The NHL playoff picture is tight, and a good number of teams are entering the final stretch of the regular season still looking to secure spots in this year's postseason.
With three close division races and multiple outfits within striking distance of wild-card spots in both the Eastern and Western Conferences, it should be an exciting finish to hockey's regular season. And that will just lead into more fun when the playoffs begin on April 10.
Only one team—the Tampa Bay Lightning—has clinched a playoff spot, so there's plenty more to be decided before the regular season concludes on April 6.
The top three teams in each division, along with two wild-card teams from each conference, will compose the 16 squads that make the playoffs.
1. Washington Capitals: 91 points
2. New York Islanders: 89
3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 87
1. Tampa Bay Lightning: 112
2. Boston Bruins: 93
3. Toronto Maple Leafs: 89
1. Carolina Hurricanes: 83
2. Columbus Blue Jackets: 81
3. Montreal Canadiens: 81
4. Philadelphia Flyers: 76
5. Florida Panthers: 74
1. Winnipeg Jets: 86
2. Nashville Predators: 85
3. Dallas Stars: 79
1. San Jose Sharks: 94
2. Calgary Flames: 93
3. Vegas Golden Knights: 81
1. St. Louis Blues: 79
2. Arizona Coyotes: 77
3. Minnesota Wild: 74
4. Colorado Avalanche: 72
5. Chicago Blackhawks: 71
Wild-Card Picture and Predictions
The three teams atop each division are likely to hold their spots over the final stretch of the season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, who are third in the Atlantic Division, hold an eight-point lead over the Montreal Canadiens, and they have 12 games remaining—one more than Montreal.
Things are a little closer in the Metropolitan Division, as the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins hold a four-point lead over the Carolina Hurricanes, who have two more games remaining than the Pens.
The Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets, both of the Metropolitan Division, are the top two teams in the wild-card standings. However, the Blue Jackets and Canadiens each have 81 points, so it could be a close race down the stretch.
Montreal could be in a good spot to move up into a wild-card spot. Carolina has two more games against Pittsburgh and one against Columbus. As these Metropolitan teams play each other, it could allow the Canadiens to gain ground and move up the standings.
The Canadiens also play the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets before the end of the regular season.
Because of the remaining schedule, Montreal will pass Columbus for the second wild-card spot, while Carolina will end the regular season strong and keep a hold on the top position.
Prediction: 1. Carolina, 2. Montreal
There is still a good bit of uncertainty in the Western Conference as well.
The third-place team in each division holds a slim lead. In the Central, the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues each have 79 points, with Dallas owning the tiebreaker by having one more win. In the Pacific, the Vegas Golden Knights have a four-point lead over the Arizona Coyotes.
The Stars and Blues should both make the playoffs—although the Minnesota Wild are also in striking distance—but it will be exciting to see which team finishes in the top three in the Central Division.
There's also a chance that either Dallas or St. Louis moves up past the third-place spot in the Central because the division is so tight. The Winnipeg Jets only have 86 points, the fewest of any division leader in the NHL.
The Coyotes have played well since mid-February, moving up to the second wild-card spot by winning 10 of their past 12 games. They hold a three-point lead over the Wild, whom they will play for the final time this season on March 31.
Arizona could slide back down the wild-card standings, but it seems to be building momentum and should be able to hold on to its wild-card spot.
Meanwhile, the Stars will be the No. 1 wild card, with the Blues moving back into the top three in the Central Division.
Predictions: 1. Dallas, 2. Arizona