Ranking the remaining schedules for wild-card bubble teams

Francois Lacasse / National Hockey League / Getty

We're officially in the stretch run of the 2018-19 NHL season, and there's plenty left to be sorted out.

The top three teams in each division have mostly separated from the pack, which is where things get more complicated. There are four teams in each conference vying for a playoff spot, and we've ranked which has the best chance of qualifying for the postseason based on the respective remaining schedules.

Eastern Conference

1. Montreal Canadiens (36-25-7 - 79 points)

Games remaining: 14
Home vs. Away: 7-7
Games vs. playoff teams: 8
Back-to-backs: 1
Game to circle: March 28 vs. CBJ

The three best clubs in the East all reside in the Canadiens' division, so a wild-card spot will have to suffice this spring. The Habs and their fans will gladly take that given where many expected them to finish during the preseason.

Montreal has an even split of home and road games and only one back-to-back - a home contest versus the Buffalo Sabres before traveling to Carolina to take on the Hurricanes, who will also be playing their second game in a row that night. Otherwise, playing hosts to the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, and Florida Panthers should lead to a handful of points.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins (36-22-9 - 81 points)

Jeff Bottari / National Hockey League / Getty

Games remaining: 15
Home vs. Away: 8-7
Games vs. playoff teams: 8
Back-to-backs: 2
Game to circle: March 31 vs. CAR

It's bizarre to see the Penguins in a late-season close race, but Pittsburgh has come on strong of late by earning at least a point in eight of its last 10 to momentarily claim third place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Pens' remaining schedule isn't exactly a cakewalk, with matchups against the Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, and two versus the Nashville Predators over the next two weeks. Conversely, a final week that features the Red Wings twice and the New York Rangers - combined with this club's unparalleled experience in getting the job done - sets up Pittsburgh to qualify for the postseason for a 13th straight campaign.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (36-23-7 - 79 points)

Games remaining: 16
Home vs. Away: 9-7
Games vs. playoff teams: 10
Back-to-backs: 3
Game to circle: March 31 vs. PIT

The Hurricanes have been one of the NHL's hottest teams since the beginning of 2019, and are within just two points of the Penguins with a game in hand - coming via Friday evening's contest versus the Winnipeg Jets.

Games against the Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Washington Capitals (twice) make for some daunting matchups for Carolina, but a head-to-head with the Penguins at the end of the month has the potential to be the biggest of them all.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (37-27-3 - 77 points)

Jonathan Kozub / National Hockey League / Getty

Games remaining: 15
Home vs. Away: 6-9
Games vs. playoff teams: 10
Back-to-backs: 3
Game to circle: March 28 vs. MTL

Things haven't exactly gone to plan for the Blue Jackets, with the club scuffling to a 4-4 record since acquiring Matt Duchene in the first of many pre-deadline trades on Feb. 22. The slide has pushed Columbus out of a playoff spot as of Friday, and climbing back in won't be easy.

John Tortorella's group squares off with the Bruins three times down the stretch, and also plays the Calgary Flames, New York Islanders, Canadiens, and Predators. If there's something working in Columbus' favor, it's the nine remaining road games - the Blue Jackets have a 20-11-1 record away from Nationwide Arena this season.

Western Conference

1. Arizona Coyotes (33-29-5 - 71 points)

Games remaining: 15
Home vs. Away: 7-8
Games vs. playoff teams: 6
Back-to-backs: 2
Game to circle: March 31 vs. MIN

The Coyotes sit three points out but are in a prime position to snap a playoff drought that dates back to 2012, if they can finish strong.

Arizona faces a four-game road trip through the Eastern Conference, which features tough matchups with the Lightning and Islanders. However, contests against the Panthers and New Jersey Devils present a good chance for a split. The Yotes will also host the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, and the Blackhawks over the final month in what they'll hope is a run of games that can help pad their record en route to a playoff appearance.

2. Colorado Avalanche (29-27-12 - 70 points)

Matthew Stockman / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Games remaining: 14
Home vs. Away: 9-5
Games vs. playoff teams: 7
Back-to-backs: 2
Game to circle: March 29 vs. ARI

Colorado's got a significant gap to close and is running out of time to do it, but the Avalanche have the benefit of a manageable schedule.

Their biggest chance to gain ground comes March 19 to 24, with games against the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars - the two teams currently holding wild-card positions in the West - before a home-and-home with the 25th-place Blackhawks. If the Avs can't capitalize on that stretch, they're toast.

3. Dallas Stars (35-27-5 - 75 points)

Games remaining: 15
Home vs. Away: 8-7
Games vs. playoff teams: 6
Back-to-backs: 3
Game to circle: April 6 vs. MIN

Just three points behind the Blues, Dallas still has a chance to jump into the Central Division's top three. But with only a one-point advantage over Minnesota, the Stars' fate is miles from being set in stone.

Dallas has won four in a row and will need to keep the momentum rolling as it heads into a five-game homestand beginning March 15. At home this season, the Stars are a formidable 21-10-2, but if things go sour during their crucial stretch at American Airlines Center, they'll have to right the ship on a four-game road swing immediately thereafter. Away from Texas this season, Dallas is 14-17-3.

4. Minnesota Wild (33-27-8 - 74 points)

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Games remaining: 14
Home vs. Away: 8-6
Games vs. playoff teams: 10
Back-to-backs: 2
Game to circle: April 6 vs. DAL

The Wild have managed to turn things around, and the good news for them is that head coach Bruce Boudreau almost never misses the playoffs. That said, he'll need to rally his troops every night for a treacherous final month.

Minnesota has the most games (10) remaining against playoff opponents among all of its adversaries vying for a postseason spot. Seven of those matchups come in the club's final eight contests, with the exception being a date with the Coyotes on March 31, which could be a massive game if both teams remain afloat. The Wild's only option is to finish strong.

Comments
Ranking the remaining schedules for wild-card bubble teams
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox