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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 10:17 AM

## Updated playoff projections: March 26th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

 EASTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 76 84 6 90 4 9th 76 84 6 90 4 10th 75 78 7 85 7 WESTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 75 86 7 93 5 9th 75 86 7 93 5 10th 77 86 5 91 5 11th 76 83 6 88 6
The skinny: It could be a "bloody" Monday for a few teams chasing a Stanley Cup Playoff spot.

In Winnipeg, the Jets will host the Ottawa Senators in a game that will decide if Winnipeg's playoff hopes remain vibrant or if the "fat lady" starts singing. The math is very simple for Winnipeg. They have seven games remaining, including Monday night, and are six points behind Washington for the No. 8 spot. Buffalo is also six points ahead of Winnipeg and plays Washington Tuesday night, meaning one of those teams is guaranteed two points. If the Jets lose Monday, they are guaranteed to wake up Wednesday eight points out with six games to play. That's not where they want to be.

The advanced math is no kinder. Presently, the projections suggest that it will take 91 points to qualify in the East. The Jets have 78, meaning they max out at 92 if they run the table. Lose Monday and 90 points becomes the max. Winning is the only option left for Winnipeg.

In the West, the projection for the eighth spot remains 94 points.

The Calgary Flames, who finish a home-and-home against the Dallas Stars after losing Saturday's opening half of the back-to-back showdown, are also in must-win mode. If Calgary wins each of its six remaining games, it will reach 95 points, one above the projected cut-off.

Fall short Monday against the Stars in this last stand and the Flames will be nearly assured of sitting out the playoffs for the third consecutive season. There is a big difference between mathematical possibility and probability. The possibility is remote with a loss by the Flames Monday -- the probability is nil. In a nutshell, the teams the Flames must overtake to qualify for the playoffs face each other at some point down the stretch, so there is no possibility that the teams the Flames are chasing will stay static in points.

San Jose plays Dallas & Los Angeles two times each. Phoenix and Colorado play San Jose once each. The math does not favor the Flames with a loss Monday. But with a 0-2-3 record in their past five games, the Flames didn't do themselves any favors either.

Colorado has five games remaining, so the Avalanche are fighting a two-front battle against the schedule, as well as their opponents.

Colorado can attain a maximum of 96 points. Lose to the Sharks on Monday and the Avs' margin for error falls to zero with four games remaining in the final 12 days of the season. That leaves a lot of off days to watch and hope for help from other teams. Like the Flames, the probability moves closer to nil because of the schedule and the fact that teams they will be chasing play one another.

The Avalanche don't have a lot of wiggle room, but beating San Jose moves them closer to the projected 94 points and also moves them two points clear of the Sharks, who have two games in hand.

In Vancouver, the Kings begin a four-game road trip having won six of their past seven games. This has put Los Angeles in a good position, controlling its playoff destiny. A loss to the Canucks, coupled with a Calgary win against Dallas, sets up an interesting showdown in Calgary on Wednesday between the Kings and Flames. Lose there and the Kings could easily be back in the "chasing" category instead of the "control" category.

The other aspect to Monday is the "bury your opponent" aspect. The Senators, Stars and Sharks can effectively end their Monday opponent's playoff hopes with victories, which is only added incentive if there is any needed.

Monday's scenarios certainly give different meaning to "blood" sport.
Posted On Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 12:11 PM

## Updated playoff projections: March 25th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

 EASTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 76 84 6 90 4 9th 75 82 7 89 5 10th 75 78 7 85 7 WESTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 75 86 7 93 5 9th 75 86 7 93 5 10th 77 86 5 91 5 11th 76 83 6 88 6
The skinny: Try telling the teams in the Stanley Cup Playoff race that Sunday is a day of rest.

After Saturday's games and the resulting shuffle in the standings, the Sunday schedule features intense battles for the final spots in each conference.

Washington hosts the Minnesota Wild and after losing Friday to the Winnipeg Jets, the Caps want to get back into the win column -- but, more importantly, also back into a playoff spot after Buffalo took the No. 8 spot with Saturday's win against the same Wild. Now, it is time for Washington to keep pace and for the jockeying to continue.

