The Scramble for Springtime Hockey Is Down to a Dozen Games
The NHL's playoff race has come down to the final stretch.
Each contender has 12 or fewer games remaining in the regular season.
Right now, it looks more and more like the defending champion Los Angeles Kings needs to claw and fight to make the playoffs. The Eastern Conference're pre-season favorite Boston Bruins will have to do the same.
The Kings had a lost weekend, losing to Anaheim and Vancouver, and now find themselves on the outside looking in. They're two points behind Calgary with a game in hand, but Darryl Sutter's crew needs to start winning fast or they won't be defending anything this season. One bright spot for Los Angeles is that last years' playoff hero, Alec Martinez is close to returning to the lineup after a month long injury. As well, Mike Richards has been pulled up from the minors.
Boston would be in the playoffs if they started today, but they just lost back-to-back games to the teams behind them: Ottawa and Florida. The Bruins now lead the Senators by one point and the Panthers by four. Ottawa, led by goalie Andrew Hammond, are 14-1-1 in their last 16 games, with Hammond 13-0-1 in his first 14 NHL starts. Craig Anderson, a good goalie in his own right, may not see the ice again as Ottawa continues its quest for the playoffs.
Montréal, Tampa Bay, and Detroit still lead in the Atlantic Division, while the Rangers, Islanders, and Pittsburgh are ahead in the Metropolitan. The Canadiens lead the Lightning by four points as Carey Price just posted back-to-back shutouts over Carolina and San José. Price now has nine shutouts on the season.
The surging New York Rangers are five points ahead of the Islanders with three games in hand. The Blueshirts are 16-3-3 since Henrik Lundqvist went out with his vascular injury in February. He's now ready to return, but many are saying Cam Talbot -- the Rangers' season savior -- should still be part of the picture in net.
St Louis has passed Nashville in the Central Division, while Chicago remains dangerous and in third place. Anaheim and Vancouver are ahead of Calgary in the Pacific Division, as all those teams are in the mix for a playoff position. Right now, Minnesota -- another team on a roll -- and Winnipeg would be the wild cards, but the Kings are still close.
If Los Angeles cannot catch Calgary, Minnesota and Winnipeg would be wise to keep winning. One team that has faltered is San José, which has become the league's very own soap opera over and above its annual playoff flop. The Sharks are 7-11-1 down the stretch and on the verge of becoming an endangered springtime species.