Early NHL Playoff Preview

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Now that the NHL trade deadline is behind us, it’s time to look forward to the playoffs. Each team has around 15 regular-season games left to go. At press time, we know only one thing for sure: the Colorado Avalanche won’t be in the postseason. But there’s a handful of teams who have separated themselves from the pack – and two in particular who might end up facing each other in a historic Stanley Cup Final.
 

Eastern Conference

The Washington Capitals have performed better than anyone else this season. They’ve got the best record in the league, (44-14-7 after 65 games) the best goal differential at plus-73, and they’re +475 favorites to finally win their first-ever Stanley Cup. Adding All-Star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (11 goals, 33 assists) at the deadline just makes Washington that much more dangerous.

The Caps still have to escape the very tough Metropolitan Division before reaching the Final. The Pittsburgh Penguins (+1000), Columbus Blue Jackets (+1200) and New York Rangers (+1400) are all behind Washington in the Metro standings, but any of them would be in first place if they were in the Atlantic instead. That division is wide open; the Montreal Canadiens (+1100) are on top at 38-21-8 with a plus-19 goal differential, and while they’ve won six straight games for new head coach Claude Julien, nothing has been settled just yet.
 

Western Conference

The West has been the weaker of the two conferences by a fair margin, but it also features the most compelling playoff race. The Minnesota Wild (42-16-6) are still in first place, and they’ve played very good hockey this season with a plus-62 goal differential; however, the Chicago Blackhawks (42-18-5, plus-34) have won seven straight games to pull within a point of Minnesota in the Central Division. That winning streak has already pushed Chicago (+500) ahead of the Wild (+600) on the Stanley Cup futures market.

Can anyone from the Pacific compete with these two powerhouses? Maybe the San Jose Sharks (39-19-7). They’ve got the third-best goal differential in the West at plus-28, and they’re +1200 to hoist the Cup for the first time, with a new two-way winger to help them out in former Vancouver Canucks mainstay Jannik Hansen (13 points in 28 games). Otherwise, it looks like the Edmonton Oilers (35-23-8, plus-14) might be the best the Pacific has to offer at +2200. Yes, the Oilers are back. All those high draft picks are paying off – none more so than centre Connor McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick from 2015. McDavid leads the Art Ross race with 22 goals and 52 assists. The last Oiler to lead the league in points? Some guy named Gretzky.

 

*Odds as of March 10, 2017