With the push to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in full swing, teams are fighting for position in the standings. While the top two positions are close to locks, the rest of the positions are wide open. All season long the Metro Division has been tight with six points separating the division leader and second wild card team. As a matter of fact the wild card positions are pretty much wide open. No longer is it a given that five teams from the Metro will make the playoffs. Four teams are battling for two spots. Let’s go inside the NHL Metro Division Notebook to see how these wild card positions are so wide open.
NHL Metro Division Notebook Wide Open Wild Card Spots
Upping the Ante
Pittsburgh continues to up the ante as the playoffs approach. Around this time every season, Pittsburgh seems to raise their level of play. Despite their loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday night, the Penguins are looking more dangerous each game. Even though Matt Murray is still out of the lineup, Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry have been playing better. Though goaltending is still the Penguins Achilles heel, offensively and defensively they have been better — in particular Evgeni Malkin. In fact, Malkin is making a case for the Hart Trophy. All season long Malkin has been the Penguins best player. That is saying something on team that has Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby. Since the end of January Malkin has points in 18 of 19 games. He is only three points behind Nikita Kucherov for the Art Ross Trophy.
Fighting for Every Inch
For the Washington Capitals, California was not kind to them. Coming into their California road trip, the Capitals were flying high. They had a chance to increase their lead in the division, but as most teams know California is no easy place to play. Even though Washington lost two games, the Capitals are in a good position trailing the division leading Penguins by one point. The first game after a coming back from a long road trip is never easy. And with the Winnipeg Jets in town this will be a difficult task. Washington has 10 games in 20 days, which is a tough schedule to close out the month of March. The fact that Washington has to continue to battle for a position in the playoffs could be the edge they need once the playoffs start.
Even with going on a massive winning streak, the Flyers see their chances of winning the division slowly slipping away. Losing of three of four games have dropped the Flyers to the third in the division. Philadelphia now only holds a three-point lead over New Jersey and four point lead over Columbus. An extending losing streak could see the Flyers drop back into the wild card race. In fact, their position is not guaranteed. It will be a fight for the Flyers all the way until the end of the season but their schedule is pretty favorable down the stretch. While there are tough games, the Flyers have some winnable games. They have some big Metro division battles with Columbus and Carolina which could be a factor on where the Flyers finish in the standings.
Best of the Rest:
-For most of the season, the New Jersey Devils had a comfortable lead in the race to the playoffs. Now they are battling three other teams for the final two spots. Things have not gone right for the Devils in the second half of the year. But now is the time to make that final push for the playoffs. As a matter of fact there is a goalie controversy in New Jersey. Keith Kinkaid has been playing great for most of the season. He went through a stretch where his level dropped, but if it was not for Kinkaid the Devils would not be in this position. Ever since Cory Schneider came back, he has not looked himself. Schneider has been pushed by Kinkaid all season. If the Devils want to make the playoffs they will have to ride the hot guy in Kinkaid until the magic runs out.
-Another team that has been a playoff position all season has been the Columbus Blue Jackets. Recently though the Blue Jackets have started to play better hockey. Going on a three game winning streak has propelled Columbus back into the final wild card spot in the East. The schedule for Columbus is not easy at all. The rest of March sees the Blue Jackets on the road away from Nationwide Arena. To close March out the Blue Jackets head to Western Canada, which is never easy. One of the big match ups will see the Florida Panthers visit Columbus in two weeks. That game will be crucial for the Blue Jackets playoff chances. Head coach John Tortorella has liked what he has seen as of late, but knows his team much continue to raise their level as the season winds down.
-For the Carolina Hurricanes things are slowly going in the wrong direction. Even though the team sits six points out of the final wild card spot, they will have to jump Florida and Columbus to get there. That is no easy task. Even with Carolina still in the playoff race, team owner Tom Dundon decided to make a change on the management side. Long time general manager Ron Francis was relieved of his duties as general manager. According to the team he was promoted to President of Hockey Operations. The Hurricanes are in the midst of a new general manager. This person will report directly to the owner. It appears the owner wants to be hands on, but if this back fires could set the team back even further. Carolina is building something special, but they are a few years away.
– Things have gone from bad to worse for the Islanders. Despite picking up four points on their recent road trip, the Islanders have not looked good at all. In fact Doug Weight has not been impressed by the team’s effort on the ice of late. Their playoff chances are slowly fading along with their chances or re-signing their star John Tavares. Obviously this will be the big discussion for the Islanders once the season is over. The fact that Tavares recently came out and said “he is not having fun,” has lowered the percentage on him returning. Again Tavares has stated he will like to remain an Islander, but the fact the team did not do much at the trade deadline to improve could be a deterrent. Though Anders Lee hit the 30 goal club again, the main focus will be on Tavares down the stretch.
-All signs are leading to the Rangers heading into the draft lottery. New York looks like a team ready for the draft and next season. After making all their moves at the trade deadline, the Rangers had a spark in Western Canada, but came back to reality after returning home. New York has dropped three straight games and things do not get an easier. However, the Rangers could be one of those teams that could play spoiler down the stretch. Especially with so many divisional match ups left, the Rangers would love to make sure some of their rivals not make the playoffs. The real question will be how much Henrik Lundqvist will play down the stretch. Will the Rangers want a better look at Alexandar Georgiev to see if he can backup Lundqvist next season?