The NHL’s final full day of the regular season will feature an oddity: Some fans will be rooting openly for their teams to get better playoff matchups and some will be secretly hoping their teams lose.
There are two games on Friday that also could affect positioning in the final standings, but Thursday’s 15-game schedule will be key because only one first-round series — Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning — has been decided so far.
Three division titles are still up for grabs, as are who avoids the record-setting Boston Bruins in the first round and who gets the best draft lottery odds for a chance to select generational talent Connor Bedard.
Here are the Thursday games that matter most (all times p.m. ET):
A Hurricanes victory would clinch the Metropolitan Division, regardless of what the New Jersey Devils do. But the Panthers are also hoping for a win that would move them into the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and avoid a meeting with the Bruins. If the Panthers win and the Devils lose in regulation, Florida and Carolina would meet in the first round.
The Devils would clinch the Metropolitan Division title if they win and the Hurricanes lose or if they gain a point and Carolina loses in regulation. Washington is out of the playoffs, but a loss means it would hold on to its 6% chance of winning the draft lottery.
The Stars will clinch the Central Division title if they win and the Avalanche lose or if they get one point and the Avalanche lose in regulation. The Avalanche get the title if they win and the Stars lose in regulation. If those scenarios don’t happen, the Central title will be decided on Friday, when Colorado visits the Nashville Predators. The division winner will face the Kraken or Kings. The loser will face the Minnesota Wild.
Vegas Golden Knights at Seattle Kraken, 10:30
The Golden Knights need one point to clinch the Pacific Division title. If that happens, they would face the Winnipeg Jets in the first round. The division winner also has home-ice advantage in the first three rounds of the playoffs. The Kraken can still catch the Los Angeles Kings for third place in the Pacific, meaning a potential matchup with the Edmonton Oilers or the Golden Knights. A Kraken loss means they would face the Central Division winner in the first round.
San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers, 9
The Oilers will clinch the Pacific title with a win and a Golden Knights regulation loss. They’d then face the Jets, who swept them in the first round in 2021. If the Golden Knights win the division, the Oilers will face the Kings or Kraken. Oilers star Connor McDavid needs one goal to tie Alex Ovechkin for most in a season (65) in the 21st century.
The Kings will clinch third in the Pacific if they get one point or the Kraken lose. Their first-round opponent would be the Oilers or Golden Knights. If they drop to the first wild-card spot, they’d face the Central Division winner. If the Ducks lose in regulation, they would get last place in the league and a 25.5% chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick after the draft lottery if the Blue Jackets gain at least one point in their final two games.
Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7
The Penguins are out of the playoffs for the first time since 2006, so this game is for pride. But Columbus currently sits in last place and would clinch the best odds if it loses in regulation on Thursday and Friday.
Philadelphia Flyers at Chicago Blackhawks, 8:30
The Blackhawks still have a chance to drop to last if they lose in regulation and the Blue Jackets gain two points and the Ducks one. More important: This will be the last game as a Blackhawk for Jonathan Toews after general manager Kyle Davidson said Thursday that the team wouldn’t re-sign the longtime captain. The three-time Stanley Cup winner had missed two months this season with the effects of long COVID and chronic immune response syndrome.
The Bruins, who set the record for wins and for points in a season, can pad those totals against the franchise that held the previous points record. The Canadiens would maintain their 8.5% draft lottery odds with a regulation loss.
Minnesota Wild at Nashville Predators, 8
This will mark David Poile’s final game as Predators general manager. Poile, who became GM of the Capitals in 1982 and was the Predators’ only general manager, will retire this summer and hand the reins to Barry Trotz.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL standings, playoffs: Schedule, races to keep eye on in final days
Source: Yahoo Sports