We’re down to 16.
In the East it was pretty clear-cut: Unless Winnipeg really turned on the Jets (See what I did there, eh?), we knew who was in and who was out. It was just a matter of seeding.
Out in the Wild, Wild West, we weren’t sure if Minnesota’s team (what are they called again?) was going to drop out after making it rain in the offseason and contending for the Northwest Division early in the year.
That’s not all of it, either. In fact, things could have really gotten strange: The Detroit Red Wings almost missed the playoffs and the Columbus Blue Jackets almost made them. The bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars were in it to the end. And of all the California teams, it is the Anaheim Ducks, not the San Jose Sharks or Los Angeles Kings, that get the highest seed.
Oh well, the dust has settled and now we know who’s in and who’s out. So let's take a look at which teams are going into the playoffs with a head of steam and which ones backed into hockey’s postseason tournament.
Last 10: 4-5-1
Notable wins: at Columbus (3-0), Los Angeles (2-1)
Notable losses: at San Jose (6-1), Calgary (4-1), Edmonton (6-1)
Let’s face it: Minnesota backed in.
The Wild won one game at home in April and were obliterated by lowly Calgary and Edmonton.
At midseason it looked like Minnesota might compete for the Northwest Division title. Instead, the Wild dropped so far that they missed out on seemingly winnable matchups with Vancouver and Anaheim and have to face the mighty Blackhawks in the first round.
Last 10: 5-2-3
Notable wins: Los Angeles (3-1), at Dallas (3-0)
Notable losses: at Phoenix (4-2), at Calgary (3-2)
Hockey fans in Motown (see, also: residents of the state of Michigan) breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Red Wings sneaked into the Stanley Cup Playoffs to extend the postseason streak to 22, but Detroit seemed intent on ramping up their blood level a bit.
There weren’t really many notable wins (although that L.A. one may come in handy) and everyone’s going to have slip-ups; it’s more that it came down to the wire for the Wings.
They’ve got to love the first-round matchup, though, as the Ducks haven't won a playoff series since 2008-09.
Last 10: 6-1-3
Notable wins: at Boston (2-1), at Toronto (5-3), at Winnipeg (5-4 SO)
Notable losses: Rangers (1-0 OT), at Carolina (4-3 SO), at Philadelphia (2-1), at Buffalo (2-1 SO)
People overhyped the Islanders' finish because a) it’s the Islanders and they’re finally making the playoffs and b) they probably checked out before New York lost their final three games to non-playoff teams.
The Islanders were indeed one of the league’s hottest teams in April, but outside of that Boston win (and maybe Toronto), they didn’t really play anybody.
It’s a nice story, especially because the Islanders are a historically significant franchise and could enter Brooklyn with a strong team, but I don’t see them going on a playoff run this year.
Last 10: 3-5-2
Notable wins: New Jersey (1-0), at New Jersey (5-4)
Notable losses: at Montreal (2-1), Islanders (2-1), at Carolina (4-2), Buffalo (3-2 SO), Pittsburgh (3-2), at Philadelphia (5-2), at Washington (3-2 OT), Ottawa (4-2)
The Big Bad Bruins were projected to be contenders in the Eastern Conference at the beginning of the season and looked like they would win the Northeast Division, at least, but they sputtered to the end of the year.
Those two wins over New Jersey are hardly significant since the Devils had a hot start but were not playoff material, and losses to non-playoff teams like the Hurricanes, Sabres and Flyers don’t look very good.
The B’s still have many pieces from their Stanley Cup-winning team, but instead of getting to play a No. 6 seed in the first round, they are stuck with a Leafs team that is on a mission.
Last 10: 4-6-0
Notable wins: Winnipeg (4-1), Boston (2-1), at Winnipeg (4-2), at Toronto (4-1)
Notable losses: at Philadelphia (5-3), Washington (3-2), at Toronto (5-1), Philadelphia (7-3), at Pittsburgh (6-4), Washington (5-1), New Jersey (3-2)
Montreal is kind of at the other end of the spectrum. Although the Habs are always relevant, few thought this team would go from the bottom of the conference to the top of it so quickly.
Then, after going through a tear for most of the season and shocking just about everyone, they really, really slowed down at the end.
The Canadiens had a lot of bad losses at the end of the season: a 5-1 blowout in Toronto, a 7-3 loss to Philly and a 5-1 manhandling in Washington.
If we know anything about the Habs, though, this team ramps it up come playoff time, and they’re going to love having home-ice advantage with their ridiculously crazy fans.
Last 10: 6-4-0
Notable wins: Washington (3-1), at Washington (2-1 OT), at Boston (4-2)
Notable losses: at Buffalo (4-2), at Florida (2-1), at Tampa Bay (3-2), Toronto (4-1), Pittsburgh (3-1), Philadelphia (2-1)
Ottawa had a brutal stretch at the beginning of April where it lost to Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay. The Toronto and Pittsburgh losses are easier to explain, as those two are playoff teams, and Philadelphia played everyone well at the end of the season.
On the other hand, the Senators have only had two impressive wins this month, both of which came against Washington, before beating Boston. (Maybe it’s a political thing.)
Although it hasn’t been the smoothest finish for Ottawa, beating a team like the Bruins, which has won a Stanley Cup recently, is never a bad way to finish off the season.
Last 10: 7-3-0
Notable wins: Pittsburgh (6-1), Toronto (3-2 SO), at Islanders (1-0 OT)
Notable losses: at Pittsburgh (2-1 SO), at Toronto (4-3), at Philadelphia (4-2), at Florida (3-2)
I know, I know, the Rangers are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and left no doubt right at the end whether or not this talented, but underachieving, club was going to make the postseason.
Here’s the thing about New York’s recent success: It had a cupcake schedule at the end. Here are its last seven games, in order: at Philadelphia, Florida, Buffalo, New Jersey, at Florida, at Carolina and New Jersey.
Honestly, it’s a shock the Rangers didn’t win all of those!
In the end, though, they’re in.
Last 10: 5-4-1
Notable wins: Rangers (4-3), Canadiens (5-1), at Ottawa (4-1)
Notable losses: at Rangers (3-2 SO), at Washington (5-1), Islanders (5-3), at Tampa Bay (5-2), Montreal (4-1)
The Leafs really have a mixed bag here.
The wins over the Rangers, Canadiens and Senators are pretty big because those three teams are in the playoffs, and they might have to go through New York and Montreal to get to the Stanley Cup Finals.
At the same time, they also lost to the Rangers and were routed by Washington and Montreal, as well as Tampa Bay—a non-playoff team.
It’s hard to know exactly how the Leafs will fare come playoff time.
Last 10: 5-5-0
Notable wins: at Detroit (3-2 SO), at Phoenix (4-0), Los Angeles (3-2 SO), Minnesota (6-1), Dallas (3-2)
Notable losses: at Columbus (4-0), at Dallas (2-1), Columbus (4-3), at Phoenix (2-1)
It’s not fair to say that the window has closed on the Sharks, even though Vancouver—a team that has had their number in the playoffs—could easily snuff them in the first round.
It is a little perplexing, however, that San Jose couldn’t finish off bubble teams that did not make the playoffs.
The Sharks got mauled in Columbus and dropped games to inferior divisional opponents in Dallas and Phoenix.
San Jose has been impressive this season, playing better than many thought it would, but losses to teams like the Jackets, Stars and Coyotes have to be concerning to hockey fans in the Bay Area.
Last 10: 5-3-2
Notable wins: Anaheim (2-1), San Jose (3-2)
Notable losses: at Anaheim (4-3 SO), at Dallas (5-1), at San Jose (3-2 SO), at Minnesota (2-1), at Detroit (3-1)
The Kings had a huge Stanley Cup hangover, but after a little boot and rally the team got its mojo back and was able to party on.
Unfortunately, this team slowed down at the end of the season and just barely missed out on home-ice advantage.
It shouldn’t matter too much, though, because the Kings won as a No. 8 seed last year.
