There may not be any true wildcard teams this year, but let’s face it, there are going to be some down-to-the-wire teams squeaking into playoffs. It seems like the biggest divide in standings right now is between the 3rd and 4th ranked teams in each division. The top 3 in each are roughly within 5 points of each other, while the 4th are at least 6 points behind 3rd. That means there’s going to be some competitive games coming up for those last minute points.
So here are my predictions for the 4th spot in each division.
It feels weird to say, but with Vancouver’s delayed games and Calgary’s season circling the drain, it’s looking like Montreal is going to take the North’s 4th spot. The Canadiens haven’t exactly been the most intimidating team in the league in a very long time. That said, they’ve been preverbally scrappy this year. Tyler Toffoli has done well since moving to Montreal, Petry doing just as well. They’ve struggled in overtime, but their regulation wins average out enough to where if they continue to be consistent, they’ll be in the playoffs.
They had their struggles at the beginning of the year, but it seems that things have come together for Nashville. They’ve started to pull again slightly from Chicago, enough to where playoffs are a realistic goal. The Predators had a disappointing Bubble experience last season, so I’m sure they’re eager to prove that they belong in the playoffs again. I’ll be honest, there haven’t been many stand out players for them. What they do have is more balanced goaltending than last year and Chicago’s this year.
It’s not much of a surprise, but Boston has all but solidified their spot in the playoffs already. They’ve slipped a little in their performance since the beginning of the season, but not nearly to the extent that Philadelphia has. Philly and the Rangers are close enough in points that either one could come back and claim the spot. However, the Bruins have proved over and over again that they’re a gritty team who will fight for it. And they have the talent this year to put up a hell of a fight.
As of right now, Arizona is in 4th place. I don’t think that will last. In my opinion, St. Louis is on a hot streak and will pull ahead fairly soon. They had a very convincing 9-1 win over Minnesota (who was also on a hot streak before then) last night that, to me, showed that they want that spot in the playoffs. The one potential fly in the ointment is that their schedule through the end of the season is just slightly tougher than Arizona’s. But, if they come with the energy that put them up 8 points against a great team in every game, they’ll be there.
As proven many times before, my predictions are as reliable as the roll of dice. There are so many factors that go into each and every game, it’s hard to super accurately predict outcomes. But, there are enough trends, especially this year, that give me a certain level of (perhaps unfounded) confidence.
Going forward, it’s easy to watch the top teams to see how good they’ll get. But don’t forget, some of the most exciting games are the ones that matter for playoff positions.
-Heidi Thomas (@DamselOnDrums)
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