The NHL Eastern Conference is still all to be decided
In the NHL’s Eastern Conference has gone from compelling to downright crazy with five teams, fighting for four spots, are now separated by just three points after Tuesday’s thrilling night of action. The Senators won 4-3 in overtime, joining Boston in second wild card spot and within one point off the slumping Penguins. “We’ve got to wipe this one away,” Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby said. “We’ve got two games left to earn the right to play in the playoffs. It’s up to us now, but we’ve got to forget this one pretty quick.” A top NHL tipster is conscious that Pittsburgh hasn’t missed the playoffs since Crosby’s rookie season. When he scored 10 seconds into the game Tuesday, you could almost feel the sense of relief among fans of the Penguins, Red Wings and Bruins, three glamour franchises that suddenly have to sweat out a wild finish to the regular season because of Ottawa’s late surge. Pittsburgh led 3-0 after the first period Tuesday, but the Senators came back in dramatic fashion.
The New York Rangers, Montreal, Tampa Bay and Washington have clinched playoff spots in the East and of the remaining five contenders, the Islanders lead the pack with 98 points, followed by Detroit (97), Pittsburgh (96), Boston (95) and Ottawa (95). The Bruins have three games remaining while everyone else has two. If the Penguins had held on to win in regulation, Pittsburgh, Detroit and the Islanders would all be in the playoffs but instead, none of them clinched anything. “We’ve had a heck of a season at this point but we have to find a way and solidify,” Islanders star John Tavares said. New York is still in a comfortable spot, but the Islanders went through a thoroughly maddening evening. Needing only to make it to overtime to clinch their second playoff berth in the last eight seasons, they rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the third period and tied the match with 28 seconds left. Then Philadelphia’s Brayden Schenn flipped a routine shot from near the blue line that somehow it slipped past goalie Jaroslav Halak and into the net with 2.1 seconds remaining, giving the Flyers an incredible 5-4 win.
An overtime win by the Penguins would have been enough to put the Islanders in the playoffs, but that didn’t happen, and Mark Stone’s OT goal won it for the Senators. “I’m just thankful to be able to contribute at those times of the game,” Stone said. “Everybody that’s contributing on my goals are the guys that are making the plays. I’m just the one that’s finishing it off.” The Penguins have lost four in a row and 10 of 13 but a sports betting expert knows that they they haven’t missed the playoffs since 2006, but Detroit is trying to preserve a much longer streak. The last time the Red Wings didn’t make the post-season was in 1990. “It’s a fun time of year,” Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard said. “You have to be mentally tough. It shows what you’re made of. There are going to be nights when there are bounces you’re not going to like.”
Over in the West, the defending champions are on the ropes after the Los Angeles Kings lost 4-2 to Edmonton on Tuesday, but the best NHL prediction would be for Minnesota to clinch a post-season berth after a 2-1 win over Chicago.