The 2020-21 NHL regular season is winding down as there are only a couple of weeks left. The season got extended by a week in the North Division because of the Vancouver Canucks COVID outbreak. It is a two-team race for the final spot. However, south of the border, this is where things are really heating up. In the East Division, the Boston Bruins need one point to clinch a playoff spot. While in the West Division, the St. Louis Blues hold all the cards. There then is the Central Division. It is a two-team race between Dallas and Nashville. And while there have been complaints about the baseball-style schedule, the NHL got exactly what it wanted out of the divisional schedule as the battle for the fourth and final spot in each division has come down to the final week. Let’s see who makes the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Which Team Gets The Final Spots in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs
As previously mentioned, the Bruins need one point to clinch a playoff spot. They will look to get that point when they face the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night. This will eliminate the New York Rangers from playoff contention in the East Division. The Blues are three points up on the Arizona Coyotes with three games in hand. St. Louis controls its own destiny. Arizona will need to get some help from St. Louis. Any combination of a Blues win or a Coyotes loss, the Blues will lock up the final spot in the West Division. While it is not over, it is really close.
So with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the races in the other two divisions.
Things are starting to shape themselves out in the North Division. The Montreal Canadiens have built themselves an eight-point lead over the Calgary Flames for the fourth and final spot in the division. This lead seems pretty insurmountable for the Flames to overcome. However, the Canadiens inconsistencies could rear their ugly heads in the final weeks of the season. The Flames had their chance to take the spot from the Canadiens, but not winning the final game of the three-game set last week hurt the Flames. Plus the Canadiens are starting to learn to overcome adversity. That is what separates the playoff teams from non-playoff teams.
Earlier in the season, the Canadiens might have gone away trailing 3-1 to the Winnipeg Jets on Friday, April 30th and 2-0 to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, May 1st. However, the Canadiens dug deep to rally in both games to earn themselves four points in the standings. The Canadiens are also getting help from the Flames, who lost to the Edmonton Oilers. Montreal does not have some of their best players in the lineup like Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron, Tomas Tatar, and Carey Price. But they are finding ways to win games.
They are being led by the young guys like Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield who got his first NHL goal and others. Plus it helps to have Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson on the team as well. When this team gets healthy they will be a dangerous team once the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. Just ask the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. Montreal has been playoff hockey team for a while now, if they get in the dance, which is more of a reality now, they can give the top seed a run for their money.
It is shame, Calgary could not get it going under Darryl Sutter. Another team with too many inconsistencies and just not built to play a playoff-style hockey game. The Flames got off to a good start under Darryl Sutter, but then faulted and never could get back on the rails. Then, all of a sudden they found their game and pulled within two points of getting that final playoff spot in the North Division. However, when it mattered most the top stars again are nowhere to be found. Again nothing is over until the final horn sounds, but the Flames percentages are not good enough to make the playoffs.
The most compelling race, as the season comes to an end, is the battle between the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators for the final spot in the Central Division. Nashville is in the driver’s seat being up three points after defeating the Stars 1-0 in overtime on Saturday, May 1st. Not to mention, the Stars have dropped five of eight games to the Predators, all in the extra session. That was the worst-case scenario for the Stars.
In a game the Stars needed to win, especially in regulation, their offence, which has been so good as of late, ran into the smothering defence of Nashville. Granted the Stars did get their chances, but Juuse Saros was up to the task. Even with the Stars holding a game in hand on the Predators, Dallas is going to need help from Nashville’s opponents. Mainly Columbus and Carolina. In addition, the Stars are going to have to win their games as well against Chicago, Tampa Bay, and Florida.
The Stars have been behind the eight ball all season. They started later than everyone else because of the COVID outbreak. Cramming all these games into an even condensed schedule wears on the players. Not to mention the injury bug. The Stars have been without Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop for the entire season. Dallas has survived on the play of Anton Khudobin and Jake Ottinger, but not having Seguin definitely hurts their offence for sure. Jason Robertson has helped no doubt, but the gas tank is running on empty for Dallas.
Everyone had pretty much written Nashville off after their sluggish start. During the season, the belief was John Hynes was not the right fit for this team. Staying along those lines, as the trade deadline was approaching, several big names were ready to move. All of a sudden the players started to respond. The big guns of Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene started scoring goals. Even the second line scoring was there as well. Nashville began looking like the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. Getting Ryan Ellis back in the lineup certainly was a boost for the team. They have been red hot down the stretch. At point one point, the Predators were 14-2 over a 16-game stretch. That propelled them into the fourth spot in the division.
This is the Predators spot to lose. Many thought the finalists from a year ago would get back. But right now, it does not look good. Look for Nashville to hang out and make the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Embed from Getty Images