Let me emphasize how important this game is for the Caps. They are two points behind the Sabres for No. 8 and play Buffalo on Tuesday night. A loss Sunday, coupled with a loss to the Sabres on Tuesday  and the Caps will be four points out of the eighth spot with five games to play, including games against the Bruins and Rangers, who are the top two teams in the East. A win Sunday by Washington and the Caps will be in position to move two points ahead of the Sabres by beating them Tuesday. That could be a potential six-point swing of significant importance.

Down in Florida, the Panthers continue their path toward the playoffs in a meeting with the Islanders. They need to gain five points to hit the 91-point plateau that is the current projection for playoff participation in the East. With eight games remaining, the Panthers have put themselves in excellent position to do exactly that. But, they have more than that to play for as Boston and the No. 2 seed appears to be in the Panthers' reach -- especially if the Bruins lose in Anaheim in Sunday's close to a quick West Coast trip.

In the West, Phoenix hosts the St. Louis Blues in a pivotal game for both teams.

The Coyotes picked up a point Saturday night against San Jose in a shootout loss and held onto a playoff spot, remaining in seventh place. If 94 points remains the magic number -- and that is the projection in the West as of now -- then Phoenix moves to 89 points with a win. Needing five points in the five games that follow is an easier task than needing seven points in those five games.

St. Louis is trying to maintain its hold on first in the Western Conference and continue toward a Presidents' Trophy. The Vancouver Canucks, who won in OT against Colorado Saturday night and clinched the Northwest Division title, want to have a say but the Blues have control the race as long as they continue to win.

In Chicago, the Hawks play the Predators in a key matchup. Detroit sits in fourth with 95 points, Nashville, has 94 and the Hawks have 92. All three teams are in the hunt for the No. 4 seed in the postseason and the all-important home-ice advantage that come with it.

So while there might be some rest with 16 of the League's 30 teams enjoying a day off, there still promises to be unrest and upheaval in the standings and the playoff races that appear destined to rage until April 7.
Posted On Saturday, 03.24.2012 / 11:52 AM

## Updated playoff projections: March 24th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

 EASTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 75 82 7 89 4 9th 75 82 7 89 4 10th 74 78 8 86 6 WESTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 74 85 8 94 5 9th 76 85 6 91 5 10th 74 84 8 92 6 11th 75 83 7 89 6
The skinny: Saturday night in the Western Conference looks like a repeat of Thursday night.

How crazy was Thursday night?

Dallas lost to Vancouver and fell from No. 3 to No. 8 in the conference. Phoenix beat Colorado, moving from No. 9 to third for a short stint before falling to No. 7 after Los Angeles beat St. Louis in a shootout to move from eighth to third. Oh yeah, the Sharks beat the Boston Bruins to hold on to their spot at No. 10, just a point out of the playoff picture in the West. The Pacific Division lead changed hands three times in the span of four hours.

This is called shuffling the deck! Expect more of it on Saturday.

In the West, the projection for qualification to the Stanley Cup Playoffs sits at 94 points and there are a ton of teams that can get there.

Dallas and Calgary meet in the first of a home-and-home series Saturday. The Flames, with a record of 0-1-3 in their past four games, need to beat the Stars twice to keep their playoff hopes alive. With seven games remaining for Calgary, its margin for error is almost non-existent. To get to 94 points, Calgary needs 11 points out of the final 14 on offer. And, don't forget, back-to-back wins against the Stars will deny Dallas points.

The Stars are in eighth, but just two points ahead of Calgary. But, let's not forget that the Stars are still in the hunt for first in the Pacific -- just a point behind Los Angeles -- and wins for Dallas allows it to keep pace or pull away from the Kings and the seventh-place Phoenix Coyotes.

The schedule is winding down and you can't afford to lose because the opportunity to get valuable points is dwindling. There simply aren't enough games remaining to make up for losses. Five wins in eight games is manageable for the Stars, but two losses to the Flames means the Stars would need five wins in six games to get to 94 points and that is a far more difficult task.

