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Stanley Cup Playoff Buzz: Blues can forge three-way tie for Central lead

Stars clinch berth; Hurricanes lead chase for East wild-card spots

by NHL.com @NHLdotcom

Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, a daily look at the races for the 2019 NHL postseason. There are four days left in the regular season and there are several berths still open, and jockeying for positioning in the standings, in each conference.

Here is a look at the NHL standings and everything else that could impact the playoff picture.

 

On tap

There are three games on Wednesday's schedule, one with playoff implications:

St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS): The Blues play against the Blackhawks with the chance to tie the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators for first place in the Central Division, an incredible feat given that they were last overall in the standings on Jan. 2. The Blues are two points back of the Jets and Predators with a game in hand. The Blackhawks were eliminated from playoff contention on Tuesday.

 

Thought of the day

It's all coming down to the wire for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. 

The Carolina Hurricanes (44-29-7), Columbus Blue Jackets (45-31-4) and Montreal Canadiens (43-29-8) are all within one point of each other, with the Hurricanes holding the first wild-card spot, one point ahead of the Blue Jackets and the Canadiens. Since Columbus holds the regulation and overtime wins tiebreaker over the Canadiens, the Blue Jackets sit in the second wild-card spot. 

Each team has two games remaining and is off on Wednesday, but get going again on Thursday, with the Canadiens at the Washington Capitals (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NBCSWA, RDS, TSN2) and the Hurricanes hosting the New Jersey Devils (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, FS-CR, MSG, NHL.TV). The Blue Jackets do not play until Friday when they visit the New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, MSG+, FS-O, NHL.TV). 

While many preseason predictions had the Blue Jackets making the Stanley Cup Playoffs, very few had either the Hurricanes or Canadiens playing past the end of the regular season. It's been fun to watch both teams prove the skeptics wrong. 

But the pressure here is clearly on the Blue Jackets. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen went for it at the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, keeping forward Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who each can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, while acquiring forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in separate trades with the Ottawa Senators.

So, while it would be a disappointment for either the Hurricanes or the Canadiens to miss the playoffs, it would be a near disaster for the Blue Jackets, who have yet to win a postseason series in franchise history. 

Columbus has two games left to get in, against the Rangers and on Saturday at the Senators (7 p.m. ET; SN360, CITY, TVAS2, FS-O, NHL.TV). If they win both, given that they hold the tiebreaker over the Canadiens, they're in, no matter what happens with the other two teams. 

For the Blue Jackets, fate is in their hands. It's go time. 

NHL.com Staff Writer Amalie Benjamin

 

If playoffs started Wednesday

Here is a look at the matchups for the first round as they stand entering games Wednesday:

Eastern Conference

(1A) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (WC2) Columbus Blue Jackets 

(1M) Washington Capitals vs. (WC1) Carolina Hurricanes  

(2A) Boston Bruins vs. (3A) Toronto Maple Leafs

(2M) New York Islanders vs. (3M) Pittsburgh Penguins   

Western Conference

(1P) Calgary Flames vs. (WC2) Colorado Avalanche

(1C) Winnipeg Jets vs. (WC1) Dallas Stars 

(2P) San Jose Sharks vs. (3P) Vegas Golden Knights

(2C) Nashville Predators vs. (3C) St. Louis Blues

 

About last night

Nine of the 10 games on the schedule Tuesday had playoff implications

Nashville Predators 3, Buffalo Sabres 2: The Predators moved into a tie for first place in the Central Division with the Winnipeg Jets, who lost 5-1 at the Minnesota Wild. Nashville and Winnipeg, each with two games remaining, is two points ahead of the St. Louis Blues, who have three games left. Nashville can finish no worse than third in the Central.

Video: Subban, Johansen pace Predators past Sabres, 3-2

Boston Bruins 6, Columbus Blue Jackets 2: The Blue Jackets failed to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and fell into a tie with the Montreal Canadiens for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. Columbus holds the tiebreaker with three more regulation/overtime wins. Each trails the Carolina Hurricanes for the first wild card by one point with two games to play. Boston clinched second place in the Atlantic Division and will have home-ice advantage for the Eastern Conference First Round against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Carolina Hurricanes 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 1: The Hurricanes took over the first wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference, leading the Blue Jackets and Canadiens by one point. They are two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for third in the Metropolitan Division. Each of the four teams has two games remaining. Toronto will finish third in the Atlantic Division and travel to Boston to open the Eastern Conference First Round against the Bruins.

Montreal Canadiens 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 2: The Canadiens, 6-1-1 in their past eight games, moved into a tie with the Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the playoffs from the East, one point behind the Hurricanes. Each team has two games remaining and Montreal trails the tiebreaker of regulation/overtime wins (44-41). Tampa Bay, which has clinched the Presidents' Trophy, has lost three of its past five games. The Lightning must win each of their final two games, each on the road, to tie the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most wins in a season in NHL history (62).

Detroit Red Wings 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 1: The Penguins failed to clinch a berth in the playoffs, losing to the Red Wings, who have been eliminated from playoff contention despite winning their past six games. Pittsburgh, third in the Atlantic Division, leads the Hurricanes by two points and is two points behind the second-place New York Islanders. Each of the three teams has two games remaining. 

Minnesota Wild 5, Winnipeg Jets 1: The Jets remained in first place in the Central Division despite losing for the fourth time in five games. Winnipeg is tied with the Nashville Predators in points but holds the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker (44-41). Each team has two games remaining. The St. Louis Blues are two points back and have three games remaining. The Wild were eliminated from playoff contention after the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday. It is the first time the Wild have missed the playoffs in seven seasons. 

Dallas Stars 6, Philadelphia Flyers 2: The Stars clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a victory against the eliminated Philadelphia Flyers. The Stars, who last made the postseason in 2016, hold the first wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference, three points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche. Each team has two games remaining. The Stars are three points behind the Blues for third place in the Central Division. The Blues have three games remaining.

Colorado Avalanche 6, Edmonton Oilers 2: The Avalanche mounted a furious rally to extend their lead for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference with a win against the eliminated Oilers. Colorado is four points ahead of the Arizona Coyotes, who lost 2-1 to the Los Angeles Kings, and three points behind the Stars, who hold the first wild card. Each of the three teams has two games remaining.

Los Angeles Kings 3, Arizona Coyotes 1: The Coyotes absorbed a painful home loss to the eliminated Kings, falling four points behind the Avalanche for the second wild card into the playoffs from the West. Arizona must win each of its final two games in regulation or overtime and have the Avalanche lose its remaining two games in regulation to have a chance to qualify for the postseason. The Coyotes would hold the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker (36-35) in that scenario.

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