NHL Playoff Picture 2021: Latest Standings and Postseason Predictions
While playing the 2020-21 season amid the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL has had to make some changes. As well as the league's 31 teams having to play shortened, 56-game regular-season schedules, the league also realigned the divisions for the season and changed how berths for the Stanley Cup playoffs are decided.
There are no wild cards this season. Instead, the top four teams from each division will advance to the postseason. Teams have only played games against clubs within their division during the regular season, and that will also be the case for the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Plus, there is no Eastern Conference and Western Conference, so the Stanley Cup Final could feature two teams that would typically be in the same conference.
As the regular season starts to wind down following the trade deadline, here's a look at the NHL standings, as well as some predictions for how the playoff races will unfold.
Latest NHL Standings
1. Washington Capitals (60 points)
2. New York Islanders (58)
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (57)
4. Boston Bruins (54)
5. New York Rangers (48)
6. Philadelphia Flyers (46)
7. New Jersey Devils (34)
8. Buffalo Sabres (29)
1. Toronto Maple Leafs (60)
2. Winnipeg Jets (57)
3. Edmonton Oilers (52)
4. Montreal Canadians (47)
5. Calgary Flames (41)
6. Vancouver Canucks (35)
7. Ottawa Senators (32)
1. Carolina Hurricanes (60)
2. Tampa Bay Lightning (60)
3. Florida Panthers (59)
4. Nashville Predators (49)
5. Chicago Blackhawks (45)
6. Dallas Stars (44)
7. Columbus Blue Jackets (39)
8. Detroit Red Wings (38)
1. Colorado Avalanche (64)
2. Vegas Golden Knights (62)
3. Minnesota Wild (55)
4. St. Louis Blues (44)
5. Arizona Coyotes (43)
6. San Jose Sharks (40)
7. Los Angeles Kings (38)
8. Anaheim Ducks (35)
Nashville Holds On to No. 4 Spot in Central
The Nashville Predators have been playing well of late, winning 11 of their 14 games since March 21. That has them in fourth place in the Central Division with 49 points, and they will be looking to secure their spot in the playoffs over the next few weeks.
There are several teams close behind Nashville in the Central standings, though, including the Chicago Blackhawks (45 points) and Dallas Stars (44). Even the Columbus Blue Jackets (39) and Detroit Red Wings (38) remain in the picture. So if the Predators are going to reach the postseason for the seventh year in a row, they are likely going to need to finish strong.
Although Nashville ranks 26th in the NHL in goals scored per game (2.56), that hasn't been an issue recently. The Predators been getting strong defensive play, allowing two or fewer goals in each of their past 10 wins. So if the offense gets going soon, they should be even more difficult to beat.
In the upcoming week, Nashville plays three games against Chicago, concluding the season series between the two teams. Expect the Preds to make a statement during that stretch, solidifying their spot in the top half of the Central standings and building momentum for a push into the playoffs.
Top 4 Stays Same in East, North over Final Stretch
There are some close battles atop the East and North Division standings. In the East, the Washington Capitals, New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins are separated by only three points. Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs have only a three-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets for the top spot in the North.
It's possible that the top half of the standings in these two divisions will get shaken up over the next few weeks. And any one of those top teams could secure the top spot. However, don't expect any team out of a postseason spot to work their way in.
The Caps, Islanders, Penguins and Boston Bruins are the clear top four teams in the East and are too talented to surpass.
In the North, the Maple Leafs, Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadians will secure playoff berths. Montreal has a six-point lead over the Calgary Flames for the No. 4 spot, and it's played three fewer games. The Flames dealt away two key contributors at the trade deadline (goaltender David Rittich and center Sam Bennett), so they are unlikely to make a late-season push.
So while things could change a bit at the top, the standings in these two divisions should look similar by the time the regular season has concluded.
St. Louis Edges Arizona in Close Race in West
One of the closest playoff races in the NHL is the battle for the No. 4 spot in the West Division. While the top three teams have at least 55 points, things are tight below them.
The St. Louis Blues are in the No. 4 spot with 44 points, but the Arizona Coyotes (43), San Jose Sharks (40) and Los Angeles Kings (38) are close behind. It's likely that St. Louis' biggest threat will continue to be Arizona, and it's possible that the teams will be battling for that postseason berth through the final games of the regular season.
The Blues and Coyotes only play each other one more time (Saturday night at Arizona), so whichever team fares the best against the rest of their West Division competition will likely be the one to make it into the playoffs.
After losing seven games in a row, St. Louis has won three of its past four. Arizona had won six of seven, but it's on a five-game losing streak. Are these trends a sign of things to come?
It's going to be close and exciting, but the Blues should prevail, as they will rely on their experience (they have reached the playoffs eight of the past nine years and won the Stanley Cup in 2019) to make it back to the postseason again.