Playoff race is all but over in NHL's Eastern Conference
Off The Draw
Good news for the eight Eastern Conference teams that currently hold down a playoff spot as the NHL heads into the All-Star break: You can start printing those postseason tickets now.
For the other eight teams, the outlook isn’t so sunny. Despite having nearly half a season left to play, they’re all but finished.
That’s not just my opinion. That’s math.
According to the algorithms created by Sportsclubstats.com, each team currently in playoff position has at least a 71.8% chance of still being in playoff position when the season ends on April 12.
Just 46 games into the season, the conference-leading Islanders are a virtual lock at 99.6%. Same with the Lightning (99.5%), Rangers (99.4%), Red Wings (98.9%), Canadiens (98.8%) and Penguins (98.7%). The Capitals (94.4%) are pretty safe too.
Only the Bruins (72%), who knocked off the Stars in Dallas on Tuesday night, are in a remotely precarious position. But Boston’s 72% looks pretty solid when put into perspective. The Bruins can actually lose more games than they win down the stretch (16-15-4, to be exact) and still have a better than 50% chance of holding down the second wild card spot.
If Boston keeps rolling at its current .596 winning clip—a pretty safe bet considering that the team is only now getting healthy after being hammered by injuries to key players during the first half—the Bruins have a 97.2% chance of holding on.
Add in Boston’s massive advantage in the tie-breaker—23 regulation or overtime wins compared to 15 for the Panthers—and it’s clear that the Bruins control their own destiny.
That's a cold slap in the face to Florida. The Panthers are currently in ninth-place in the East, just six points behind Boston, and even hold three games in hand, but they have just a 17.8% chance of overtaking the Bruins.
To have a 50% chance of grabbing the last wild-card berth, Florida will need to go 20-13-15 the rest of the way. That’s not impossible for a team that is currently 20-14-10, but it’s still a grim reminder that the Panthers have little margin for error. A five or six-game losing streak—kind of like the four-gamer they’re in the midst of now—could mean the end of their postseason hopes.
The Senators have even less wiggle room. Ottawa, in 10th place in the conference, has only a 13% chance of mounting a late charge, and need to win at least 22 of their final 37 to have a shot. It only gets worse for the other bubble teams. The Maple Leafs have to go 22-9-4 to stay close. The Flyers need a 23-7-4 finish. Based on what we’ve seen from those teams to this point, such second-half records seem unlikely.
As for the rest of the conference, it's pretty much run the table or plan on opening up the cottage a little early this spring.
Of course, the math doesn’t account for every variable. Injuries to a significant player—say, Braden Holtby in Washington or Patrice Bergeron in Boston—could derail a team with solid chances. Trades can also shift the balance of power in the conference. Or maybe a team will have just enough puck luck to turn a decent stretch of hockey into an eight- or 10-game winning streak.
In other words, there’s still a chance for teams on the outside to make a late push.
But you might not want to tell them the odds.