NHL Playoff Picture 2019: Wild-Card Hunt and Updated Stanley Cup OddsMarch 22, 2019
With two weeks left in the NHL regular season, three playoff spots have been clinched.
Presidents' Trophy winner Tampa Bay is the lone side from the Eastern Conference to secure a playoff position, while Calgary and San Jose are safely in from the Western Conference.
Most of the expected playoff participants should lock in their spots over the next week, while most of the drama will occur in the wild-card races.
Three teams are separated by three points in the East wild-card race, while four sides are in the thick of the West wild-card race at the moment.
NHL Playoff Picture
1. Tampa Bay - 120 points
2. Boston - 99
3. Toronto - 93
1. Washington - 94
2. New York Islanders - 91
3. Pittsburgh - 91
1. Carolina - 87
2. Montreal - 85
3. Columbus - 84
4. Philadelphia - 80
5. Florida - 78
Carolina appears to be in the best shape to secure one of the two wild-card berths, and it can further stake its claim to that title if it beats Montreal at home Sunday.
The Hurricanes play four of their next five games on home ice, with three of those contests coming against teams in playoff positions.
Carolina doesn't have to win each of its remaining games, but a victory over the Canadiens is imperative to create separation.
If Carolina downs Montreal Sunday, the Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets will fight for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
An advantage could be gained Thursday, when Montreal visits Columbus, but before then, the Canadiens play three times and the Blue Jackets hit the ice twice.
Montreal holds a 2-0 lead in the season series over the Blue Jackets, with the most recent win coming February 19.
Philadelphia is still in the mix, as it's possible for it to make up ground in its final eight games, but the Flyers will need everything to go right for them to qualify for the postseason.
1. Winnipeg - 92
2. Nashville - 90
3. St. Louis - 88
1. Calgary - 99
2. San Jose - 94
3. Vegas - 89
1. Dallas - 82
2. Colorado - 78
3. Arizona - 78
4. Minnesota - 77
5. Chicago - 74
6. Vancouver - 74
7. Edmonton - 73
Just like Carolina in the East, Dallas has opened up an advantage atop the Western Conference wild-card standings.
However, the Stars are far from safe, as they're about to embark on a four-game road trip to Canada after playing Pittsburgh at home Saturday.
There should be some cause for concern in the Dallas camp since it holds a 16-17-3 road mark, but it has gotten better on its travels recently with four straight road wins.
Colorado jumped into second place by earning its second consecutive win over a wild-card competitor in Dallas Thursday.
Three more key games await the Avalanche in the next week, as they have back-to-back showdowns with Chicago and then face Arizona next Friday.
Minnesota needs to find a way to take points out of back-to-back road games in Washington and Carolina before facing Nashville and Vegas next week.
After those four games, the Wild face Arizona to close out March in a clash that could go a long way in determining each team's wild-card fate.
Updated Stanley Cup Odds
Odds via OddsChecker
Tampa Bay (+195; Bet $100 to win $195)
San Jose (+900)
New York Islanders (+2100)
The Tampa Bay Lightning are the best bet to win the Stanley Cup.
Jon Cooper's team has proved throughout the regular season that it is far and above the other teams in the league, and it would take a collapse in the playoffs for the Lightning to fail to make the Stanley Cup Final.
The Lightning have three forwards with 88 points or more, including 120-point man Nikita Kucherov, who should be the league's Most Valuable Player.
Beneath Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos lies a bevy of scoring depth, as 11 players on the Lightning roster have scored in double digits.
If you add in a pair of strong goalies in Andrei Vasilevskiy and Louis Domingue, you have a complete squad that could tear through the entire Eastern Conference.
If there's one team that could stop the Lightning in the East, it's the Boston Bruins, who are having a spectacular year in their own right.
The Atlantic Division rivals split two regular-season games, and they'll get to see each other twice before the playoffs begin.
If the Bruins play well in their pair of playoff tune-ups against the Lightning, they'll head into the postseason with even more confidence.
Out in the West, Calgary and San Jose are your best bets to hoist the Stanley Cup, but they'll have to play each other in the semifinal round.
That leaves the door open for either Winnipeg and Nashville, who have both been to the Western Conference final in the last two years.
Given the quality of squads in the conference, the West should be the more competitive playoff bracket, with Vegas and St. Louis expected to make noise as well.
If you're looking for a possible dark horse bet, Washington is worth a wager, as its title defense should begin with two rounds of home-ice advantage in the Metropolitan Division.
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