Phoenix also has a make-or-break weekend. It plays a desperate San Jose team before returning home to greet the first-place St. Louis Blues on Sunday. Saturday night's game against the Sharks is another 'playoff death match' for both teams. The Coyotes can put some distance between themselves and the Sharks with a win but the Sharks can move past the Coyotes, barely, with a regulation win. I'm thinking the Sharks aren't too happy about sitting in 10th place at this point of the season.

Los Angeles, with six consecutive wins, is doing exactly what is necessary at this time of the season -- mastering their own destiny. The first-place team in the Pacific will be the third seed entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while the other Pacific Division teams in the hunt will be relegated to scrambling for the No. 7 and No. 8 spots. This is the scenario today, it was the scenario on Thursday and it will be the scenario for every day remaining in this crazy race to the regular season's finish line.

The Colorado Avalanche, meanwhile, are running out of games. As a result, a win at home against the Canucks is virtually mandatory. A loss with five games to play translates into a scenario where the Avs would have to run the table and possibly still get help from other teams just to claim the No. 8 spot.

Three significant games in the East also get the spotlight Saturday: Minnesota at Buffalo, Winnipeg at Nashville and Pittsburgh at Ottawa.

Believe it or not, the Senators now find themselves in the race for a playoff spot. A Buffalo win Saturday night combined with an Ottawa loss in regulation will find the Sabres and Sens tied in points.

Winnipeg, after a massive comeback win Friday against the Caps, now must win again against Nashville, and hope Ottawa and Buffalo each lose. The Jets especially want the Sens to lose to Pittsburgh because Winnipeg plays Ottawa on Monday night. To make that Monday night game meaningful, though, the Jets have to beat Nashville on Saturday. Fail on that count and the Jets will leave Nashville singing the saddest of country music songs.
Posted On Friday, 03.23.2012 / 11:00 AM

## Updated playoff projections: March 23rd

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

 EASTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 74 81 8 89 5 9th 74 80 8 88 5 10th 73 76 9 84 7 11th 74 75 8 81 8 WESTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 74 85 8 94 5 9th 76 85 6 91 5 10th 74 84 8 92 6 11th 75 83 7 89 6

The skinny:
The end of the work week could see the end of playoff hopes for teams failing to win on Friday night. Beginning with the race for eighth in the Eastern Conference, the Winnipeg Jets must win against Washington on Friday or their playoff dreams will become an end-of-season nightmare. A loss by the Jets will leave them seven points behind the Caps with eight games remaining. Projecting teams to need 90 points at a minimum to qualify, the equation is elementary, two points is the only answer because winning seven of the remaining eight games is highly improbable.

The surging Hurricanes -- we haven't talked about them in a while -- have a faint playoff pulse because of their four consecutive wins. Carolina visits Columbus, and a win there along with losses by the Capitals and the Buffalo Sabres, will have that pulse beating a little stronger.

Carolina needs help but if the Hurricanes can't help themselves, the clock will strike midnight on their playoff hopes. The Sabres are in Manhattan to visit the Rangers and a win, along with a regulation loss by the Caps, would put Buffalo in a playoff position.

We know Washington controls their destiny with a win against the Jets. It will effectively eliminate the Jets, and then they can focus on delivering a similar blow to the Sabres on Tuesday when they play host to Buffalo. Screen-in-screen viewing on NHL GameCenter with Sabres-Rangers and Jets-Capitals is recommended!

Florida plays host to the Oilers and the Panthers need three wins to gain 91 points to feel safe about qualifying for the playoffs, so a win moves them closer to ending their long playoff absence. Don't look now, but Ottawa fans could find their team pulled into the race for eighth. A worst-case scenario sees Ottawa losing to the Canadiens in Montreal while both Washington and Buffalo win, moving them to within one and two points respectively of the seventh-place Senators.

People call this "opening the door" for your opponents. What looked like a race for one playoff spot could become a sprint for two spots if Ottawa fails to beat last-place team in the East. I will have to make room for another game on my screen. Fortunately, NHL GameCenter can accommodate up to four games at one time. Is there another game I should be paying attention to? Perhaps not Friday, but Saturday could be a whole different story!
Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 10:28 AM

## Updated playoff projections: March 22nd

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

 EASTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 73 80 9 89 5 9th 74 80 8 88 5 10th 73 76 9 84 7 11th 74 75 8 81 8 WESTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 73 84 9 93 5 9th 74 84 8 92 5 10th 73 82 9 91 6 11th 74 82 8 89 6
The skinny: What a Thursday night in the NHL as the drama-filled race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs continues.

