The Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche are one win away from securing the top seeds in their respective NHL playoff brackets.
Tampa Bay beat the Presidents' Trophy-winning Boston Bruins to vault to the top of the Eastern Conference seeding standings Wednesday. Colorado followed its win over the St. Louis Blues with a triumph against the Dallas Stars on Wednesday to become the favorite to land the top position in the West.
The Philadelphia Flyers and Vegas Golden Knights have chances to join those sides on four points Thursday and set up a pair of round-robin games with the No. 1 seeds on the line. For that to happen, the Flyers have to knock off the Washington Capitals and the Golden Knights have to do the same against the reigning Stanley Cup champion Blues.
1. Tampa Bay (2-0-0; 4 points)
2. Philadelphia (1-0-0; 2 points)
3. Washington (0-0-1; 1 point)
4. Boston (0-2-0; 0 points)
Tampa Bay used a pair of 3-2 victories to put itself in the best position to land the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
With captain Steven Stamkos out, five players have notched goals for the Lightning, including Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov. The confidence gained throughout the attacking lineup could make the Lightning more dangerous when Stamkos returns.
All it takes is a third straight win inside the Toronto hub for the Lightning to lock down the No. 1 seed in the East.
If Philadelphia beats Washington on Thursday, Tampa Bay will go head-to-head with the Flyers for that position. Jon Cooper's side won both meetings with the Flyers in the regular season.
Even if the Capitals win out, they could not finish first if the Lightning beat the Flyers. Washington's maximum point total is five. Boston should be rooting for the Flyers on Thursday, as that result would give it a chance to climb out of the Eastern Conference round-robin basement with a triumph over Washington.
Avoiding the No. 4 seed should be the primary goal for the Capitals, Flyers and Bruins since the fifth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins could be waiting for them in the next round.
1. Colorado (2-0-0; 4 PTS)
2. Vegas (1-0-0; 2 PTS)
3. St. Louis (0-1-0; 0 PTS)
4. Dallas (0-2-0; 0 PTS)
Colorado did not suffer a letdown after getting past its toughest opponent in the round-robin phase.
The Avalanche entered the hub in Edmonton, Alberta, second to the Blues on points percentage. They outscored St. Louis and Dallas 6-1, received scoring from six skaters and had both goalies—Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz—turn in standout performances.
If the Avalanche maintain their well-rounded form once the playoffs get underway in earnest, they will be one of the top candidates to hoist the Stanley Cup.
Admittedly, we are a long way from crowning a champion, but Colorado has to be pleased with its early returns from Rogers Place. And the team could receive some help in attaining the West's top seed if the Blues take down the Golden Knights on Wednesday.
Vegas won two of its three regular-season meetings with St. Louis, but both of those victories occurred in overtime. What's more, all three of the clashes between the Golden Knights and Blues were decided by a maximum of two goals.
If St. Louis is victorious, it would make Dallas' task of climbing out of the basement of the standings more difficult.
The Stars are at a disadvantage even if they finish with the same amount of points as St. Louis or Vegas since round-robin tiebreakers are determined by regular-season points percentage. Dallas ranked fourth among the participants in that category.
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