Let me remind you that a new playoff structure is in place this year that has the first two rounds essentially taking place within each division of each conference plus 2 wild card teams with the next best records regardless of what division they play in.
In the first round the 2nd and 3rd place teams will compete, while the division winners begin with a face off versus the wild card entries.
With that in mind here is how the first round series matchups are taking shape.
The Boston Bruins have already clinched the Atlantic Division and have been the hottest team in the league toward seasons end. It is looking like a return to the Stanley Cup Finals is a definite possibility.
Montreal and Tampa Bay would appear to have the 2nd and 3rd Atlantic slots well in hand. Home ice is yet to be determined as the two teams are currently within 2 points of one another with the Lightning having a game in hand.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have all but mathematically locked up the Metropolitan Division leading the 2nd place New York Rangers by double digit points and a game in hand.
My dark horse choice as the Eastern Conference champs; the New York Rangers are locked in a 2-3 battle too, leading the Philadelphia Flyers by just a pair of points but the team from the City of Brotherly Love can make up 4 points with 2 additional games remaining on their schedule.
The Detroit Red Wings currently lead the Columbus Blue Jackets by 2 points for the first wild card team. The team from Motown has a tough road ahead however having to face Boston, Montreal and Pittsburgh before ending the season with the St. Louis Blues on April 13.
No fewer than 4 teams are still in the wild card race. Washington, Toronto, New Jersey and Ottawa are stacked from 1 point to 4 points respectively, behind Columbus.
In the Western Conference 5 teams have already clinched playoff spots and it would appear the St. Louis Blues will capture the Central Division title barring a total collapse.
The 2 and 3 spots will go to the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks with the guys from the Mile High City probably having the inside track to home ice advantage.
The Blackhawks have to play without Patrick Kane for the rest of the season and may also be missing the services of Captain Jonathan Toews for a time after a vicious hit by the Pens Brooks Orpik put him out of commission.
The top spot in the Pacific Division is still up for grabs with the San Jose Sharks trailing the Anaheim Ducks by just 3 points. Anaheim does have a game in hand and the 2 teams meet one more time on April 9 in Anaheim’s Honda Center.
Whoever finishes second will have to contend with another California entry in the L.A. Kings. Hollywood’s finest skaters are always a tough matchup with Jonathan Quick in goal.
The Minnesota Wild should be one of the 2 wild cards in the West, while the 2nd wild card berth is still undecided with the Dallas Stars just one point in back of the Phoenix Coyotes.
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