NHL Playoffs 2013: Early Projections for 1st-Round Pairings

Justin Onslow@@JustinOnslowNFLContributor IIApril 2, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 28: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chris Kunitz #14 of the Pittsburgh Penguins talk prior to a faceoff during the third period on February 28, 2013 at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Vincent Pugliese/ Getty Images)
Vincent Pugliese/Getty Images

It’s a good thing the NHL regular season doesn’t end today. With 10 teams within five points of a playoff spot, a lot of unhappy squads would be on the outside looking in.

The trade deadline is approaching and less than a month remains in the regular season. A lot can change in the final stretch of the year, and those teams outside the top eight in their conference will be jockeying for position ahead of the competition.

The top spots in each conference aren’t set in stone, but we have a pretty good idea which teams will enter the playoffs with a No. 1 seed.

Despite cooling off after a colossal start, the Chicago Blackhawks aren’t in much danger of relinquishing the lead in the Western Conference, and the Pittsburgh Penguins have been on fire in their last 15 games. With the addition of Jarome Iginla, it wouldn’t be premature to pencil them in as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks are also in prime position at this point in the season, each holding firmly to second place in their respective divisions. Both teams have eclipsed the 50-point barrier and have a large cushion over the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild, respectively.

The rest of the playoff picture gets a little dicey after that. Eleven points separate the fourth-place Boston Bruins from the current No. 8 seed New York Rangers in the East, but the Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks hold just a six-point lead over the eighth-place St. Louis Blues in the West.

Movement within the league’s divisions will have an effect on the final seeding, but it’s all about points right now. Every game counts as the regular-season finale approaches.

We’ll take a look at playoff projections based on the current league standings and highlight a couple of teams that could easily sneak into the postseason with a good showing down the homestretch.


Eastern Conference 

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (8) New York Rangers
(2) Montreal Canadiens vs. (7) New Jersey Devils
(3) Winnipeg Jets vs. (6) Toronto Maple Leafs
(4) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Ottawa Senators


Western Conference

(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (8) St. Louis Blues
(2) Anaheim Ducks  vs. (7) San Jose Sharks
(3) Minnesota Wild vs. (6) Detroit Red Wings
(4) Vancouver Canucks vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings

Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus has been unexpectedly hot since the beginning of March, posting 10 wins in that span. Four of its six losses have come in either overtime or a shootout, and the points have added up.

Just one point back of eighth-place St. Louis in the Western Conference, the Blue Jackets will be in the playoff discussion for the next month.

Sergei Bobrovsky has been a big reason for Columbus' turnaround. The 24-year-old goalie is 12-8-6 in the crease this season with a .927 save percentage, including three shutouts in 26 games.

Strong play between the pipes makes for a dangerous squad late in the season. Keep an eye on the Jackets.


New York Islanders

Like Columbus, the New York Islanders have picked up steam at the right time. With nine wins since March 3, they're now tied with the Rangers with 37 points, though they trail by one in the loss column.

Goals have been plentiful for the Islanders of late, scoring at least two in all but one game in the last two weeks. If Evgeni Nabokov doesn't improve on his .904 save percentage, the Islanders can’t afford to lose that touch if they hope to sneak into the playoffs.

The gap between New York and its closest competition (Carolina and Washington) is getting wider, but the Capitals are 6-3-1 in their last 10 and won't bow out without a late-season fight. 

Still, the Islanders can't worry about the teams behind them. Eight teams remain ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings and decreasing that number to seven is the ultimate goal. Again, it's all about the points.


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