The playoffs are a month away, and we look at who is in, who is out, and who isn’t even close.

The Hunt for April

With around 15 games remaining in the NHL regular season, it’s time to check in and see where every team in the league sits as they look to get into the greatest tournament in sports. We’ll start with the Eastern Conference.

Try Again In A Few Years

Carolina Hurricanes (62 pts, 19 GR): This is a team loaded with young talent. Victor Rask, Sebastian Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen will all one day be great compliments to players like Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal. Defensively, Justin Faulk leads the way but they have even more raw talent there. Noah Hanifin and Jaccob Slavin have a very high ceiling at the NHL level, but one of them could be moved for Matt Duchene this summer. If Carolina can get their goaltending situation fixed, they could be back in the playoffs in a couple years.

New Jersey Devils (62 pts, 16 GR): They are in bad shape, but they have some major foundation pieces in place, like Taylor Hall and Corey Schneider. They badly need to improve their defense, which is below average at best. Provided they can tighten things up on the back end and don’t do anything stupid in free agency, they will be competing for a wild card spot down the road. So, look forward to that exciting prospect Devils fans.

Detroit Red Wings (61 pts, 17 GR): How the mighty have fallen. The playoff streak will end at 25, and the Red Wings will need to rebuild. On offense they are caught in limbo. The old guard is too old and the young players aren’t quite developed enough. The defense isn’t what it used to be with Niklas Lidstrom patrolling the blue line. They can’t seem to find a reliable option in net between Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard. I doubt they’ll be down for long. Ken Holland is one of the best GMs in the game.

Try Again Next Year

Buffalo Sabres (66 pts, 15 GR): This has been a pretty disappointing year for the Sabres. After signing American hero Kyle Okposo in the offseason, the offense has still been stagnant. That’s unacceptable when you consider they also have Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, and Evander Kane up front. In fairness, they have been somewhat banged up on defense. Tyler Ennis is out for the year, and Zach Bogosian missed a decent chunk of time as well. I still don’t believe Robin Lehner is the long term solution in net.

In The Hunt

Boston Bruins (76 pts, 15 GR): Ever since Claude Julien was fired and Bruce Cassidy took over, this team seems to have stabilized. The B’s are likely in the postseason, but the only issue is that they’ve played two more games than the teams chasing them. If they falter and the Florida teams or the Leafs string some wins together, it could get real interesting in Bean Town.

New York Islanders (73 pts, 17 GR): Like the Bruins, they fired their head coach and have gotten back on track since. They currently cling to a one point lead in the final wild card spot. They’ve been an odd team all season. They let Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo walk last summer and signed Andrew Ladd for some reason. Not surpisingly, things didn’t goa well. They fired their coach, and the team seems to have responded well to interim bench boss Doug Weight. Captain John Tavares and goaltender Thomas Greiss have led the surge back into the postseason picture for the Isles.

Toronto Maple Leafs (72 pts, 17 GR): The surprise of the season. After getting the 1st overall draft pick last season, that pick has led them into the playoff conversation this year. Auston Matthews is not only in the race for the Calder Trophy, but he could win the Rocket Richard Trophy this season as well. Goaltender Freddie Andersen got off to a rocky start but was able to turn it around. The Leafs’ achilles heel is youth. They’ve played over a dozen rookies and recently lost five straight games. It’ll be exciting to watch them down the stretch as they push for that final wild card spot.

Philadelphia Flyers (70 pts, 17 GR): Here is a team that some will say peaked too early. I’d argue they were never as good as that ten game win streal may have indicated. They’ve struggled to find offense, and their defense is too young to support them night in and night out. The goaltending duo of Steve Mason and Michael Neuvirth makes Dallas’s tandem look like Hasek and Osgood. Wayne Simmonds has been very good for them this year. As has Jakub Voracek. Depth scoring has been a huge missing piece. That win streak is the only reason they’re still in this race and I think they’ll fizzle out down the stretch.

Tampa Bay Lightning (69 pts, 17 GR): Steven Stamkos went down 17 games into the season and that seemed to derail things for the Eastern Conference favorites. However, the superstar forward is skating with the team now and could come back for a playoff run. After trading Ben Bishop, it’s 100% Andrei Vasilevskiy’s crease as they try to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs. Even without Stamkos, the Lightning are loaded with talent. I actually wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a run and sneak into the last wild card spot. They are 6-3-1 in their last 10.

Florida Panthers (69 pts, 17 GR): Yet ANOTHER team that gave their coach the stinky boot and have turned their season around. They’ve been inconsistent all season, but that’s partially due to injury. Goaltenders Roberto Luongo and James Reimer have been middle of the road. They’re still hanging on, but expect them to fall out of the race in a week or two.

