When the final buzzer sounded in Dallas on Saturday night, the NHL officially broke for the 2014 Olympics. As the league’s stars board planes for Sochi, the league’s standings remain still for the next two weeks.
Fortunately for fans and league executives, those standings are as close as ever going into the last 20-some games of the season when players return on February 25.
In the Eastern Conference, Pittsburgh remains on top with 83 points, but Boston, on a hot streak recently, has caught up to within five points of the Penguins. Looking down to the two available Wild Card spots, currently Toronto and Detroit are holding down the fort, but five teams currently sit within three points of Detroit’s eighth seed. Altogether, just ten points separate 11 teams in the East (from third through 13th place). Surprisingly, the Washington Capitals are the lowest of those 11, as they sit 13th in the conference with 61 points.
In the Western Conference, the Anaheim Ducks lead the league with 85 points, but St. Louis and Chicago are both within one point of the top seed. Similarly parity exists on the left side of the continent, with four teams within three points of Phoenix’s eighth spot. Ten points separate seven teams in sixth through 12th place, with Nashville bringing up the rear.
With the new playoff format, the top-seeded team will play the lowest-ranked Wild Card team, while the top team in the opposite division will play the second Wild Card team. The second and third place teams in each division will face each other in the other two series of the first round.
This means that ending today, the first round would feature the Rangers and Flyers, the Penguins and Red Wings, San Jose and Los Angeles, and Chicago and Colorado, among others. The bottom line is that after we savor the magic of Olympic hockey and celebrate the gold medal winners (or mourn, depending on where we hail from), we are in for a wild ride to the finish of the 2013-14 NHL season. And the matchups we could see in the first round may be electrifying.
So enjoy the Olympics, and stay tuned to THN.com and our Post-to-Post blog for all of the updates direct from Sochi.
But be ready for even better hockey when we return home.