Washington takes center stage as it finishes a long road trip with a visit to Philadelphia. The Capitals are trying to hold off the fast-charging Sabres, who won again Wednesday night to enter a dead-heat with the Caps at 80 points, while the Winnipeg Jets await in Washington D.C. for a Friday night date with the Caps. Buffalo, however, has played one more game than both the Capitals and the Jets, who have 76 points.

With back-to-back wins against Philadelphia and the Jets, Washington could go a long way toward solidifying a spot in the postseason, not to mention the fact that taking four points would certainly keep the pressure on Florida for first in the Southeast Division. A Washington win against Philadelphia moves the Caps six points up on the Jets and sets up a potential knockout blow for the Jets on Friday. A loss to the Flyers, though, would give a boost to the playoff hopes of the Jets, who could close the gap to two points with a win against Washington Friday night.

Winnipeg fans, not to mention the team, will be cheering hard for the Flyers.

Turning attention to the wild, wild West, the schedule Thursday has five games with significant playoff implications.

First in the Pacific, Dallas can keep its hold on first in the division with a win against Vancouver, but could fall out of the playoff picture entirely with a loss.

The Stars have 85 points, but could be passed by both Phoenix and Los Angeles, division rivals, with wins in their respective games Thursday night. Phoenix, currently No. 9 Because of tiebreakers, plays No. 7 Colorado, which has 85 points.  Los Angeles, which has 84 points and a game in hand on Phoenix, plays St. Louis, which sits atop the League standings.

Colorado has played more games than all the other Western contenders, so a win against the Coyotes keeps them on pace for the playoffs and leaves them controlling their own destiny. A loss, however, has Colorado moving into that dreaded territory of relying upon the vagaries of hope and luck.

Calgary, which has gone gone 0-1-2 in its past three games, faces the Wild on Thursday night needing to make up three points and climb above three teams to find the safety zone. That process has to begin with a win Thursday night against a Wild time out of the playoff equation. That is unless the Flames want to face the almost impossible task of winning six of their seven remaining games to reach 94 points, which appears will be the demarcation line when the season ends.

While the Blues pose a significant challenge to the Kings, Los Angeles is playing extremely well and is on a five-game winning streak, picking a perfect time to get hot.

Up the coast in San Jose, the Sharks have been hot and cold and can't afford to get into an extended cold streak or they will be on the outside looking in come playoff time. It's best now that they help themselves and that starts by not losing Thursday night against a Boston team showing signs of once again finding its way. A loss puts San Jose in a position where it would have to 12 of 16 points to get to 94 points.

There will be a sense of satisfaction for the teams in the West that win the games Thursday, but they won't be able to relax for long. That's why I love the schedule and the drama of the season's final few weeks.
Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 9:33 AM

## Updated playoff projections: March 21st

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

 EASTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 73 80 9 89 5 9th 73 78 9 86 6 10th 73 76 9 84 7 11th 73 73 9 80 9 WESTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 73 84 9 93 5 9th 74 84 8 92 5 10th 73 82 9 91 6 11th 74 82 8 89 6
The skinny: The Buffalo Sabres play host to the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday. For Buffalo, it is what I call a "mandatory" win.

Why?

Because, if you can't beat the Eastern Conference's weakest team, then you are playing with playoff fire and it will most likely come back to burn you. Yes, a 7-3 win Monday against Tampa Bay was a good first step, but Buffalo needs to keep piling up the victories.

Not only are the Sabres two points behind Washington for the No. 8 spot in the East, but they are in a bad way when it comes to the first tie-breaker, non-shootout victories. Washington has 32 regulation and overtime wins (ROW) and Buffalo has just 27. So, it is a foregone conclusion that Buffalo must make up three points on Washington, not two for the tie.

