NHL’s playoff stretch drive: Boston Bruins win division; can they set record?
The New Jersey Devils are in the playoffs for the first time since 2018, and the red-hot Boston Bruins have clinched their first division title in three years.
The Devils had already clinched a playoff berth before their game began Saturday when the Florida Panthers lost, then they put an exclamation point on the moment by beating the Ottawa Senators 5-3. Jack Hughes scored his 40th goal of the season, Dougie Hamilton broke a third-period tie and goalie MacKenzie Blackwood, who had been injured, won in his first start since Feb. 19.
Plenty of questions remain with the end of the regular season rapidly approaching.
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Can the Bruins and Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid keep up their impressive paces to reach special territory? Who will win the races in the Metropolitan, Central and Pacific divisions? How about the wild-card races? And which team will have the best odds to win the May 8 draft lottery and get the chance to draft generational talent Connor Bedard?
USA TODAY Sports analyzes the NHL’s stretch drive, with the regular season ending April 14 (story is updated through March 25):
Will the Boston Bruins break the NHL wins record?
The NHL record is 62 by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings and 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bruins have won six in a row since a stretch of three losses in four games. Boston, which was fastest to 50 wins and to 100 points and the first this season to clinch a playoff berth and division title, needs seven wins in its final 10 games to break the record. It plays five games at home, where it is 30-3-3. The Bruins have a combined 15-3 record against their final 10 opponents. Shutdown defenseman Derek Forbort could miss the rest of the regular season with an injury and winger A.J. Greer is eligible to return next game after serving a one-game suspension for cross-checking Montreal’s Mike Hoffman.
Will Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid reach 70 goals?
McDavid’s 60 goals, reached Wednesday night, are 16 more than his previous career best. But getting the NHL’s first 70-goal season since the 1990s might be tough. He was limited to an assist Saturday by the Vegas Golden Knights. He needs 10 goals in his final nine games, but five of those games are against the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Arizona Coyotes, who have been eliminated from playoff contention.
McDavid’s 60th… the two passes by Draisaitl. The first one was one of the nicest dishes you will see all year. Not a surprise players voted him best passer in the league. pic.twitter.com/XE03r7OE34
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) March 23, 2023
Who wins the Metropolitan Division?
The Carolina Hurricanes maintained their two-point lead on New Jersey by beating the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. The New York Rangers, who made major trade deadline upgrades, also won and remain six points back. The Hurricanes have two games in hand and faces neither of those teams down the stretch. The Rangers will face the Devils on March 30.
Who wins the Atlantic Division?
The Bruins clinched with their victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. Boston forward Garnet Hathaway, a trade deadline acquisition, fought with Pat Maroon nine seconds into the game and scored the game-winning goal in the second period.
What about the Eastern Conference wild-card race?
The New York Islanders (83 points) and Pittsburgh Penguins (82) hold the two spots. The Islanders were shut out Saturday by the Buffalo Sabres and the Penguins got a big win against the rival Washington Capitals as Evgeni Malkin stole the puck and scored on a third-period breakaway. Florida has lost three in a row since briefly moving into the second wild-card spot on Monday. They’re three points behind the Penguins and the Sabres and Capitals are six back. Buffalo has a game in hand, but it’s looking promising for the Pittsburgh to extend their 16-year postseason streak, even with injuries to forward Nick Bonino and defensemen Jeff Petry, Dmitry Kulikov, Marcus Pettersson and Jan Rutta.
Who wins the Central Division?
The Minnesota Wild grabbed a one-point lead when they beat the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday and the Dallas Stars lost to the Vancouver Canucks. The Colorado Avalanche are three points back with two games in hand. The Wild have points in 18 of their last 19 games, despite missing injured leading scorer Kirill Kaprizov, for the last eight games. Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen’s 12-game point streak ended on Saturday. The banged-up Avalanche got defenseman Cale Makar back Friday (one goal, two assists) from a two-game injury absence. The defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche play the Wild on March 29 and the Stars on April 1.
Who wins the Pacific Division?
The Golden Knights lead the Los Angeles Kings by four points, with the Oilers another three points back. The Golden Knights had bad luck when goalie Logan Thompson reinjured himself on Thursday, but netminder Laurent Brossoit beat the Oilers in his return from injury on Saturday. The Golden Knights and Kings play on April 6 (will Jonathan Quick face his former team?), and the Oilers play Vegas one more time and Los Angeles twice. The Kings extended their point streak to 11 games Saturday, even though leading scorer Kevin Fiala missed his sixth game with a lower-body injury. He has resumed practicing in a non-contact jersey. Kings forward Blake Lizotte could miss time after being assessing a match penalty for cross-checking Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey in the face.
How about the Western Conference wild-card race?
The second-year Seattle Kraken (88 points) helped their cause with a rout of the 10th-place Nashville Predators on Saturday. The Winnipeg Jets (85 points) hold the second spot, with the Calgary Flames at 81 points and Predators at 80. The Predators, who are missing Roman Josi, have three games in hand on the Jets. Winnipeg plays Calgary (April 5) and Nashville (April 8) in back-to-back games.
Who gets the best odds to draft Connor Bedard?
The Columbus Blue Jackets moved out of last place by beating the New York Islanders 5-4 in overtime on Friday for their second win in a row. They’re percentage points ahead of the San Jose Sharks, who are on a 0-6-3 slide. Both teams lost Saturday, the Blue Jackets getting crushed 8-2 by the Montreal Canadiens.
Goalie Elvis Merzlikins, in his first game back after a death in the family, left the game with what appeared to a leg injury. The Blue Jackets, who have played one less game than the Sharks, have been crushed by injuries, with No. 2 scorer Patrik Laine hurting his arm in a recent practice and out 2-4 weeks.
The bottom team has a 25.5% chance of getting the first pick in the lottery, either outright or with a team in the 12 to 16 range winning. The lottery winner can move up only 10 spaces this year.
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL playoff standings: Division titles, wild cards at stake
Source: Yahoo Sports