The Vegas Golden Knights have been hailed as the ideal expansion franchise, making it to the Stanley Cup Final their first season in 2017-18 and reaching the playoffs every year since.
But with a little more than a week left in the season, the Golden Knights are in a fight to keep that streak alive.
They can reach the postseason by grabbing third place in the Pacific Division or securing a wild-card spot. Even with a big win against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night, the Golden Knights are three points back in the Pacific Division race and two points back in the wild-card race. The wild-card teams have a game in hand.
The Golden Knights (89 points) were touted for their November trade for No. 1 center Jack Eichel, who did not play until February as he recovered from neck surgery. The team, though, has been hit hard by injuries, which helped their cap situation but not their play on the ice.
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Eichel is trying to make the playoffs for the first time in his career after arriving from the Buffalo Sabers. Vegas is healthy again and will need to go on a run in its final four games in order for Eichel to make it.
The NHL regular season, for all intents and purposes, ends on April 29, with a Seattle Kraken-Winnipeg Jets makeup game on May 1 basically meaningless.
Here is some of what is still up in the air:
Who could get the West’s final spots?
The Los Angeles Kings (92 points) hold the third spot in Pacific and still have a chance to claim second place and home-ice advantage in the first round. Though they haven’t played as well with defenseman Drew Doughty shut down for the season, they have won their last two games. In addition to Vegas, the Kings are being pursued by the longshot Vancouver Canucks (87), who are on an eight-game point streak and have five games left. The Kings have four games left against teams currently out of the playoff picture, but their season finale is against Vancouver.
The wild card spots are held by the Nashville Predators (93 points) and Dallas Stars (91 points). The Predators have a tough schedule before finishing against the Arizona Coyotes. The Stars have lost two in a row but play their final four games against teams currently out of playoff position. The key game in the wild-card race is Vegas at Dallas on April 26.
Who will win the Metropolitan Division title?
The Hurricanes and Rangers are tied in points and Carolina has a slight edge in regulation wins, the first tiebreaker. The Hurricanes will learn the status of injured goalie Frederik Andersen next week and the Rangers have recorded three consecutive shutouts. The teams’ April 26 game in New York is the likely decider.
Who gets home-ice advantage between the Wild and Blues?
That will be important because both teams are playing extremely well and could use an edge in their first-round series. They’re tied in points, but Minnesota has a game in hand. St. Louis won their last matchup in overtime, but they won’t face other again in the regular season. The Wild play five of their final six games at home, with four of those against playoff-positioned teams. The Blues, who lead in regulation wins, are on the road for four of their final five, but just one is against a currently playoff-positioned team.
Who wins first overall?
Colorado has lost two in a row after a nine-game winning streak ended Monday, allowing the Florida Panthers (11-game streak) to catch the Avalanche in the Presidents’ Trophy race. Florida has a game in hand and Colorado has a tougher schedule.
Who avoids a first-round matchup against Florida?
The Panthers should wrap up the Eastern Conference title soon and would face the second wild-card team. There are three points between the fifth-place Lightning (100) and eighth-place Washington Capitals (97). The Boston Bruins (99) and Pittsburgh Penguins (97) play each other Thursday night. The Lightning haven’t played like two-time defending Stanley Cup champions recently but would have to really drop off to finish eighth. Boston is missing David Pastrnak and Hampus Lindholm but has won its last two. The Penguins are without No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry, but Evgeni Malkin is eligible to return on April 23 from his four-game suspension. The Capitals have been scoring lots of goals recently, and Alex Ovechkin just tied Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy’s record with his ninth 50-goal season. The Bruins have the most regulation wins and the Capitals have the fewest regulation-overtime wins, the second tiebreaker.
Who gets last overall?
The last-place team has an 18.5% to win the May 10 draft lottery and take Kingston (Ontario) center Shane Wright first overall. The Canadiens (51 points) and Coyotes (50) are slumping again after playing decent hockey. With Montreal goalie Carey Price back, Arizona has the better chance to finish last.
Who will win MVP?
This will be tight. Edmonton’s Connor McDavid won last year when he dominated the shortened season and teammate Leon Draisaitl won in 2020 by winning the scoring title while McDavid was hurt. Both are having strong seasons and could split the vote. Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau has a shot to win the scoring title and the Presidents’ Trophy. Toronto’s Auston Matthews, the NHL’s goal leader, is out with a minor injury. Johnny Gaudreau has topped 100 points and helped Calgary go from missing the playoffs to Pacific Division leader. There has even been talk of support for Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin, who leads the league in goals-saved above expected, according to moneypuck.com, and fits the Hart Trophy’s definition of most valuable to his team.
Who will win the Norris Trophy?
It’s between Nashville’s Roman Josi and Colorado’s Cale Makar, who have set franchise records for points in a season by a defenseman. Josi leads in points (89-84) and Makar leads in goals (27-20), including six game-winners. Josi, who won the award in 2020, and Makar will face each other on April 28.
Who will win the Vezina Trophy?
Shesterkin seems to have the goaltending award wrapped up.
Who will win the Calder Trophy?
Toronto’s Michael Bunting has the rookie points lead, but will he lose votes because he’s 26? Anaheim’s Trevor Zegras has shown plenty of creativity. Detroit’s Moritz Seider, who just turned 21, is displaying plenty of maturity for a young defenseman. That could send votes his way.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL standings, schedule lookahead: Who wins playoff, award races?