Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Buzz, a daily look at the races for the 2019 NHL postseason. There are two days left in the regular season, and though several berths have been clinched, the races for the first place in the Central Division and the final berth in the Eastern Conference have yet to be decided.
Here is a look at the NHL standings and everything else that could impact the playoff picture.
Stanley Cup Playoff clinching scenarios
The Columbus Blue Jackets will clinch a playoff spot:
* If they defeat the New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, MSG+, FS-O, NHL.TV) in any fashion.
The Dallas Stars will will clinch the first wild card from the Western Conference and the Colorado Avalanche will clinch the second wild card from the Western Conference
* If Dallas earns at least one point against the Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSCH, FS-SW+, NHL.TV).
Two of the three games on the schedule Friday have playoff implications:
Columbus Blue Jackets at New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, MSG+, FS-O, NHL.TV): The Blue Jackets can earn the final berth in the Eastern Conference with any kind of win.They are tied with the Montreal Canadiens for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference but have one game in hand and hold the regulation/overtime wins (ROW) tiebreaker on the Canadiens.
Dallas Stars at Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET: NBCSCH, FS-SW+, NHL.TV): The Stars need one point to lock up the first wild card into the playoffs from the West, which would avoid a first-round series against the Calgary Flames. The Stars lead the Colorado Avalanche by one point, have a game in hand and hold the ROW tiebreaker.
Thought of the day
The Columbus Blue Jackets could be a case study for why the NHL Trade Deadline should be earlier in the season.
After acquiring forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in separate trades with the Ottawa Senators just ahead of the Feb. 25 deadline, it took nearly a month for the coaching staff to get everyone on the same page.
They went 5-7-1 in their first 13 games after the deadline. But since March 24 they're 5-1-0 and have outscored their opponents 26-10. They can clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a win Friday against the New York Rangers.
I talked to "NHL on NBC" analyst Keith Jones recently about where things changed for the Blue Jackets, and he said it was a question of chemistry and attitude.
"The players who had been bumped down and maybe felt like their roles were diminished (after the trades) have now found their footing," he said. "(Oliver) Bjorkstrand being one of those guys, (Josh) Anderson being another one. Now everyone is contributing to the team's success. I think it just took a little bit of time. Hockey would not be the great game it is if chemistry didn't matter. And it matters."
Bjorkstrand leads the NHL with seven goals since March 24, and Anderson has five points (three goals, two assists). The new guys have done well also; Duchene has six points (one goal, five assists), and Dzingel has four points (two goals, two assists).
It took longer than anticipated, but the new and the old Blue Jackets appear to have found something that works. It looks like it will be enough to extend their season.
Adam Kimelman, NHL.com deputy managing editor
If playoffs started Friday
Here is a look at the matchups for the first round as they stand entering games Friday:
(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
(1P) Calgary Flames vs. (WC2) Colorado Avalanche
(1C) Nashville Predators vs. (WC1) Dallas Stars
(2P) San Jose Sharks vs. (3P) Vegas Golden Knights
(2C) Winnipeg Jets vs. (3C) St. Louis Blues
About last night
Eight of the 12 games on the schedule Thursday had playoff implications:
Washington Capitals 2, Montreal Canadiens 1: The Capitals won the Metropolitan Division for the fourth straight season and put a dent in the Canadiens' playoff hopes. Montreal is even in points with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference, but Columbus has a game in hand and holds the regulation/overtime wins (ROW) tiebreaker. The Canadiens will be eliminated if the Blue Jackets defeat the New York Rangers in any fashion on Friday.
Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Detroit Red Wings 1: The Penguins clinched a playoff berth for the 13th straight season. They lead the Carolina Hurricanes by two points for third place in the Metropolitan Division and are two points behind the second-place New York Islanders.
New York Islanders 2, Florida Panthers 1 (SO): The Islanders moved closer to having home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference First Round. They are second in the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of the third-place Penguins. A win of any kind or an overtime/shootout loss against the Capitals on Saturday would lock up second place.
Carolina Hurricanes 3, New Jersey Devils 1: The Hurricanes clinched a berth in the playoffs for the first time since 2009. They hold the first wild card from the East, three points ahead of the Blue Jackets, who have two games remaining.
Video: Hurricanes clinch playoff spot with 3-1 win
Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Toronto Maple Leafs 1: The Lightning became the second team in NHL history to have 61 wins in a season. They will try to tie the 1995-96 Red Wings for most wins in a season (62), when they play at the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
Nashville Predators 3, Vancouver Canucks 2: The Predators took sole possession of first place in the Central Division, one point ahead of the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues. Each team has one game remaining.
St. Louis Blues 7, Philadelphia Flyers 3: The Blues moved into a tie for second place in the Central Division with the Winnipeg Jets; each is one point behind the first-place Predators. All three teams play their final regular-season games Saturday.
Colorado Avalanche 3, Winnipeg Jets 2 (OT): The Avalanche clinched a berth in the playoffs for the second straight season, eliminating the Arizona Coyotes in the process. The Avalanche are one point behind the Dallas Stars for the first wild card. Dallas has two games remaining, one more than Colorado. The Jets fell into a second-place tie with the Blues in the Central Division, one point behind the Predators.