Bubble teams in each conference are fighting for their playoff lives. Florida is the only team in the East behind the eight ball that seems to have a reasonable chance to make the playoffs. Out West, the second and third Pacific division spots, both Wild Cards, and three teams on the outside looking in are all battling for their postseason lives. These last three weeks will be fun.
Eastern Conference race (at the start of play on March 13)
Wild Card No. 1: Columbus Blue Jackets (79 points, 12 games left, next game March 15 @ PHI)
Wild Card No. 2: New Jersey Devils (78 points, 13 games left, next game March 14 @ VGK)
Ninth place: Florida Panthers (75 points, 15 games left, next game March 15 vs. BOS)
Western Conference race (at the start of play on March 13)
Wild Card No. 1: Dallas Stars (82 points, 13 games left, next game March 13 @ MTL)
Wild Card No. 2: Colorado Avalanche (80 points, 14 games left, next game March 13 @ MIN)
Ninth place: Anaheim Ducks (80 points, 12 games left, next game March 14 vs. VAN)
10th place: St. Louis Blues (79 points, 13 games left, next game March 15 vs. COL)
11th place: Calgary Flames (78 points, 12 games left, next game March 13 vs. EDM)
More competition in the West poses a tougher task for the teams on the bubble. The East not only has less teams, but more clubs that are hit or miss with every team in the hunt having a minus goal differential.
Two teams to watch are the Florida Panthers and the St. Louis Blues. Each of these teams have newfound energy after being inconsistent for most of the season. The Panthers are 8-1-1 in their last 10, while the Blues are winners in their last two after going 1-7-2 in their previous 10.
Things are heating up in South Beach
The Florida Panthers came into the month of February with a record of 20-22-6. Since then, they have gone 14-4-1, sitting as the lone formidable bubble team out East. This club has star power, a hall of fame net minder, and undeniable team chemistry.
Coach Bob Boughner said they are all in it and all screaming from the bench after big plays. It’s coming together at the right time, but some would say this was a playoff team all along.
This team has three players with at least 60 points (Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau). Throw in Evgenii Dadonov and they have four with at least 50 and Keith Yandle and Nick Bjugstadsix make six with at least 40.
All-Star talent and well-balanced scoring is the basis to all playoff teams. After a rocky start, the Panthers are in line to make some real noise down the stretch with the fire power they have on their roster.
Everyone has been waiting for when Roberto Luongo’s level of play is going to fall off a cliff. Well, the 38-year-old has not slowed down yet this year. He has gotten himself into the 400-win club (11th goalie in history), posted a 2.61 goals against average and a .926 save percentage in just 26 games played. Had his season not been cut short due to injury, we might have seen this bubble team be seen in the thick of things more so as it pertains to the playoff picture.
Nevertheless, do not sleep on the Panthers these last three weeks.
What type of Blues will they be singing in the end
It is difficult to figure out what to make of St. Louis as the end of the regular season draws near. After a 21-8-2 start, I was thinking about Lord Stanley. The Blues then proceeded to go 14-19-3 in their next 36.
After scoring just 10 goals in their previous eight games where they went 1-6-1, St. Louis has won their last two for the first time since Feb. 8 and 9. Trying to forget the past, the Blues sit just one point out of the final playoff spot with 13 games remaining.
When the Blues traded Paul Stastny at the deadline, many saw that as throwing in the towel. St. Louis currently sits 23rd in the league in scoring and a league-worst 15.1 percent on the power play.
However, coach Mike Yeo has reunited the top line of Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko and reconstructed the depth chart. They scored 11 goals in their previous two games against LA and Anaheim. Yeo knows there is still work to be done, but they are getting closer.
Jake Allen’s year started off with great promise as he posted a 17-8-1 record. Allen then recorded just two wins in his next 19 games played. It seems to be a confidence issue with him because when he is on, he is among the league’s best in terms of talent, but in the bottom half when he is off his game. St. Louis’ starting goaltender may have found what he did a year ago as he has recorded three straight solid starts, going 2-1-0 and allowing just five goals.
If the Blues have any shot to make it to the postseason and make noise when they get there, they must have a confident Jake Allen.
Any team at any time can get hot
Neither of these bubble teams expected to be in the position they currently sit. No one saw the Panthers playing meaningful games in late March and into April at the start of the season. No one saw the Blues trying to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs at the start of the year.
Regardless, both teams are trying to light the fire and get hot at the right time. No one cares how you start the year, only how you finish.
You may think neither of these teams deserve recognition, but their stories are interesting. At one point in time or another, every hockey follower had them out of the playoff race or an after thought. When Florida was under .500 in February, or when St. Louis lost their seventh in a row in February, we all thought these two were lost causes. Let’s let them decide.
Featured image from NHL.com
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