Monday, April 2, 2018

Weekend wrap: The final countdown

With one week to go in the season, we can skip the dramatic preamble and cut right to the chase. Here’s where we’re at.

In the East, the Panthers are on life support, as a late-season slump threatens to derail their second-half comeback. They’ve dropped three straight, including Saturday’s loss in Boston. That one was especially demoralizing. Not only did they come away empty in a game where they needed to pick up some points, but the Bruins loom as their most likely first-round opponent if they do make it in, and the Panthers didn’t look like they could keep up. The news got even worse last night, as the Devils earned a comeback win in Montreal by a 2-1 final. The Panthers now trail New Jersey by seven points and the Flyers by eight for an Eastern wild card spot.

The only real good news for the Panthers is they still hold two games in hand over both New Jersey and Philadelphia. That’s a mixed blessing this late in the year, since it means five games crammed into seven nights for a team that already looks like it’s running out of steam. And some of those games will be tough ones, with two more against the Bruins and one against the Predators. It’s possible that one or both of those teams could be resting guys this week, and the other two games against the Sabres and Hurricanes are winnable. But right now, the situation in Florida is bleak, and even a 5-0-0 finish might not be enough.

Things are looking a lot more interesting out West, where we’ve got four teams still in it and three spots up for grabs. The biggest game of the weekend was Sunday’s matchup between Colorado and Anaheim, and it featured an early Avalanche lead, a third-period Ducks comeback, and an Ondrej Kase overtime winner. The win moved the Ducks to third in the Pacific, bumping the Kings back down to a wild card spot and officially eliminating the Stars. The Avalanche currently hold the other wild card, with the Blues lurking a point behind but holding a game in hand on all three teams.

There are lots of ways this could all play out over the next week, but it may come down to Saturday’s showdown between the Blues and Avalanche in Colorado. Despite holding a spot right now, the Avs may be facing the longest odds after learning that they’ll finish the season without Semyon Varlamov or Erik Johnson. They’re not the only team hurting, as the Ducks lost John Gibson and Cam Fowler last night and we’re not sure yet if either injury is serious.

Further up the standings, we still need to sort out the battle between the Bruins and Lightning for top seed in the Atlantic (and the Eastern Conference). The Capitals have clinched the Metro’s top spot after Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh, but the rest of the division’s seedings are up for grabs. The Jets won’t catch Nashville for first place in the Central, but they’re making the Predators work for it. And the Knights are home and cooled out in the Pacific, but still have something to play for thanks to an outside shot at the Presidents’ Trophy.

Of course, that only covers the races involving teams. At an individual level, there’s still plenty left to sort out, as we’ll see in the next section.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Vegas Golden Knights (50-22-7, plus-50 true goals differential*): The team raised a banner on Saturday honouring the 58 victims of the October shooting.

4. Winnipeg Jets (48-20-10, plus-51): They went into Toronto to preview a potential dream Cup final, and looked like the better team from start to finish.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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