand now and a look at the projected first round matchups.
“The top three teams in each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots are filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season points and regardless of division. It is possible for one division to send five teams to the postseason while the other sends three.”
“Seeding of the wild-card teams within each divisional playoff will be determined on the basis of regular-season points. The division winner with the most points in the conference will be matched against the wild-card team with the fewest points; the division winner with the second-most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the second-fewest points.”
“The teams finishing second and third in each division will play in the first round of the playoffs. There is no reseeding as the tournament moves to the second round and winners of that series advance to the conference championship series and the right to play in the Stanley Cup Final.”
Who is out: Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Who is in: Three teams have clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs but a couple of teams can do so today. The New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightening have secured their berths.
1. New York Rangers (49-21-7, 105 points). The Rangers, who have clinched the Metropolitan Division, were off Friday. The Rangers are the favorites to be the Conference’s No. 1 seed when the season concludes as they are one point clear of second place Montreal and three points ahead of Tampa Bay with five games remaining — the Canadiens and Lightening have three games left.
The Rangers host New Jersey and Columbus before going across the river to battle the Devils again. New York, which has the best road record in the NHL, plays just two of its remaining five games away from MSG.
Update: The Rangers earned a 6-1 victory over the Devils on Saturday to give New York 107 points. The Rangers have four games left, which is two more than Montreal and Tampa Bay.
2. Montreal Canadiens (47-22-8, 104 pts.). The Canadiens fell to New Jersey 3-2 in a shootout on Friday but recorded an important point as they are now two points clear of Tampa Bay in the race for the Atlantic Division title according to Ian McLaren of the Score. Montreal has lost three straight and two of its remaining three games are on the road where the Canadiens are 22-13-4 this season.
Update: The Canadiens kept pace with the Rangers with a 4-1 victory over Florida on Sunday. Montreal is two games up on Tampa Bay with two games left — has two games left at home versus Detroit on Thursday and at Toronto on April 11.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning (47-24-7, 102 pts). The Lightning have lost two straight and are likely out of the picture for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. But they still have a shot at the Atlantic Division crown. Tampa Bay plays its final two games of the season at home where the Lightning have posted an NHL best 30 wins.
Update: The Lightning kept their hopes alive for a Atlantic Division title with 4-0 victory over Florida on Saturday. It is highly unlikely that Tampa Bay will be able to catch Detroit for the No. 1 in the conference.
4. Washington Capitals (43-25-10, 96 pts). The Capitals can clinch their spot in the playoffs of a regulation victory over Ottawa today according to NHL.com. Washington will also travel to Detroit before concluding the season at home against Boston and the Rangers. The Capitals have won three straight and is in their last 10 contests.
Update: Washington is not officially in the playoffs as but has put themselves in very good position to clinch a spot after earning three points over the last two games. The Capitals rebounded from their 4-3 overtime defeat to Ottawa on Saturday and defeated Detroit 2-1 on Sunday. Washington has 99 points.
5. New York Islanders (45-27-6, 96 pts). The Islanders can clinch a playoff spot today as well. In order for the Islanders to gain entrance to the playoffs for the second time in three years, they need to defeat Buffalo (at home) today and also have the Capitals earn a regulation win over Ottawa. The Islanders, who are just 2-6-2 in their last 10 games, last four games include two home games and two road games. New York next two games is at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh before closing the season at home against Columbus.
Update: The Islanders defeated Buffalo 3-0 and currently has 98 points.
6. Detroit Red Wings (40-24-13, 93 pts). The Red Wings, who have lost three straight, needs a win against the Minnesota Wild according to the Sportsnetwork. Detroit is currently the No.3 team in the Atlantic Division but is just 4-9-2 over its last 15 games. The Wings have five games remaining so appear quite safe. Detroit has made the playoffs 23 straight years.
Update:The Red Wings are in a three-way tie for the last three playoff spots with Pittsburgh and Boston after splitter their last three games. Detroit defeated Minnesota (3-2 OT) on Saturday but lost a key game against Washington (2-1) on Sunday.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (42-24-11, 95 points). The Penguins currently lead the Wild Card standings but their hold on the playoffs is not so secure according to Fox Sports Ohio. Pittsburgh, which will be without Evgeni Malkin at least until Sunday, is 3-6-1 in its last 10 games. The Penguins have five games left and four are on the road as they are currently on a three-game trip — Columbus (today), Philadelphia (Sunday) before concluding the swing at Ottawa on Tuesday.
Update: The Penguins did not help their playoff hopes this weekend, falling to Columbus (5-3) and Philadelphia (4-1). Pittsburgh has lost three straight.
8. Boston Bruins (40-25-13, 93 points). The Bruins got a key 3-2 victory over Detroit on April 2, to get closer to securing a berth in the playoffs as they are virtually tied with the Wings for third place in the Atlantic. Boston, which is currently three points up on Ottawa for the last wild card spot, has won four straight. The Bruins essentially controls their own fate but could end up either in the third spot in the Atlantic, in either of the wild-card spots, or out of the playoffs entirely according to Michael Hurley of CBS Boston.
Update: The Bruins won their fifth straight with 2-1 shootout victory over Toronto on Saturday.
Currently out of playoff picture but has chance to get in
9. Ottawa Senators (39-26-12, 90 points). The Senators are three points behind the Bruins with a game in-hand. Ottawa is also three points behind the Red Wings, five points behind Pittsburgh and six points behind Washington and the New York Islanders.
The key number for Ottawa is seven. As any combination of points lost by the Senators or gained by Boston and Detroit adding up to seven eliminates Ottawa from playoffs according to Ken Warren of the Ottawa Citizen. The Senators, who are 7-2-1in their last 10 games, need at least a point against Washington tonight. They play three of its last four games on the road.
Update: Ottawa picked up three key points this weekend and is now just two points out of the playoffs. The Senators defeated Washington (4-3 OT) on Saturday and lost to Toronto (3-2 SO).
10. Florida Panthers (36-27-15, 87 points). The Panthers’ playoff hopes is hanging on a thread a they need a lot of help, sitting six points out of the final playoff spot. Florida is 5-4-1 in its last 10 games.
Update; Florida was officially eliminated from the playoffs this weekend, after falling to Tampa Bay and Montreal.
[Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images]