What about the postseason hopefuls, though? Some are sitting more comfortably than others as the regular season winds down, either by way of their own competence or the lack thereof in their respective divisions.
Only time will tell (and inevitably prove prognostications wrong), but let’s rule on five Stanley Cup-seeking wannabes as the playoff picture continues to unfold:
Maybe there isn’t as much buzz surrounding the Oilers on their journey to claim a wild-card berth because Edmonton hasn’t been in this lofty position at the close of the season for awhile. Connor McDavid, Milan Lucic and the rest of the high-scoring bunch, however, deserve some praise for headlining the most balanced Pacific Division competitor outside of San Jose. With a top-five conference scoring attack and top-seven conference defense powered by the heavily worked Cam Talbot, the Oilers are flying a little under the radar but probably shouldn’t be.
You can’t fault Doug Weight’s once-streaking wild-card candidate for succumbing at least a little bit to a crowded slog of a recent schedule. But the Islanders aren’t doing enough when it matters the most, and they’re on the brink of falling out of the playoff picture after four losses in their last five games. If their 4-1 win over the Oilers this month seems like a distant victory, it’s because it is -- New York was blown away, 8-4, in a March 13 showdown with the Carolina Hurricanes before avenging the loss to the ‘Canes and subsequently squandering a shot to roll over the Winnipeg Jets. Their upcoming slate of games isn’t any easier, either.
It’s kind of a shame to think just what the Kings could have been had they not toiled in patterns of inconsistency for much of the year. Because their 4-2-1 start to March, complete with back-to-back victories over none other than the Capitals and Nashville Predators, has epitomized all the best parts of their 2016-17 campaign, which has featured a top-five defense in the Western Conference and some post-trade deadline spark from Jarome Iginla. It’s probably too little, too late for L.A.
This enigmatic bunch has a lot to offer as a potential playoff pusher. They’re scoring more goals than all but four teams in the Eastern Conference, so that certainly counts for something. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner make for one heck of a youthful tandem, even if the team’s tendency to drop close contests -- the Maple Leafs have dropped an NHL-worst 15 overtime decisions -- is concerning. It remains to be seen if they can endure a playoff series against a more talented foe, as they’ve sandwiched some nice winning streaks in between close defeats to better-ranked clubs like the Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks. Beating Boston on Monday helps, too.
What a story this team has pieced together. Playoffs are not a certainty for the Lightning, and nearly a season’s worth of underwhelming play, capped off with the shipping of Ben Bishop out of town at the trade deadline, assured that. Tampa Bay really could’ve used wins over the Caps and the Maple Leafs this past week, too. But this group, favored for a run early in the year and then overlooked as their underperforming unit sank in the standings, is getting healthier and boasts one of the top late-season records in the NHL, knocking off superior contenders left and right. If they find a way to squeak in, they’ve got the veteran playoff experience and top-10 defense to carry them.