• By: Dave Gross

NHL’s Dance to the Playoffs isn’t Dull

Never let a great story go untold, and there are two considerable ones ramping up in the National Hockey League.

With exactly four weeks left in the regular season, the NHL has dandy cliffhangers being played out in both the Eastern and Western Conference. But while they’re both enticing, they’re somewhat different in form.

Let’s tackle the Eastern view first.

Unlike the Western Conference, the East is involved in a flat-out who’s-out-who’s-in scenario. Boston, Florida, the Rangers, Carolina and the Toronto Maple Leafs are in. After that certainty, things get dicey in the struggle for the final three post-season positions.

On any given late night – after viewing that evening’s results – you’re bound to sit there and think: “Yup, Philly’s got this.” Or: “Here come the Sabres outta’ nowhere.” Or: “The Wings have this thing turned around.”

There’s more going on here than your neighbourhood Costco on a Saturday morning.

The straight math tells us there are six viable candidates (we’re not including Pittsburgh here) for the three final playoff spots – the two wild cards and the final rung in the Metropolitan Division ladder. Philadelphia, Washington, Tampa, Detroit, the Islanders and Buffalo, although teetering, all are in the mix.

Meantime the story with the top-register teams is unsettled as well. The Rangers and Carolina in the Metro (The division, not the grocery store . . . that Costco reference must have you reeling. Or not) are scrapping for first overall; Boston and Florida ‘ditto’ (in the Atlantic) to see who gets the Leafs and who gets one of the wild cards in the opening round.

Out West, the details deviate.

Winnipeg, Dallas, Colorado, Vancouver, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Nashville(!) and Vegas sit pretty and poised. Of the eight – and oh, the irony – the only one that might, might, might stumble is Vegas . . . you remember, the organization that shot the biggest cannon at the trade deadline?

Given that the Golden Knights are just four points ahead in the running for the final wild card, anything can happen. But, but, but – we just can’t realistically see a collapse on the horizon.

Nope, the real story here is positioning.

Vancouver has the Pacific title in its maw but is in a race for top seed overall with Winnipeg, Dallas and Colorado.

And from there, here we go to the Central where all the cards are on the table. And what a table.

The Jets, Stars and Avalanche all have 91 points as of March 19th. All three are considered (wisely) among the brief list of Stanley Cup favourites. As has been pointed out by many, one of those top three will be out shopping for summer shorts (Costco?) after one measly round of play. Finishing atop the division isn’t just a luxury here, it’s a necessity.


THOUGHT, SEEN AND HEARD: Marc Methot, you recall, the former Senator, isn’t shy about his positioning on the team: “If I’m a player on this current roster, I’m not posting anything on social media this summer unless it’s training or skating. No post-season vacation stuff. Keep that crap off your feed and at least pretend to take the offseason seriously.” . . . No explanation needed . . . Not sure where all the bring-Erik-Karlsson-back-to-Ottawa jabber started but really, this doesn’t make much sense. Financially it’s a killer. Emotionally, this organization has moved on (or has to move on) . . . “Connor Mania:” While Ottawa has zip at stake down the stretch, the schedule looks enticing for the fan base as a double whack of Connor comes calling. Edmonton and McDavid are here Sunday night. Chicago and Bedard check in one week from Thursday . . . Ottawa has six home games remaining . . . The Senators are on track to have their best attendance numbers since 2016 when they averaged 18,085. This season the number currently sits at 17,428 . . . Slapped that exclamation mark on Nashville (above – main story) for a reason. No one’s made a bigger yet somehow quieter move into the playoff chase than the Preds . . . Since Feb. 17th, Nashville’s gone 11-2 . . . GM Barry Trotz’ lone addition at the deadline? Jason Zucker from Arizona for a sixth-round pick. All reports indicate Zucker’s been a steal . . . The Preds look good for that first wild card spot out West. Not sure if I’d want to face a team sporting Juuse Saros in goal. Saros hasn’t been brilliant this season but he’s capable of stealing a series . . . Former Owen Sound Plater (just had to get this one in here) Andrew Brunette should get some coach-of-the-year love.



Tuesday, March 19: Ottawa at Boston (7 pm)

Thursday, March 21: St. Louis at Ottawa (7 pm)

Saturday, March 23: Ottawa at New Jersey (7 pm)

Sunday, March 24: Edmonton at Ottawa (6 pm)

Wednesday, March 27: Ottawa at Buffalo (7 pm)


PHOTO: Aaron Doster,USA Today Sports