A loss Wednesday night to the Habs not only leaves Buffalo looking at the likelihood of winning six of its final eight games to reach the 90-point plateau -- which is the current projection for the No. 8 spot -- but actually needing seven wins to make sure they get past a tie for that threshold.

Plus, Buffalo's remaining schedule is a mixed bag. Yes, they face playoff also-rans Minnesota and Toronto (twice), but they also have to play road games against the New York Rangers, Philadelphia and Boston, all teams in the top half of the Eastern Conference bracket. Plus, games against red-hot Pittsburgh (at home) and the Caps (on the road) are also on the docket.

Now, do you see why the game Wednesday against last-place Montreal is so important?

I will say it one more time, but not for the last time: "If you don't beat the teams below you in the standings and those you are competing with for a Stanley Cup Playoff spot, you are destined to be watching when the playoffs begin."

It's a different story in Florida.

Coming off a huge Tuesday night victory on the road against Philadelphia, the Panthers move on to Raleigh, N.C., and face the Hurricanes -- another team out of the playoff picture in the East. It is an opportunity for Florida to tighten its grip on a both a playoff spot and the division title in the Southeast Division.

The Panthers have 10 games remaining and need just six of 20 points to get past the projected cut-off of 90 points and end the League's longest playoff absence at a dozen years. More importantly, a win Tuesday can up the Panthers' division lead to a whopping seven points on the idle Capitals, who have just nine games remaining.

The Hurricanes are a tough opponent, though, as witnessed by the victory Sunday in Winnipeg, which dealt the Jets a serious blow in their playoff quest.

In the Western Conference, the Red Wings attempt to end a five-game winless streak and focus on getting the coveted fourth spot in the conference and ultra-important home ice in the first round.

Detroit and Nashville are tied at 92 points, but the Predators -- who were dealt an unsightly loss by Edmonton on Tuesday -- hold the tiebreaker and sit in the No. 4 seed. That could change Wednesday if the banged-up Red Wings can find a way to beat the Rangers, who are in a fight for the top spot in the East and have a ton for which to play.

Chicago, who took care of business in Columbus on Tuesday night with a 5-1 win, is also in the mix for the No. 4 spot. They have 90 points, but have played one more game. Detroit has one game remaining against Nashville and plays Chicago on the season's final day. Chicago and Nashville meet twice in the next week.

This three-team derby is another race that has significant playoff implications. Actually, I would argue the race for fourth in the West has Stanley Cup implications because I don't believe a team can best compete for the Cup from a No. 5 or No. 6 seed.
Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 9:28 AM

## Updated playoff projections: March 20th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

 EASTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 73 80 9 89 5 9th 73 78 9 86 6 10th 72 76 10 85 7 11th 73 73 9 80 9 WESTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 74 83 8 91 6 9th 72 82 10 92 6 10th 72 82 10 92 6 11th 73 81 9 89 7
The skinny: Tuesday night in the NHL should be billed as "The Race for Eighth."

After the games Monday night, my projection for points needed to qualify for the playoffs is 93 in the West and 90 in the East. Let's look first at the West. Dallas is in first place in the Pacific Division as they play host to Phoenix, but they are tied in points. The Coyotes have played one more game, so this one takes on added importance, if that was possible.

Should the Stars win in regulation, it would force Phoenix to need six wins in their remaining eight games to reach 95 points and feel safe about avoiding tiebreaker scenarios. A Dallas win moves them to 85 points and makes winning five of their remaining nine games a lot more manageable.

San Jose, after losing at home Monday to Anaheim, travels to Los Angeles to take on the Kings. This will be the first of three remaining games between the two clubs so the outcomes of these games will have a direct bearing on each club's playoff hopes.

You can bet on one thing -- the other teams in the race are hoping there are not three-point games. Calgary takes on Colorado in Denver and a loss will make their task of qualifying for the playoffs extremely difficult. With eight games remaining after Tuesday, the Flames would need six wins to get into comfortable playoff position. Colorado has a similar situation facing them and a loss will force them to win six of their last seven games to surpass the projected cut line at 93 points. This is a game that has serious repercussions for the loser, and may in fact ensure that team of being outside the top eight at the conclusion of play on April 7th.

