There’s always a couple of stragglers late to the party. As the NHL season comes to a close this weekend, there are still a few teams who have yet to arrive to the playoff dance. Four of the 16 Stanley Cup playoff spots remain uncliched, as most teams have two remaining games.
In the Western Conference, only one spot is still up for grabs. It is expected to be secured by the Colorado Avalanche, who have a four point lead on the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes have been a huge surprise this season, and even held the final wild card spot in the West at times during March. But an abysmal 3-4-3 stretch has pulled them out of the final position.
At the time of year where they needed to play their best, Arizona fell apart. Colorado, meanwhile, has gone 7-2-1 over its last 10 games, setting them up to clinch the last spot. The Avalanche have experience playing well in high pressure stretches, as they had to win on the final day of the regular season to secure the second wild card spot last year.
Colorado defeated Arizona 3-2 in a shootout last week, clearing their path to the playoffs as the Coyotes squandered their best chance to find a way in. Now, Arizona must win its final two games in regulation or overtime, and Colorado would need to lose its final two games in regulation.
The situation in the Eastern Conference, however, is far more up in the air, with three teams vying for four spots. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Montreal Canadiens are all in contention.
While most teams are simply concerned about positioning or resting up for a cup run, these four are playing for the lives over a measly two games. Pittsburgh, who has 97 points, should be safe. For the others, it will come down to their performance in Games 81 and 82.
The Hurricanes, at 95 points, leads the trio, currently in possession of the top Wild Card spot. Carolina, out of nowhere, emerged as one of the most exhilarating teams in the league this year. At the start of the season, they appeared to be destined for another irrelevant season. But as the season progressed, the team made it crystal clear that they are on the rise.
Carolina currently holds the NHL’s longest active playoff drought, taking a nine year absence from postseason play. The Hurricanes faithful is crossing their fingers that they will hold onto their ticket to play beyond this week.
Not only has Carolina altered the look of its franchise with success on the ice, but they also have garnered attention through its vibrant personality. Following each home win, the team gathers to perform a creative celebration that allows them to engage with their fanbase and build team comradery. It would be a shame for them to fall short after their best season in nearly a decade.
The Blue Jackets are a different story, failing to break past mediocrity for yet another year. Although they have stringed multiple campaigns of success together, they have never been talked about as a true cup contender.
Besides this, they have never even won a division title, and are the only franchise to never win a playoff series. Once again this year, they find themselves barely on the cusp of the playoffs. Even if they do manage to clinch a spot, they will have to face a powerhouse in the first round of the postseason.
Columbus sits in the final wild card spot with 94 points on the year. They have added elite forwards Ryan Dzingel and Matt Duchene to an array of stars that includes Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. Alas, this has still not been sufficient to push them to the next level.
Like Carolina, the Canadiens emerged unexpectedly as a team that could make the playoffs. While their record is padded by a strong first half of the year, they have fared high above what was expected them during a retooling period. In a hockey crazy city like Montreal, this, of course, was a blessing.
With 94 points, the Habs currently sit outside the playoff picture due to a disadvantage in regulation and overtime wins. They will need some help from the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes if they hope to advance past the regular season. But over two games, nothing can be confirmed. On Saturday, the final guests will be welcomed to the playoff party.
Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.