But close races, especially for the last few playoff berths, are nothing new. The average margin between eighth- and ninth-place teams in the past three seasons has been just two points.
This year's teams will have to work hard to match some of the scrambles for postseason berths in past years.
Here's a numerical look at some of them:
1 -- Playoff berths decided by a shootout. In 2006-07, the New York Islanders snagged the last spot in the East on the final day of the season with a 3-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils. The Isles blew a 2-0 lead in the final minutes of regulation, but got shootout goals from Miroslav Satan and Viktor Kozlov to finish with 92 points, passing Toronto for the eighth spot in the East -- one night after the Leafs had leap-frogged Montreal by beating the Canadiens.
2 -- Consecutive seasons in which Toronto made the playoffs at the expense of the Minnesota North Stars in the battle for the last berth in the Norris Division. In 1986-87, both teams tied with 70 points, but the Leafs had 32 victories to 30 for the North Stars. In 1987-88, Toronto edged the North Stars by a point, 52-51.
3 -- Teams that finished within one point in the battle for the last playoff spot in the Atlantic Division in 1987-88. New Jersey and the New York Rangers both won on the last night of the season to finish with 82 points; the Pittsburgh Penguins also won to finish with 81. But John MacLean's overtime goal gave New Jersey a win at Chicago and the last playoff berth; the Devils made the postseason for the first time in New Jersey with 38 wins to 36 for the Rangers. It was also the first time every team in a division finished over .500, and only seven points separated first place from last.
4 -- Teams within two points in the Eastern Conference playoff race in 1996-97. Montreal and Ottawa made it with 77 points; Hartford and Washington came up short with 75 despite closing their season with victories.
6 -- Years since a team has made the playoffs with fewer than 90 points. The 2002-03 New York Islanders earned the eighth spot in the East with 83 points; since then, the minimum has been 91.
8 -- Years since the only instance in which there were ties for the final playoff spot in both conferences. In the East, Carolina and Boston both finished with 88 points, but the Hurricanes made the playoffs because they had 38 wins to Boston's 36. The same thing happened in the West, where Phoenix and Vancouver ended up with 90 points and the Coyotes made the postseason due to a 38-36 margin in victories.
9 -- Goals scored by the New York Rangers on the final day of the 1969-70 season to earn a playoff berth. The Rangers came into their season finale against Detroit needing not only to beat the Wings but to pile up goals in order to have any hope of passing Montreal. They bombarded the Wings with 65 shots, won the game 9-5, and scraped into the playoffs when the Canadiens were routed 10-2 in Chicago that night. The teams finished with identical 38-22-16 records, but the Rangers got the final berth in the East by outscoring Montreal 246-244, thanks to their final-day outburst. It was the first time that a playoff berth had been decided by something other than points and victories.
10 -- Western Conference teams that finished the 2001-02 season with 90 or more points, the most in the pre-shootout era. Eighth-place Vancouver had with 94 points, two more than Edmonton and four ahead of Dallas. In all, 17 teams were in the 90+ points club, and both conferences finished with just two points between their eighth- and ninth-place teams.
50 -- Years since the Toronto Maple Leafs capped one of the most determined runs to the playoffs. The Leafs won their last five games, including a 6-4 season-ending victory over Detroit, to finish with 65 points. The New York Rangers dropped six of their last seven, including a 4-2 loss to Montreal to end the season, to finish with 64 points -- and no playoff berth.
60 -- Seconds needed for Buffalo's Uwe Krupp to score an overtime goal that knocked the Pittsburgh Penguins out of the 1990 playoffs. The New York Islanders, who started the night sixth in the Patrick Division, climbed over Philadelphia with a 6-2 victory, then made the playoffs when Krupp's win gave the Sabres a 3-2 win, enabling the Isles to pass Pittsburgh. The consolation prize for the Penguins: They got to draft Jaromir Jagr with the No. 5 pick in the 1990 Entry Draft; the Islanders, picking sixth, took Scott Scissons.
78 -- Points earned by the eighth-place Edmonton Oilers in 1998-99, the last time a team made the playoffs with fewer points than games played. Both the Oilers and seventh-place San Jose Sharks (80 points) made the playoffs despite finishing under .500.
80 -- Approximate length, in feet, of the goal by Buffalo's Gerry Meehan with four seconds remaining in Philadelphia's season finale against the Sabres in 1971-72. Meehan's long shot somehow eluded Doug Favell, giving the Sabres a 3-2 victory and costing the Flyers a playoff spot. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh ended with identical 26-34-14 records, but the Penguins had 20 more goals to take home the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.
95 -- Points amassed by the Colorado Avalanche in 2006-07, leaving them one short of the eighth-place Calgary Flames in the Western Conference. The Avs hold the unwanted record for most points by a team that failed to make the playoffs.