NHL’s playoff stretch drive: Central Division lead on the line as Wild, Avalanche meet
The Boston Bruins missed a chance Tuesday night to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy and the focus on the NHL playoff races switches to the Central Division on Wednesday night.
The first-place Minnesota Wild will visit the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche with the division lead on the line. The Wild lead by one point, but the Avalanche have a game in hand and have won both of their previous meetings this season. Minnesota has points in 19 of its last 20 games while Colorado is 9-1 in its last 10.
Other questions that need to be settled with the NHL regular season rapidly drawing to a close.
Can the Bruins and Edmonton 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?
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USA TODAY Sports analyzes the NHL’s stretch drive, with the regular season ending April 14 (story is updated through March 28):
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, who have tied their franchise record of 57 wins, need six more over their final eight games. Their seven-game winning streak was ended Tuesday night by the Nashville Predators. Boston plays four more games at home, where it is 30-4-3. The Bruins have a combined 13-2 record against their final eight opponents.
Will Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid reach 70 goals or 150 points?
McDavid seemed headed for the NHL’s first 70-goal season since the 1990s when he had five consecutive two-goal games in late February and early March to give him 52 goals in 62 games. He scored his league-best 60th goal on March 22, but has been held without a goal the last three games. He needs 10 goals in his final seven games. Four of those games are against the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks, who are in the bottom four in the league. McDavid has 143 points (five assists in his last three games) and has a good chance to be the league’s first 150-point scorer since the 1990s.
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
Can Sharks defensemen Erik Karlsson reach 100 points?
He needs nine points in eight games, and he has eight points in his last eight games. Only two of the final games are against teams sitting outside a playoff spot. He twice faces the Avalanche, who shut him out in their lone meeting. No NHL defenseman has scored 100 points since the New York Rangers’ Brian Leetch in 1991-92.
Who wins the Metropolitan Division?
The Carolina Hurricanes have a three-point lead on New Jersey after forcing overtime vs. the Bruins. The Rangers are five points back. The Hurricanes have a game in hand and face neither of those teams down the stretch. The Devils host the Rangers on Thursday in what could help determine who gets home-ice advantage in the first round if those teams meet.
Who wins the Atlantic Division?
The Bruins clinched with their victory against the Lightning on Saturday. They need one more win to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy and gain home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
What about the Eastern Conference wild-card race?
The New York Islanders (85 points) and Pittsburgh Penguins (82) hold the two spots. The Panthers, who visit Toronto on Wednesday, have lost four in a row since briefly moving into the second wild-card spot last week. They’re three points behind the Penguins, the Sabres and Ottawa are five back and the Capitals are six back. Pittsburgh, which lost Tuesday and is looking to extend its 16-year postseason streak, got defenseman Jeff Petry back Tuesday from an injury but are missing forward Nick Bonino and defensemen Dmitry Kulikov, Marcus Pettersson and Jan Rutta. The Penguins don’t face any of their closest competitors down the stretch and will face three playoff-positioned teams.
Who wins the Central Division?
The Minnesota Wild lead the Avalanche and Stars by one point. Injured Wild leading scorer Kirill Kaprizov has missed nine games, but Matt Boldy has 11 goals and four assists in that stretch. The Avalanche recently got No. 1 defenseman Cale Makar back from a two-game absence. In addition to playing the Wild on Wednesday, the Avalanche face the Stars on Saturday.
Who wins the Pacific Division?
The Golden Knights lead the Kings by two points and the Oilers by three after Edmonton beat Vegas and the Calgary Flames ended Los Angeles’ 12-game point streak on Tuesday. Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore left Tuesday’s game with an injury. Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a five-point game and needs four points to join teammates McDavid and Leon Draisaitl as 100-point scorers. The Golden Knights and Kings play on April 6 (will Jonathan Quick face his former team?). The Oilers play Los Angeles twice down the stretch.
How about the Western Conference wild-card race?
The second-year Seattle Kraken (88 points) and the Winnipeg Jets (85 points) hold the two spots, with the Flames (83) and Predators (82) pulling closer after big wins against the Kings and Bruins, respectively. The Predators, who are missing Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene, have two 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?
Goalie James Reimer’s 41-save shutout of the Jets ended San Jose’s nine-game losing streak and lifted the Sharks out of last place. They’re 30th overall now with the Columbus Blue Jackets dropping back to the cellar and the Chicago Blackhawks (six-game losing streak) falling to 31st place.
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