The East is not without its own interesting scenarios Tuesday. Winnipeg visits Pittsburgh to try and keep pace with Washington and Buffalo, who both won Monday night. A loss by the Jets, and it will be closer to striking midnight on their season than anybody in Winnipeg would like. They would need to win seven of the last nine games to get to 90 points.

Florida visits Philadelphia and the Panthers are feeling the heat from the Capitals in the race for first in the Southeast. The Panthers do need only four wins to surpass the 90-point mark, so they are in a great position to end their long playoff absence. They also have a very forgiving schedule.

Can't forget about the Penguins and Flyers -- they are both trying to gain a foothold on fourth in the conference and home ice in the first round of the playoffs, while also keeping their hopes of catching the N.Y. Rangers for first in the East very much alive.
Posted On Monday, 03.19.2012 / 9:20 AM

## Updated playoff projections: March 19th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

 EASTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 72 78 10 88 6 9th 72 76 10 85 7 10th 72 76 10 85 7 11th 73 73 9 80 8 WESTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 74 83 8 91 6 9th 71 82 11 93 6 10th 72 82 10 92 6 11th 73 81 9 89 7
The skinny: The race for No. 8 in the East is the focus Monday.

Mike Fisher of the Nashville Predators was recently asked about the Stanley Cup Playoff race and said, "We are looking at the scoreboard and checking out what teams are doing." You can bet the Buffalo Sabres were tuned in to the Winnipeg-Carolina game Sunday night.

Not that teams root against one another, but I can't imagine under any circumstance that Buffalo wouldn't be euphoric about the late goal by Chad Larose to give the Sabres -- I mean the Hurricanes -- a big victory! Now, the Sabres must take advantage of that gift from the Hurricanes when they face the Lightning in Tampa on Monday.

A win, combined with a Washington loss at Detroit on the same night, and the Sabres will move into a points tie with the Capitals for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference. The Sabres would still be on the outside looking in because they don't own the tie-breaker at this point, but Buffalo would be in control of its destiny because it plays at Washington on March 27. A win there and perhaps Buffalo will hold its fate in its own hands.

Interestingly enough, last season on this exact date, the Sabres were in the eighth playoff position  with the same amount of points (76), and the team is now hoping to follow a similar script this season with another strong surge after the All-Star break to help a lost season turn into an unexpected qualification for the playoffs.

As for the Capitals, they don't have the easiest schedule for trying to hold on to that No. 8 spot. Less than 24 hours after losing in Chicago, the Caps are back at it, trying to beat a Detroit team that may be struggling, but has been very good at Joe Louis Arena.

Then, it's a road date at Philadelphia on Thursday before hosting the Winnipeg Jets on Friday.

Looking at the projection, the Caps most likely need to win six of their remaining ten games to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's definitely a tall order. It becomes increasingly more difficult if Washington can't win in Detroit and the City of Brotherly Love. Then, the equation changes to this: The Caps would need to win six of its final eight games with the Jets and Sabres among the opponents.

The silver lining for Washington is it holds the tiebreaker with more regulation and OT wins than both Winnipeg and Buffalo.

It's all madness of a different kind in March and the intensity the Stanley Cup Playoffs brings has certainly started early.
Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 9:58 AM

## Updated playoff projections: March 18th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

 EASTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 71 78 11 89 7 9th 71 76 11 87 8 10th 72 76 10 85 8 11th 72 72 10 81 10 12th 71 71 11 81 10 13th 72 71 10 79 10 WESTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 71 82 11 93 6 9th 72 82 10 92 6 10th 72 81 10 91 7 11th 72 80 10 89 7
The Skinny: The Eastern Conference playoff race has teams jockeying for position from No. 1 all the way through No. 10 with battles for the three division crowns, and the coveted top three seeds entering the playoffs, at stake as well.

The Southeast Division is the focus on Sunday. The Panthers continue to win and in the process are in the drivers' seat to finish first in the division. They are five points in front of the Capitals and if the Caps have designs on winning the division for a fifth consecutive season, they must win three more games than the Panthers in their remaining 11 games.

