The NHL playoff picture is starting to come into focus.
The Washington Capitals are just a couple of wins from clinching the top spot in the East, but not every team is as lucky as the Caps.
The Edmonton Oilers have officially been eliminated from playoff contention and are looking to secure the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
Then there are those teams on the outside of the playoffs looking to grab that last spot. Unfortunately for some of those teams, they are turning it on a little too late to make the playoffs.
Here are the five teams that waited way too long to start playing great hockey.
How can a team start a season 9-22-7 and make the playoffs?
It can’t. It’s way too late to dig out of a hole that deep. But the Carolina Hurricanes are making a valiant effort.
Since Dec. 28, the Canes have gone 21-12-1 and have been one of the best teams in the league.
Also since that date, Carolina is 12-6-1 against teams that currently occupy playoff spots.
Not having Eric Staal for a large stretch in November certainly hurt the Hurricanes—though they weren't winning with him in the lineup.
But Staal’s game has significantly improved from the beginning of the season. He has 53 points in 46 games since returning to the lineup Nov. 25. Unfortunately, he is going to have to score 53 points over the last 10 games if the 'Canes want to make the playoffs.
Since that isn’t going to happen, the Hurricanes should take solace in the fact that they are eight points out of a playoff spot when things could have been much worse.
Remember the last time the Calgary Flames were in first place in the Northwest division? Neither do I.
Actually, I do—it was on Jan. 11.
Since then the Flames have been in a free-fall that has them sitting four points out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference with just 10 games left.
In the 16 games since the Flames were last atop their division, they have gone just 3-9-4. But lately Calgary has begun to resemble the team it was before its horrific pre-Olympic skid.
The Flames are 7-4 in their last 11 games and are two points behind, drum roll please...the revitalized and healthy Detroit Red Wings.
Let’s not forget that the Flames' last 10 games include trips to Washington, Chicago, Colorado, and Vancouver—not to mention the two home games against the incredibly hot Phoenix Coyotes and the cooling, yet still unbelievably talented, San Jose Sharks.
Good luck, Calgary—you’re going to need it.
It really can’t be any fun for teams in the Western Conference trying to make the playoffs when the Red Wings have the eighth spot.
The Anaheim Ducks have so much leadership, grit, skill, toughness, and talent—they just can’t seem to put any of it together.
The Ducks have won four straight games and have scored 18 goals in that stretch, but they still sit nine points behind the final spot in the West.
Anaheim’s remaining schedule is not going to help it either. In the final 11 games, the Ducks play Vancouver and Los Angeles twice and Colorado once.
But the biggest matchup left on the Ducks’ schedule is Tuesday night against Calgary—two teams desperate for a win and that last playoff spot should make things very interesting in Western Canada.
Just in case any of you still think there is hope for Anaheim to sneak into the playoffs, let me leave you with this:
Seven of the Ducks’ last 11 games are on the road, where they are 11-18-5.
After staying near the .500 mark all season, the St. Louis Blues have decided they would like to make the playoffs for the second straight season.
St. Louis is 9-4 in its last 13 games and is still afloat in the West.
The Blues are in a position very similar to that of Calgary and Anaheim: They sit eight points behind the Red Wings for the eighth spot with 10 games remaining.
Six of the Blues' 10 remaining games are at home. If most of you are thinking that’s a good thing, then most of you are wrong.
The Blues are a league-worst 12-18-5 at home.
If some of you are still thinking that they can make the playoffs if they win their four road games and a couple at home, let me crush that idea for you too.
The Blues’ four remaining games on the road include Detroit and Chicago and two against the red-hot Nashville Predators, who are on a six-game win streak.
The Blues did this to themselves with a weak start. Maybe next year, St. Louis.
Most of you will agree with me when I say that the Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs...in a couple of seasons.
There’s no such thing as rebounding from the start the Leafs had. Toronto is on pace for its worst season since the 1997-98 campaign.
The Maple Leafs have made big strides from where they were at the beginning of the season, especially after starting with just three wins in their first 20 games.
Toronto has gone 9-6-1 since acquiring Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Sebastien Giguere on Jan. 31.
By Western Conference standards, 9-6-1 would not hold up—but by Eastern Conference standards, 9-6-1 would put the Leafs right in the thick of things.
Don’t forget though, the theme to this article is, “Too little, too late.”
If the Leafs had made it to the beginning of February at .500, the playoffs might be a serious concept, but they would basically have to win eight or nine of their 10 remaining games.
It’s not impossible, but with a schedule that features the likes of Boston and Atlanta and the New York Rangers twice, the odds certainly aren’t in Toronto’s favor.