Don't Overlook These 3 in Playoffs
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the NHL playoff of picture is beginning to take shape. Six teams have clinched at least a playoff spot, and eight teams have been statistically eliminated. Then there about six more teams on the bubble, with their post season depending on the remaining outcomes. Three of those bubble teams could show unexpected success in the playoffs, because they've been winning lately and have goaltenders that have shown promise in recent games. When making picks for the playoffs, don't let yourself be ambushed by these three teams:
The Wild have been sneaking up on people, and after their recent five-game winning streak, they have become less of a secret. They have climbed to ninth in the league in goals against average, largely because of the play of goalkeeper Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk has given up no more than two goals in their five-game streak and had a shutout against previously hot-scoring Colorado over the weekend. He now holds a 2.31 GAA. On the offensive end, the Wild have been getting strong play from key players. Forward Erik Haula has three goals and five assists for eight points in the past eight games, and Zach Parise had five goals and seven points in the last three.
Going into Tuesday, Minnesota was five points ahead of the Avalanche for the final wild-card position in the West. If the playoffs started today, the Wild would be matched with Dallas in the first round, and that wouldn't bode well for them; they've won only one in five meetings with the Stars this year. Three of the Wild's final six games are against contending teams, and two of those three are at home.
The Predators haven't quite locked up a playoff spot, but they're getting close. Winners of five of their last six, the Preds had a chance to clinch against Colorado on Monday night. Nashville's surge has been more than just a recent one. They are 19-5-5 since Jan. 21 and 12-2-2 since Feb. 22. That makes them about the hottest team in the league coming down the regular-season stretch. The Predators have two 30-goal scorers in Filip Forsberg and James Neal, and a strong supporting cast behind them. New acquisition Ryan Johansen has fit in well with 16 points in his first 16 games with the Preds, and has six points in his past four games. The team has risen to 12th in the NHL with an average of 2.75 goals per game. At the other end, Pekka Rinne is 12-1-2 in goal, with a 1.85 goals-against average and .936 save percentage since Feb. 18. His season GAA is 2.39. The Predators were five points up on the Wild going into Monday. If the standings stick, the Predators would face the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs, a team they have beaten once and tied once in their four meetings this year. The Predators have a tough path to end the regular season, facing six contending teams in seven remaining games.
The Flyers have done nothing particularly spectacular other than hang on in that thick Eastern Conference race, which is an accomplishment in itself. Nevertheless, having gone 6-2-2 in their last ten, the Flyers are right there with the Detroit Red Wings for the final playoff spot. Goalie Steve Mason has kept the team going lately. In his last five outings, the netminder has registered a 1.99 GAA and .938 save percentage. The Flyers have little to boast about on the offensive end, though, having scored just one goal in three of their last five games. What's worse is the fact that five of their last eight games are against tough teams. And even if they straggle into the post season, they'd be matched with the Washington Capitals.
"We've got to start the game off a little bit better and steal it for ourselves."— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) March 28, 2016
Preds Show Promise
Unless their success tapers off during this late regular-season stretch, the Predators could be the team with the best chance of springing an upset or two in the early round of the post season. They have the right combination of team play on offense and goalkeeping on defense to be a thorn in the side of their favored first-round opponents.
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