The final full week of regular season play in the NHL continues to see three of the four division titles left wide-open while the North Division looks done and dusted with the Toronto Maple Leafs closing in on the trophy.
Toronto sits nine points clear of Edmonton for the top spot in the All-Canada division, while Winnipeg and Montreal occupy the final two playoff spots from that division.
Pittsburgh has taken grasp of the top spot in the East Division, leading Washington by two points and the New York Islanders by four. Boston sits eight points clear of the New York Rangers for fourth place, while Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Buffalo are all eliminated from postseason contention.
The West Division has seen the Vegas Golden Knights take a four-point lead over Colorado, while Minnesota also remains in the hunt for a top-two finish. St. Louis is three points clear of fifth place Arizona, hanging onto a playoff spot for now.
Carolina has the edge over Tampa Bay and Florida for right now, leading both teams by two points in the Central Division. The Hurricanes have been one of the league’s biggest surprises, doing two of their traditional rivals so far this season.
I continued my breakdown of the best bets for teams and players heading into the first week of May.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The defending Stanley Cup Champs may be sitting outside of first place, but overall will be a major threat to every team in the playoffs.
Nikita Kucherov should be back and ready to go for the Lightning after missing the regular season, while key players like Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos have led the way this season. Victor Hedman remains a top defensive player in the league, excelling in the offensive and defensive zones.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is in the running for the Vezina Trophy once again and will be one of the leading goaltenders to watch come playoff time. Tampa Bay has what it takes to run the table and repeat as champions.
Up this week: vs. Dallas 5/5, vs. Dallas 5/7, @ Florida 5/8.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto has many mincemeat out of the North Division this season and are showing zero signs of slowing down for the playoffs.
Led by MVP candidate Auston Matthews, Toronto has won five straight and should pose a dangerous threat to the rest of the NHL later this month. Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and Morgan Reilly are also key contributors to the team this season, while 29-year-old Jack Campbell has shined in goal (15-2-1).
Toronto will look to end the regular season strong and show they belong when the bright lights of the playoffs come on.
Up this week: @ Montreal 5/3, vs. Montreal 5/6, vs. Montreal 5/8.
The Boston Bruins will unlikely grab a top-two spot in the East Division, but overall they will be a contender from that division come playoff time.
Boston is 8-2-0 in its last 10 games and is delivering some tough performances against one of the more competitive all-around divisions in the NHL. The Bruins, to no surprise, have been led by the likes of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak offensively, but defensively they continue to grind out wins without Zdeno Chara’s services anymore.
Jeremy Swayman (6-2) has provided a nice supplement to Tuukka Rask in goal and could be good to have come playoffs. Boston isn’t a flashy team, but then again when have they been?
Up this week: @ New Jersey 5/3, @ New Jersey 5/4, vs. New York Rangers 5/6, vs. New York Rangers 5/8.
Connor McDavid has continued to blossom into one of the league’s best forward and he will now look to do more of the same for Edmonton in postseason play.
McDavid has scored six goals to go along with 10 assists in his last six games for the Oilers. McDavid leads the league in points (87) and assists (58) and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down for the streaking Oilers.
Teamed up with Leon Draisaitl, McDavid has taken his game to a new level this season and has helped lead Edmonton into the second place spot in the North Division. After injuries hurt his chances at the end of last season, McDavid will look to propel Edmonton to a deep playoff run and a few shocking upsets along the way.
This week he faces the Canucks four times in a row.
Up this week: @ Vancouver 5/3, @ Vancouver 5/4, vs. Vancouver 5/6, vs. Vancouver 5/8.
The Florida Panthers have been in the mix for the Central Division title all season long and Alex Barkov has continued to lead the team into the final stages of the season.
Barkov has scored seven goals in his last eight games overall, playing a leading role for the Panthers, who remain neck-and-neck with Carolina and Tampa Bay. The 25-year-old Finnish forward is one of the league’s gritty goalscorers and he’s shown that time and time again over the past two weeks.
Barkov only has two opportunities to add to his regular season goal total of 25 this week, but the odds will certainly be in his favor.
Up this week: vs. Dallas 5/3, vs. Tampa Bay 5/8.
The Minnesota Wild have been one of the league’s biggest improvements in 2021 and Kirill Kaprizov has certainly played his role of late. Kaprizov, 24, has scored six goals in his last seven appearances, playing a secondary role in the Wild’s offensive corps.
After several seasons in the KHL, Kaprizov has exploded for 23 goals and 20 assists for 43 points this season, averaging just under one point per game. If Minnesota wants to make a deep run come playoff time, they will need the Russian to continue racking up the stats, starting this week.
Up this week: vs. Vegas 5/3, vs. Vegas 5/5, vs. Anaheim 5/7, vs. Anaheim 5/8,