It is that time of year, again. The sun is starting to show its face, the backyard rinks are slowly turning to slush, and your team is either in, out, or on the beloved NHL playoff bubble. For the teams on the NHL playoff bubble, the playoffs have essentially already started. Every game from here until the end of the season will have some sort of implication on playoff seed. For some, it will make or break their chance at a playoff berth. We’ll take a look at where the NHL playoff bubble teams sit right now, what they need to do in order to play postseason hockey, and which ones will be left out.
**All stats and standings current as of March 12th, 2019, pre puck-drop**
The Eastern Conference Bubble
Carolina Hurricanes (83 pts)
The Carolina Hurricanes have been a product of an up and down year. Luckily for them, the ups have outweighed the downs and they’re currently sitting in a division playoff spot. They only trail 2nd place, the New York Islanders, by two games, but it’s the teams on their tail that are the highest concern. They’re in danger of losing their division spot. The Pittsburgh Penguins are currently 4th in the Metro, and they, too, have 83 points through 69 games. The Hurricanes hold the current tie breaker, with 37 ROW (total wins, excluding the wins via shootout). The Penguins, though, have 36 ROW.
We’re all aware of the post-game antics that Carolina has jump-started this season, but it’s going to have to be the regulation time, 60 minutes, that is their main focus going forward. Not only do they need to keep pace with Pittsburgh, but they need to make sure not to give up any regulation win within their grasp. An overtime can very easily turn to a shootout, and that’s not a risk the Hurricanes want to take. It could be as easy as taking a shootout win, while Pittsburgh grabs a regulation or OT win, and then we go down the tiebreak list.
The Home Stretch
It’s Carolina’s defense and goaltending that has propelled them to a chance to compete in the East. They do average the most shots on goal per game across the league, but not much else is eye-popping when it comes to their offense. Their defense, though, needs to stay stout in order for Carolina to hang on to their place. They rank 2nd in shots on goal allowed per game. They take the 8th least penalty minutes every game, and have the 7th best penalty kill percentage to go along with that. Their collective 2.74 GAA is good for 6th best in the league, and their goaltending-by-committee seems to be working. I said in December that this was my dark horse team. Time for them to prove it.
Pittsburgh Penguins (83 pts)
This was inevitable. I called it, I put it in the group chat, in the forum, and I would have put my life savings on it if Mike ever decided to pay me. At the beginning of this year, the Penguins were playing slow, out of sync, and found themselves outside the playoff picture. I warned the world not to sleep on them, they could still even be the Eastern Conference Champs. Well, here we are. They aren’t at the top of the conference by any means, but they’ve made their way into the playoff picture. Furthermore, they’re trying to push themselves outside the wild card picture. As it stands now, they hold the top wild card spot and sit 4th in the Metro.
The interesting dynamic here is the fact that currently, the top wild card spot would have to play the winner of the Metro. Right now, that’s Pittsburgh playing the Washington Capitals, with the defending champion Capitals getting home ice advantage. However, with just 13 games left for all teams involved, the Penguins are tied with Carolina for 3rd (4th place by virtue of ROW tiebreak), two games behind the 2nd place Islanders, and just three games back of the 1st place Capitals. Oh, and by the way, these two play each other tonight. Pittsburgh also has two games against Carolina left on the schedule. Things could get a little spicy!
The Home Stretch
Theoretically, the Penguins could hoist themselves into the #2 overall seed and you wouldn’t have to be all that gullible to believe it. They’ve got the best player in the league, so they can never be counted out until the fat lady sings. They rank 5th in goals per game as a team, they have the 6th best powerplay in the league, and oh, did I mention 87? Sidney Crosby has amassed another 30 goal season, with 31 so far and 57 assists to go along with it. Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin have each totaled 68 points, and Jake Guentzel is leading the way with 34 goals for the club. The offense is there for Pittsburgh. Can their average-to-subpar defense withstand the push? They’re going to need it.
Columbus Blue Jackets (79 pts)
Columbus took an aggressive approach to the trade deadline this year, and they didn’t do too bad. Before it was all said and done, they acquired Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel from the Ottawa Senators, as well as Adam McQuaid from the New York Rangers. It’s been a slow go for the trio since being acquired, but that seems to be the league-wide trend for guys who were bought/sold this year. It takes some time to adjust. As far as the Jackets are concerned, they currently fill the final wild card spot in the East, so the tightrope is getting pretty… well… tight.
