TWO GAMES LEFT: An in-depth look at how the playoff races can play out over the next few days

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 3:03 am by Cam Lewis

Two points separates five teams in the Eastern Conference with two games to go. The picture is similar in the West, as three teams separated by just three points of one another teams duke it out for the final two playoff spots. Simply put, these last two games are huge. Any of Calgary, Winnipeg, Detroit, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh, or Boston could relinquish their spot to Ottawa or Los Angeles. 

What are the possible playoff scenarios? What’s most likely to happen? Let’s take a look.


First off, we have the the Eastern Conference, which features two teams looking to avoid monumental collapses and another team that’s been riding on fumes since New Year’s. Currently, Detroit sits in the third spot in the Atlantic Division with 97 points and 38 regulation/overtime wins and the Islanders sit third in the Metro Division with 98 points and 39 regulation/overtime wins. After them, Pittsburgh and Boston fill the two Wild Card positions with 96 and 95 points respectively, while Ottawa sits on the outside looking in with 95 points and only 35 regulation/overtime wins. ROW is important because it’s the tiebreak the NHL uses in an attempt to try to make shootouts slightly less meaningful.

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Detroit Red Wings: 

The Wings have had a pretty ugly stretch since the beginning of March, winning just 9 of 19 games. In that time, they’ve seen their firm lead over the Wild Card holding Bruins in the Atlantic Division shrink to just two points. All Detroit really has to do is win one of their final two games to clinch a playoff spot. Ottawa, the only team left on the outside with a chance of getting in, has 95 points to Detroit’s 97, but if the two teams tie at 99, Detroit has the edge in regulation/overtime wins. Their two remaining games will be on the road against Montreal and Carolina. They’ve played the Habs three times so far this season, finishing the head-to-head matchup with two regulation losses (4-1, 2-0) and one overtime loss (2-1). If they can’t beat Montreal for the first time this season, they’ll have another chance to clinch when they face the Hurricanes, who they’ve beaten in both meetings this season (3-1, 3-2). The Wings’ main concern is winning games so they can finish higher in the standings, but even then, they’ll face one of Montreal, Tampa Bay, or the Rangers in the first round, which obviously isn’t a favorable matchup. 

New York Islanders: 

If the Islanders somehow manage to blow this one, that Schenn goal on Halak is going to really, really sting. The Islanders need just one point to clinch a playoff spot, which they would have got had Halak not allowed an ugly goal against the Flyers with three seconds to go in a tied game. The Islanders have had the worst home stretch of anybody in the playoff picture. Since the beginning of March, they’ve gone 5-7-3, dropping them to third in the Metro Division. At New Year’s, it looked like they were running away with this thing. Their last two games will comes against Pittsburgh, a team who is also looking to avoid a monumental collapse, and Columbus, one of the hottest teams in the league, who unfortunately isn’t anywhere near a playoff position. So neither of those two games are freebies. In three meetings with the Jackets, the Islanders had two commanding wins (5-2,6-3) back in January and February respectively, and one shootout loss last week (4-3). The Islanders can still finish second in the Metro Division and earn home ice in their first round playoff series, but they’ll have to get four points in their final two games and have Washington lose their last game against the Rangers in regulation, which may happen. As I said before, all the Islanders need to do is get one point to clinch because they have the advantage over all of the five other teams in both ROW and goal differential. 

Pittsburgh Penguins: 

The Penguins are at the risk of missing the playoffs for the first time since Sidney Crosby’s rookie season, but in order for them to complete their collapse, they probably need to lose both of their remaining games since Ottawa can’t catch them on the ROW tiebreaker. The Pens allowed the Sens to stay alive in this race when they blew a 3-0 lead in their game on Tuesday and ended up losing in overtime. Winning just one game would put the pressure on Ottawa because it would mean they have to win both of their remaining games. It’s pretty likely Pittsburgh manages to win at least one of these games, considering one is against Buffalo, who they’ve out scored 11-1 in two wins this season. They also face the Islanders, who they’ve beaten once (3-1) and lost to three times (5-4 SO, 4-1, 6-3). Maybe the Sabres will play better knowing that they have last place locked up? Wishful thinking.

