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NHL Playoff picture: Wildcards up for grabs as season edges towards climax

With less than two weeks remaining in the 2022/23 NHL season, the race for the playoffs is at boiling point in both the Eastern and Western Conference.

In the East, the top three automatic positions in the Metropolitan and Atlantic Division are settled as are the top three from the West’s Pacific. 

The Central’s automatic teams are close to being confirmed but there is still massive uncertainty as to who will win the Wild Card spots from both conferences.

Bruins first to book playoff place

The Boston Bruins remain on course to record the best NHL regular season in history and were the first team to clinch a place in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Boston (60-12-5) have since won the Presidents’ Trophy and will have home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. 
The Bruins have an incredible 31-4-3 record at TD Garden and they are 3/1 to go on to be crowned Stanley Cup Champions. 

Joining Boston in the playoffs from the Atlantic Division is Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning who will meet in the first round for the second year running. 

Toronto are 10/1 to end their record 55-year drought of a Stanley Cup this season while the Lightning are 14/1 to regain the championship which they lost to Colorado Avalanche last season. 

The Bruins will meet the second Wild Card holder in the East, currently Pittsburgh Penguins, who are now 18/1 to win the NHL Eastern Conference.

Battle of Hudson

The Carolina Hurricanes sit top of the Metropolitan Division by three points and also with a game in hand, look very likely to win the divisional title. 

That would mean a Battle of Hudson in the playoffs between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers. 

New Jersey hold a three-point lead over the Rangers for home ice advantage with five games remaining. 

The Hurricanes are second in the overall NHL standings and at 8/1 to win the Stanley Cup would currently face the first Wild Card holder from the East which is New York Islanders. 

However, the race for Wild Card positions in the East is tight with the Penguins trailing Islanders by just one point and the Florida Panthers, on the outside of a playoff position, just two points behind, each with a game in hand. 

The Devils have made the playoffs just once since they reached the final in 2012, but led by an exciting young core aren’t just content to have broken a four-year absence from the post-season but expect to go deep and are 19/2 to be crowned champions. 

The Rangers made the Eastern Conference Final last season and with the addition of three-time Stanley Cup winner Patrick Kane from Chicago Blackhawks are 13/1 to go all the way and win the Cup this season.

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Pacific up for grabs

The Vegas Golden Knights sit top of the Pacific Division and would face the second Wild Card holder from the Western Conference, currently held by Winnipeg Jets, but they are just one point ahead of Los Angeles Kings and two above Edmonton Oilers. 

Vegas are 10/17 to hold on to first place and win the division but even if they manage that their playoff opponent is unclear as Calgary Flames are just two points behind the Jets and Nashville Predators are five points off the second and final Wild Card position and with two games in hand. 

As it stands, the Kings would take on the Oilers, who have the two most dangerous players in the NHL, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. 

The pair not only lead the current regular season for points, but they also had the most of all players in the playoffs last season as the Oilers made the Western Conference Final. 

The Oilers are 9/2 to go a step further and win the Conference this season and 11/1 to end the season as Stanley Cup champions.

All to play for in Central too

The Central is the only Division which hasn’t yet confirmed its three automatic playoff teams. 

The Minnesota Wild top the division and would face Seattle Kraken who are fourth in the same division but would earn a playoff place by way of the first Wild Card from the Western Conference. 

The Kraken will almost certainly need to rely on the Wild Card to get into the post-season for the first time as they are six points behind third place Dallas Stars and second Colorado Avalanche who are in positions to meet each other. 

Dallas, 12/5 to win the Central, are just one point behind the Wild who are 11/5 to remain first with the same games played, and the Avalanche are also one point behind but have a game in hand making them 21/20 to win the division and get Kraken in the playoffs.

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