There's a fierce battle for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. Heading into play Thursday, the Boston Bruins held the second wild card with 82 points, followed by the New York Islanders, who had 80 points and a game in hand. They trailed the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were third in the Atlantic Division with 83 points and 10 games remaining.
If the standings remain this way, Toronto will make the playoffs for the second time since 2003-04, Boston will end a two-season absence, and New York will miss the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
The Bruins and Maple Leafs have an edge in the standings and in most statistical categories, but neither is safely in yet. The Islanders have been one of the NHL's best offensive teams since Doug Weight replaced Jack Capuano as coach on Jan. 17, and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were five behind the Bruins with 77 points, are one of several teams within striking distance if some fade down the stretch.
Let's break down the numbers behind each team's key advantage.
Toronto's edge: rookie-fueled scoring
Though the Maple Leafs have an edge on the Bruins and Islanders in several statistical categories, their primary advantage is their high-scoring offense, which includes a League-leading five players with at least 50 points, and Tyler Bozak has 49 points.
With a League-leading 106 of its 220 goals scored by rookies, Toronto is sixth in the League at 3.06 goals per game, a big jump from last season, when it was 28th at 2.34.
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The key has been the Maple Leafs' shooting percentage. Last season they were sixth with 30.7 shots per game but scored at a League-worst 7.6 percent. This season, Toronto is scoring on 9.5 percent of its shots, which ranks 10th. The most notable improvement is center Nazem Kadri, whose shooting percentage went from 6.5 percent last season to 14.2 percent this season (minimum 20 games played), which leads the Maple Leafs.
Toronto's improved offense also is reflected in its power-play percentage, which improved from 29th at 15.4 percent last season to second at 23.8 percent this season. Kadri leads the Maple Leafs with 11 power-play goals, which is up from four in 2015-16.
Boston edge: shot volume
The Bruins have a League-leading 3,532 shots attempts at 5-on-5 this season while allowing the second-fewest (2,860). The resulting NHL-best SAT of plus-672 in 73 games means Boston has had an extra 9.2 opportunities to score per game.
This is a big improvement from last season, when the Bruins ranked 15th with 3,605 shot attempts at 5-on-5, 22nd with 3,671 shot-attempts allowed, for an SAT of minus-66 that ranked 17th.
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This success primarily has been driven by the Bruins' top five players, all of whom rank in the League's top six in SAT. Forward Brad Marchand leads the NHL with an SAT of plus-409, followed by center Patrice Bergeron at plus-392 and defenseman Torey Krug with plus-362. Defenseman Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings is fourth at plus-303, followed by Bruins forward David Pastrnak at plus-297, and Bruins defenseman Colin Miller at plus-295.
New York edge: improved scoring
The Islanders are last among these three teams in most statistical categories but have been catching up since their coaching change.
They have scored at the same pace as their main rivals since Jan. 17. New York's 93 goals is tied with Toronto for fifth in the NHL, ahead of Boston, which is tied with the Nashville Predators for seventh with 92.
The Islanders' scoring has been led by center John Tavares, who is 13th in the NHL since Jan. 17 with 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in 30 games, and forwards Anders Lee and Andrew Ladd, who are tied for 19th with 12 goals each.
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The Islanders are 17-9-4 since Jan. 17, and their 38 points are tied for fourth, more than the Maple Leafs (35) and Bruins (31).
The Tampa Bay factor
With 77 points and 10 games remaining, the Lightning led a pack of several teams that could make a play for the second wild card if the teams ahead of them falter. For Tampa Bay, the key to securing a fourth consecutive playoff appearance is its defensive play.
The Lightning have allowed 51 goals since Feb. 1, which is tied for the fifth-fewest in the League. For the season, Tampa Bay has allowed 2.76 goals per game, which is 17th but ahead of the Maple Leafs (2.83) and the Islanders (3.00).
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The big question is whether the Lightning can remain that hard to score against down the stretch after trading forwards Brian Boyle (to the Maple Leafs) and Valtteri Filppula (to the Philadelphia Flyers), and goalie Ben Bishop (to the Kings) before the NHL Trade Deadline on March 1.