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Wild-Card Roundup: Blues' success further crowds the Western Conference race

Jared Clinton
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Wild-Card Roundup: Blues' success further crowds the Western Conference race

The St. Louis Blues celebrate an overtime victory. Image by: Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images

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Wild-Card Roundup: Blues' success further crowds the Western Conference race

Jared Clinton
By:

The Eastern Conference wild-card crowd has shrunk over the past two weeks, but the St. Louis Blues have done their best to get back into the conversation out West.

As Europe once sang, it's the final countdown. Only two weeks remain until the regular season concludes, but that doesn't mean we've gotten anymore clarity in the respective wild-card races. Four teams remain in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference, while the Western Conference battle sees six teams within eight points of each other and five of those separated by no more than three points. It's going to be a furious finish.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

IN:

Columbus Blue Jackets
42-29-5 — 89 pts.

All good things must come to an end and such was the case with the Blue Jackets’ lengthy winning streak, but not before Columbus pushed the run to double digits and moved into a divisional playoff spot. Before dropping Saturday’s tilt to the Blues, the Blue Jackets had won 10 in a row with an offense that has been powered by the impressive Artemi Panarin and steady, solid goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky. Everything is going right for Columbus, too, as Seth Jones returned from his three-game absence to make the Blue Jackets’ blueline that much better. The Eastern wild-card race is tight — and the spread in the Metropolitan Division slim — but an easier schedule could open the door for Columbus to potentially earn home ice in the first round.

Remaining Schedule: Six games
Average Opponent: 79.2 points

Philadelphia Flyers
38-25-12 — 88 pts.

Two of the Eastern teams that have long been in the race fell out of a spot where they were realistic contenders any longer ahead of last week’s edition of the wild-card roundup, but this week sees a team added to the list. Philadelphia had a dominant start to the second half with just six losses from January to March, but the past month hasn’t been kind to the Flyers, who have lost eight of their past 12 games and slid back to the pack. Life won’t be getting any easier down the stretch, either. Three road games against teams right in the thick of playoff races and a meeting with the Bruins gives Philadelphia a tough road to the post-season. Luckily, they have a five-point cushion.

Remaining Schedule: Seven games
Average Opponent: 84.1 points

New Jersey Devils
39-28-8 — 86 pts.

Losing four of five before heading out on a road trip that included contests against Vegas, Nashville and Pittsburgh wasn’t ideal for New Jersey, but the Devils seem destined not to release their grasp on a wild-card spot. On the six-game swing, New Jersey earned eight of a possible dozen points and then, in their return home, downed East-leading Tampa Bay in a shootout. The Devils can’t rest yet, though, as they only hold a slim, three-point lead on the Panthers for the final wild-card spot and Florida has two games in hand with a slightly weaker strength of schedule. 

Remaining Schedule: Seven games
Average Opponent: 81.6 points

OUT:

Florida Panthers
39-28-7 — 83 pts.

The Panthers completed a six-game winning streak to start the month and haven’t dropped back to back contests since mid-February. That’s the recipe for a turnaround and Florida continues to inch ever closer to the final post-season berth in the East. Time is running out for the Panthers, sure, but the good news is there’s more runway left for Florida than any other wild-card contender. The bad news is that included in their final nine contests are three meetings with the powerhouse Bruins and one against the Predators. Those are four contests from which it will be difficult to squeeze even a single point.

Remaining Schedule: Nine games
Average Opponent: 86.6 points

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

IN:

Minnesota Wild
42-24-8 — 92 pts.

Slowly but surely the Wild have been locking themselves into a playoff spot and they continue to pick up points when it matters. Saturday, for instance, Minnesota easily could have lost some all-important separation when Nashville rolled into town, but the Wild beat down the Predators and maintained their lead for third spot in the Central Division. Beating top teams with consistency is going to be key down the stretch, too, as Minnesota’s schedule is tougher than any other divisional or conference rival. The back-to-back set with Dallas next weekend will be worth keeping an eye on for the playoff implications alone. 