Columbus is 5th in the Metro right now, trailing the Penguins by two games. Yup, another one of those darn Metro teams. So, if you’re following along, we’ve got the top five teams in the Metro all within 10 points (five games) of each other and 13 games left for each of them. Remember, this final wild card spot has to play the Tampa Bay Lightning to open the playoffs. I’m not saying Boston or Toronto would be fun to matchup with right now, but they’re certainly more desirable than Tampa as an opponent. Whoever holds this last wild card spot is going to want to get promoted, and promoted quickly. Right now, that’s the Blue Jackets.
The Home Stretch
The Blue Jackets also added Keith Kinkaid, from the New Jersey Devils, prior to the trade deadline. That will offer some solid and more reliable backup to the strength of the team., Sergei Bobrovsky. Bob has had a a good year. Nothing spectacular to his standards, but he’s helped the team to the 3rd best penalty kill in the league. Special teams are extremely vital, especially when fighting for a playoff berth. These are the things that can make or break a run, so Bob standing solid is going to be nothing short of necessary. It helps that their defense allows the 7th fewest shots on goal per game. Personally, I think Columbus is in danger of buying heavy at the trade deadline and then missing the playoffs altogether. Tough when you have Habs on your heels.
Montreal Canadiens (79 pts)
If the Atlantic division wants to claim one of the wild car spots, it’s going to have to be Montreal. Florida and Buffalo have fallen out of the picture, barring a miracle, and Detroit and Ottawa seem to be engaged in a collective #LoseForHughes campaign. I think Montreal has a real shot to steal that spot from the Metro fellas, who might just be all too worried about each other. The Canadiens currently sit 4th in the Atlantic, but Toronto is five games ahead in 3rd place. It’s possible Montreal goes on a tear and takes that spot, but not very probable
Pucks and people to the net. That’s the name of the game for Montreal this season as they sit 4th in the league in shots on goal per game. It hasn’t been the prettiest season for the Habs, but they find themselves in a spot to make the playoffs and they need to turn it up going forward. They are tied with Columbus for the last spot as it stands now, but the find themselves as the first team out in the East by virtue of the ROW tiebreak. Columbus’ 37 ROW edge out Montreal’s 34. It’s unlikely that Montreal makes up enough ground in that category by season’s end, so they’ll be looking to outplay the Jackets in just straight W/L.
The Home Stretch
The biggest concern for Montreal is their special teams. They have the worst powerplay in the league. Teams know that and they gameplan to be aggressive. This has led to Montreal constantly playing on their heels and with their head on a swivel. Defensively, they’ve stood up to the task fairly well. They’re pretty middle of the pack when it comes to the important team statistics, and that’s not easy to do when teams feel like they can hassle you all game long without getting burned on the powerplay. Carey Price, to no one’s surprise, has been the best player for Montreal all season long. He would probably like his 2.62 GAA to be a tad lower, but he can’t be upset with the .914 save percentage. It’s time the Montreal skaters bite the bullet and put it on the line for Price. I think they have what it takes to steal a spot.
Philadelphia Flyers (76pts)
Yikes. This team is in the playoff hunt while the Buffalo Sabres are on the outside looking in. Who woulda thunk it. Yet, here we are. With two straight in their back pocket and an outstanding second half to the season, the Flyers have risen from worst in the league to… well… 2nd team out. At least, as it stands now. Philly, yet another Metro team, dealt away Wayne Simmonds at the deadline, not that they had much choice. However, they find themselves only two games out of a wild card spot. They trail everyone ahead of them in ROW as it stands now, so it’s looking like they’ll need to win some games and get some help around the league, but it’s doable.
If you were not already aware, the Flyers made NHL history this year by starting 1 million different goalies in net. It wasn’t quite that high, but it sure seemed like it. They acquired Cam Talbot from Edmonton before the trade deadline to solidify their net-minding. On paper, the Flyers have the talent to compete in the playoffs, and possibly win a game in round one. Giroux leads the way with 73 points (20G, 53A), and Sean Couturier is closing in on a possible 30-goal season with 28 right now (37A, 65P). Voracek has underperformed this year and JVR has ran into some injury trouble. If these things can get right for Philly at the most clutch of times, it could make for some very, very interesting hockey.
The Home Stretch
Of all the NHL playoff bubble teams, Philly might control their own destiny the most. They’ve got Carolina twice, Pittsburgh, and Montreal still left on their schedule. If they can sweep those games, take one of their two remaining Washington games, and one of their two remaining Toronto games, they could set themselves up nicely for a wild card look. However, at the end of the day, I’m not here to joke around. Technically speaking, only Ottawa has been eliminated from contention at this point, but Philly is not a playoff team. No more than the rest of the East below them. They would be a helluva story if they ended up clinching the postseason. Unfortunately for them, they’ll fall short with neither a miracle story, nor a good draft pick to show for it.
