NHL Playoff Picture 2018: Latest Standings and Wild-Card Predictions

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 16, 2018

Colorado Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon (29) is congratulated by teammates Tyson Barrie (4), Patrik Nemeth (12), Gabriel Landeskog (92), and Mikko Rantanen, of Finland, (96) after scoring a goal against the St. Louis Blues during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 15, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst)
Billy Hurst/Associated Press

Though the Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to get underway in April, there is still plenty to be decided in the NHL's Eastern and Western Conferences.

While a few teams have separated themselves from the pack in the divisional standings, there are plenty of potential wild-card teams in the mix for the final two playoff berths in each conference.

In the NHL playoff format, the top three teams from each division and the top two wild-card squads fill out the eight playoff positions in each conference.

The lowest-ranked wild-card teams face the No. 1 overall seeds in their respective conferences, and the wild-card teams with the better records face the other division winners.

Teams that place second and third in each division go head-to-head in the first round of the playoffs.

               

Eastern Conference

Metropolitan Division

1. Washington: 87 points

2. Pittsburgh: 87

3. Philadelphia: 81

         

Atlantic Division

1. Tampa Bay: 100

2. Boston: 96

3. Toronto: 91

            

Wild-Card Race

1. Columbus: 81

2. New Jersey: 80

3. Florida: 77

4. Carolina: 71

5. New York Rangers: 71

6. New York Islanders: 70

                

Western Conference

Central Division

1. Nashville: 102

2. Winnipeg: 94

3. Minnesota: 85

            

Pacific Division

1. Vegas: 95

2. San Jose: 85

3. Los Angeles: 84

              

Wild-Card Race

1. Colorado: 84

2. Dallas: 83

3. Anaheim: 82

4. Calgary: 80

5. St. Louis: 79

               

Wild-Card Predictions

East

The race for the wild-card positions in the East seems straightforward, with the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils leading the way. 

However, Florida is lurking right behind the Blue Jackets and Devils, holding two games in hand and with a critical trip to Columbus coming up Thursday. 

Before that meeting at Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets have three games. One of those is against a playoff opponent, while the Panthers take on a trio of Canadian teams.

There's potential for the Columbus-Florida game to have extra meaning if the Devils slip up during the remaining three games of their four-game West Coast road trip.

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 10: Vincent Trocheck #21 celebrates his game winning goal with Evgeni Dadonov #63 of the Florida Panthers after the shootout against the New York Rangers at the BB&T Center on March 10, 2018 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated t
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks are on the docket for the Devils, who are 18-12-5 on the road. They face the champion Pittsburgh Penguins to conclude their trip. 

New Jersey has a favorable path thereafter, with six of the team's final eight games at home. 

The Blue Jackets appear to have the easiest schedule of the three wild-card contenders in the East, but if the race goes down to the final few days of the season, it may be tough for them to secure a berth, with games against Pittsburgh and the Nashville Predators closing out their regular-season slate.

Columbus and New Jersey both still have a chance to vault into third place in the Metropolitan Division, as the Blue Jackets are tied on points with the Philadelphia Flyers. However, the Flyers could create some distance, with games against the Carolina Hurricanes, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers coming up.

Prediction: 1. New Jersey, 2. Columbus

                     

West

The wild-card hunt in the West is more muddled than it is the East, as five teams are fighting for two positions.

The Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars are in the best spots to qualify for the postseason, but that could change in a heartbeat, with the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues all within five points of the Avalanche.

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 11: Tyler Pittlick #18 of the Dallas Stars skates with the puck against Olli Maatta #3 of the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG PAINTS Arena on March 11, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
Matt Kincaid/Getty Images

More drama could ensue if the Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks or Los Angeles Kings get pulled into the wild-card race.

Minnesota carries a one-point lead over Colorado in the Central Division and a two-point advantage over Dallas into Friday, while the Sharks, Kings, Ducks and Flames have five points between them in the Pacific Division.

Of the 12 games left on their schedule, the Avalanche have to play seven against teams in playoff positions, including a home-and-home with the Pacific-leading Vegas Golden Knights.

The Stars face the same amount of playoff teams, but only have four home games remaining. The Ducks, Flames and Blues all have six left in their buildings.

There are a few forthcoming games that could change the complexion of the wild-card race, as the Ducks and the Flames face off Wednesday, while the Avalanche and the Kings square off Thursday.

No matter which teams finish in the West's wild-card spots, they will have earned those spots since the sprint to the finish appears set to be loaded with dramatic twists.

Prediction: 1. Colorado, 2. Anaheim

               

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

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