With less than two weeks left in the NHL regular season, every playoff spot in the NHL’s Eastern Conference has been decided. Although we don’t know what the final seeding will look like, now is a good time to check in on how each team has fared over their last 25 games. I used statistics website Evolving Hockey to look at how the East’s eight playoff teams are trending.
Florida Panthers: Without question, the Panthers are the best team in the East. However, as we saw in 2018-19 when the Blue Jackets swept the Lightning, being the best team in the regular season doesn’t always translate to playoff success. Seven-game series are heavily influenced by luck. Still, the Panthers continue to dominate the league on a nightly basis. If anything, they’ve gotten better since acquiring forward Claude Giroux. Oh, and their best defenseman, Aaron Ekblad, hasn’t been in the lineup for a month (he’s on track to be ready for the playoffs). The Panthers have a 60% goal share since Feb. 21, and they’ve backed that up with a 58.8% expected-goals percentage and a 59.9% shot share. The Panthers’ 4.3 goals scored per 60 minutes is a byproduct of their relentless attack, which generates 41 shots per 60 minutes. There’s no smoke and mirrors here. The Panthers are the real deal, and if the Western Conference wasn’t full of weak teams, they’d be the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. The Eastern Conference is different. The Panthers will likely have to play the Capitals or Bruins in the first round, and then take on the Lightning or Maple Leafs. If there’s one concern for the Panthers, it’s their on-ice save percentage, which sits at .896 over their last 25 games. Even the best teams need great goaltending to win it all.