Wild-Card Roundup: What does the homestretch look like for teams in the race?

There's little more than four weeks before the season comes to a close, and with several teams on the bubble in each conference, the final playoff spots could come down to the wire.
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The homestretch is upon us. Entering Tuesday’s action, we’re little more than one month away from the end of the campaign, and the wild-card races in both conferences are still far from decided.

In the Eastern Conference, it’s a five-team race for the final tickets to the dance, with the surging Carolina Hurricanes owning the lone contested divisional berth, while the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens are clinging to wild-card spots. In the Western Conference, the season-long snail race to decide who’s in and who’s out continues with seemingly no team able to step up and seal their spot in the post-season. It’s a six-team battle with the Edmonton Oilers teetering on the brink of falling out of the race.

So, who gets in and who winds up working on their short game weeks earlier than expected? Here’s your look at the state of each contending club and their respective strengths of schedule, determined by the average points percentage of remaining opponents:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

IN:

Carolina Hurricanes
36-23-6 — 78 pts.

The Storm Surge isn’t just getting press because of its creativity. It’s getting press because of the frequency with which it's happening. The Hurricanes have won each of their past five outings, eight of their past nine games and 14 of their past 18 contests. Carolina is absolutely rolling right now, and that’s thanks in large part to the play of Sebastian Aho, who has been remarkable in recent weeks. Since Jan. 1, Aho has 12 goals and 34 points in 27 games. Good thing, too, because the Hurricanes have among the toughest schedules in the NHL down the stretch.

Remaining Schedule: 17 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .590

Pittsburgh Penguins
34-22-9 — 77 pts.

Consistency has been hard to come by for the Penguins, but any team led by superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is going to be considered a frontrunner to lock down a playoff spot. The biggest hurdle for Pittsburgh, however, is getting by its defensive deficiencies. The blueline has been a concern for much of the campaign, and the Penguins’ situation would likely be much less favorable were it not for Matt Murray, who has turned things around after a disappointing 2017-18 and slow start to the current season. The back-to-back set against the Columbus Blue Jackets this week couldn’t be more important.

Remaining Schedule: 17 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .552

Montreal Canadiens
35-24-7 — 77 pts.

An unexpected wild-card contender this late in the season. Recent results threaten to drop the Canadiens out of the running, however. Montreal has lost seven of its past 11 games, including some winnable outings against non-playoff clubs such as the Florida Panthers, New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings. A West Coast road swing might be just what the doctor ordered, particularly given the struggles that have plagued the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. But Montreal can’t afford to give away anymore so-called easy points, especially if they’re not going to take care of business against other wild-card contenders.

Remaining Schedule: 16 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .571

OUT:

Columbus Blue Jackets
36-26-3 — 75 pts.

There’s no need for panic to set in quite yet. That said, one wouldn’t fault the Blue Jackets’ faithful if their palms are starting to get a bit sweatier with each passing game. Now two points back of a berth in the wild card and three points out of the final divisional spot, Columbus has to make up some ground. The good news? They can do that with two games against the Penguins this week. The bad news? They have to make sure they at least split that series with Pittsburgh. That’s no easy task.

Remaining Schedule: 17 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .570

Philadelphia Flyers
32-26-8

Early last month, the Flyers wouldn’t have been on the radar, but Philadelphia is charging hard up the standings and making a desperate push to turn a once-lost season into a campaign with some springtime action. The real hero for the Flyers over the past month has been Sean Couturier, who has logged monster minutes and is stuffing the scoresheet. In 15 games since Feb. 1, Couturier has eight goals and 20 points. Since returning in mid-February, goaltender Brian Elliott has been great, too. He’s 3-0-1 with a .936 save percentage across his past six appearances.

Remaining Schedule: 16 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .581

WESTERN CONFERENCE

IN:

St. Louis Blues
34-25-6 — 74 pts.

Not only have the Blues been among the hottest teams in the league over the past few months, St. Louis enters the final four-plus weeks of the campaign with one of the “easiest” schedules in the NHL. The Blues’ toughest draws are contests against the San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights. The Jordan Binnington Crease Dominance Tour is heading to the West Coast, and games against the lowly Ducks and Kings could help solidify a playoff spot for St. Louis.

Remaining Schedule: 17 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .516

Dallas Stars
33-27-5 — 71 pts.

Can Ben Bishop get some love? The Stars starter is putting up numbers commensurate with his 2015-16 campaign, which was the same year Bishop finished second in Vezina Trophy voting and 10th in the Hart Trophy race. He’s going to need to start getting some goal support, particularly from the depth of the roster, if Dallas is going to lock down a post-season berth. The Stars have huge games coming up, including a pair of meetings with the Minnesota Wild, two games against the Colorado Avalanche and one outing against the Edmonton Oilers.

Remaining Schedule: 17 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .532

Minnesota Wild
32-28-7 — 71 pts.

The Wild began the process of turning over their roster, moving out Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund ahead of the deadline. Unfortunately, the early returns on the Niederreiter trade haven’t been great, but Ryan Donato, who came the other way in the Coyle deal, and Kevin Fiala, acquired in exchange for Granlund, have looked good since arriving in Minnesota. The real hurdle now is the schedule. Few teams have as difficult a run in as the Wild, who play nine of their final 16 games against top-10 teams.

Remaining Schedule: 16 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .595

Arizona Coyotes
32-28-5 — 69 pts.

The Coyotes are the NHL’s feel-good story heading into the homestretch. Battered and bruised, with several lineup regulars out of action, Arizona has kept pace in the Western Conference and have rattled off six-straight victories. The recent injury to Derek Stepan threatens to derail the late push, but we should know better than to write off the Coyotes, who have been unwilling to give in to defeat for months now. Unfortunately, Arizona’s remaining draw isn’t simple.

Remaining Schedule: 17 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .533

Colorado Avalanche
28-26-12 — 68 pts.

If only the defense could keep pace with the offense. The Avalanche are the lone team in the Western Conference wild-card race that is on the outside looking in despite a positive goal differential. That's due in large part to the attack, however, as Colorado boasts the ninth-ranked offense, which has covered up for the Avalanche allowing the 10th-most goals against of any team in the NHL. Here’s the good news, though: netminder Semyon Varlamov has upped his game in recent weeks. He has a .939 SP over his past eight appearances. Time is running out, but if Varlamov can keep it up and the offense can produce, a late charge isn’t out of the question.

Remaining Schedule: 16 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .529

Edmonton Oilers
29-30-7 — 65 pts.

We’re inching ever-closer to write-off territory, though the Oilers refuse to roll over and die, much to their credit. Monday’s contest against the Buffalo Sabres could have been one of the final few nails in the coffin, but Edmonton stormed back and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Though they remain in the race, their spot in the Western wild-card is tenuous at best. The Oilers could benefit from a relatively weak run of upcoming games that includes meetings with the Vancouver Canucks, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. Edmonton will need a minor miracle to leapfrog other wild-card contenders and earn a berth, though.

Remaining Schedule: 16 games
Opponents’ Avg. Point Percentage: .534

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