The Florida Panthers stayed in control of their own playoff destiny with a 4-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Saturday night — but nothing else changed in in a wild card chase going to the bitter end.
Both the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins won in regulation to keep themselves within a point of the Panthers for the Eastern Conference’s top wild card spot.
New York is tied with Florida at 91 points while Pittsburgh is sitting on the outside looking in at 90 points with each team having two games remaining on their schedule.
The Buffalo Sabres also stayed alive with a regulation win over the Carolina Hurricanes to move up to 85 points with four games to go.
All signs are pointing to this race coming down to the last day of the NHL season.
And it will be tough for the Panthers to stay on top of this one.
Per Tankathon, the Islanders and Penguins have the easiest remaining schedules.
Florida, meanwhile, has the third-hardest remaining schedule in the league.
Those two teams on the Panthers’ schedule are Toronto on Monday and Carolina on Thursday.
While New York and Pittsburgh each play teams which are eliminated from the playoffs, Florida has to play two teams which have eclipsed the 100-point mark.
But it could become easier than it looks.
Toronto has already clinched home ice in their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina kept its one-point lead over the New Jersey Devils with three games to go after it lost to the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
If the Hurricanes manage to lock up the Metropolitan Division before Thursday, they also would have nothing to play for.
All of a sudden, the Panthers could find themselves playing against a couple of teams resting players for the playoffs.
”We’re back on home ice which we love,’’ Matthew Tkachuk said after scoring the game-winning goal against the Capitals.
“Our fans better be ready because we’re ready to do something special here and we need their help.”
As long as Florida takes care of business in regulation in both games, they would hold the edge over the Islanders in a tiebreaker scenario.
Should the Panthers go 1-0-1 and the Penguins win out, Florida would own a tiebreaker in regulation wins with a 36-31 lead. Pittsburgh would not be able to make it up with two games to go.
Buffalo would need two of the three teams ahead of them to drop a game in regulation in order to become a factor in the race.
At the end of the day, this race comes down to which of these three teams can continue to stay hot.
The Panthers are riding a season-high six-game winning streak to stay alive in the race but they will likely have to extend it to eight in order to secure a spot in the postseason.
PANTHERS ON DECK
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Monday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- Streaming ONLY: ESPN+, Hulu
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Toronto leads 2-1): Maple Leafs 5, Panthers 4 OT (Jan. 17); Maple Leafs 6, Panthers 2 (Mar. 23); Panthers 3, Maple Leafs 2 OT (March 29)
- Last season: Florida won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Toronto leads 47-36-7, 7 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday vs. Carolina Hurricanes, 7 p.m.