By: Josh Chodor
As the league schedule dwindles down, it has become easier to pinpoint which races are competitive and which ones have largely been decided already. While many teams are still statistically alive, there are very few who can realistically make the playoffs if not already holding a position. Let’s look at some of the more intriguing races:
THE EASTERN WILD CARD
The Detroit Red Wings, participants in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for each of the last 25 years, hang precariously close to being knocked out of the playoff picture by a charging Philadelphia Flyers team. Detroit has lost its last two games and now sits only one point above Philly for the second wild card spot in the conference. While the Capitals have already clinched a playoff berth and look primed to clinch the Metropolitan division, the rest of the division is not quite as simple. The Flyers surge has vaulted them within four points of fourth place Pittsburgh, and seven points of both the Isles and Rangers. Look for these teams to jockey for positioning throughout the remainder of the regular season.
THE SECOND WESTERN WILD CARD
While the east is rather jumbled towards the bottom, the West has been largely stagnant for a large part of the regular season. Dallas, St. Louis, and Chicago have dominated the Central, with Nashville slightly behind, while the three Californian teams have once again taken over the Pacific. Canadian teams have been abysmal, holding the bottom four spots in the West after three of those teams made the playoffs only a year ago. The only non-positioning race to be found in the West is the battle between Minnesota and Colorado for the final wild-card spot. And those two teams are not even close to the second lowest seeded Predators, who have 83 points. With twelve games remaining for each team, the Wild have 75 points, the Avalanche 74. Whichever team does slide in (making the third straight year of five Central division playoff teams), look for that squad to be steamrolled by whichever team claims the top overall spot.