Dark Horses: Who Will Claim the Last Two NHL Eastern Conference Playoff Spots?

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Dark Horses: Who Will Claim the Last Two NHL Eastern Conference Playoff Spots?
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

With just under a month to play, the NHL playoff race is heating up. In the Western Conference, only the Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings and perhaps San Jose Sharks are locks for playoff positions. Both the Wings and Canucks are ahead in their respective divisions by large enough margins that they have plenty of breathing room down the stretch.

That leaves nearly a dozen teams competing for the other playoff spots in the West, with San Jose at the top of the herd (86 points) and the St. Louis Blues (71 points) on their last legs. If only the Eastern Conference was as wide open.

The spectrum has narrowed greatly out East, with six teams already primed to make the postseason and just jockeying for position. The Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens may be separated by only eight points, but the seven points that separate Montreal from anyone else in the conference has allowed an avalanche of teams one more chance to get into the postseason.

And those seventh and eighth positions shouldn't be taken lightly. Even with the point disparity, it would be the seventh-place Flyers and eighth-place Canadiens who went to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Every team has a weakness to be exhibited, so for the teams battling just to get into the playoffs, they could become the usurpers of the future.

Only problem is, of the six legitimate options vying for the final two playoff spots, none of them as of yet has emerged as a serious playoff contender. Some are on the comeback tear while others are par for the course, and some, sadly, are sinking ships. This leaves the all important question: Who will make the playoffs between these six teams?

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