The NHL playoff race can turn upside down during the stretch run, as the St. Louis Blues proved last season.
The Blues rallied from last place in the league in January to reach the playoffs and rolled through four postseason rounds to win the Stanley Cup. That run provides fuel for this season'srace, which still includes most of the league.
"With the Blues, they found their groove and they kept going last year and rode that wave," said Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner, whose team sat four points out of the playoffs entering this season's All-Star break. "We need to find that groove and keep pushing. The teams right behind us and right in front of us are doing the same thing."
Only the Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators are out of the Eastern Conference race. Only the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings appear to be done in the Western Conference, though the San Jose Sharks are sinking fast.
Otherwise, postseason berths are up for grabs for teams that can gain traction and sustain it into April.
For instance, the surprising Columbus Blue Jackets won six consecutive games coming into the All-Star break. They currently sit in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
"We're coming together pretty nicely," Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones aid. "I think we were playing pretty good hockey earlier in the year and we weren't getting the results. As of late, really the past eight weeks, we really came into our own."
In the Metropolitan Division, the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins and sixth-place Philadelphia Flyers are separated by just seven points. In the Pacific Division, the top five teams are separated by just one point.
The Vancouver Canucks lead the division, but the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights are right behind them.
"We've been there at the top for a while now," Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said. "Now we're in a situation if we have a bad week, we could be in fifth place. There are 31 games left and it's all downhill. We have some young guys, I think they understand it's going to be hard. If you think it's hard now, it's going to be really hard."
Head-to-head games will decide the divisional races.
"You know what happens at the end of the year, everybody starts playing each other, so that heightens it even more," Flames defenseman Mark Giordano said. "The divisional games, the head-to-heads if you can win them in regulation, it does a lot for you. Those are emotional games. You've got to be able to control your emotions, be disciplined."
Last season, the Flames were the anti-Blues. They dominated their side of the league for much of the season, then faded late and took a quick exit from the playoffs.
"It's about putting it together at the right time," Giordano said. "I feel like last year we had a great start and an unbelievable first half and sort of lost that confidence that we had down the stretch and it carried over in the playoffs. So hopefully this year is a complete opposite."
Winning the big head-to-head games, as the Blues did a year ago, can solidify a team for the postseason grind.
"It's going to be a fight to the end," Golden Knights winger Max Pacioretty said. "We're expecting these last 30 games to be really intense, but on the bright side, if you're able to get in, if you're able to get through these games, that should prepare you for the playoffs."
--Field Level Media