The Carolina Hurricanes are currently leading the Metro Division by 3 points over the New Jersey Devils with a game in hand. The New York Rangers are in third place, trailing the Canes by 9 points, having played two more games.
The second and third-place teams will battle off against each other in the first round, while the division winner will get one of the two wild card winners. Most likely the Metro Division winner will play the top wild card.
The Boston Bruins are on pace to have the one seed in the Eastern Conference which draws the last wild card team.
The Eastern Conference wild card race is one that will go down to the very last week of the season. A handful of teams are in the race for both wild card spots.
These teams will battle out each other in what will be playoff-like games down the stretch and then head into the first round to play the top teams of the conference.
As of today, the New York Islanders hold the top wild-card spot and the Pittsburgh Penguins sit in the second wild-card spot. Sitting two points ahead of the Penguins, the Islanders have played four more games than the Penguins and most of the teams in the wild card race.
Again, this will be a battle for the next month or so.
The importance of winning the division cannot be stressed enough for the Canes. A likely matchup against the red hot Rangers is not ideal for a first round opponent.
The Rangers play a fast style with multiple scoring threats and have the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in net in Igor Shesterkin.
Recently the Rangers acquired star forward, Vladimir Tarasenko from the St. Louis Blues. This only made the team more dangerous and now the rumors seem to be that Patrick Kane is on his way to Broadway.
This is not to say that Carolina cannot compete with the Rangers but for a team that has Stanley Cup aspirations, the first round should not be against an opponent with that fire power.
The defensive depth and structure of the Canes team is one that will be able to stop the top players on any team but if last year’s series with the Rangers was any indication, the series will be tough.
No disrespect to the wild card contenders but playing against a team that has been basically in a playoff hunt for a month is more attractive than a rested and re-tooled Rangers team.