NHL Playoff Standings 2021: Latest Picture, Projected Bracket and Races to Watch

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IApril 28, 2021

NHL Playoff Standings 2021: Latest Picture, Projected Bracket and Races to Watch

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    There were 16 spots up for grabs in the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs, and six of them have now been secured. However, there are still two divisions in which no teams have yet to clinch a postseason berth.

    So far, the teams that have clinched trips to the playoffs have all come from the Central and West Divisions. In the Central, the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning (the Stanley Cup champions) are all in. In the West, the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild have secured spots.

    Because the divisions were realigned for the 2020-21 season amid the coronavirus pandemic, the playoff format has been tweaked. There will be four teams from each division that reach the postseason, and the first two rounds of the playoffs will feature only matchups between division teams (just has been the case throughout the regular season).

    There's no traditional Eastern and Western Conference, so this could lead to a Stanley Cup Final matchup between two teams that are typically in the same conference in a normal season.

    Here's a look at the current NHL playoff picture, along with some key races to watch down the stretch.

Current Playoff Picture

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    Florida Panthers center Frank Vatrano (77) celebrates with MacKenzie Weegar (52) after Vatrano scored a goal against the Nashville Predators in the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    East Division

    1. Washington Capitals (68 points)

    2. Pittsburgh Penguins (67)

    3. New York Islanders (63)

    4. Boston Bruins (62)


    North Division

    1. Toronto Maple Leafs (65)

    2. Edmonton Oilers (58)

    3. Winnipeg Jets (57)

    4. Montreal Canadiens (51)


    Central Division

    1. Carolina Hurricanes (71)

    2. Florida Panthers (69)

    3. Tampa Bay Lightning (68)

    4. Nashville Predators (56)


    West Division

    1. Vegas Golden Knights (70)

    2. Colorado Avalanche (66)

    3. Minnesota Wild (65)

    4. St. Louis Blues (48)

Who Will Secure Final Playoff Berth out of the West?

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The top three teams in the West Division separated themselves from the other five teams in the division. And while the Golden Knights, Avalanche and Wild battle for the No. 1 seed, they don't have to worry about potentially missing the postseason or any other teams getting close to them.

    But there's still one spot up for grabs in the West, and there are four teams separated by only six points: the St. Louis Blues (48), Arizona Coyotes (47), San Jose Sharks (43) and Los Angeles Kings (42). The Anaheim Ducks (35) are also still mathematically alive in this race.

    The Blues are in the best position, as they not only have the most points of any of these teams, but they've played 46 games, tied with the Kings for the least among these five. So, St. Louis will have more opportunities to pull away and secure a playoff berth down the stretch.

    After enduring some midseason struggles, the Blues have been playing better of late, winning their past two games and five of their past eight. Meanwhile, the Coyotes, who are the closest team to St. Louis, have lost eight of their past 10 games.

    Although the Blues appear to be in a good spot as they control their own destiny, perhaps one or two of the teams behind them can start playing well and make this an interesting race to end the regular season.

Can Predators Hold off Stars for No. 4 Seed in Central?

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Nashville Predators remain in the No. 4 spot in the Central Division, but the Dallas Stars are coming. And the Chicago Blackhawks aren't out of this race yet, either.

    There's only one playoff berth still up for grabs in the Central, and one of these three teams will get it (the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets have both been eliminated from contention). And while Nashville currently leads the race, Dallas may be in the best position.

    The Stars only trail the Predators by two points, and they've also played two fewer games. After struggling for much of the season, Dallas has been playing better of late, winning six of its past eight games. That's helped it trim the deficit between it and Nashville, setting up what could be an exciting finish.

    The Predators and Stars play each other one more time (in Nashville on Saturday). But Dallas also has two games remaining against Chicago (which is currently seven points behind the Predators and five points behind the Stars), so if the Blackhawks are still close during the final few days of the regular season, they could potentially surge ahead.

    Last year, the Stars reached the Stanley Cup Final. And if they can finish the regular season strong, their hopes of getting back there will stay alive.

How Will Seeding Shake out in the East?

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    No team has clinched a playoff berth in the East Division yet. And while it's fairly clear who the top four teams in the division are, any of them could still end up with either the No. 1 seed or out of the postseason entirely (or anywhere in between).

    The Capitals, Penguins, Islanders and Bruins are all separated by only six points atop the division. And while Washington currently has a one-point advantage over Pittsburgh for the top seed, things could change in a hurry. Boston may be six points back of first, but it's played the least games of any team in the division.

    While those four teams appear the most likely to reach the playoffs, the New York Rangers are only four points back of the Bruins for the No. 4 spot. The Rangers have won three straight games and seven of their past nine, and if they keep playing well, perhaps they could push their way into the postseason.

    The Rangers have six games remaining, and they're all against top teams (two vs. the Islanders, two vs. the Capitals and two vs. the Bruins). So, those will likely be important contests to watch.

    No matter how the seeding shakes out for the East Division, several of these teams are top Stanley Cup contenders, and it will be intriguing to watch them battle it out to open the playoffs.