NHL’s playoff picture is coming down to the wire

Jesse Schiff, Contributing Writer

With the NHL season coming to an end, every team is fighting for a playoff position.   There are four divisions this year: East, North, Central, and West.  Each team plays the same opponents throughout their 56 game season.  

This format is very similar in the playoffs.  Four teams from each division make the playoffs, and in the playoffs, the four teams from each division will play each other in a best of seven game series until the conference finals.  The winners of the North and West divisions will play in one conference final, and the winning teams from the East and Central will play in the other.  

The North Division is the first ever all-Canadian division.  The Toronto Maple Leafs currently sit at the top, with 61 points.  The Leafs are a powerhouse in the North division, bringing in star talent and pushing for a cup in the near future.  It is easy to understand their success, with stars like Auston Mathews and Mitch Marner who both lead the team with 55 points in 46 games played.  

Toronto also added new players to the squad before the deadline: notably ex-Columbus captain Nick Foilingo and veteran Riley Nash.  The Leafs also found red-hot goalie Jack Campbell, and more veteran presence in the locker room.  Goaltending seemed to be the Achilles’ heel of this Toronto team, but if they have found a franchise goalie in Campbell, the organization thinks it can raise the cup this year.

In the West, the Colorado Avalanche was Stanley cup favorite going into this season.  After a slow start, the team rose to second in the West division with a two game lead over the Las Vegas Golden Knights.  

All-stars Nathan Mackinnon and Mikko Rantannen have both reached the 50 point mark through 43 games.  The Avalanche young star defenseman, Cale Makar, continues to put his skill on display night in and night out.  

“The Avalanche are an offensive powerhouse with a young core of defenseman and are led by both Mackinnon and Landeskog with many assets that can all provide on both sides of the game,” said sophomore Troy Stephenson

Another defensemen with a breakout season has been Sam Girard.  He’s three points off of his total last season, in 29 fewer games.  The Avalanche are heading into the playoffs with a full head of steam, and the team looks to win the cup after last winning it in 2001. 
The East is a heated division with the three top teams only split by one point.  The New York Islanders are tied for first in the division with the Washington Capitals.  The Islanders have had to battle a tough loss of their captain, Anders Lee, who is now out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury.  

Matt Barzal is a player that New York will heavily rely on down the stretch of the season.  The Islanders are known for their lockdown defensive play, led by Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech.  Veteran Nick Leddy is having a great season with the team, leading defensemen in points and is tied for first in assists.  

The Russian goaltending tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin have been getting better and better and are top goalies in the league.  The trade deadline saw the Islanders pick up Kyle Palmeri and Travis Zajac.  The organization has gone all-in with these additions and hopes to make a deep run in the playoffs.  

The Central division is loaded with talented teams.  The Tampa Bay Lighting are the reigning Stanley Cup champions, and are favorites  to reproduce their success.  

Tampa Bay received depth scoring this season, with seven skaters scoring 10 goals.  Brayden Point leads the team in goals this season, and it seems that the Lightning are deadly from anywhere in the roster.  

Tampa Bay has been led by veterans Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos for years.  Both players know what it takes to make a playoff run and continue to be stars in the league.  The Tampa Bay lighting have arguably the best goaltender in the league in Andrei Vasilevskiy.  He has put up impressive numbers this season, with 27 wins and a .930 save percentage.  The Lightning have what it takes to go back to back this season, they will look for their veteran presence to lead the way.