The NHL regular season has now entered its final month, and an increasing number of games will have a direct effect on the 2013 Stanley Cup playoff field. Not only are divisional matchups key to determine the top three seeds in each conference, but those against the other divisions are helping to shape the middle seed ordering, as well as the races for the final place in the field of eight in both the Eastern and Western Conferences. Three teams in the East and five in the West trail the current eighth place team by four points. If just two games stand to make that big of a difference of who’s eligible for the Stanley Cup and who isn’t, imagine how intense the games at your favorite NHL arena could be. Well, at least for this week, Flyers fans.
While fighting for the eighth seed and earning the chance to face the once-streaking Blackhawks, the now-streaking Penguins, or other top contenders like Anaheim, Boston or Montreal may not seem like much of a reward, fans should remember that the Los Angeles Kings just managed to qualify for last year’s Stanley Cup tournament and went on to streak through the Western Conference before taking down the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 Final. Similar matchup considerations face teams in the middle of the pack, where qualifying for a sixth seed could earn a team a first-round versus a weaker division champ like Winnipeg or Vancouver rather than versus than a top-two matchup for the seventh and eighth seeds. There is so much variability ready to play out over the next few weeks, and this short season is offering a compelling prelude to one of the most exciting postseasons in professional sports. We’ve highlighted some of the more meaningful matchups for you below!