After the first half of the regular season, the situation is pretty clear and simple in the Central Division. The leading three teams – the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers, and the Carolina Hurricanes – have almost cemented their spots in the playoffs. The Canes, which are currently sitting in third place, have a comfortable 10-point lead over the team sitting in fourth place – enough not to feel nervous about their postseason plans. According to the Micah Blake McCurdy’s prediction model, all three teams have almost 100% chance to make playoffs, while their closest opponent has just about 35%.
Playoff chances over the past fortnight. pic.twitter.com/4bhIAC0RVS— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) March 20, 2021
The teams in the leading group have almost identical record over the last ten games, each winning seven games over that stretch. The Canes fell behind a little bit after losing three games, but still managed to earn two points in those games and keeping up with the Lightning and the Panthers in the standings. The same prediction model, which was mentioned above, however still believes more in Carolina than Florida, projecting them to finish in second place by the end of the regular season. The race for first place in the division should be exciting as the teams played just half of the games against each other. One of these games is scheduled for tonight, when the Panthers will face the Lightning and will try to tie with them in the standings.
The race for the last playoff spot is happening between three teams right now – the Dallas Stars, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Chicago Blackhawks. The Nashville Predators are not that much behind them, however given the number of injured players and their systematical problems, I don’t believe they’re able to make the last push for the playoffs. Last year’s Stanley Cup finalist Dallas Stars theoretically have better chances than their opponents, after a terrible last month they managed to start recording points more consistently, but still have six losses in the last ten games. The Blackhawks had a better last month than the Stars, but slowed down lately after their goaltender Kevin Lankinen stopped delivering every night, they’re currently on the four-games losing streak. The Blue Jackets seized the moment and jumped over them in the standings. John Tortorella has dealt with a lot of issues this season, but managed to get things together recently and his team posted a five-games point streak.
Besides the Predators, the Detroit Red Wings are the other team with basically zero chances to make the playoffs. Recently though, the team posted a very solid stretch of five games and earned two victories, including wins over the Lightning and the Canes.
The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday evening 4-1 in a game where Mikhail Sergachev earned his 100th career assist and Andrei Vasilevskiy matched a franchise record for most consecutive wins [Raw Charge]
A heightened pace has been the defining characteristic of the season series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks, and today’s game stuck to script. Tampa Bay took advantage of the opportunities provided en route to a 4-1 win as Andrei Vasilevskiy won his 11th consecutive start to tie Louis Domingue’s franchise record. Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Yanni Gourde, and Steven Stamkos scored for the Lightning. Alex DeBrincat scored for Chicago. Vasilevskiy stopped 30 of 31 shots for his NHL leading 20th win. Malcolm Subban stopped 22 of 25 shots.
Vasilevskiy also made another list of goalies with fewest games to reach a 20-win mark.
Andrei Vasilevskiy of the @TBLightning improved to 20-3-1 through 24 appearances this season (1.86 GAA, .933 SV%, 3 SO) – only one goaltender in NHL history has reached the 20-win mark in fewer games. #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/ZWUU9Gtcfk— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 20, 2021
Goaltender Kris Oldham earned his first win at the professional level as the Orlando Solar Bears defeated the Jacksonville Iceman 5-1.
Kris Oldham earns his first pro win as the Solar Bears take this one over the Icemen! #BEARLIEVE | #ORLvsJAX— Orlando Solar Bears (@OrlandoHockey) March 21, 2021
️Join us on 4/1 when we're back at home: https://t.co/ARiDSBVL1T pic.twitter.com/fYA83s0rhn
The New York Rangers defenseman Jack Johnson is out for the rest of the season after having a hernia-related surgery.
Jack Johnson is out for the remainder of this season after the Rangers defenseman had core muscle repair surgery Friday.https://t.co/soNoO7Ccxs— NHL.com (@NHLdotcom) March 20, 2021
The St. Louis Blues’ Oscar Sundqvist will also miss the rest of the season.
Connor McDavis has become the first player to reach 60 points this season.
Connor McDavid (21-39—60 in 34 GP) and Leon Draisaitl (18-32—50 in 34 GP) of the @EdmontonOilers found the score sheet on Saturday to reach the 60- and 50-point mark, respectively. #NHLStats: https://t.co/hXZWVq2gzq pic.twitter.com/ich0cWPT4V— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 21, 2021
According to Elliotte Friedman, the Arizona Coyotes’ Conor Garland might be available at the trade deadline.