The Western Conference Bubble
Dallas Stars (75 pts)
Welcome to the West, where 75 league points gets you the first wild card spot at this point. Unless St. Louis falls from their 3rd place spot in the Central (79 pts), the 4th place Dallas Stars look to be setting the pace for the NHL playoff bubble teams in the West for their final 14 games. Compared to every other team on the NHL playoff bubble in the West, Dallas has at least one game in hand. Of course, that only matters if the game in question is used to it’s advantage. We can let that play out as it may, the biggest thing for Dallas is to keep their momentum going. They were never down and out, but they’ve certainly been playing better hockey as of late.
With special teams being a huge factor when it’s clutch time, it’s important to note that Dallas has the 6th best penalty kill in the league. This should allow them to play aggressively down the stretch. This should, hopefully, allow Dallas to dictate the pace of a majority of those games. They also rank 3rd in overall GAA. They run a goaltender-by-committee with Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin essentially splitting starts, and it’s worked out well for them. Bishop has a save percentage at .930, while Khudobin is at .924. If the defense can stand a little more stout in front of the goalies, Dallas has a chance to put stuff together.
The Home Stretch
The Stars have offensive weapons that have the capability to make things very exciting. It’s just a shame they haven’t been able to put the pieces together this year. They don’t have a single player with at least 65 points (only one over 60), they rank 29th in the league in goals per game, and 29th in the league in shooting percentage. However, like I said, this is the West, and it just ain’t that tough to be a contender over here. I think the Stars will hold this playoff spot to the very end. The only question that remains: can they figure anything out just in time to make a wave in the postseason? Time will tell.
Minnesota Wild (74 pts)
I get less and less impressed with the Wild as the season progresses. The offense doesn’t seem to have any chemistry or fluidity, and even when they’re clicking, they can’t seem to carry it over from game to game. It hasn’t been an extremely exciting team to watch compared to some of the other teams around the league. Minnesota needs to set those woes aside and focus on the task at hand, though. That task is (a) keeping a hold of a playoff spot, and (b) jumping Dallas for the top wild card spot.
Minnesota has played two more games than Dallas has to this point, so that is a “yikes” situation for the time being. On the other hand, Minnesota’s next game is against the Stars, as well as their final game of the season. Talk about drama! That final game of the year could be as much of a playoff game as any postseason game, depending on the standings when the time comes. Long story short, the Wild can have a pretty solid handle on their own fate when it comes to outpacing Dallas.
The Home Stretch
Minnesota’s top point scorer this season is Zach Parise with 55 points (24G, 31A). It’s safe to say they need to get their offense going in a big way. They rank 25th in the league in goals per game, and 26th in the league in shooting percentage. If you pair that with a run-of-the-mill defense and a below bottom half penalty kill, it isn’t going to be a recipe for success. That’s exactly what Minnesota is working with. I like this team more than I should, so it pains me to say this, but I don’t think they make the playoffs this year. They hold that final wild card spot for now, but they need some things to turn around because they haven’t looked right, lately.
Arizona Coyotes (73 pts)
As it stands right now, the West has two Central division teams in the wild card spots. Enter, the Arizona Coyotes. Way back at the beginning of the season, we talked on our now-dead podcast about whether or not Arizona had the goods to make a playoff run. Well, here they are now, on the NHL playoff bubble. The ‘Yotes currently sit 4th in the Pacific division, but it’s only good for being the first team out of the postseason. The good news is, they don’t have a whole lot of ground to make up. They only trail Minnesota by a single point, and they have an extra game left on their schedule compared to the Wild.
Eight wins in their last ten game, Arizona has been the complete opposite from Minnesota. They have been more and more fun to watch as the season rolls along. Maybe it’s just being excited about good hockey in the desert, maybe it’s the unique, defensive approach. I’m not sure, but lately, it’s been good. Don’t get me wrong, Arizona has their issues, there’s a reason they don’t currently own a playoff spot. They’re bottom of the league almost across the board when it comes to offense. I said at the beginning of the year, if they can’t score the puck, they won’t get very far. Well, apparently the NHL playoff bubble is as far as it gets ’em. The good news for Arizona, some of the NHL playoff bubble teams make the postseason.
