Eastern Conference Wild Card Race

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

A hectic last two weeks is definitely in our future for the Eastern Conference Wild Card Race. The race is down to four teams currently.

Panthers(87 pts – 78GP)
Islanders(87 pts – 78GP)
Penguins(86 pts – 78GP)
Sabres(81 pts – 76GP)


Pointing out the obvious, the Islanders held the games played lead, which is foreboding for their playoff future. Can they hold onto their lead? Let’s start by looking at who could spoil their hopes.

Buffalo Sabres

Things are looking bleak after a deflating loss from the Panthers last night, with a young Sabres lineup fighting for their playoff birth after an up-and-down season. The games played are definitely in their favor as they have played the least games of the bunch. Unfortunately, they have two back-to-backs next week to close the season, and they have to play the Hurricanes, Devils, and Rangers. However, things could be on their side as those teams look to rest some important players for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For the Sabres, this season was their next step toward the team being a perennial competitive playoff contender. Their young star power is starting to shine, but can they give the Sabres a 6-1 finish to the season? It’s a tall task, but I’m rooting for the Sabres and their TV numbers to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Florida Panthers

Now for the regular season letdown of the bunch. The Florida Panthers had quite the offseason of changes, with Weegar and Huberdeau headed to CGY for Matthew Tkachuk, Claude Giroux moving on to Ottawa, and Ben Chiarot heading to Detroit. There were lots of significant changes to the roster that had expectations all over the place.

I was in the group who believed Florida would regress but push for a Wild Card spot. A couple of weeks ago, things weren’t looking great. The last week has gotten the Panthers on a four game win streak following the comments from Keith Tkachuk on the sheepish play of the Panthers players.

With remaining games against Ottawa, Washington, Toronto, and Carolina, it is likely that the Panthers have the best opportunity to play spoiler for the Islanders as they remain hot down the stretch. The Panthers ultimately just need to keep pace with the Islanders and win their game in hand to overtake them. A big key for them is hoping the Leafs and Hurricanes start to rest players in their matchups.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Oh Pittsburgh, another year of Crosby, Malkin, and Letang aging. Yet here we are again, watching the veteran-laden Penguins push to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs once again. The positive for the Pens is their schedule being, in my opinion, the easiest. Pittsburgh will face the Wild, Red Wings, Blackhawks, and Blue Jackets throughout the next week. Odds are they’ll be able to pick up some points in the standings.

Ultimately Pittsburgh needs to be flawless to hold onto their playoff spot, as they are now out of the playoffs and don’t have any games in hand on those above them. It will be some tough sledding that could end up with neither Ovechkin nor Crosby in the postseason.

New York Islanders

Out of the four teams here, the Islanders are the team no one wants to play in the first round. They won’t wow you offensively, but their team’s defensive structure slows down the game and eliminates many of their opponents’ advantages.

It feels like the Islanders have been slowly circling the drain as the teams behind them close in on their Wild Card lead. The biggest hurdle remaining is tomorrow against the Lightning, then they face the Flyers, Capitals, and Canadiens. There is a good chance they finish the season 3-1, putting them in a prime position to weather the storm.

Prediction

Out:

Out of the four teams with a chance, the Buffalo Sabers are the easiest to rule out. Buffalo is a great story with their young talent, and they have games in hand on all others. The problem is they need to be 6-1, and I feel like 3-3 is more likely.

Just missing is the New York Islanders. They play great defensive “low event” hockey, which helps them win close games, but they just don’t have the scoring to win a playoff race.

In:

My lock for the playoffs? The Florida Panthers. Florida is on a roll right now and in the drivers seat for this race. They do play a couple of tough matchups, but there is likely to be some load management by their opponents. Florida’s lineup is extremely talented, and that should carry them through.

Now obviously, the Pittsburgh Penguins squeak in. They have the easiest schedule remaining, the most veteran experience, and are loaded with on-ice talent. It’s always possible they can’t muster enough wins, but the Penguins are hard to bet against.

Stanley Cup Aspirations Cue’ the Duck Boats Pod

The boys are back after a long break but have plenty to talk about as the playoffs are in full swing. We go series by series, looking at how teams have fared so far and who will come out on top. Thanks for listening! Please rate and review our show on your favorite listening platform. Check out our partner's website at www.insidetherink.com for all your latest hockey news.
  1. Stanley Cup Aspirations
  2. The Final Countdown
  3. Here Come the Playoffs
  4. Home Stretch
  5. Kevy Cooks

Connor Green

Managing Editor | Inside the Rink

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Updates on Edmonton Oilers Ahead of Game 5

It’s Not Over Until It’s Over The Edmonton Oilers practiced today in Sunrise, Florida, ahead of a pivotal Game 5 tomorrow night at 8:00 PM ET (6:00 PM MT). They are currently trailing 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final after a dominant 8-1 victory over Florida on Saturday night. In that game, Connor McDavid broke […]

Read More

ECHL: Savannah Ghost Pirates Announce New Affiliation

Since the announcement of the new ECHL teams joining the league, it has been speculated that the Savannah Ghost Pirates would lose their affiliation with the Vegas Golden Knights. Why? One of the teams announced making their debut this season is the Tahoe Knight Monsters, a team less than eight hours by car and two […]

Read More
Gabriel Fornier takes a hit from a Rochester Americans player to make a play

Tampa Bay Lightning Re-Sign Gabriel Fortier

The Tampa Bay Lightning have re-signed forward Gabriel Fortier to a one-year, two-way contract. Fortier was the Lightning’s 59th pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Fortier will enter his sixth season with the organization, with most of his time spent with the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, Syracuse Crunch. During the 2023-24 season, Fortier appeared in […]

Read More