They face the Panthers at Verizon Center on April 5th, but that game will not matter much if they don't get some wins. That task does not get any easier with road games against the Blackhawks on Sunday, the Red Wings on Tuesday and the Flyers on Thursday. The road, no pun intended, for the Capitals is not easy and if the wins don't come this week, they can forget about first in the division because they will be in a fight for eighth in the East.

The Jets on the other hand are chasing down the Capitals for eighth and get a chance to move closer with a game at home against the Hurricanes. These are the games Winnipeg can't afford to lose. You have to beat teams below you in the standings and as the regular season winds down, these are the games you look back to as 'turning points' either with a positive or negative focus.

If the Jets sneak a peek at the Caps' schedule, they have to believe they have a great opportunity to apply pressure and make their March 23rd showdown in Washington a significant game for their playoff chances.

Looking to the Western Conference and following the same adage that, 'you must beat the teams below you in the standings' at this time of the year to ensure the best chance at qualifying for the playoffs, the Flames at home against the BlueJackets and the Coyotes visiting the Oilers qualify as 'must-win' games for both Calgary and Phoenix.

Calgary lost to Edmonton on Friday and can ill afford to lose the League's worst team at home. If 93 points is the projection to qualify in the West, a loss by the Flames would translate to needing seven wins in their remaining nine games to qualify. That would be highly improbable. As for the Coyotes, first place in the Pacific is still in their grasp but it will be slipping away with a loss to the Oilers.
Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 10:50 AM

## Updated playoff projections: March 17th

NHL Network's Craig Button has been tracking playoff positioning -- using a variety of statistical categories -- for several years now. His formula, while not a true probability exercise, has proven to be very effective at predicting the cutoff number to secure a Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.

In its simplest terms, Button's formula uses a team's current winning percentage, factoring in games remaining, to arrive at the number of wins -- and points -- each team will finish the season with. From that exercise, the formula can extrapolate the magic number for qualification and which teams currently in the race will reach that number. This equation will also determine tiebreakers should they become necessary.

Still not convinced? Check out the full explanation of Button's formula

 EASTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 71 78 11 89 7 9th 71 76 11 87 8 10th 71 75 11 85 8 11th 70 71 12 82 10 WESTERN CONFERENCE Current Position NHL Team Games Played Current Points Games Remaining Projected Points Wins to earn 8th 8th 73 81 9 90 6 9th 70 80 12 92 7 10th 71 80 11 91 7 11th 72 80 10 89 7

The Skinny:
The Buffalo Sabres found a new ally Friday night in the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets defeated the Capitals, keeping the Sabres within three points of the eighth playoff spot.

As it stands entering action on Saturday, the Sabres are projected to need 15 points from their 11 remaining games to make the playoffs. Seven wins and an overtime or shootout loss doesn't seem that daunting, but a loss Saturday night to the Florida Panthers and that task becomes more difficult when thinking about 15 points in 10 games. When a team has the opportunity to take advantage of their own situation, it becomes like a "must-win" game because failing to do so leaves teams looking for the "luck of the Irish" for help.

Pittsburgh continues to look at the top of the Eastern Conference and the New York Rangers, who are only four points ahead and the Penguins have a game in hand. A win in New Jersey will put the Devils six points behind the Penguins and almost certainly assure the Devils of opening the playoffs on the road. Barring a complete collapse by the Penguins -- and that isn't going to happen -- the Devils would have to gain seven more points than Pittsburgh in the remaining games to pass them.

To the west we look and Colorado continues to hold a playoff spot, but keep in mind they have played more games than the teams they are battling with for the last two spots. Colorado is going to need at least six wins in their remaining nine games to be in position to qualify and a loss to the Rangers will make the uphill battle a lot steeper. Winning six of eight games at any time of the season is never easy. Good luck charms are never the way to go to qualify for the playoffs so taking care of your own business has to take precedence.
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Quote of the Day

Life's about opportunity and how you respond to that opportunity, and obviously he must have some swagger about him, some confidence about him, because he was solid. He made some good saves. He was 6-foot-3 on every shot, which is a good thing for a goalie. He played well. We got a win.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock on rookie goaltender Garret Sparks, who made 24 saves in his first NHL start, a 3-0 win vs. Oilers
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