There are five teams in the Eastern Conference that have yet to solidify their position in the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Lightning, after a record-breaking season, have clinched the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage throughout the postseason. The Washington Capitals and New York Islanders are battling over the Metropolitan Division title, while the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins are two points away from extending their league-leading postseason streak.
In the Atlantic Division, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs have each locked down a berth but could swap places in the remaining three games. That leaves, the Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens all vying for the two wild-card spots in the East.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets are not giving up the first wild-card spot without a fight. They bring a five-game winning streak into Tuesday night’s contest against the Bruins. With 94 points, they’re only three behind the Penguins for third place in the Metro and have a 95.5% chance of making the playoffs (all stats courtesy of Sportsclubstats.com).
After hosting the Bruins, the Blue Jackets’ last home game of the regular season, they face the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators in back-to-back contests to end the season on a tough note. Though they’re likely to make their third consecutive playoff appearance, it won’t get any easier for them, with a first-round matchup against the defending Cup champion Washington Capitals, unless they manage to move up the standings.
It’s hard not to cheer for the Hurricanes, who are vying for their first postseason berth since 2009 when they made it to the Conference Final only to be swept by the Penguins who went on to win the Cup. With 93 points, they are one behind the Blue Jackets and one ahead of the Montreal Canadiens who are just outside the playoff picture.
After a 3-1 loss to the Penguins on Sunday, the Hurricanes now have a 78% chance of making the postseason with three games remaining. They visit the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, host the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, before closing out their season at home against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.
With only one remaining opponent ahead of them in the standings, the Hurricanes could get it done and set up a meeting against the Lightning in the first round.
After spending most of the season in the playoff picture, the Canadiens picked the worst possible time to falter. They are now a point behind the Hurricanes for the final wild-card spot in the East and have a painful 26.6% chance of making the postseason.
And worse, they have a brutal schedule to close out the season with games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday before visiting the Capitals on Thursday and hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs in their final game of the 2018-19 regular season at the Bell Centre on Saturday. The Habs have a 1-4-3 record against those teams this season.
With a 21-point improvement in the standings over last season, the Canadiens had a much better campaign than in 2017-18. This may be the end of the road for them this season.