The 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin on April 17 and we’ve got about two full weeks left in the regular season for 2022-23. The Eastern Conference playoff picture is split. While one division has pretty much been decided for months now, the other is still very much wide open. Plus, the Wild Card race is heating up. Here we’ll take a look at the remaining schedule for Eastern Conference teams in the hunt and who has the advantage.
NHL playoff picture: Eastern Conference
First, we’ll get the Atlantic Division out of the way. The Boston Bruins have clinched the top seed in the NHL playoffs overall. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning will meet in the first round in that side of the bracket but home-ice advantage is now somewhat up for grabs. The Leafs enter Sunday with four points on the Lightning but Toronto has a game in hand. Here’s a look at their remaining schedules.
Maple Leafs: vs. CBJ, @ BOS, vs. MTL, @ FLA, @ TB, @ NYR
Lightning: @ NYR, @NYI, @ OTT, vs. TOR, vs. DET
There’s a slight chance that game at the end of the season between Tampa Bay and Toronto is for home ice in the first round. Tiebreakers could also get deep depending on what happens; it could come down to goal differential. Toronto does have a few cupcake games against the Blue Jackets and Canadiens, plus Boston has nothing to play for except the NHL points record. The other side of the bracket is much more interesting.
The Hurricanes, Devils and Rangers enter Monday separated by three points each with the Canes on top. Carolina also has a game in hand. New Jersey has home-ice advantage over the Rangers currently but let’s see what the schedule tells us:
Hurricanes: vs. OTT, @ NSH, @ BUF, @ OTT, vs. DET, @ FLA
Devils: vs. PIT, vs. CBJ, @ BOS, vs. BUF, @ WAS
Rangers: vs. TBL, @ STL, @ CBJ, vs. BUF, vs. TOR
The Hurricanes’ schedule is easy for the most part. The Senators may still try and compete for that outside chance at the Wild Card. Buffalo is in the same boat. Nashville, too, actually. The Red Wings are out and the Panthers are playing that final game most likely with the WC on the line. The Devils and Rangers’ schedules are pretty even. The Leafs and Bolts are likely still competing for home ice in the first round so those games are tough. New Jersey has a slight advantage. Outside of the Penguins game, those other teams aren’t playing for anything really. If we had to guess, the standings should remain how they are now.
On to the Wild Card. There are three teams in it with the New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers. The Sabres have an outside shot given they have two games in hand over the Penguins and Panthers, and three games in hand on the Isles. It’s an uphill battle but the Sabres aren’t out.
Islanders: vs. TBL, vs. PHI, @ WAS, vs. MTL
Penguins: @ NJD, vs. MIN, @ DET, vs. CHI, @ CBJ
Panthers: vs. BUF, vs. OTT, @ WAS, vs. TOR, vs. CAR
Sabres: @ FLA, @ DET, vs. CAR, @ NYR, @ NJD, vs. OTT, @ CBJ
The pressure is all on the Islanders with just four games remaining. Losing any amount of those games puts New York in a tough spot in the WC. Pittsburgh has a gift in the final three games against some of the bottom teams in the NHL. Florida may have it easy depending on how the next week goes with Toronto and Carolina. Buffalo has three easy games and three tough matchups. The last two games of the season are favorable and could decide the WC in the East.