Monday, March 26, 2018

Weekend wrap: What we know, what we don't

Two weeks to go. That’s it. Two weeks from today, the regular season will be over and we’ll be on to the playoffs. We’ll be breaking down matchups without any of those “if the playoffs started today” caveats. We’ll know what the lottery odds look like. Awards voters will be hard at work on their now-public ballots. The way things are shaping up, we’ll probably also be in the middle of a few days’ worth of coach and GM firings. We’ll have a couple of days without any games, but there will be plenty to talk about, and a lot more clarity than we have right now.

But first we have to get there, and a lot can change in two weeks. So today, let’s take a moment to regroup and figure out where we’re at after the weekend’s action.

For starters, we can narrow down the playoff picture. The Flames are done. The Stars almost certainly are, too, after a pair of brutal weekend losses that saw them blow a third-period lead against the Bruins on Friday and then cough up a must-win against the Canucks last night. They’ve lost eight straight and are five points back, and the group ahead of them all have a game in hand. Unless Ben Bishop makes a miraculous recovery, the Stars aren’t going to be able to make up that ground.

That means it’s down to the Kings, Ducks, Avalanche and Blues in the West, with three spots up for grabs. The Blues are the surprise of that group, given how they’d all but surrendered at the deadline, but weekend wins over the Canucks and Blue Jackets made it five straight for them, so here we are.

One last thing we know about the Western Conference: Seven games of Predators vs. Jets needs to happen. Make it so, NHL. Rig it if you need to. After last night’s Jets win in a 5–4 barnburner, anything else will feel like a letdown. Just no shootouts this time, OK?

Over in the East, the Panthers are the only outsider with a chance. They’re chasing the Devils and (maybe) the Flyers and Blue Jackets, with everyone else home and cooled. Both division titles remain up for grabs, as is the possibility of the Leafs finishing with the conference’s third-best record, starting the playoffs on the road, and forcing us into a two-week national dialogue about the playoff format.

Filed under “still too close to call,” we’ve got the scoring race (although barely), the Rocket Richard, and the battle for both the Presidents’ Trophy and dead last overall.

That’s a lot left to figure out, and not much time to do it. Two weeks may not be much, but right now it’s all we’ve got. On to the power rankings…

Road to the Cup

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

5. Vegas Golden Knights (47-21-7, +46 true goals differential*): Saturday’s OT loss to the Avalanche may have been the game of the weekend, at least among those that didn’t involve the Predators and Jets. We get a rematch tonight. First-round playoff preview? Yes, please.

4. Winnipeg Jets (45-19-10, +53): Last night’s win clinches their playoff spot. In other news, Blake Wheeler is going to try really hard not to fight any more teammates in practice.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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