2017 NHL Playoff Predictions: Eastern Conference

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As the season has entered its final month we take a look at the situation surrounding the teams sitting in playoff positions as well as the teams hoping to make a last push to get in. In this first edition we’ll look at the Eastern Conference.

2017 NHL Playoff Predictions: Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Montreal Canadiens

Current position: First in Atlantic Division, fifth in Eastern Conference

Games remaining: 12 – seven home, five on the road.

Crucial match-ups: Ottawa three times.

The Canadiens position in the standings will come down to three games against Ottawa in a weeks span starting Saturday. The Senators are currently just one point behind the leading Canadiens who have been in that position practically all season. Beyond the Sens, the Bruins are also threatening, sitting just four points behind the division-leading Habs. There’s not much the Canadiens can do to move up in the conference standings, with the Rangers four points ahead being their biggest hope. It would be a disappointment in Quebec to see their division title slip away after sitting on it comfortably most of the season.

Prediction: Two of the three games against Ottawa will be at the Bell Centre. The Sens won both of the meetings so far this season, though one was in a shootout. It will come down to the wire, but if the Canadiens can come out of their Ottawa series in one piece, they have an easier schedule than the Sens. Expect the Canadiens to keep their division title.

Ottawa Senators

Current position: second in Atlantic Division

Games remaining: 13 – four home, nine on the road.

Crucial match-ups: Canadiens three times, Bruins twice.

Few would have expected the Senators to be fighting for a division title if you’d asked a couple of months ago, yet here they are just one point away. They’re one point behind the Canadiens with one game in hand, and three games ahead of the Bruins with two games in hand. The Sens should be secure in their top three position in the division as the Maple Leafs, currently sitting on the final wild card spot, are seven points behind.

Prediction: While their schedule isn’t the easiest in the world, the Sens should be good, especially if they at least split their two games against the Bruins. Even if they lose both, their games in hand should be enough to give them home ice, likely against the Bruins in the first round.

Boston Bruins

Current position: third in Atlantic Division

Games remaining: 11 – eight home, three on the road.

Crucial match-ups: Ottawa twice and Toronto once.

The Bruins have been had a pretty solid season so far. The playoffs are close and the team has played well recently. The top two spots in the Atlantic are still a possibility, but so is a drop into a wild card spot, or maybe even out of the playoffs altogether. The Maple Leafs, currently in the last wild card spot, and Lightning, currently out of playoffs, are four and five points behind, respectively.

Prediction: If the Sens had a tough schedule on the home stretch the Bruins might actually beat them. With several games against elite teams or teams still dreaming of playing in late April, the Bruins have their work cut out for them. They have the advantage of home ice, but catching the Sens will be tough and a third place finish seems the most likely final spot.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Current position: Second wild card spot, fourth in Atlantic Divison

Games remaining: 13 – eight home, five on the road.

Crucial match-ups: Bruins and Lightning.

The Maple Leafs are inching closer and closer to their first playoffs berth since 2013. They’re currently just one point ahead of the Lightning, though they have one game in hand. They are four points up on the Bruins in third place in the Atlantic Division and catching them isn’t impossible, though not likely.

Prediction: The Leafs might have to wait another year for their return to the playoffs. With the Lightning and their deeper squad inching closer and closer, and playing well right now, the Leafs margin for error has become razor thin and the Leafs will likely have to sit these playoffs out.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Current position: One point out of last wild card spot in Eastern Conference.

Games remaining: 12 – seven home, five on the road.

Crucial match-ups: Bruins twice and Maple Leafs.

The Lightning have been playing in an unusual position most of the year. Used to sitting in a playoff spot, this season has been a strange one and the Bolts have had to fight their way back into the playoff picture. They’re almost there now and they’ve done it without captain Steven Stamkos‘ services the last four months. They’re one point behind the Maple Leafs and five behind Boston for third in the Atlantic Division.

