Beasts Of The East: The NHL Eastern Conference Playoff Picture So Far
As the 2014-2015 NHL season winds down and reaches its final stretch, a few teams find themselves under a lot of pressure to make the playoffs.
Unlike the Western Conference, which is a lot more wide open at this point, the Eastern Conference almost undoubtedly has the first seven spots locked up.
The Montreal Canadians lead the Eastern Conference at the moment, with the very surprising New York Islanders (no not the Rangers -- you read that right) just behind them.
The Washington Capitals hold the seventh spot and are around 10 points ahead of the eighth spot, which is currently occupied by the Boston Bruins. Directly behind them, the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators are looking to steal that spot.
The Philadelphia Flyers also sit in the “bubble;” however, it may be too late in the season to grab that last spot. But, miracles can happen.
So, as the final stretch gets underway, and with the trade deadline just passing, the question becomes, what team looks to be in the best shape to take the last spot?
Boston Bruins fans got a scare when they were informed of key player David Krejčí's injury. He will probably miss the remainder of this season, and the Bruins originally looked to be in bad shape. Now, they are proving everyone wrong.
Since the passing trade deadline, they have been red hot. This is not the time you want your key players injured, but the Bruins are getting through.
Most of the Bruins' trades involved swapping prospects they are looking to develop for use in future years. However, they were able to add forward Max Talbot during the deadline, who is a very good addition to the defensive team.
As his previous teams have seen, Max Talbot will add much energy to the Bruins, which will be of big help down the road. In addition, they have Tukka Rask protecting their net, who is a reliable goalie and one they can feel comfortable with grabbing them the win.
It also helps that the Bruins defensive core has been solid this year, like many previous years. The Bruins will have to continue find success without Krejčí, which doesn't seem to be too hard.
The Bruins have been a playoff team for the past couple of years, and are making sure they are doing what it takes to be there again this year.
Their final stretch schedule isn't the easiest; they will be facing many teams at the top of the league. If they continue playing like they have since the deadline, they should have no problem finishing out and grabbing that last playoff spot.
The Ottawa Senators have surprised much of the NHL world. Before the trade deadline, most would have probably agreed their season was done. But, something has lit a fire in this organization.
Since February 14, the Senators have been playing near-perfect hockey and have made a very formidable, however late, push to be in contention for a spot in the playoffs. The weirdest part of it is they had no part in any of the trade deadline.
This is a team who stuck with who they began with, and it seems they are finally coming together. While not the most star-studded team, forward Bobby Ryan and defenseman Erik Karlsson have brought together every player while seeing the best qualities come out in each of them.
At this point in the season, the best team is the one with all the players on the same page, which is what Ottawa has.
The chemistry throughout their skaters is some of the best in the NHL right now. With Craig Anderson, who has been a wall in net for them, it's easy for them to produce wins.
Down the stretch, they find themselves in a very similar situation, as most of the bubble teams find themselves playing a lot of the top teams.
If they can keep the chemistry they have through the rest of the season, they could easily find themselves in a spot. The only problem is, the teams above them are playing great hockey.
As well as they may do, they might need other teams to lose their mojo to have a great shot at the playoffs.
The Panthers are a surprising team to be up in playoff contention, considering their terrible season last year.
However, late last season, they were able to acquire Roberto Luongo, who has been big reason for the Panthers success this year.
Along with an elite goaltender, skaters Nick Bjugstad, Brad Boyes and Jimmy Hayes have provided scoring all season, while Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad and Jussi Jokinen have provided much success on the front end, as well.
However, they seem to be struggling going down the stretch, which, at this point of the season, is not where you want to be. They have struggled since the All-Star break to grab wins against teams they will be seeing in the playoffs, assuming they make it.
And, the passing of the trade deadline hasn't been indicative of any improvement. While they haven't been terrible, they haven't been playing good enough hockey to secure them a spot. The most notable addition through during the trade deadline was Jaromír Jágr.
Though the oldest player in the NHL, Jágr has proven this season that he is in elite shape and can perform at the highest level. He's a great playmaker while still proving he can put the puck in the net.
He is one of the smartest players on the ice this season, which will go along way for the panthers.
They will need to rely on him and other veterans to lead the way for morale and focus. They are the players who know what mindset they will need to be able to produce the wins and grab that spot. That will help them with their lack of consistency as of late.
The Panthers will need to start winning consistently, but it won't come with ease.
Most of the games they play will be against teams who hold a spot, and they will need to produce points, which has been a struggle.
Throughout the season, the Flyers have been a near-.500 team. The Flyers are, most seasons, a team that never gives up, and they have, once again, proved they are not doing so now.
Since the All-Star break, the Flyers had been producing wins against very good teams and have become a legitimate contender for the last spot in the East. However, the passing of the trade deadline has not treated them well.
They have struggled to win even one game, and that has cost them. Even when they take a game to overtime, they have been pitiful. They are now pretty much out of contention, but still have some hope, as long as they play perfect hockey.
Steve Mason has missed a handful of games due to a nagging knee injury, but has played very well without much help from his team.
The Flyers' scoring ability since the trade deadline has been pitiful, which is odd because, though sellers, they only shipped defenseman Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen, who hadn't played a game for them that season.
In return, they gained a first-, second- and third-round pick in the 2015 draft, fourth-round 2016 pick and defenseman Radko Gudas.
The Flyers, at this point in the season, are probably more focused on next year, though the Flyers mentality is always focused on the present. Where they sit in the standings is almost near impossible, considering how the teams above them are playing.
My guess is the Boston Bruins will move into a spot in the playoffs. They have been red hot down the stretch and have proven they can play the same style hockey, even without David Krejčí.
In addition, they have made the playoffs multiple years, and their veteran core knows what needs to be done to secure a spot.