With four weeks remaining in the regular season two Canadian teams are clearly headed to the Stanley Cup playoffs and a third is close.
The Maple Leafs, who were at home on Friday night against Carolina, await a first-round series with Tampa Bay, while the Oilers are jockeying for postseason position. The Jets currently hold down a wild-card berth but maintain only a thin lead over Calgary and Nashville in the NHL’s Western Conference.
Edmonton has begun to string together solid defensive performances, the most recent a 4-1 victory over Dallas on Thursday. Connor McDavid scored his 57th goal and 14th in the past dozen games but was chosen only its second star. The first was rookie netminder Stuart Skinner, who made 25 saves as he climbed to 21-14-4.
It has certainly taken a while but it finally appears the Oilers have found the goalie they were seeking, even if it isn’t the one expected after they signed Jack Campbell during the off-season.
McDavid’s regular exploits barely raise an eyebrow now unless he scores twice and gets a couple of assists as well. His 131 points are the most since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in 1995-96 and he will likely reach or surpass the 65 goals Alex Ovechkin registered in 2007-08.
Auston Matthews’s 60 last year and Steven Stamkos’s 60 in 2011-12 were certainly impressive but we haven’t seen a performance like this in decades.
Besides its goaltending, the other knock on Edmonton in recent years has been its secondary scoring behind McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (44). That complaint is at best dubious – the Oilers now have 10 players with 10 goals or more.
In what has been a very good year for Toronto, it has eight players with 10 goals or more and has just two more wins than Edmonton.
Dallas was just the latest playoff-calibre opponent the Oilers shut down.
“You have to earn every inch of the ice against the Stars, and I thought we were patient and showed a level of endurance,” head coach Jay Woodcroft said afterward. “In the end we did more good than not and found a way to walk out of here with two points.”
Since Christmas, Edmonton is 20-3-2 in games in which it has allowed three goals or fewer as it heads into an important matchup against the Kraken on Saturday in Seattle.
The Jets have won just three of their past 11 games and are clinging to the final Western wild-card spot. But the Predators are within four points and have played three fewer games. And they are only three points ahead of the Flames.
The Jets’ recent tailspin has undone a lot of good work in the first half of the season. At one point they challenged for first place in their conference and division.
It is unnecessary to say that Winnipeg’s game on Saturday in Nashville is important.
“We know where we are in the standings,” Rick Bowness, the Jets coach, said Friday. “Every game from here on in is going to be a playoff game. It would be a huge mistake for us not to take that type of approach. We are not going to let that happen.”
The Predators were sellers at the trade deadline and looked dead in the standing but are nipping at their heels. It will be hard, but Calgary is still close enough to salvage what has been a disappointing campaign.
“It is more us that has faltered, but those teams are right there,” Bowness said.
The Flames have some hard rowing to do: three of their next four games are against Dallas, Los Angeles and Vegas.
Ottawa played well for a stretch but has lost four in a row and has fallen by the wayside. The Senators will likely be done after games against the Maple Leafs on Saturday, Pittsburgh on Monday, Boston on Tuesday and Tampa Bay on Thursday.
Anything is possible but with a month to go, Toronto and Edmonton are easily in the playoffs. It’s still a bit of sticky wicket for the others.
“We are always hungry to continue to get better,” Darnell Nurse, the Oilers defenceman, said late Thursday. “We have a lot of important hockey coming up. At this time of the year, doing it one time is not good enough.
“You have to do it the whole time with how tight the standings are and how important each and every game is.”
The Carolina Hurricanes were in Toronto on Friday night to face the Maple Leafs. Full story on our website, globesports.com