As the National Hockey League has reached the halfway mark, the contenders and pretenders in the Eastern Conference are starting to emerge.
9 Playoff Contenders
Pittsburgh Penguins (98%), New York Rangers (98%), Tampa Bay Lightning (98%), New York Islanders (96%), Montreal Canadiens (95%), Washington Capitals (94%), Detroit Red Wings (88%), Florida Panthers (45%) Boston Bruins (40%).
In the Atlantic Division, it’s been a back and fourth battle all season for first place between Tampa Bay (58 pts), Montreal (55 pts) and Detroit (53 pts). Don’t expect that to change between Tampa Bay and Montreal. The Jimmy Howard injury backs Detroit into a corner and likely to derail their shots of a division crown but it remains hard to envision them falling out of a playoff spot.
Detroit’s chances of making the post-season currently stand at 88%.
While Boston (50 pts) has taken a step back, the chances of a team 10 or lower in the conference making a second half surge is unlikely, and Boston remains one of the nine playoff contenders, though, a fringe one this season.
Built to win with their goaltending and defensive play, the Florida Panthers (49 pts) currently ninth in the conference, have emerged as a playoff contender and don’t project to take a step back in the second half.
In the Metropolitan Division, it’s been a two-team race at the top with the New York Islanders (57 pts) and Pittsburgh (56 pts) but both teams have company. The surging Capitals (54 pts) and Rangers (52 pts) are within three and five points, respectively, of first place, and scouts in the past couple weeks have pegged both teams as being very difficult outs in the post-season, which has been the case for New York but not Washington in the past.
The Capitals have excellent size upfront to wear down teams in a seven game series and finally have an identity as a hockey club under Barry Trotz. After a slow start, Washington is a team that Pittsburgh and others should fear in the East.
And the same goes for the New York Rangers who again are going to be a top contender come April.
New York’s run to the finals last season gets written off by some as a fluke but this is a team that is built to win in the playoffs and has proven it with runs to the Eastern Conference Final, second round and Stanley Cup Final the last three seasons.
The Rangers +29 differential is tops in the Eastern Conference and what’s different with the Rangers this season is Rick Nash, who is finally playing at an MVP level.
Teams with 30% or lower chances of making playoffs:
Toronto Maple Leafs (28%)
Ottawa Senators (13%)
Philadelphia Flyers (3%)
Columbus Blue Jackets (0.4%)
New Jersey Devils (0.1%)
Carolina Hurricanes (0.0%)
Buffalo Sabres (0.0%)
*Percentages via sportsclubstats.com