Last 10: 5-4-1
Notable wins: Detroit (2-1 SO), Chicago (3-1)
Notable losses: at Colorado (4-3), at Dallas (5-1), Anaheim (3-1), at Edmonton (7-2)
I’m not sure if the Canucks just checked out against the lowly Oilers at the end of the year or what happened there, but otherwise the Canucks finished strong enough to win their division and get a matchup with a familiar playoff foe: the San Jose Sharks.
The blowouts in Dallas and Edmonton, as well as a two-goal loss to Anaheim—a team they could face in the playoffs—look pretty bad, but if we know anything about Vancouver, it’s that it's good enough to make a playoff run just about every year.
Last 10: 5-4-1
Notable wins: Los Angeles (4-3 SO), at Vancouver (3-1)
Notable losses: Colorado (4-1), at Los Angeles (2-1), Columbus (3-2 OT), at Calgary (3-1)
Anaheim put together an impressive season, going from a team that was always talented but could never put it together to the only team other than the Blackhawks in the West to secure a playoff spot in early April.
There is some question as to how this club will handle the playoffs. They haven’t won a series since 2008-09, but there are plenty of veterans on this squad (Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry) that can navigate the new guys through the postseason.
Those multi-goal losses to Colorado and Calgary have to be concerning and it’s never fun to play Detroit in the playoffs, but the Ducks have put themselves in a position to make a nice little playoff run for hockey fans in Orange County.
Last 10: 7-3-0
Notable wins: at Minnesota (2-0), Vancouver (2-1 SO), Chicago (3-1)
Notable losses: at Columbus (4-1), Chicago (2-0), at Colorado (5-3)
A popular pick to win the Stanley Cup at the beginning of the season, the Blues had the unfortunate condition of playing in the same division as the red-hot Blackhawks.
St. Louis might have had their fans worried a little bit. The Blues looked like they might be a late seed, but in the end they started hitting the high notes and roared into the playoffs.
Having to play the defending champs is never fun, but the Blues play a great team-oriented game that is conducive to winning in the postseason and get to compete in front of the massive Scottrade Center crowd in Game 7 should it come down to the wire in Round 1.
And, hey, if they get past the Kings, we know the Blues can beat two of the three top seeds: Vancouver and Chicago.
Last 10: 8-1-1
Notable wins: at Montreal (3-2), Toronto (5-1), at Montreal (5-1), Winnipeg (5-3), Boston (3-2 OT)
Notable losses: at Ottawa (3-1), Ottawa (2-1 OT)
The Capitals went from “going to win the division by default” to “nobody wants to play them in the playoffs” in a jiffy.
Alexander Ovechkin and Co. won eight of their final 10 games to secure the No. 3 seed as the Southeast Division winner and beat Montreal, Toronto and Boston along the way.
Everyone is going to have to take this team seriously in the playoffs.
Last 10: 8-2-0
Notable wins: Rangers (2-1 SO), Montreal (6-4), at Boston (3-2), at Ottawa (3-1)
Notable losses: Buffalo (4-1), at Rangers (6-1), Buffalo (4-2), at New Jersey (3-2)
I feel that people are shortchanging the Capitals and Bruins (and maybe to a lesser extent, the Canadiens and Maple Leafs) by saying that the Penguins are going to march right to the Stanley Cup Finals. If anything, we know that there are no guarantees in playoff hockey.
Beyond that, Pittsburgh has established itself as the best team in the Eastern Conference this year, has won eight of its last 10 and recently beat the Rangers, Canadiens and Bruins—three teams it may have to face in the postseason.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Penguins are the team to beat in the East.
Last 10: 7-2-1
Notable wins: at Minnesota (1-0), Detroit (3-2 SO), at St. Louis (2-0)
Notable losses: Phoenix (3-2 SO), at Vancouver (3-1), at St. Louis (3-1)
There’s an argument for Pittsburgh to be placed here, but the Blackhawks are your President’s Trophy winners, play in a tougher conference and, like the Penguins, have won it all recently.
Hockey fans in Chicago know that nothing less than a championship is acceptable at this point. The real question is: Which team is going to give the Hawks a run for their money? The road to the Stanley Cup Finals is going to be rocky in the mighty Western Conference.