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NHL season-ending Saturday storylines

Three-way race for first in Central, Islanders try to hold second in Metropolitan

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / NHL.com Managing Editor

The NHL regular season ends Saturday with 15 games involving 30 of the 31 teams. The 16 teams that will be part of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs are set; the last postseason berth was determined Friday when the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the New York Rangers 3-2 in a shootout.

Though the playoff participants are known, there's still some intrigue. Any of three teams could finish first in the Central Division; the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche are jockeying for the first wild card in the Western Conference; and positioning for four of the eight teams in the Eastern Conference has yet to be determined. 

Here are 5 storylines to watch on the final day of the season:

 

Who's No. 1 in Central Division?

The Nashville Predators' season may have turned around in a little more than an hour Thursday. They entered the final five minutes of the third period in their home game against the Vancouver Canucks trailing 2-1 and were looking at falling to third in the Central because the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues were winning. But a goal by Nick Bonino with 4:20 remaining made it 2-2, and Ryan Johansen's pass hit a defender before sliding into the net with 21 seconds to play, giving the Predators a 3-2 win. When the Jets couldn't hold a two-goal lead and lost to the Avalanche 3-2 in overtime, the Predators (46-29-6) were in first place, one point ahead of the Jets and Blues (who defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 7-3). A Predators win at home against the Chicago Blackhawks (8 p.m. ET; FS-TN, NBCSCH, NHL.TV) will give Nashville the division title.

Video: The final power rankings of the regular season

 

Blues try to put pressure on rivals

The Blues (44-28-9), who've gone from last in the NHL standings on Jan. 2 to within a point of a division title, can put pressure on the Predators and Jets by winning at home in the afternoon against the Canucks (4 p.m. ET; NHLN, FS-MW, SNP, NHL.TV). A victory would give them a chance to finish first, depending on how the Predators and Jets fare, and it would cap a tremendous second-half surge. The Blues are 29-10-5 after starting 15-18-4. Much of the credit for the revival goes to 25-year-old rookie goalie Jordan Binnington, who is 23-5-1 in 29 starts since being called up in early January. 

 

Jets can't miss another chance

The Jets have struggled down the stretch, going 1-4-1 in their past six games, including two they lost after holding a two-goal lead. Because they hold the regulation/overtime wins (ROW) tiebreaker, the Jets can finish no worse than second with a win at the Arizona Coyotes (10 p.m. ET; NHLN, CITY, SN360, SNW, FS-A PLUS, NHL.TV), who were eliminated from the playoff race Thursday. That would guarantee Winnipeg home-ice advantage in the Western Conference First Round, either against Dallas or Colorado as the first wild card if it wins the division, or against third-place Nashville or St. Louis if it finishes second. The Stars (42-32-7) need one point at home against the Minnesota Wild (8 p.m. ET; FS-SW, FS-N, NHL.TV) to make the Avalanche (38-29-14, at the San Jose Sharks; 10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSCA+, ALT) the second wild card and put Colorado into a first-round series against the Calgary Flames.

Video: WPG@COL: Scheifele cleans up in front to open scoring

 

Islanders have eyes on home ice

The New York Islanders (47-27-7) will finish second in the Metropolitan Division if they get one point at the Washington Capitals (48-25-8) (7 p.m. ET; NBCSWA, MSG+, NHL.TV). That would give the Islanders home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference First Round. New York had hoped the game against Washington would be for first place, but Washington clinched Thursday by defeating the Montreal Canadiens 2-1. The Islanders can finish no lower than third in the division.

 

Ups and downs in the East

The Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes and Blue Jackets are in the playoffs, but none knows who its first-round opponent will be. The Penguins (44-26-11) could pass the Islanders for second in the Metropolitan Division with a regulation loss by New York and a home win against the Rangers (7 p.m. ET; ATTSN, MSG, NHL.TV). But a regulation loss to the Rangers and a win by the Hurricanes (45-29-7) at the Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m. ET; NBCSP, FS-CR, NHL.TV) would put the Hurricanes into third (because of the ROW tiebreaker) and drop the Penguins to the first wild card and a first-round series against the Capitals. Carolina has to keep an eye on the rearview mirror; the Hurricanes are one point ahead of the Blue Jackets (46-31-4), who hold the second wild card but have the ROW edge on the Hurricanes. A Carolina win means finishing no worse than the first wild card; a loss, and a win by Columbus against the Ottawa Senators (7 p.m. ET; TVAS2, SN360, CITY, FS-O, NHL.TV), would move the Blue Jackets into the first wild card and put the Hurricanes into the second and a first-round series against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning.

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