In Like Flynn

Capitals, Penguins, Blue Jackets, Rangers, Canadiens, and Senators

Now onto the Western Conference.

Full On Dumpster Fire

Colorado Avalanche (0 pts, who cares GR): This franchise is a dumpster fire inside of a dumpster fire. They are a team built on overpaid players. They only have a handful of players that are actually worth a damn. Trade Duchene and Landeskog so you can stockpile picks and prospects to rebuild. Good thing weed is legal in Denver because you’ll need to be high to enjoy this product for a while.

Try Again In A Few Years

Arizona Coyotes (53 pts, 17 GR): Young hot shot GM John Chayka has them tanking HARD this season. They’ve got a couple solid prospects like Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, but Chayka has taken on contracts of veteran players not even playing anymore (i.e. Pavel Datsyuk) to reach the cap floor. I’m sure the NHL doesn’t like it, and it’s horrible for the product down there but I like it. It’s an aggressive move and I’d like to see where they are in three years.

Try Again Next Year

Dallas Stars (64 pts, 15 GR): Wow, the Lehtonen-Niemi experiment in Dallas didn’t work? Nooooooo. This was a team that lived and died on offense last season. The defense was okay, not good. The goaltending was even worse. The Stars’ offense couldn’t match it’s gaudy numbers from a year ago, and they sit toward the bottom of the West. They have to fix their situation in net before they will be a consistent playoff team.

Vancouver Canucks (64 pts, 16 GR): I really should’ve put them in the Try Again In A Few Years category, but they aren’t the unmitigated disaster I thought they’d be to start the season. They’ve been no more than mediocre, but they do have Loui Eriksson for 5 more years. The Sedin twins still have that whole telepathy going, and they managed to trade Alex Burrows for Ottawa prospect Jonathon Dahlen. Even veteran goalie Ryan Miller has shown he’s still got it this year.

Winnipeg Jets (66 pts, 14 GR): Another nice story. Like Auston Matthews, rookie Patrik Laine has powered the Jets into the playoff race. He’s right on Sidney’s Crosby’s heels for the league lead in goals. However, the 14 games remaining kills them. Everyone ahead of them has game in hand on Winnipeg. Like so many other teams in this blog, the Jets’ goaltending situation is an absolute mess. They’ve even reverted back to Ondrej Pavelec. I wish that on no franchise. It’l be interesting to see how far Laine can take them next year provided they find a net minder who can mind the net.

In The Hunt

Nashville Predators (74 pts, 16 GR): Now don’t panic. I do think they are almost certainly going to make the playoffs. However, the Blues have a game in hand on the Preds, Calgary is hot as hell (no pun intended), and the Kings are liable to catch fire at any time. As we al know, the Predators have been wildly inconsistent all year. They’ve lost their last three games and have some tough matchups down the stretch. The defense needs to be more stable in their own end, and the goaltending needs to make the critical saves. Again, I think they’re in but it’s by no means a guarantee.

Calgary Flames (76 pts, 16 GR): The Flames are the hottest team in the league right now. Again, no pun intended. They’ve won seven in a row and are 8-1-1 in their last ten games. Brian Elliott got off to a horrendous start there, but he has stepped his game up and backstopped them into solid playoff position. After a disappointing season last year, it appears they’ll be back in the postseason once again.

St. Louis Blues (71 pts, 17 GR): I have no idea what it is about teams that have canned their coaches this season, but they all seem to have had success after. The Blues are no exception. After the team went into a death spiral, they fired Ken Hitchcock and promoted Mike Yeo. Since then, the Blues have been much more consistent. The biggest thing working against them is that they traded star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to the Capitals at the trade deadline. That may cause them to fade during the stretch run.

Los Angeles Kings (68 pts, 17 GR): The Kings have been bad on offense this year. Very bad. They are 12th in the Western Conference in goals for this season and Anze Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli have had the worst season of their careers. The Kings also lost goalie Jonathon Quick for much of the season, but Peter Budaj stepped up in his absence. The Kings are known for flipping the switch late in the season, but it may be getting a little too late. Kopitar and Toffoli need to get going for the Kings to have a prayer.

In Like Flynn

The Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Edmonton Oilers, and Anaheim Ducks.

3 Stars of the Week

3rd Star- Matt Hendricks Benching Sproul

It DOES NOT get better than a bench hit. It was all I tried to do in NHL Hitz.

2nd Star- Byfuglien Goes Miley Cyrus

He came in like a wreeeeeeeeeeeeccccking baaaallll! I just thing Buff couldn’t stop here. He’s a big guy with a lot of inertia built up there.

1st Star- Panik! At the Dangle

Soft hands, eh? Someone has been listening to Coach Bombay.

That’s it for this week! Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook!

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