This is really, truly the do-or-die season for some NHL teams. The ones who aren't already secure in their playoff spots and the ones who are already eliminated. This is the penultimate weekend of NHL action. So here's a look at where the standings currently sit, and the big games of the weekend.
In the Eastern Conference, the Bruins and Penguins have already clinched their divisions, while Boston all but has locked up the conference. So nothing of interest there. They are just waiting to find out who the wild card is. Montreal and Tampa Bay have both clinched playoff spots, but they are all tied up right now, and they are fighting for home-ice advantage for the series between them, which is inevitable. I'm going to throw Friday's games into this weekend, because why not? The Lightning have one game, wherein they host the Stars. Montreal, meanwhile visit Ottawa on Friday and host Detroit on Saturday. Those aren't easy games, especially on the road, particularly that matchup with the Wings.
The Rangers seem safe to get the two or three seed in their division. The Flyers seem likely to make the playoffs, but they could fall into a wild card spot potentially, because Columbus could overtake them. The Sabres, Panthers, and Islanders are all officially out of it. Ottawa, Carolina, and New Jersey are all but out of it. Even the Capitals are barely hanging on, as they have 81 points in 76 games. Washington has two games they should win this weekend though, as they play the Devils and Islanders. One loss will take them out of it.
That just really leaves Philly, Columbus, Detroit, and Toronto fighting for three playoff spots. It isn't hard to pick the likely odd one out, and that's the Leafs. They have 84 points in 78 games. They are 2-8-0 in their last 10 games, have the worse goal differential, and Jonathan Bernier is out at least three weeks. That all but does them in. They have one game this weekend, where they host Winnipeg. They can probably still win that one. That probably have to.
The Flyers get to host Buffalo. The same goes for the Wings, who also play the Canadiens as previously mentioned. Columbus has a tough game on Friday against Chicago, but then they get to play the Islanders on Sunday. Obviously, as a Wings fan, I want Detroit to make it first and foremost, but if the Jackets can also make it that would be pretty awesome. Maybe they will even win a game this time.
The West already has six teams locked into the playoffs. St. Louis, Colorado, and Chicago are all in from the Central. The division is the Blues', and the conference may be theirs as well. They have a pretty eventful weekend. They play both the Avalanche and Blackhawks. The Aves have a three point lead on the Blackhawks, and a game in hand, and Chicago is sans Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. These two teams will play one another either way when the playoffs roll around. The home-ice doesn't mean a ton.
Meanwhile, the Ducks, Sharks, and Kings have all clinched. The Kings are stuck in third. Anaheim and San Jose are fighting to avoid Los Angeles. The Ducks have a one point lead and TWO games in hand. They also get to host Nashville and visit Edmonton. They should have it locked up by the time this weekend ends. The Sharks also play the Predators.
Minnesota is safe. The last position really comes down to Dallas and Phoenix. They both have 85 points, but the Stars have the tiebreaker and a game in hand. Also, they don't have injury questions with their goalie. Dallas has to play Tampa, but they also play Florida, which should be a win. The Coyotes' only game is against Edmonton. That needs to be a win.
About a week from now, the NHL regular season will be over. For now, though, hope is still alive in a few cities. Enjoy the games.