NHL Playoff Picture 2018: Wild-Card Hunt and Updated Stanley Cup Odds

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 20: (L-R) Patrik Nemeth #12, Semyon Varlamov #1 and Colin Wilson #22 of the Colorado Avalanche celebrate a win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on March 20, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. The Avalanche defeated the Blackhawks 5-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

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

Via OddsShark

Tampa Bay +600 (bet $100 to win $600)

Vegas +600

Nashville +700

Pittsburgh +700

Boston +800

Winnipeg +1,100

Toronto +1,100

Washington +1,400

Anaheim +1,800

Dallas +2,200

St. Louis +2,500

Minnesota +2,800

San Jose +2,800

Philadelphia +2,800 

Calgary +3,300

Los Angeles +3,300

New Jersey +4,000

Columbus +5,000

Colorado +6,600

Florida +7,500

Wild-Card Race

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia: 88 points

New Jersey: 82

Florida: 81 

Carolina: 75

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.

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 17: Darnell Nurse #25 of the Edmonton Oilers defends against Nick Bjugstad #27 of the Florida Panthers during first period action at the BB&T Center on March 17, 2018 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

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.

Western Conference

Colorado: 88

Anaheim: 88

St. Louis: 85

Dallas: 84

Calgary: 80

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.

ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 14: Cam Fowler #4 and Jason Chimera #20 celebrate a goal by Brandon Montour #26 of the Anaheim Ducks during the first period of a game at Honda Center on March 14, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

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.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 20: Dan Hamhuis #2 of the Dallas Stars takes a shot on goal against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on March 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Rob Carr/Getty Images

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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