The race for Atlantic Division supremacy is heating up as the end of the regular season comes just right around the corner. With most teams having between 8-10 games remaining, there is a nine point difference between first and fourth place.
It doesn’t seem like a lot, but teams can still pick up as many as double digit points and shake up the standings. Teams are clearly feeling the pressure and giving it their all. Montreal and Ottawa have won 6 of their last 10 games, Toronto winning 7.
Below is a look at the Atlantic Division standings as of 8:45pm ET on March 24th, 2017. In the opponents section, teams in green are currently in a playoff position.
As we know well enough, the top three teams in each division clinch a playoff spot – then there are two wild card spots up for grabs. With two divisions in each conference, you can either see an even 4 and 4, or 5 from one and 3 from the other. As of right now, the two most likely scenarios are 4 and 4 or both wild card spots going to the Metropolitan division.
The Canadiens have the easiest schedule the rest of the way. The Senators are the only team on their remaining schedule that are currently in a playoff spot. Every other team in the division faces between 3 to 7 playoff teams down the stretch.
Nobody in the division has clinched a spot and nobody has been mathematically eliminated. Although, we could easily eyeball who will likely make it and who is unlikely.
For the top spot in the division, the Habs have a one point cushion on Ottawa and will face them on Saturday night. Surprisingly, the Habs only have a six point cushion on Toronto. Both Ontario teams have a game in hand.
The Toronto Maple Leafs is making this playoff push especially interesting. While it could be too little too late to win the division, they are applying pressure on Montreal that only Ottawa has been doing as of late.
If the Canadiens can hold on to win the Atlantic – it is very highly likely that the New York Rangers will be the first round opponent. If the playoffs ended today, the 91 point Habs would have home ice advantage over the 94 point Rangers based on how the playoff system is set up. So in an odd way, facing the top Wild Card team will be a tougher matchup than facing the second or third Atlantic team. Luckily for Montreal, they swept the season series vs. New York with a 3-0-0 record – outscoring them 12-7. Last time Montreal defeated the Rangers in a playoff series? 1985-86 conference finals.
If the Canadiens get bumped out of the top spot… fans are looking at a rivalry series against Ottawa, or more likely Toronto or Boston. While regular season success against a team does not necessarily equal playoff success, here are the 2016-17 regular season series:
4-0-0 vs. Toronto
2-1-1 vs. Ottawa (Still one game left to play)
2-1-1 vs. Boston
The likely opponents are the same whether Montreal finishes second or third in the division. The only difference is home ice advantage.
Where do you think the Habs will finish, and who would you most prefer they face in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs?