The Hockey News decision desk has declared the playoff race over for the 2008-09 season. All that is left now is to determine the seedings in the Eastern and Western Conferences.
Going into Wednesday night’s games, the playoff picture is actually a lot clearer than you might think. The chances of one of the Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres, Nashville Predators or Minnesota Wild getting into the playoffs at this point are so slim we’re prepared to declare the teams in playoff positions now will still be there when the season wraps up Sunday.
Here’s a look at each non-playoff team’s status as of Wednesday and the daunting task they face in order to make the playoffs:
Buffalo: Going into Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Sabres need to run the table with wins in their last three games – their last two are at the Carolina Hurricanes and home to the Boston Bruins – and hope the New York Rangers don’t pick up one point in their final two games, both of which are against the Philadelphia Flyers.
If that were to happen, the Sabres and Rangers would be tied in points and wins, but Buffalo has a 5-3 edge in points for the season series between both teams, which is the third tiebreaker.
Florida: The Panthers almost certainly have to win their final two games – on the road against the Atlanta Thrashers and home to the Washington Capitals – to have any hope of making the playoffs. That would give the Panthers 93 points, one more than Montreal and two more than the Rangers.
If Montreal gets at least one point in its final two games – in Boston and home to the Pittsburgh Penguins – it clinches a playoff spot. Even if Florida wins its last two games, they would be tied in points and wins, but Montreal holds the 6-3 points advantage in the season series.
If the Rangers win one of their two final games, they’re also in the playoffs. If the Rangers and Panthers were to finish with the same number of wins and points, Florida would get the playoff spot by virtue of a 7-3 advantage in the season series.
Minnesota: The Wild has to win its final two games – at home to Nashville and on the road to the Columbus Blue Jackets – and hope the Anaheim Ducks don’t get one point and St. Louis Blues don’t pick up two points in their final two games.
The Ducks’ final two games are at home to the Dallas Stars and on the road against the Phoenix Coyotes, so Minnesota shouldn’t count on Anaheim being shut out. In a tie scenario, even if the Wild wins its final two games, it would lose the tiebreaker against the Ducks because it would have one fewer win.
The Blues would take the spot if they and the Wild were tied in points and wins because the Blues won the season series 6-2.
Nashville: Losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in regulation Tuesday night was almost certainly the death knell for the Predators. Now they have to win their final two games on the road against the Detroit Red Wings and Wild and hope the Ducks and Blues fall flat on their faces.
Two wins would give the Predators 41 wins and 90 points, two more than the Ducks and the Blues currently have. The Predators have the tiebreaker by a 6-5 margin against the Ducks, but the Blues would win the tiebreaker against the Predators by a 9-6 margin.
One team we haven’t mentioned yet is the Columbus Blue Jackets. Well, all the Blue Jackets need is one point in their final three games - Wednesday and Friday night in Chicago and St. Louis and at home Saturday against Minnesota - to secure its first playoff berth in franchise history.
Here’s the schedule for each of the playoff bubble teams the rest of the way:
Buffalo: Wednesday at Toronto, Thursday at Carolina, Saturday vs. Boston
Florida: Thursday at Atlanta, Saturday vs. Washington
Rangers: Thursday vs. Philadelphia, Sunday at Philadelphia
Montreal: Thursday at Boston, Saturday vs. Pittsburgh
Minnesota: Friday vs. Nashville, Saturday at Columbus
Nashville: Thursday at Detroit, Friday at Minnesota
St. Louis: Friday vs. Columbus, Sunday at Colorado
Anaheim: Friday vs. Dallas, Saturday at Phoenix
Columbus: Wednesday at Chicago, Friday at St. Louis, Saturday vs. Minnesota
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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