Monday, April 3, 2017

Weekend wrap: One week to go

One week. That’s all that’s left in the 2016–17 regular season. And with a busy seven days ahead that will see some teams playing as many as five times, it feels like the big picture is starting to come into focus. We don’t have all the answers yet, but we’re getting there.

Let’s start with what we do know.

Out West, the Blackhawks have wrapped up the top seed. The slumping Wild will almost certainly limp into second in the Central, giving them home ice in the first round. And with the Kings officially eliminated last night, we know who the eight playoff teams will be.

In the East, we can pretty much pencil in the Habs as the Atlantic winner, which also means we can go ahead and book them into a first-round matchup with the wild-card Rangers. (They may also finish with more points than New York after all, which should take some of the heat off of the playoff format.) The Capitals have a stranglehold on the Metro after last night's win in Columbus, and that means a first-round showdown between the Blue Jackets and Penguins.

And while we're not there quite yet, we're getting dangerously close to being able to say that we know that the Maple Leafs are going to the playoffs. After last week's brief bout of Frederik Andersen panic, the Leafs won three straight and got their goalie back, and even briefly moved into second place in the Atlantic.

The Senators look reasonably safe, too, although maybe slightly less so than Toronto given their recent struggles and injury issues.

And the Bruins got a huge win yesterday in Chicago, giving them five straight and bumping them past Toronto and Ottawa into second place (although both those teams have two games in hand).

If the Leafs, Senators and Bruins are all in, that leaves all of the Eastern spots accounted for, freezing out the Lightning, Islanders and Hurricanes. All three of those teams are still technically alive, but each would need to virtually run the table in the final week and get help from elsewhere.

At the other end of the standings, we know the Avalanche will have the best odds in the lottery, and that the Golden Knights will slot in at No. 3. The two-spot is still up for grabs, with the Coyotes at risk of losing their grip after last night's win.

As far as individual honours go, Connor McDavid has all but clinched the Art Ross, and Sidney Crosby is closing in on doing the same for the Richard. Auston Matthew hasn't quite wrapped up the rookie goals and points title, but Patrik Laine will need a big game or two to close the gap there, and Erik Karlsson's injury may have closed the door on catching Brent Burns in the blueline points race.

So that's what we know, or are reasonably close to knowing. What's still up in the air this week are most of the first-round matchups, including whether we'll get new chapters in the Battles of Alberta and Ontario.

Home ice in the various two-vs.-three pairings is still a question mark everywhere outside of the Central. The top of the Pacific is a mess. And we still don't know who'll win the Presidents' Trophy, or whether they'll remember to pretend that they care.

With that, let's move on to the power rankings. Last week, we couldn't find anyone who seemed like a good pick at the number five spot, so we settled on the Canadiens almost as a placeholder. Did anyone else do enough to jump up and grab that spot this week?

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they're headed towards Stanley Cup–favourite status.

5. Edmonton Oilers (44-25-9, +32 true goals differential*): Huh. Well then. Let's discuss further down below.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (49-21-8, +59): They've lost five of seven, including two against the Caps and one against the Blackhawks. For a team that can still be hard to picture as truly elite, that hurts.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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