East and North Division Playoff Races

As+the+Maple+Leafs+separate+themselves+in+the+Canadian+division%2C+there+is+a+tight+race+brewing+between+Winnipeg+and+Edmonton+for+home+ice+in+the+first+round+of+the+playoffs.+%28Courtesy+of+Twitter%29

As the Maple Leafs separate themselves in the Canadian division, there is a tight race brewing between Winnipeg and Edmonton for home ice in the first round of the playoffs. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Chris Hennessy, Staff Writer

After last week’s breakdown of the Central and West divisions, it is time to look into the East and North divisions and two of the more interesting playoff races in the league. 

Starting up north, the Toronto Maple Leafs are running away with the division championship with an eight-point lead with eight games to play. The Winnipeg Jets sit at 57 points, one point ahead of the Edmonton Oilers, in a race for home-ice advantage in the first round. Below them currently are the Montreal Canadiens with 51 points in 47 games. The Vancouver Canucks have five games in hand on the Habs and sit five games back. Between them sits Calgary at 45 points. The only team out of the race is Ottawa. 

Winnipeg and Edmonton will undoubtedly play a great first-round series. Whether game one is in Manitoba or Alberta, Connor McDavid in the playoffs again will be must-watch TV. For the longest time, it looked like Montreal was going to run away with the fourth spot. But then COVID-19 hit the locker room, and upon the Canadiens’ return, Brendan Gallagher and Carey Price were hurt. They have slipped of late, 4-6-0 in their last 10 games, and need to get healthy immediately to hold onto their spot. 

The Calgary Flames traded Sam Bennett and just lost Noah Hanifin to injury for the remainder of the season. It would be a great story for them to get into the playoffs, but it seems very unlikely. However, Vancouver will make things interesting. The Canucks are healthy now after their lengthy COVID-19 pause and have won three of their first four games since the return. If they can get hot, they play Calgary four times in a short window at the end of their season and would be able to make a move by sweeping that series. 

In the East, there are only five teams in contention for the four playoff spots, and right now, the New York Rangers sit on the outside looking in. The Philadelphia Flyers took a dramatic fall from grace this season and currently sit nine points out of the playoffs, a seemingly insurmountable hill. The Boston Bruins hold that fourth spot with 60 points and two games in hand on the Rangers, who sit at 56 points after two straight wins against the Buffalo Sabres and the Flyers. The Pittsburgh Penguins have taken advantage of their backlogged schedule to vault the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals into first place with 67 points. However, both the Islanders and Caps have a game in hand. Tuesday’s game between the Islanders and Washington is the biggest game of the season for both squads. The Capitals have won the last two matchups between the two teams. 

In the north, I see Toronto taking on Montreal. The Canucks have too many games in too short a period of time to really lace together a winning streak, and the Habs will be back in the final spot. The Winnipeg and Edmonton series will be hosted by the Jets. They have the one-point advantage as of right now and are playing well.

In the east, I do not see the Blueshirts making it into the tournament. They needed to beat the Islanders last week, and did not, which has put them behind the eight ball. My matchups would be Washington and Boston in the 1-4 matchup and Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders in the 2-3 tilt. That is the worst-case scenario for New York, who is 2-4-2 against the Peguins this season.

These would be four fantastic matchups with intriguing storylines in the North and East divisions. Now it is time to sit back and watch the final ten games of the season play out before we get to the playoffs.