March Madness! Yes, basketball isn’t the only sport with a mad month of March that for some results in either madness or sadness — the NHL has two beautiful playoff races this year to keep an eye on.
We have the Eastern Conference Wild Card race with the Bruins trying their best to hand Ottawa or Florida an unlikely playoff berth. On the other side, you have the Canucks, Flames, Kings, and sorta the Sharks all battling for two spots in the Pacific Division.
The Eastern Conference Wild Card
(Courtesy of NHL.com)
I don’t think many people expected Boston to miss the playoffs at the beginning of the year. In fact, I don’t think many people predicted Ottawa or Florida to be anywhere near the playoffs come March, let alone be nipping at the Bruins’ feet with 10 games to go in the regular season.
It looks like seven of the eight playoff spots in the Eastern Conference have been decided. Barring some kind of meltdown, Montreal, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington, and the Rangers and Islanders appear to be locks for spring hockey. If anybody in that group is going to implode, it’ll probably be either the Capitals or Penguins since they’re only four and six points up on Boston respectively, but like I said, that’s unlikely.
The real race is for the eighth and final playoff spot between the sinking Bruins, the surging Senators led by the Hamburglar, and the head-scratching Panthers who own a -20 goal differential yet are only four points out of a playoff spot.
8. Boston Bruins – 84 points and nine games remaining
Remaining games: at home against Anaheim, at home against NY Ranges, on the road against Carolina, at home against Florida, on the road against Detroit, at home against Toronto, on the road against Washington, on the road against Florida, on the road against Tampa Bay.
So the Bruins have four games at home and five on the road left to play. Of those games, two of them are against one of the teams directly below them in the standings, and the rest, aside from the ones against Carolina and Toronto, are against playoff teams. That schedule doesn’t bode well for a team that’s currently riding a five game losing streak.
9. Ottawa Senators – 83 points and 11 games remaining
Remaining games: at home against San Jose, at home against NY Rangers, on the road against Toronto, at home against Florida, on the road against Detroit, at home against Tampa Bay, at home against Washington, on the road against Toronto, at home against Pittsburgh, on the road against the NY Rangers, on the road against Philadelphia.
The Senators are the exact opposite of the Bruins right now. They own a six game winning streak and they’ve won nine of their last 10 games. As we all know, they’re running on the unfathomably and unsustainably good performance of goaltender Andrew Hammond. In his 15 career games, Hammond has a 0.947 save percentage and 1.65 goals against average, and he hasn’t lost yet in regulation. Seems legit.
The Sens have a pretty tough schedule and they won’t be playing Boston again. Of their 11 remaining games, six are at home and five are on the road, and seven are against playoff teams, and two are against bubble teams in San Jose and Florida. Luckily for the Sens, they get the Toronto Tank Wagon twice more.
10. Florida Panthers – 80 points and 10 games remaining
Remaining games: on the road against Tampa Bay, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, at home against Carolina, Tampa Bay, Montreal, Boston, New Jersey
So that’s really….weird. Florida has 10 games to go this season, and those are games are going to be sliced right down the middle with the first five on the road, and the final five coming back in South Beach. I’m not sure if that’s going to be some kind of advantage or not, but it’s kind of a weird scheduling quirk.
Regardless, Florida has the most power of any of the three teams because they play Boston twice and Ottawa once, so if they win all three of those games, they’ll gain four points on the Bruins and two on the Senators. Well, unless they lose all of their other games and Boston and Ottawa win theirs, obviously. Of their five road games, the Panthers face two playoff teams, the two bubble teams they’re trying to catch, and Toronto. Of their home games, they get the same two playoff teams, two non-playoff teams, and Boston again. While those games against Boston are nice, the four against the top two teams in the conference really, really hurt.
Boston is sliding and it doesn’t get any easier for them in the next little bit as their next two games are against the Ducks and Rangers. Luckily for them, the Sens have to face those same Rangers and their schedule isn’t any easier. The advantage Ottawa has is the extra two games in hand and the two games against the Leafs — who may want to play spoiler, but probably aren’t currently capable of doing so.
