Artemi Panarin scored the go-ahead goal in the third period and the winning goal in the shootout for the Columbus Blue Jackets against the New York Rangers on Friday, and that allowed the Blue Jackets to clinch the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
All 16 playoff teams are accounted for going into the final day of the NHL regular season, but several playoff positions have yet to be determined. The Blue Jackets' 3-2 victory knocked out the Montreal Canadiens, rendering the Habs' game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday as nothing more than a battle for pride.
The Habs nearly had life when the Rangers scored a tying goal with six seconds left in the third period, but the Rangers could not tuck a winning goal past Sergei Bobrovsky in overtime or in the shootout.
Columbus head coach John Tortorella thinks his team learned a lesson in addition to qualifying for the playoffs. "Just stayed with it, found a way," Tortorella said, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com). "Bread [Panarin] scores a couple of big goals. ... I think it's a good lesson for us as we push forward. Just stay with it, not get too antsy."
The Blue Jackets are in the No. 2 wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. They could surpass the Carolina Hurricanes for the No. 1 wild-card spot if things go their way Saturday. Columbus has the edge in regulation and overtime wins (ROW) over Carolina (44-43), and if they tie in the standings, Columbus will jump ahead.
Carolina comes into its season finale at Philadelphia with 97 points, while the Blue Jackets have 96 points. If Columbus beats the Ottawa Senators and the Hurricanes lose in overtime, that would leave both teams with 98 points, and the Blue Jackets would have the edge.
The No. 1 wild-card team will play the Metropolitan Division champion Washington Capitals, while the No. 2 team will play the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning.
The New York Islanders have a two-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins for second place in the division, but the Penguins could bypass New York and gain home ice in their consequent playoff series if they beat the Rangers and the Islanders lose in regulation to the Capitals.
However, if the Penguins lose in regulation to the Rangers and the Hurricanes win their game, Carolina will move into third place and Pittsburgh will slip into the No. 1 wild-card spot.
In the Western Conference, the destination of the Central Division title has not been determined. The Nashville Predators (97 points) have a one-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues. If the Predators beat the Chicago Blackhawks, the Preds will claim the title. However Winnipeg will claim the crown if they make up a point on the Predators, because they have a 44-42 edge in ROW.
The Blues trail Nashville and Winnipeg in that category, but they could win the division if they beat the Vancouver Canucks while the Preds and Jets both lose. Winnipeg is 4-5-1 in its past 10 games, and the Jets will close out the regular season against the Arizona Coyotes.
While the Pacific Division has been decided, with the Calgary Flames in the top spot followed by the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights. The Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche could switch wild-card positions.
The Stars are in the top wild-card spot with 91 points, while the Avs are in the second spot with 90. Dallas could have clinched the No. 1 spot Friday night, but the Stars dropped a 6-1 decision at Chicago. Dallas hosts the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, while the Avs travel to San Jose.
Eastern Conference Playoff Standings
Team, Points, ROW, Remaining Schedule
Tampa Bay-p, 126, 55, at Boston
Boston-x, 107, 47, vs. Tampa Bay
Toronto-x, 99, 46, at Montreal
Washington-x, 104, 44, vs. N.Y. Islanders
New York Islanders-x, 101, 42, at Washington
Pittsburgh-x, 99, 42, vs. N.Y. Rangers
Carolina-x, 97, 43, at Philadelphia
Columbus-x, 96, 44, at Ottawa
p—clinched Presidents' Trophy
x—clinched playoff spot
Western Conference Playoff Standings
Nashville-x, 98, 42, vs. Chicago
Winnipeg-x, 97, 44, at Arizona
St. Louis-x, 97, 42, vs. Vancouver
Calgary-z, 107, 50, vs. Edmonton
San Jose-x, 99, 45, vs. Colorado
Vegas-x, 93, 40, at Los Angeles
Dallas-x, 91, 41, vs. Minnesota
Colorado-x, 90, 36, at San Jose
z—clinched Western Conference title
x—clinched playoff spot
1st-Round Playoff Bracket
Eastern Conference Playoffs
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Western Conference Playoffs
Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche
Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars
Winnipeg Jets vs. St. Louis Blues
San Jose Sharks vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Projected matchups based on April 5 standings.