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Panthers can still earn home ice as Hurricanes churn towards title

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Carolina moved one step closer to Central Division crown

Chicago Blackhawks v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

The Carolina Hurricanes picked up another point in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks last night, continuing their inexorable march to the Discover Central Division title. Congratulations to Riley Stillman on his first NHL goal in that one.

Now with 80 points, the Hurricanes can clinch the crown by winning one of its final two games against Nashville, or by getting to overtime in both games.

The Tampa Bay Lightning can still win the division, although the odds of that happening according to Money Puck are a scant 3.4%. But hey, that’s up 0.1% from yesterday!

Tampa Bay’s easiest path to the top spot would be for the Hurricanes to lose to the Predators twice in regulation, and for the Bolts to finish up 2-0-1 and take it via the regulation wins tiebreaker.

If Carolina is limited to one point by Nashville during the two-game set, the Bolts would then have to sweep their remaining three games to forge a tie at 81 points, giving them the regulation wins breaker.

What does all that mean for the Florida Panthers? Not much... If the Lightning are somehow able to wrest first place away from the Hurricanes, the Cats would open the playoffs in Raleigh against the team that gave them the toughest time during the regular season.

The odds are far more favorable for Carolina to win the division and deliver the first-ever Panthers-Lightning playoff series. Although the math is against them, the Cats still control their own destiny as far as finishing in second place goes. They can claim that spot by simply beating the Bolts back-to-back in regulation.

Carolina can wrap up the division as soon as tonight. If the Dallas Stars, whose backs are firmly against the wall, can beat the Lightning in regulation tonight, the Hurricanes will clinch and a Cats-Bolts series will be locked in.

The Stars, down to a 4% chance of making the postseason, must earn at least a point tonight at Amalie Arena to remain in the postseason chase. A regulation loss to Tampa Bay would end their bumpy run and clinch fourth place for the Predators. Nashville can ice Dallas out by earning two more points.

In other playoff news, the Montreal Canadiens failed to eliminate the Calgary Flames by dropping a 5-2 decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs, while the Vancouver Canucks kept their flickering hopes on life support with an impressive 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

Calgary’s tragic number is down to one point, while the covid-ravaged Canucks tragic number stands at three.

Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Flames only hope of making the postseason is winning its final five games and the Canadiens losing their remaining three. Vancouver’s best chance of making the playoffs are going 7-1 (with all wins in regulation) and the Canadiens going 0-3 the rest of the way. Not a lot of runway left to work with for those two teams.

Tonight in the Central Division

Dallas at Tampa Bay 7 p.m

Columbus at Detroit 7 p.m.