Remaining Schedule: Eight games
Average Opponent: 89.6 points

Anaheim Ducks
38-24-13 — 89 pts.

Who earns the final berth in the Pacific is anyone’s guess, but for the time being it’s the Ducks who sit third in the division. Winning four in a row had a lot to do with that, as did picking up a point from the Jets on Friday, and Anaheim’s remaining schedule would suggest the Ducks have an advantage heading into the final two weeks of the campaign. Only three of Anaheim’s final seven games are against teams currently holding a playoff spot and the Ducks will enter meetings with the Oilers, Canucks and Coyotes as clear favorites. Those are must-win games at this time of year.

Remaining Schedule: Seven games
Average Opponent: 78.6 points

Colorado Avalanche
41-26-8 — 90 pts.

Some of the contests haven’t been pretty, but the Avalanche have managed to keep pace in the wild-card race by consistently picking up points. Colorado started the month with three overtime defeats and have only lost in regulation twice since March began. Defeating the Golden Knights Saturday was impressive and they’ll need to do so again Monday before entering a stretch that sees them end the campaign with a swing through California and a meeting with the bubble Blues. Fortunately for Colorado, it seems no one is going to be able to slow down Nathan MacKinnon this season, so their playoff prospects appear promising as long as that continues.

Remaining Schedule: Seven games
Average Opponent: 87.4 points

St. Louis Blues
42-28-5 — 89 pts.

Again, it should be said that few pictured the Blues as a playoff team given they sold off one of their key pieces, center Paul Stastny, to a divisional rival at the deadline. Turns out, though, the minor shakeup has seen St. Louis move in the right direction. That’s especially true of late as the Blues have won five straight, including three overtime victories in a row, and now sit in the final wild-card spot in the West with the last two weeks of the season set to begin. St. Louis doesn’t have the easiest schedule, but three of their final seven games are against lottery teams and a meeting with Colorado to end the campaign could be what makes or breaks the season.

Remaining Schedule: Seven games
Average Opponent: 83.4 points

OUT:
Dallas Stars

38-29-8 — 84 pts.

Dallas wasn’t sitting pretty in early March, but the Stars weren’t exactly in a place where panicking was necessary, even with a six-game road swing on the horizon. But when the trip into Canada and the Metropolitan concluded, Dallas skated away with all of two points and both came in overtime defeats. Not good. Also not good: the Stars’ losing streak continued when they lost to the Bruins on Friday. Now mired in a seven-game slump — and without the services of starting goaltender Ben Bishop — Dallas faces an uphill climb at a time when nothing seems to be going their way.

Remaining Schedule: Seven games
Average Opponent: 85.1 points

Los Angeles Kings
41-28-7 — 89 pts.

Consistency has been an issue for the Kings over the past month and it’s starting to take a toll on Los Angeles’ standing in the wild card. They’ve won one-lost one throughout the entire month  with seemingly no rhyme or reason to who they can and can’t manage to beat. Take down the Capitals, Wild, Avalanche and Blue Jackets? No problem. Get two crucial points from the lottery-contending Blackhawks, Coyotes and Oilers? Not so fast. The Kings’ fate is almost entirely in their hands as the season winds down, and, while we’re not sure if Los Angeles faithful will applaud the schedule makers or shake their fists at them in anger, the Kings will end the season with four games against Western wild-card contenders: the Ducks, Avalanche, Wild and Stars.

Remaining Schedule: Six games
Average Opponent: 81.8 points

Out Of Contention
Calgary Flames: The return of starting netminder Mike Smith brought with it hope the Flames could go on a run and lock down either a divisional or wild-card berth. Instead, Calgary has allowed at least four goals against in each of its past five games and five or more against on three occasions. Included in this dreadful stretch have been two defeats at the hands of San Jose and a loss to Anaheim that didn’t help Calgary make up the slightest bit of ground. It appears that’s all she wrote for the Flames’ post-season hopes.

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Wild-Card Roundup: Blues' success further crowds the Western Conference race