Boston Bruins:

The Bruins just saw their five game winning streak come to an end last night in a 3-0 loss to the Washington Capitals. Before that winning streak, though, was a six game losing streak that resulted in them almost throwing away their playoff spot to the Sens. Boston is probably the most likely team to be caught by the Senators, as the two teams are tied with 95 points, but the Bruins have two more ROWs. For them to lose their spot to the Sens, they simply have to get less points than Ottawa does in their final two games, where they play Tampa Bay and Florida. They have two wins (4-3, 3-2 SO) and one loss (5-3) to the Lightning, and two wins (2-1 OT, 3-2) and a loss to the Panthers (2-1 SO). They ultimately hold their own destiny, but two road wins in the Sun Shine State isn’t easy. 

Ottawa Senators: 

Our underdog! The Sens have somehow managed to stay alive in this thing and make the race exciting. Otherwise, we would just be watching a bunch of teams limp into the playoffs on ugly losing streaks with the only race being who gets the honors of being slaughtered by the Rangers in the first round? Like I said before, Ottawa needs to out-point Boston. Really, they just need to win their last two games and something good is bound to happen. They’ll get in if they win both of their games and: Boston only gets three points, Pittsburgh only gets two points, the Islanders get no points, or Detroit only gets one point. So yeah, they basically need to win out and somebody needs to lose. This won’t be easy, as their final two games are on the road against the Rangers and Flyers. But hey, if the Flyers are going to mail it in against one team in one situation, it would be this so the Penguins don’t make the playoffs. 


The West is slightly less convoluted, but features likely the most exciting matchup of the season between Calgary and Los Angeles. Six spots have been decided and three teams are still mixed up in the hunt. To add to the confusion, Calgary also plays Winnipeg, the other team still looking to clinch a spot in the playoffs. The Jets currently own the final Wild Card spot with 96 points and 35 ROWs, the Flames own third place in the Pacific with 95 points and 40 ROWs, and the Kings are on the outside looking in with 93 points and 37 ROWs. 

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Calgary Flames: 

Calgary is completely in control of its own destiny. Two games left and both of them are against the teams competing with them for a playoff spot. Conversely, since they do play L.A. and Winnipeg, if they lose both, they’re giving away points to the teams chasing them. A win over the Kings tonight would seal the deal on L.A’s season, resulting in a clinch for them and the Jets. A loss, on the other hand, would tie Calgary and L.A, with the Flames still holding the advantage in ROW, with one game to go. it’s simple for the Flames. Just beat L.A, and you’re in. They’ve already beaten the Kings three times out of four this year (4-3 OT, 2-1 OT, 2-1 OT), so just do it one more time. I mean, if the Oilers can do it, so can you. Also, if the Flames win both of their two games and Vancouver gets two or less points, Calgary will get home ice advantage in their playoff series. 

Winnipeg Jets:

If the Jets make the playoffs this year, 30 teams will have made it since 2007 and none of them are the Oilers. Well, if you consider the new age Jets and the Thrashers different teams. Like the Flames, the Jets just need to win and they’re in. A win against the Avs tonight will put them at 98 points and out of L.A’s reach, or Calgary’s reach if they lose to L.A. and Winnipeg to put them in the situation where they’re chasing the Jets for the Wild Card spot. If they don’t beat Colorado, they’ll need to either beat the Flames, or rely on Calgary to have beaten L.A. in their game. It’ll be pretty tough for the Jets to mess this one up. Also, they’ve won three games against the Avs (2-1 SO, 6-2, 5-3) and they’ve only lost one, and it was in the shootout (4-3 SO). 

Los Angeles Kings:

The funny thing about the Kings, is even though they aren’t in the playoffs with less than a week to go in the season, I still view them as one of the most dangerous teams in the West. If they squeak in, I could see them winning a seven game series against anybody in the conference. Maybe that’s just me, but I never count the Kings out. Basically, the Kings need to win both of their games to make the playoffs. Beating Calgary tonight would tie them and the Flames at 95 with one game left, but Calgary owns the tiebreaker. As a result, they would need to win against San Jose and have Calgary lose to get in. What could also happen, is they could beat the Flames and Sharks, and have the Flames beat the Jets after they also lost to the Avs, then L.A. and Calgary would make it in. Long story short, the Kings need to win out and one of Calgary or WInnipeg needs to pretty much lose out. A win by the Flames over the Kings or a win by Winnipeg over Colorado tonight ends this for L.A, so they absolutely need to win to keep themselves alive.