The NHL regular season has reached the end stretch, and the Eastern Conference race for the two wild-card spots is a four-way battle.
As play gets underway Tuesday, the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers were manning those two spots with 89 and 87 points, respectively.
However, neither of those teams is safe to make the playoffs, and neither are the Boston Bruins, who have 88 points and are in third place in the Atlantic Division.
The Detroit Red Wings, who hung on for dear life in their Monday night 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, have the same 87 points as the Flyers. Since Philadelphia has one game in hand on Detroit, it currently possesses the edge in the standings.
That may turn out to be little comfort for Philadelphia. When the season comes to its conclusion and all teams have played the same number of games, the first tiebreaker used to determine which team makes the playoffs is regulation and overtime wins (ROW in the NHL standings).
|NHL Playoff Chase (as of March 29)|
|Team||Conference||Points||Games Remaining||ROW||Playoff Prediction|
|New York Islanders||Eastern||89||8||36||Misses playoffs|
|Boston Bruins||Eastern||88||6||36||Makes playoffs|
|Philadelphia Flyers||Eastern||87||7||35||Makes playoffs|
|Detroit Red Wings||Eastern||87||6||36||Makes playoffs|
|Minnesota Wild||Western||85||6||34||Makes playoffs|
|Colorado Avalanche||Western||82||6||35||Misses playoffs|
|NHL.com; Silverman predictions|
The Red Wings, Bruins and Islanders have earned 36 ROW wins, while the Flyers have 35. Philadelphia picked up a 3-2 overtime win over Winnipeg Monday night when Claude Giroux scored a late goal in the extra session. If Giroux had not scored at the 4:46 mark and the game had been extended to a shootout, the Flyers would have been denied an ROW win and would have been further behind in that category.
"That's why he's our captain, I think," winger Wayne Simmonds told Sam Carchidi of Philly.com regarding Giroux. "I don't think. I know."
The Flyers are playing the best hockey of the four teams involved in the playoff race, as they have gone 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, while the Red Wings are 6-4-0 over the same span.
The Bruins and Islanders are struggling quite a bit at the worst time of the year. Boston registered a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night, snapping a five-game losing streak. However, Claude Julien's Bruins can feel anything but secure after a win over the struggling Leafs.
After taking on the New Jersey Devils Tuesday night, the Bruins have brutal games coming up at St. Louis and Chicago, and those opponents present major challenges.
The Islanders are also in trouble after a 3-5-2 run in their last 10 games. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak has been out with a groin injury since March 9, and they have been going with Thomas Greiss as their primary puck-stopper since then.
While Greiss has a 2.40 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage, the loss of Halak could prove damaging before the end of the season.
Even though the Islanders have the most points and the most games remaining of the four teams, they have a four-game stretch coming against Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Washington and the New York Rangers that will be quite difficult. They also close the season April 10 at home against the Flyers, and that game may be decisive when it comes to earning that final playoff spot.
The Capitals, who clinched the Presidents' Trophy with their 4-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets Monday night, are the only Eastern Conference team that has clinched a playoff spot at this point. However, Florida, Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh all appear safe for the postseason.
Three teams among the Islanders, Bruins, Flyers and Red Wings will make the playoffs, while the fourth will see its season come to an end. The feeling here is that the Islanders will fall short because of their challenging lineup of opponents down the stretch and the Halak injury.
|Predicted NHL First-Round Matchups|
|Conference||Higher Seed||Lower Seed|
|Eastern||New York Rangers||Pittsburgh|
The Western Conference playoff race sees the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche in a battle for the No. 8 spot. Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose have clinched six of the other spots, while the Nashville Predators (91 points) will be in a position to nail down the seventh spot shortly.
The Wild have won five games in a row and have earned 85 points, while the Avs have 82 points. Both teams have six games remaining on their schedule.
Minnesota won a huge game over Colorado Saturday, recording a decisive 4-0 victory on the road. Don't be surprised if that game propels Minnesota to the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
The Arizona Coyotes are still alive mathematically for the final playoff spot, but they are unlikely to find the miracle finish they would need to get there. The same holds for Carolina and New Jersey in the Eastern Conference.