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The fight for the final NHL playoff spot will come down to the last weekend 

Heading into the final weekend of the NHL season, fifteen out of the sixteen playoff teams have been determined. The last spot remaining is in the Eastern Conference and has come down to the Maple Leafs, Islanders, and Lightning. 

With a shootout win over Boston on Thursday night, the Ottawa Senators locked up their playoff hopes. On that same night, both the Islanders and Lightning won in regulation while the Maple Leafs lost in regulation. The young Toronto team now finds themselves in a precarious situation, however they do control their own destiny. 

All three teams currently sit with 80 games played. Toronto has 93 points, whereas Tampa Bay and New York each have 90. In terms of ROW (regulation plus overtime wins), the denoted first tie breaker in the NHL, Toronto has 38, the Islanders have 37, and Tampa Bay has 36. 

For scheduling, Toronto has definitely been dealt the worst hand on the surface. They play Columbus and Pittsburgh over the final three days of the season. However, both of those teams have already punched their ticket to the playoffs and already have their seeding (second and third place in the Metropolitan Division respectively) locked down. The Penguins and Blue Jackets technically have nothing to play for heading into the final weekend, so it is possible that they will rest their star players and starting goalies. But, the argument could be made that the Penguins and Blue Jackets want to win in order to pass the Blackhawks in points, in the case that one of those teams meets up with Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final. 

The Islanders and Lightning each play a team in the playoffs and a team outside of the playoffs in their final two games. For the Islanders it is going to be New Jersey and Ottawa, and for Tampa Bay it is going to be Montreal and Buffalo. 

In order for Toronto to fall out of a playoff position, they have to lose their final two games in regulation and either the Islanders or Tampa Bay need to win their final two games. If Toronto loses one game in overtime or a shootout and loses the other in regulation, only the Islanders can overtake them if they win both of their games in regulation. Two overtime or shootout losses by Toronto would put them into the playoffs. 

There are still a lot of moving parts and a lot can change over the course of the next 72 hours. Tampa Bay plays tomorrow, Friday night, in Montreal. A loss of any kind and they will be eliminated from playoff contention. 

Although there is not as much as usual, the end of the NHL season will have some drama to keep an eye on. Toronto has their fate in their own hands, but New York and Tampa Bay remain knocking at the door. 

Keep up with our Twitter for updates on the playoff race. 

-Kevin, @TheNHLFiles 

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2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs Predictions 

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a mixed bag filled with ebbs and flows and many surprises. It can be tough to predict who will win it all, although Chicago and Los Angeles have made that fairly easy over the past few years. Who will take it all this year? My predictions:

ROUND 1

#1 Washington vs WC2 Flyers 

Verdict: Capitals in 6

The resilient Flyers will certainly put a beating on the Capitals, and vice versa, but the Capitals are likely to prevail. It’ll be a battle of superstar against superstar in Ovechkin and Giroux. The series will be won or lost on defense, which Washington has the upper hand. Ovechkin and company will have fun tormenting Nick Schultz and Andrew MacDonald for four of the seven (possible) games of the series. 

#2 Pittsburgh vs #3 NY Rangers

Verdict: NY Rangers in 7

Just like last year, the Rangers will defeat the Penguins in Round 1. The Penguins are the hottest team heading into the playoffs, but you can’t count out a team with Henrik Lundqvist backstopping them. I feel the Rangers will kick it into overdrive, at least for this series, and squeak out a win. 

#1 Florida vs WC1 NY Islanders 

Verdict: NY Islanders in 7

This series is a toss-up. Both the Panthers and Islanders, in my mind, are evenly matched. It’ll come down to goaltending and injuries. If Jaroslav Halak can make it back by the end of the series, that’ll be a gamechanger. Still, I think the Isles take this one. Barely. 

#2 Tampa Bay vs #3 Detroit

Verdict: Tampa Bay in 6

Another rematch from last year, I give the upperhand to Tampa Bay once again, even without Anton Stralman and Steven Stamkos. The Bolts have better goaltending and better depth in my opinion, plus will be hungry to return to the finals. 

#1 Dallas vs WC2 Minnesota 

Verdict: Minnesota in 6

The Wild have faced and triumphed over some tough opponents over the past few years and that does not change here. The Wild have a better overall game in my opinion, especially on defense. Devan Dubnyk can steal some games as well. This will be a high flying, goal fest of a series. 

#2 St. Louis vs #3 Chicago

Verdict: Chicago in 6

The Blues will continue their playoff woes as they fall to Chicago in six games. The battle tested Blackhawks will try to solidify their dynasty, and it starts by taking down the Blues. Goaltending health will play a big factor in this series. 

#1 Anaheim vs WC1 Nashville

Verdict: Ducks in 5

The Ducks battled back from a horrendous start and found their way atop the Pacific Division, but still face a tough Predators opponent. Pekka Rinne hasn’t been stellar this year, so his abilities will factor in largely in this series. The Ducks also have fantastic special teams with both their powerplay and penalty kill being #1 in the league. 

#2 Los Angeles vs #3 San Jose 

Verdict: Los Angeles in 6

Facing Californian rival San Jose as well as former goalie Martin Jones, the Kings are in for a tough series. That goes for the Sharks as well. This series could go either way, but the edge has to be given to the Kings given the history. 

ROUND 2 

#1 Washington vs #3 NY Rangers

Verdict: Washington in 6

The Capitals cannot be contained, even with Henrik Lundqvist in goal. Their offense and defensive core sate too lethal. The Rangers back end with Boyle, Girardi, and Staal will have a tough time containing them. 

#2 Tampa Bay vs WC1 NY Islanders 

Verdict: Tampa Bay in 6

The Lightning continue on their quest to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals by edging out the New York Islanders. Ben Bishop returns to form and leads Tampa Bay to the next round. 

#3 Chicago vs WC2 Minnesota 

Verdict: Chicago in 6

Another year, another Chicago versus Minnesota series. The Blackhawks prevail again. The quad-threat of Toews, Kane, Panarin, and Hossa is too much for the Wild to handle as they lose yet again in disappointing fashion. 

#1 Anaheim vs #2 Los Angeles 

Verdict: Anaheim in 7

Now, wouldn’t this be an amazing series? The Ducks and Kings meet in the semi-finals and beat each other to a pulp, however the Ducks get the series win. 

ROUND 3

#1 Washington vs #2 Tampa Bay

Verdict: Washington in 6

Tampa’s bid to return to the finals falls short at the expense of the President’s Trophy winners. The Capitals remain a force to be reckoned with. Steven Stamkos could return by this point, but it’s up in the air. Still, I don’t see him being enough to turn the tide of the series in Tampa’s favor. 

#1 Anaheim vs #3 Chicago

Verdict: Anaheim in 7

A rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals, however this time Anaheim takes home the win. The Ducks get an added boost from their superb special teams to win the series. The weak bottom half of Chicago’s defense will have a tough time keeping up with Anaheim’s depth. 

STANLEY CUP FINAL

#1 Washington vs #1 Anaheim 

Verdict: Anaheim in 6

The Anaheim Ducks are your 2016 Stanley Cup champs!

-Kevin, @TheNHLFiles

Playoff Preview: Western Conference Round 1

Preview for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Western Conference Round 1

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Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference Round 1 

Preview for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Eastern Conference Round 1 Read the rest of this entry