John McCoy/Associated Press
If the standings hold all the way through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning will meet the Western Conference-leading Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final.
However, the Stanley Cup Playoffs rarely go according to form. Any one of the 16 teams that makes the playoffs has a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
The Los Angeles Kings have won two Stanley Cups since 2012, and the first of those came after they qualified for the playoffs in the Western Conference’s final wild-card slot. The Predators made last year’s Stanley Cup Final as the eighth seed before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The New Jersey Devils, the Kings’ opponents in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, have 82 points and are in eighth place in the Eastern Conference heading into Thursday’s action. They are hoping to hold on to that spot and that history can be repeated if they can hold off the charging Florida Panthers (81 points) for that spot in the postseason.
The Kings, on 87 points, are once again in that eighth spot in the Western Conference, and while they are hoping to stay inside the playoff line, they have a chance to move up to the No. 1 wild-card spot or the third spot in the Pacific Division.
The Anaheim Ducks have 88 points and are in third place in that division, while the Colorado Avalanche of the Central Division (88 points) are in the first wild-card spot.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues have won five of their past six games and have 85 points. The slumping Dallas Stars (84 points) are hoping to turn things around when they take the ice against the Boston Bruins Friday night at the American Airlines Center.
The league’s website provides a look at the NHL standings.
Gerry Broome/Associated Press
The Bruins are battered and bruised as they head down the regular season’s homestretch. They dropped a 2-1 overtime decision to the Blues Wednesday night, but the point they earned allowed them to clinch a playoff spots.
Boston has been playing without Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and David Backes, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and recent acquisition Rick Nash. High-scoring defenseman Torey Krug also sat out in the loss to the Blues because of an upper-body injury.
The Bruins (100 points) are in second place in the Atlantic Division and are still hoping to catch the Lightning (104 points) and hold off the third-place Toronto Maple Leafs (93 points).
The Washington Capitals are in first place in the Metropolitan Division with 91 points, and they are trying to hold off the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins (89 points) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (87 points) for the division title.
The Philadelphia Flyers are fourth in the Metropolitan with 86 points, and they are in the No. 1 wild-card spot ahead of the Devils. However, the Flyers still have a solid opportunity to move into one of their division’s automatic qualifying spots.
The Predators have the edge in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best record. Last year’s Stanley Cup finalists have 106 points and have taken charge in the Central Division over the second-place Winnipeg Jets (98 points). The Minnesota Wild are in third place with 90 points, and they are trying to hold off the Avalanche for the automatic qualifying spot in the postseason.
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights have led the Pacific Division the majority of the season. They have 99 points and will depend on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to help them to an unexpected division title and deep playoff run. Vegas has an eight-point lead over the second-place San Jose Sharks, while the Ducks are trying to hold off the Kings for third place in the division.
Predictions for Postseason Seedings
1. Tampa Bay Lightning*
2. Boston Bruins*
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
1. Washington Capitals
2. Columbus Blue Jackets
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
1. Philadelphia Flyers
2. Florida Panthers
1. Nashville Predators*
2. Winnipeg Jets
3. Colorado Avalanche
1. Vegas Golden Knights
2. San Jose Sharks
3. Anaheim Ducks
1. Minnesota Wild
2. Los Angeles Kings
*Clinched playoff position.