NHL stretch drive: Two Central Division teams can clinch Monday

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The Los Angeles Kings clinched a playoff berth on Sunday and the Pittsburgh Penguins moved back into a playoff spot.

It’s Central Division teams’ time in the spotlight on Monday.

The Minnesota Wild can clinch a playoff and gain ground in the race for the Western Conference’s top overall seed if they defeat the Vegas Golden Knights at home. They had lost 4-1 in Las Vegas on Saturday.

The Dallas Stars also will clinch if they defeat the visiting Nashville Predators, who need the points to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

Questions to be answered with the end of the regular season rapidly approaching:

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Can the Bruins and Edmonton star Connor McDavid keep up their impressive paces to reach special territory? Who will win the races in the Metropolitan, Central and Pacific divisions? How about the wild-card races? And which team will have the best odds to win the May 8 draft lottery and get the right to draft generational talent Connor Bedard?

USA TODAY Sports analyzes the NHL’s stretch drive, with the regular season ending April 14 (story is updated through April 2):

Will the Boston Bruins break the NHL wins record?

The NHL record is 62 by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings and 2018-19 Lightning. The Bruins, who have a franchise-record 60 wins, need three victories over their final five games to get the league mark. Boston has a combined 8-2 record against their final five opponents. They beat the Penguins and Blues during the weekend while sitting out captain Patrice Bergeron.

Will Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid reach 70 goals or 150 points?

McDavid seemed headed for the NHL’s first 70-goal season since the 1990s when he had five consecutive two-goal games in late February and early March to give him 52 goals in 62 games. But 70 is likely out of reach because even after scoring in his past two games, he needs eight goals in his final five games. Three of those games against the bottom-four San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks. He has averaged a goal a game against those teams. McDavid has 146 points and has a good chance to be the league’s first 150-point scorer since the 1990s. 

Can Sharks defensemen Erik Karlsson reach 100 points?

His four-assist game on Saturday means he needs five points in his last six games. He twice faces the Avalanche, who shut him out in their lone meeting. No NHL defenseman has scored 100 points since the New York Rangers’ Brian Leetch in 1991-92.

Who wins the Metropolitan Division?

The Carolina Hurricanes lead the New Jersey Devils by three points after defeating the New York Islanders on Sunday. The Hurricanes, who improved to 6-5-1 since Andrei Svechnikov suffered a season-ending knee injury, have a game in hand. 

Who wins the Atlantic Division?

The Bruins have won both the division and the Presidents’ Trophy, giving them home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The Toronto Maple Leafs lead the Tampa Bay Lightning by four points and have a game in hand in the race for home-ice advantage in the first round. They face other on April 11 in Toronto. Maple Leafs goalie Matt Murray left Sunday’s game after a collision.

What about the Eastern Conference wild-card race?

The New York Islanders (87 points) and Pittsburgh Penguins (86) hold the two spots. The Florida Panthers are at 85 and Buffalo Sabres at 81 with two games in hand on the Penguins and three on the Islanders. The Panthers moved ahead of Pittsburgh when Carter Verhaeghe scored four games Saturday in a 7-0 rout of the Columbus Blue Jackets. But Pittsburgh reclaimed the spot Sunday with a 4-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers. Both have five games left. The Penguins’ final three games are against three non-playoff teams while the Panthers’ final two games are against the Maple Leafs and Hurricanes. The Sabres play four playoff teams in their final seven games.

Who wins the Central Division?

Just one point separates the No. 1 Minnesota Wild, No. 2 Colorado Avalanche and No. 3 Dallas Stars. The Wild fell to the Golden Knights, just their second regulation loss in 22 games. Those teams meet again Monday. The Avalanche beat the Stars 5-2 Saturday behind a four-point night from Mikko Rantanen. The Stars would move into first place on Monday if they win and the Wild lose. The Avalanche will have two games in hand after Monday night.

Who wins the Pacific Division?

The Golden Knights, who have a game in hand, lead the Los Angeles Kings by one point and the Oilers by three. This will be a big week for helping determine the final standings. The Oilers and Kings meet on Tuesday and the Golden Knights and Kings play on Thursday (will Vegas goalie Jonathan Quick face his former team?). 

How about the Western Conference wild-card race?

The second-year Seattle Kraken (90 points) and the Jets (89) hold the two spots, with the Flames at 87 and Predators at 84. Nashville has two games in hand on the Jets. Winnipeg, which has outscored its opponents 12-3 over two games since shuffling its lines, hosts Calgary on Wednesday and Nashville on Saturday. The Kraken, who host the Arizona Coyotes on Monday, have two games in hand on Winnipeg and Calgary. They play five non-playoff teams before finishing the season with a home-and-home set against the Golden Knights.

Who gets the best odds to draft Connor Bedard?

The Chicago Blackhawks have lost eight in a row to drop to last place but have captain Jonathan Toews back in the lineup after he missed two months with the effects of long COVID and chronic immune response syndrome. The Anaheim Ducks, who also have lost eight in a row, have fallen to 31st place. The Columbus Blue Jackets moved past the Ducks by beating the Ottawa Senators on Sunday.

The bottom team has a 25.5% chance of getting the first pick in the lottery, either outright or with a team in the 12 to 16 range winning. The lottery winner can move up only 10 spaces this year.

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