Prediction: With the Lightning’s better lineup, as well as a slightly easier schedule, the Lightning have every opportunity to get the extra points needed to become a playoff team. Expect them to just make it inside and take the last wild card spot to open the playoffs with a very interesting date with the Metropolitan Division.

Metropolitan Division

Washington Capitals

Current position: First in Eastern Conference.

Remaining games: 12 – five at home, seven on the road.

Crucial match-ups. Blue Jackets twice and Rangers.

The Capitals have been one of the league’s hottest teams for a while now. Recently they’ve hit a bit of a slump, however, and have only won four of their last ten. That has put, what once seemed like, a secure division title into jeopardy. Alex Ovechkin has seemed a shadow of himself recently with just 1 goal in his last 12 games. They’re currently 2 points ahead of the Jackets, but the Jackets have a game in hand. With two games remaining against them, those two games may decide the Metropolitan Division champion.

Prediction: The Caps will find their feet during the last stretch. At least well enough to stave of the Jackets and Penguins.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Current position: Second in Metropolitan Division.

Remaining games: 13 – five at home, eight on the road.

Crucial match-ups: Capitals twice and Penguins.

The Blue Jackets have been riding their historical hot streak to a safe playoff berth, but their position is far from safe. They’re right behind the Capitals for first in the division and the conference, but the Penguins are also tight on their heels. There is little margin for error. The game against Pittsburgh will be crucial and Columbus’ superior ROW might just make the difference for them.

Prediction: The biggest issue for the Jackets is that the team chasing them also happens to be the second hottest team in the league since January.  The Jackets have had a decent hold on the Penguins this season though, going 2-0-1 in their three games so far. If they can keep that up for one more game, second place in the division should be theirs.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Current position: Third in Metropolitan Division.

Games remaining: 13 – seven home, six on the road.

Crucial match-ups: Rangers twice and Jackets.

The Penguins have been getting hot at just the right time. They’ve been at or near the top of the division most of the season and are looking like a team that can go deep in the playoffs. Right now the Penguins are looking at an opening round on the road, however. The team chasing them, the Rangers, are five points behind and right now the Rangers would have the tie-breaker, should it come down to that.

Prediction: The Penguins are hot and have the opportunity to rise all the way to first in the division. It won’t be easy, however, and they’re at a disadvantage because of their lower number of regulation and overtime wins. So third seed seems the most likely spot for them right now.

New York Rangers

Current position: First wild card spot, fourth in Metropolitan Division.

Games remaining: 12 – seven home, five on the road.

Crucial match-ups: Penguins and Capitals.

The Rangers are a bit in no-man’s land. They are five points up on the the Penguins for third in the division, a tough but not completely insurmountable lead to catch. Their closest threat for the second wild card spot is the Maple Leafs who are 12 points behind. So the Rangers are guaranteed to fall no lower than they are now. That might not be such a bad thing either. In their current position the Rangers would likely be moved to the Atlantic bracket and what could be an easier opening two rounds compared to having to go through the Metropolitan Division with some of the league’s leading teams.

Prediction: While not impossible, it is unlikely that the Rangers will catch the Penguins. Especially considering the way the Pens have been playing lately. They also won’t move down, so expect the Rangers to stay where they are.

New York Islanders

Current position: One point out of last wild card spot, fifth in Metropolitan Divison

Games remaining: 12 – five home, seven on the road.

Crucial games: Every one.

The Islanders could be in the midst of one of the most impressive comebacks seen in a while. Thought to be down-and-out by almost everyone, they’ve fought and battled their way right into the midst of the playoff race. Now they sit just one point behind the Maple Leafs for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. They also currently own the tie-breaker with the Leafs, should it come down to that. Their problem is that hot on their heels are the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning are also just one point out of the wild card spot.

Prediction: The Islanders deserve much respect for the way they’ve fought themselves back into contention, but their efforts will likely fall just short. The race is tight and right now with just 12 games remaining the Lightning are the hotter, more skilled team. The Isles may have to settle with a slightly higher draft pick this year.

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