I think Ottawa wins this race by a hair.
The Pacific Division
(Courtesy of NHL.com)
Unlike the East, the Western conference seems to be wide open. Four teams are locks, St. Louis, Nashville, Chicago and Anaheim, while eight other teams realistically have some chance to fill the other four spots. Edmonton and Arizona are not one of those eight teams.
The battle for the playoffs in the West is especially tight in the Pacific Division, where a few losses can jettison you from hosting a first round playoff series all the way into the toilet bowl. Right now, Vancouver and Calgary own the two spots that them, L.A. and San Jose are battling for. I imagine whoever doesn’t make it out of the Pacific won’t be in the Wild Card, as Minnesota and Winnipeg appear to have those two spots on lock, but hey, anything can happen. Both Dallas and Colorado are heating up, but I’m going to stay in the Pacific for now.
2. Vancouver Canucks – 88 points and 10 games remaining
Remaining games: at home against Winnipeg, Colorado, and Dallas, on the road against St. Louis, Nashville, Chicago and Winnipeg, at home against L.A., Arizona, and Edmonton
This is like a mini-Florida Panthers situation. Not quite as extreme, but the Canucks have a three game home stand, followed by a gauntlet road trip, then a really soft home stand to wrap things up. The Canucks are rulers of their own destiny here, they have a pretty tough schedule coming up, but they’re six points up on the Kings and two up on Calgary and they face L.A. one more time. They’re 6-3-1 in their previous 10 games, and if they can keep that up in their final 10, they’re golden.
3. Calgary Flames – 84 points and 10 games remaining
Remaining games: at home against Colorado and Dallas, on the road against Minnesota, Nashville, Dallas, St. Louis, and Edmonton, at home against Arizona and L.A, on the road against Winnipeg.
The Flames’ schedule is very similar to Vancouver’s. Both teams have a pretty big road trip split up by a couple games at home. They basically have identical schedules in terms of their competition, the only difference is that Calgary faces Dallas twice, while Vancouver faces Winnipeg twice, and the Flames plays Minnesota while the Canucks play Chicago. Vancouver may have the edge in this thing because they have five home games while the Flames have four. Although, playing on the road hasn’t really been as issue for the Flames, as they boast a 19-14-2 record away from the Saddledome.
4. Los Angeles Kings – 82 points and 11 games remaining
Remaining games: on the road against New Jersey, NY Rangers, NY Islanders, Minnesota, and Chicago, at home against Edmonton and Colorado, on the road against Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary, on the road against San Jose.
The Kings are about to embark on a massive five game road trip that will likely determine the outcome of their season. But reinforcements are on the way, as Mike Richards was just called back up from Manchester. They own a 12-14-7 record on the road this year, and against the East, they’re 13-12-4. To make matters more difficult, the Kings also go on another three game road trip before the end of the season, meaning they play eight of their final 11 on the road. Luckily for them, one of those road games is against Edmonton, and the other two are against the two teams they need to beat to catch in the standings.
6. San Jose Sharks – 78 points and 10 games remaining
Remaining games: on the road against Ottawa, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, at home against Colorado and Arizona, on the road against Arizona, at home against Dallas, on the road against Edmonton and L.A.
Of their 10 remaining games, the Sharks only have three at home, but at least they get to play three games against bottom dwelling teams. Regardless, San Jose is six points out and it’s going to be really tough for them to do anything about it unless they sweep the rest of their season. It looks like the Sharks are going to miss the dance for the first time since 2003.
I hate betting against the Kings and their experience, but L.A. has by far the most difficult schedule of the three contenders with eight games on the road. On top of that, they really only have two gimmes against Edmonton to make up for it. I figure Vancouver has a spot locked up and the final spot will be decided by who wins the game between L.A. and Calgary on April. 9.