NHL playoffs: Wild, Blue Jackets on verge of being swept out of contention

In a matter of a few days, the Stanley Cup playoffs could be without two of the five best teams from the 2016-17 season.

That is after the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets stuck out on Easter Sunday for all the wrong reasons. Both clubs, one a No. 2 seed out of the Western Conference and the other one of only three clubs with at least 108 points on the season, dropped their third straight games.

Their blatant struggles headline takeaways from the latest day of postseason action:

Wild and Blue Jackets are setting up to be ultimate playoff duds

This one comes straight from the numbers. The Wild, with a 3-1 Sunday loss and their third straight outing with just one goal, will face elimination against the Jake Allen-powered St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, and the Blue Jackets will be on elimination watch a day earlier.

That means both the Blues and the defending champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, could be waltzing into the second round of the playoffs with hardly a blemish to their postseason start. But for the poor Wild and Blue Jackets, it means two different conference contenders with contrasting finishes to otherwise top-notch regular seasons could wind up being the ultimate playoff duds.

In Minnesota, the Wild are apparently falling victim to the guidance of their old coach, Mike Yeo, which has to sting. But anyone who's gazed at the Blues' transformation to first-round favorites knows that Allen, whose 40 saves Sunday led a third straight one-goal cap of the Wild's offense, is the real centerpiece of St. Louis' surge.

All things considered, if only one of the two 0-3 teams get swept out of the playoffs, the Blue Jackets almost seem more destined for an early exit since ...

The Penguins are showcasing their mastery of the puck

Let's start by crediting Columbus for putting forth its best performance of the series Sunday, jumping out to a 3-1 lead in a matter of minutes and then rebounding from a late Pittsburgh scoring streak with a clutch goal of its own.

But a loss is a loss, and the Blue Jackets now have three stacked against them after their 5-4 overtime defeat. 

Jake Guentzel was the headliner for the Pens with his hat trick, but Sidney Crosby, a game after his own three-point outing for the Pens, was equally as crafty during Pittsburgh's third consecutive victory over their rivals:

And all in all, things just don't look too bright for the Blue Jackets. Many, this writer included, anticipated Columbus' top-line defense to wear down an already-injured Pittsburgh unit over the course of a seven-game series, but that has not been the case whatsoever. Crosby and Co. have proven too talented to top, and that's exactly the reason the Pens are in line for a sweep: Even if Columbus pours on offensively as they did Sunday, they are being outscored 12-6 in a series they desperately needed to keep close with their "D."

Rangers-Canadiens is headed for seven, and we all know it

The Montreal Canadiens put the New York Rangers in their place for a second straight game Sunday, using a pair of power-play goals and a 3-1 decision to take a 2-1 edge in the series. Carey Price's 20 saves certainly didn't hurt, either, giving the veteran goalie his best outing of the anticipated Eastern Conference clash.

If anything, though, Sunday's Habs victory should suggest that the Rangers and Canadiens will be taking their battle down to the wire. New York has had trouble at Madison Square Garden all year, so the Rangers' failure to put more than one goal on the board against Price this weekend was hardly a surprise. And yet N.Y. still boasts the play-makers to knot this series up and, ultimately, take it to one final showdown between Price and Henrik Lundqvist.

That, of course, would be some premier playoff hockey.

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