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As the end of the NHL regular season approaches, there’s still an array of teams that could earn the two wild-card berths in each conference.
Five teams in the Western Conference and four in the Eastern Conference have been jockeying for position over the past few weeks in order to set themselves up for the best results during the stretch run.
Although the reward of facing a division winner in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs doesn’t seem ideal, the goal for each franchise is to secure one of the two wild-card positions open to them and then worry about the threat ahead in the postseason.
The wild-card picture in both conferences could shift as early as Friday, when a handful of contending teams take to the ice, while a few upcoming head-to-head showdowns could go a long way in determining the final two playoff squads in each conference.
Updated Stanley Cup Odds
Tampa Bay +600 (bet $100 to win $600)
St. Louis +2,500
San Jose +2,800
Los Angeles +3,300
New Jersey +4,000
Philadelphia: 88 points
New Jersey: 82
New York Rangers: 72
New York Islanders: 72
With the way the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers are playing, it appears the reality in the East is one wild-card spot is left up for grabs.
Columbus, which is on a 10-game winning streak, is locked in a battle for third place in the Metropolitan Division with Philadelphia, which kept pace with a victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday.
Since Columbus is tied on points with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Flyers are one point behind, there’s a scenario in which Sidney Crosby and Co. drop into the first wild-card position and end up playing the Washington Capitals in the first round.
The fight for the second wild-card position is between the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers, while the Carolina Hurricanes have an outside chance of swooping in and earning a playoff berth.
The Panthers, who fell to the surging Blue Jackets on Thursday, have the opportunity to leap over the Devils on Saturday if they beat the Arizona Coyotes and the Devils fall to the Penguins Friday.
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Carolina plays a home-and-away series with the Ottawa Senators Saturday and Monday before facing a critical showdown with the Devils on the road Tuesday, which comes in the middle of a tough four-game stretch for New Jersey.
The Devils, who are a better road team, need to capitalize on their six remaining home games in order to secure a date with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.
If New Jersey fails to close out, the Panthers have the opportunity to earn a playoff position, but it will be difficult with three games left against the Boston Bruins, as well as showdowns with the Nashville Predators and Toronto Maple Leafs still on the schedule.
Carolina can make the wild-card race interesting if it beats the Devils and follows that up with a victory over the Panthers on April 2.
St. Louis: 85
The Western Conference wild-card race is more congested than the East’s, and it is expected to change by the day.
Three of the five teams in contention for the pair of playoff spots play Friday, as the Anaheim Ducks visit the Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues host the Vancouver Canucks and the Dallas Stars welcome the Bruins to town.
Results are vital for the Ducks, Blues and Stars since the Colorado Avalanche have back-to-back games with the Pacific Division-leading Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday and Monday.
If Vegas knocks off Colorado on both occasions, it could set the Avalanche down a slippery slope, as they have four more games against playoff teams after the home-and-away series with the expansion team.
The Ducks look like they are in the best position of any wild-card contender, as they have two games against struggling Canadian teams following the trip to Winnipeg before a four-game home stretch that features contests against the Avalanche and Stars.
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If Anaheim takes care of business on the road in its next three games, it should lock up a playoff spot since it boasts a 22-10-5 home record.
St. Louis and Dallas have difficult paths to wild-card berths because of their tough schedules to close out the regular season.
After visiting Vancouver on Friday, the Blues have to play the Blue Jackets, San Jose Sharks, Golden Knights and Capitals in a five-game stretch, with the only reprieve coming in the form of a road game in Arizona.
Dallas plays four of its next five games at home, but its 24-10-3 home mark is under threat since three of those contests come against playoff teams.
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What hurts the Stars the most is a brutal three-game road swing against San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles to end the regular season.
The Calgary Flames are on the outside looking in, as they have one less game remaining than the rest of the wild-card contenders and sit eight points back of a playoff position.
However, the Flames possess the third-best road record in the West at 20-12-6, and if they find a way to beat the Sharks and Kings, they could make a late surge, with four of their last five games at home and no contests on back-to-back days.
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