The Home Stretch
The highest point scorer for Arizona is Clayton Keller with 44 points (13G, 31A). FOURTY. FOUR. POINTS. Only the Anaheim Ducks have a lower leading point scorer, and they’re nowhere near the playoff hunt. Darcy Kuemper, the Coyotes’ starting goaltender, has willed this team to a chance at postseason hockey, and the skaters need to bear down and go for it. That 2nd best penalty kill could allow Arizona to employ their aggressive tactics and push some buttons as we head down the stretch. With games against Edmonton, Chicago, Minnesota, and Colorado left on their schedule, everything is a must-win for The Pack.
Colorado Avalanche (72 pts)
About the only reason that Colorado isn’t considered the biggest meltdown this season is the fact that Buffalo isn’t even in contention for the postseason. Nonetheless, it has been cringe-worthy to watch what Colorado has gone through, from about the middle of the season to now. At the halfway point of this year, I wanted to see them in the Stanley Cup Finals. Now, not a chance. The best thing going for Colorado right now? Yes, you guessed it, they’re in the West!
Offensively, the Avs are one of the most fun teams to watch this season, in my opinion. The top line is, quite obviously, a treat for any hockey fan to watch. When Nathan MacKinnon gets the puck on his stick, my ass hits the edge of its seat. The Avalanche are 10th in the league in goals per game and 7th in the league in shots on goal per game. They have the 8th best powerplay, so you’ll pretty safely get your offense from Colorado game in and game out. They have three different 30-goal scorers in MacKinnon (35), Gabriel Landeskog (33), and Mikko Rantanen (30).
The Home Stretch
Discipline, discipline, discipline. The Avalanche can never expect to consistently win games when they take the 2nd most penalties in the NHL and have the 28th ranked penalty kill to go along with it. That will kill a team’s stamina, momentum, and morale, from front to back. I would love nothing more than to see Colorado advance to the playoffs, because I think they could possibly make some noise as a lower seed and give us some great round one hockey. That being said, I don’t see it being in the cards for Colorado. Their remaining schedule has quite a few NHL playoff bubble teams on it, so it’s theirs to lose. And that playoff spot is ohhhhh, so close…
Chicago Blackhawks (69 pts)
The Chicago Blackhawks are currently in last place in their division. LAST. PLACE. Yet, here they are, on the NHL playoff bubble. Chicago sits five points back from that final playoff spot, with an extra game in hand. Things have been a mess since the beginning with Chicago. They started the season by firing one of the greatest coaches of all time after a piss poor start to the campaign. Since then, well, they’ve been pretty average. But, this is the West, and average is all you need to be. In reality, Chicago has won their last three games to get themselves this close at this point.
Can they keep it going? Short answer? No. They’re defense is so poor it makes Detroit’s defense look good at times. Patrick Kane has had another great year, hitting that 40-goal mark with 41. Chicago, too, has three 30-goal scorers, in Kane, Alex Debrincat (37), and Jonathan Toews (30). The offense, for Chicago, is very much there. The talent, at least. The defense ranks 2nd worst in goals allowed per game, 2nd worst in shots on goal per game, and dead last in penalty kill.
The Home Stretch
There’s not much to say here. The Blackhawks won’t grow a defense overnight, and they can’t be carried by three guys alone on offense. That didn’t work for Colorado, either. It’s good to see them gain some momentum near the season’s end, but they would need a miracle to sneak in at this point.
Edmonton Oilers (69 pts)
Technically, they’re on the NHL playoff bubble, yes. Realistically a playoff team? No. Actually, as a matter of fact, if they pull this off and get into the playoffs, it could be the first real stepping stone for Connor McDavid to start cementing himself as one of the greatest of all time. He doesn’t need it, but it would be a sweet run to pin his success back to. Okay, enough of that. Realistically, this has been a nightmare season for Edmonton.
The culture has been under question for a majority of the season, and many are wondering if McDavid’s days are numbered in Edmonton. His 98 points (34G, 64A) are far and away the only good story the Oilers have. Maybe Leon Draisaitl, too, with his 89 points (42G, 47A), but none of it is enough. Yeah, they find themselves with a legitimate shot to make a run at the postseason, but even their fans know they won’t do anything with the wild card spot. Chicago has the only penalty kill worse than their own, and they rank 25th in penalty minutes per game. They’re 24th in the league in goals given up per game. 27th in the league in shots on goal per game. It’s a wonder they’re even here at all.
The Home Stretch
Again, nothing much here. It’s the West, and teams like these are considered NHL playoff bubble teams. It is what it is, and unless we see something crazy to end the season, we won’t have to worry about any Edmonton crazies during this year’s postseason.
**Follow me on twitter for daily hockey content and chances to win free merch! Never trust the coach who puts on pads for practice**