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Lightning Round: peering over at the rampant wild card race

The divisional seeds in the Eastern Conference are all but sewn up at this point late in the season. The top six teams in the conference will make it to the playoffs and the two pairs of 2-3 seeds pretty much know who they’re going to be facing. However, the same can’t be said for the Eastern Conference Wild Card, which has as many as four teams vying for the very last spot in the playoffs. Those teams are Pittsburgh, Florida, Buffalo, and Ottawa. The Islanders in seventh are probably safe with a five-point gap over the Pens.

With fewer games than you can count on two hands left to go in the season, the Wild Card seeds will come down to the wire. Let’s get a lay of the land and see who’s positioned well for the finale.

7th:  New York Islanders  87 points 6 GR
8th:  Pittsburgh Penguins  82 points 8 GR
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9th:  Florida Panthers   81 points 7 GR
10th:  Buffalo Sabres    77 points 9 GR
11th: Ottawa Senators   77 points 8 GR

I’m going to knock Ottawa out of contention here because they’d need to make up 5 points on the Pittsburgh Penguins without any games in hand, while also passing Florida who are four points ahead with a game in hand. It doesn’t seem likely for them. Buffalo has a slightly better chance with the extra game to play, but they might be long shots, too.

Buffalo’s schedule is relatively nice for them, only four of their remaining games are against current playoff teams. Ottawa also has to play four playoff teams in their final eight games. It’s not likely, but an outside chance is a chance nonetheless.

The real battle, in my opinion, is between Pittsburgh and Florida. Florida just won a crucial comeback victory over Toronto last night, putting them one point back of Pittsburgh with -1 games in hand. They are still behind on points percentage, but they’re right there in it.

Looking at the schedules moving forward for those two teams, Pittsburgh has a nice schedule ahead of them, with only Boston, New Jersey, and Minnesota still to play as playoff teams. Meanwhile the Panthers have to play the Leafs one more time as well as the Hurricanes in their last game of the season. They also play Buffalo and Ottawa, which might be interesting for those two longshot teams. I was hoping Pittsburgh and Florida would play each other the way the Lightning are playing the Leafs on April 11th, but alas the schedule makers couldn’t predict it.

Who gets the final wild card spot and the pleasure of playing the Boston Bruins in the first round

New York Islanders 4
Pittsburgh Penguins 42
Florida Panthers 29
Buffalo Sabres 8
Ottawa Senators 0

I guess over here I’m asking who has the best goalie.

Same list, who would you like to see Boston face in the first round for a possible upset?

New York Islanders 26
Pittsburgh Penguins 19
Florida Panthers 20
Buffalo Sabres 7
Ottawa Senators 2

Nick Perbix and Bolts Radio are previewing the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four tournament next weekend. Check out the first episode.

The Boston Bruins don’t have enough cap space to activate Taylor Hall. Will they be punished for exceeding the cap? Ha, we’ll see.

Tensions forming in the AHL as there seem to be some power plays going on. I’m hearing some speculation that Toronto’s Lawrence Gilman is vying for the league’s top job.

Money, money, money. It’s the theme of the OHL and their affiliate minor junior leagues.

Oh, and meanwhile the OHL is heading to Saginaw, Michigan for the 2024 Memorial Cup Final. Expect the Spirit to load up over the next year as they get a guaranteed buy into the prestigious tournament at the end of the year. The Memorial Cup is made up of the OHL, WHL, and QMJHL playoff champions, as well as the host team. If a host team for the Mem Cup wins their league tournament, the loser of that final will get to go.

The Erie Otters will get to pick first in the upcoming OHL Draft for the first time since selecting Connor McDavid. I don’t know which 15-year-old they’ll pick this year.

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