Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images

David McCrackenFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2017

Things are starting to heat up as the NHL regular season begins to wind down this week, with many teams still in the running for a postseason berth.

While some teams have all but secured their spot in the race for the Stanley Cup, there are others who need to win every game, secure every point and pray that other teams slip up down this final stretch. 

The Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers are cruising into the postseason as they stand head and shoulders above the rest of the Eastern Conference, even though the Rangers are still in a wild-card spot despite having 90 points on the season.

In the Western Conference, things aren’t as clear as their counterparts. The likes of St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets and Los Angeles Kings are still in the hunt for a wild-card berth, but time is running out. 

Western Conference Standings
Chicago 44 20 5 93
Minnesota 43 19 6 92
Nashville 34 24 11 79
St. Louis 36 27 5 77
Winnipeg 30 33 7 67
Dallas 27 32 10 64
Colorado 19 46 3 41
San Jose 42 20 7 91
Calgary 39 26 4 82
Anaheim 36 23 10 82
Edmonton 36 24 9 81
Los Angeles 33 29 7 73
Vancouver 28 32 9 65
Arizona 26 35 8 60
Edmonton 36 24 9 81
St. Louis 36 27 5 77
Los Angeles 33 29 7 73
Winnipeg 30 33 7 67
Vancouver 28 32 9 65
Dallas 27 32 10 64
NHL.com

 

Analysis

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 09: Logan Couture #39 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Washington Capitals at SAP Center on March 9, 2017 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)

Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images

The San Jose Sharks have all but secured first place in Pacific Division as they have 91 points, nine points ahead of Calgary Flames in second place. The Sharks have had a solid season and don’t look like slowing down anytime soon. 

With a convincing 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, led by a two-goal performance from Joe Pavelski, the Sharks are looking to ride this momentum into what appears to be a potential deep playoff run.

 

The Sharks have a deep team and while Pavelski is, arguably, their most important player, San Jose’s ability to have others step up in big moments is what makes this team so dangerous for postseason play. If Pavelski has a bad night, Brent Burns can easily take over, as can Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. 

Looking even further down their bench and into the second unit, Mikkel Boedker, Melker Karlsson, Joel Ward, Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney have each scored at least seven goals this season. There is a lot of firepower on this team that not many defenses around the NHL can defend against.

While there are other teams who can cause the Sharks headaches en route to the Stanley Cup, it wouldn’t shock anyone to see San Jose take home the franchise’s first Cup back to San Jose.

As long as they stay consistent and continue putting up points, the Sharks are going to be a lot to handle come playoff time.  

 

Eastern Conference Standings
Montreal 39 23 8 86
Ottawa 39 22 7 85
Boston 37 26 6 80
Tampa Bay 34 26 9 77
Toronto 31 23 14 76
Florida 30 27 11 71
Buffalo 28 30 12 68
Detroit 26 30 11 63
Washington 45 17 7 97
Pittsburgh 43 16 9 95
Columbus 44 18 6 94
N.Y. Rangers 44 24 2 90
N.Y. Islanders 33 25 11 77
Philadelphia 31 29 8 70
Carolina 28 27 12 68
New Jersey 25 31 12 62
N.Y. Rangers 44 24 2 90
N.Y. Islanders 33 25 11 77
Tampa Bay 34 26 9 77
Toronto 31 23 14 76
Florida 30 27 11 71
Philadelphia 31 29 8 70
NHL.com

 

Analysis  

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 09: Marcus Johansson #90 of the Washington Capitals skates against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on March 9, 2017 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)

Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images

The Sharks might be cruising in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference, but things are much different on the East Coast.

While there isn’t as much confusion as to who will make the playoffs in the East, there is still a lot left up in the air concerning playoff seeding and wild-card spots.

The Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins are still in contention for a top one or two seed in the Atlantic Division as Montreal is only ahead of Ottawa by one point in the standings and the Bruins are only six points out of first.

But hot on Boston’s heels are the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs with 77 and 76 points, respectively. Things won’t stay this way for long as the pressure will be too much for some franchises to carry.

One team who won’t sweat under the spotlight, however, is the Washington Capitals of the Metropolitan Division. They may only be two points ahead of Pittsburgh Penguins (95 points), but they are the most dangerous team in the NHL right now.

Coming fresh off a 4-2 win over the Minnesota Wild, Washington is now in the driver’s seat heading into postseason play. They should be able to secure the top seed, but even if the Penguins catch them, it’s hard to imagine that they won’t be involved in a deep Stanley Cup run, regardless of seeding.

Look for the Capitols to really dial up their play for the end of the regular season in preparation for the postseason.

It’s almost time, hockey fans—the playoffs are just around the corner.



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