It’s come down to the final five days of the regular season for the Flyers, Red Wings and Bruins. Two teams will qualify for the playoffs, which begin next week, while the third is left home.
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of which team will and will not make the playoffs, though, let’s quickly review the new NHL playoff format. The top three teams in each division automatically qualify for the playoffs. Then, the next two teams with the most points from the conference get in via the wild card.
The Islanders and Rangers, separated by two points in the Metropolitan Division, will battle it out over the final four games to determine who gets third place – and faces the white-hot Penguins in the first round – as the odd-team out likely lands the first wild card. The Panthers and Lightning are in a dogfight for first and second in the Atlantic Division, while the Capitals already clinched the Metro Division title.
That leaves the Flyers, Red Wings and Bruins to fight for the last two postseason berths – third place in the Atlantic Division and the final wild card slot.
Let’s breakdown each team’s chances of extending their season beyond Sunday (records are through Monday).
Flyers (91 points, currently in second wild card spot)
Remaining schedule: Wednesday at Detroit; Thursday vs. Toronto; Saturday vs. Pittsburgh; Sunday at New York Islanders.
The popular pick and hottest team of the trio, the Flyers have gone 6-3-1 in their last 10 games to slide into the final wild card spot. The key to whether they finish strong and return to the playoffs after missing last year is the stamina of goalie Steve Mason, who has made nine straight starts. They at least control their own destiny and probably need four points to secure the wild card spot.
Red Wings (91 points, third place in Atlantic)
Remaining schedule: Wednesday vs. Philadelphia; Thursday at Boston; Saturday at New York Rangers.
Despite winning three of their last four games, the Red Wings likely need to win two of their final three games, especially the enormous one on Thursday against the Bruins, to seal third place and extend its 24-season postseason appearance streak.
Bruins (90 points, not in a playoff position)
Remaining schedule: Tuesday vs. Carolina; Thursday vs. Detroit; Saturday vs. Ottawa.
Boston is headed in the wrong direction at the worst time. After looking like a lock to make the playoffs last month, the Bruins have lost seven of their last nine games. The Bruins play their final three games at home, where they’ve gone a disappointing 16-17-5.