NHL's stretch run offers plenty of intrigue
Playoff spots, awards, goals race highlight final week of regular season
The NHL regular season is down to the closing seven days and final 50 games before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin next week.
There still are a few post-season spots to be decided and the battle for the Presidents' Trophy also will go down to the wire between the Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins.
Of course, the Tampa Bay Lightning have not given up hope of stealing back top spot in the Atlantic Division. Boston has a two-point advantage with four games remaining and a game in hand on their division rivals. Plenty in this race could be determined when the Bruins visit Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid is a lock to win his second straight Art Ross Trophy, but the winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy is still in doubt.
Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is at 45 goals, two ahead of Winnipeg Jets sophomore Patrik Laine and three more than Vegas Golden Knights between-the-legs magic man William Karlsson and Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.
It's also worthwhile keeping an eye on the wins category for goalies. Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy has won 42 games so far, one more than Nashville's Pekka Rinne and Connor Hellebuyck of the Jets.
But maybe the closest and crowded individual contest is for the Hart Trophy. The final week will go a long way in determining this award. Who do you like? Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov, Claude Giroux, Brad Marchand, Anze Kopitar or Blake Wheeler?
As far as the playoff picture goes, the eight Eastern Conference teams are close to being settled. The New Jersey Devils increased their advantage to seven points in the fight for the final playoff spot over the Florida Panthers on Sunday, thanks to Hall's clutch short-handed goal with less than five minutes remaining to give New Jersey a 2-1 win in Montreal against the Canadiens.
The Panthers have two games in hand, but they appear out of gas. They stumbled to a 0-2-1 record last week, and among their final five games, they play two games against Boston and one versus the league-leading Predators. The Devils, meanwhile, conclude their season with home games against the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs and visit the Capitals on Saturday.
Devils making a surge
The Devils are on the verge of making their first playoff appearance since losing the 2012 Stanley Cup final to the Los Angeles Kings. New Jersey could be among as many as seven newcomers to the post-season from a year ago.
Out will be the Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Oilers, Flames and possibly the St. Louis Blues, who are in a battle among five teams in the Western Conference for the final three playoff positions.
- Anaheim 95 points (three games remaining)
- Los Angeles 94 points (three games remaining)
- Colorado 93 points (three games remaining)
- St. Louis 92 points (four games remaining)
- Dallas 88 points (three games remaining)
The Blues appeared down and out on Sunday evening. They were drubbed 6-0 on the road by the lowly Arizona Coyotes on Saturday. The Avalanche had a 3-1 lead in Anaheim, but the Ducks rallied for a 4-3 win in overtime to keep Colorado within striking distance for St. Louis.
The Blues control their fate with a game in hand. They finish this week with home games against Washington on Monday and Chicago on Wednesday before visiting the Blackhawks on Friday and a critical road match against the Avalanche on Saturday.
The Stars did themselves in with a 0-6-2 stretch in mid-March, but two wins in three games have given Dallas faint hope. The Stars travel to California for games against San Jose on Tuesday, Anaheim on Friday and Los Angeles on Saturday to conclude their regular season.
The Avalanche, attempting to go from 30th place to a playoff spot, have road games against the Kings on Monday, the Sharks on Thursday and finish at home against the Blues on Saturday.
The Kings play host to Colorado on Monday, the Minnesota Wild on Thursday and the Stars on Saturday.
The Ducks, who are in the driver's seat, play host to the Wild on Wednesday, the Stars on Friday and visit Arizona on Saturday.
It should be an interesting final seven days and 50 games. Then, we'll see which non-playoff coaches survive — not a single coach was fired during the regular season — next week before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.