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Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
The Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche are the top two teams in the West Division. They are two of the best teams in the NHL. And they are the first two teams to clinch berths for this season’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
After Vegas clinched a postseason spot with a 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday, Colorado followed suit Thursday, securing a playoff berth with a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues. The Golden Knights have reached the postseason in each of their first four seasons in franchise history, while the Avalanche will also be heading to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
Even though Vegas and Colorado will be in the playoffs, the teams still have reason to play hard in the regular season, as the Golden Knights (68 points) have a slim lead over the Avalanche (66) for the No. 1 seed in the West Division. And the Minnesota Wild (61) aren’t far behind them.
As the Stanley Cup playoffs get closer, here are predictions for what the 16-team field will look like when the postseason arrives in May.
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John Locher/Associated Press
1. Boston Bruins
2. Washington Capitals
3. New York Islanders
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
1. Toronto Maple Leafs
2. Edmonton Oilers
3. Winnipeg Jets
4. Montreal Canadiens
1. Carolina Hurricanes
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Florida Panthers
4. Nashville Predators
1. Vegas Golden Knights
2. Colorado Avalanche
3. Minnesota Wild
4. St. Louis Blues
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Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press
Although Boston is on a six-game winning streak (the second-longest active streak in the NHL), it still sits in fourth place in the East Division. But the Bruins are quickly gaining ground on the top three teams, and they are showing no signs of slowing down.
With the Capitals (64 points), Penguins (63) and Islanders (63) in the top three spots, the Bruins (60) are close enough that they are still in the battle for the No. 1 seed. Boston is also putting some distance between itself and the New York Rangers (52) and Philadelphia Flyers (49), the only two teams not in playoff spots that are still alive in the East Division.
Not only are the Bruins a strong team, but they have got a light schedule over the next two weeks, with five of their next seven games coming against the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils, who have both been eliminated from playoff contention. Boston’s past two wins came against Buffalo, and it outscored the Sabres 7-1 across those matchups.
Expect the goaltending duo of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak to play well as the Bruins start passing some of the teams ahead of them in the East. Then they will finish strong enough down the stretch to end up in the No. 1 spot by the end of the regular season.
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Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
From mid-March to mid-April, the Predators were one of the hottest teams in the NHL. But they have lost three of their past four games, and they are barely holding on to the No. 4 spot in the Central Division.
Nashville (52 points) is going to need to hold off the Dallas Stars (50) and Chicago Blackhawks (49) in order to get into the postseason for the seventh consecutive year. And it will need to play well against some of the Central’s top teams in order for that to happen.
But the Predators are a strong team, especially on the offensive end, and they have proved that they can compete with elite teams earlier in the season.
“I think we’re one of the better teams in the league in offensive zone time, of getting there and possessing the puck and being in the offensive zone,” Nashville coach John Hynes recently said, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN).
The Predators will get back on track over the next week, picking up enough crucial wins to fend off the Stars and Blackhawks to extend their postseason streak.
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Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
The identity of the top three teams in the West Division is clear: Vegas, Colorado and Minnesota. The rest of the division hasn’t fared as well—mostly because of how often they have played those three teams—with the other five all having negative goal differentials.
However, one of those five will reach the playoffs. And all of them are still alive in the race: the Arizona Coyotes (45 points), St. Louis Blues (44), San Jose Sharks (41), Los Angeles Kings (40) and Anaheim Ducks (35). It’s most likely that it will come down to a battle between Arizona and St. Louis.
While the Blues have lost 15 of their past 20 games, they are still only one point back of the Coyotes and have played three fewer games. So St. Louis is still in a good spot, especially if it can get on track and play up to the level that it’s capable of.
Although the schedule doesn’t get easier for the Blues down the stretch, the prediction here is they will soon start to look more like the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2019. And while they are going to have a tough time in the playoffs, they are at least going to make it there.