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Posted On Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 8:51 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: April 5th

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
7th 80 92 2 94
8th 80 88 2 90 2

9th 80 88 2 90 2
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
6th 80 98 2 100
7th 80 93 2 95 1
8th 80 92 2 94 2

9th 80 89 2 91 3
The skinny: At the Trade Deadline, the projections for the No. 8 spots in the Eastern and Western Conference was 89 points and 91 points, respectively. The total points required for Stanley Cup is going to be at least 92 in the West and could be as high as 92 in the East. Time for a little recap of what the projection was on Feb. 27 and what has transpired entering action Thursday.

Eastern Conference (Feb. 27)

Standings Points Projected wins Actual record since Feb. 27
3. Florida 70 10 8-5-6
9. Washington 67 11 9-6-3
12. Buffalo 62 14 12-4-2
Western Conference (Feb. 27)

Standings Points Projected wins Actual record since Feb. 27
3. Phoenix 73 10 8-6-4
7. San Jose 71 11 9-7-3
8. Dallas 70 11 9-7-1
9. Los Angeles 68 12 12-5-1
10. Colorado 68 12 9-6-2
Florida has benefitted from gaining a single point in six games, an equivalent of three wins. So, as the Panthers prepare to play Washington on Thursday, they need a single point to qualify.

Washington has earned close to the original projection, but with a higher actual point total now necessary it will need at least one more win to qualify. If the Caps beat the Panthers Thursday night, they will still be alive for Southyeastern Division title and the No. 3 seed in the West when the season concludes with all 30 teams playing Saturday.

On Feb. 27, Buffalo needed to go on a tear and it did; but it still may not be enough. The Sabres must win in Philadelphia to keep their playoff hopes vibrant and need a Panthers win against the Caps to gain control of their own playoff destiny entering the final game of the season. If the Capitals win out, Buffalo can not pass them.

In the West, the Kings were true to projection and reeled off the necessary wins to put them in the driver's seat and on the brink of playoff qualification. Now, the Kings just need one of four points in its home and home against San Jose to close the season.

Dallas and Colorado will be rooting hard for the Kings to beat the Sharks in theses two games because both the Stars and Avs must help themselves and get help to qualify for the postseason. Dallas and Colorado have both fallen short of the needed wins and equalling the projection looks to leave one or both short of the playoffs.

Phoenix, meanwhile, has met the wins total, or points equivalent. One more point guarantees the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third consecutive year for the Coyotes.

The math tells a very accurate story, but ultimately it falls to the teams to win their games. Win and the points add up. Lose and you are looking at all kinds of combinations and permutations to get you to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 9:36 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: April 4th

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
7th 80 92 2 94
8th 80 88 2 90 2

9th 80 88 2 90 2
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
6th 80 98 2 100
7th 80 93 2 95 1
8th 80 92 2 94 2

9th 80 89 2 91 2
The skinny: Tuesday night in the NHL brought some wild games as teams continued their quest for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Wednesday dawns now with just four nights remaining in the 2011-12 regular season and the playoff picture still remains muddled as four spots, one conference crown and two division titles still up for grabs.

The picture looks different for each of the surviving teams, however.

Losing two consecutive games at this time of the season is never recommended, but Dallas has done just that with Tuesday's loss to San Jose. For the Stars, the misery is compounded by the fact they lost these two games to another team battling with them for one of the spots in the Western conference.

Both teams enetered the home-and-home series with control of their playoff destinies. Now, the Stars don't have any control. A fourth consecutive season out of the playoffs looks to be the reality for Dallas.

Colorado, which has been idle since Friday, has been watching and hoping for the right outcomes, looking at each night's schedule and determining what team or teams should be supported. The Avalanche didn't get the help they needed. With the eighth spot as their only possibility now, they must hope the Los Angeles Kings sweep the San Jose Sharks -- in regulation to boot -- and the Avs win out to qualify.

Phoenix, fresh off a record-setting 52-save shutout by Mike Smith, needs but one point in its remaining two games or the loss of a point by the Stars to qualify.

What can one say about the East?

The Buffalo Sabres took the Stanley Cup Playoff suspense and excitement to new heights Tuesday. Falling three goals behind the Maple Leafs, they somehow mustered up enough 'playoff magic' to escape with a OT victory and keep their hopes alive. A loss Tuesday and the sabres would have been on the precipice with little help in sight.

You can bet the Washington Capitals, currently in the No. 8 spot, had the gamut of emotions watching that game.

In the Sunshine State, the Panthers continue to find ways to dampen the playoff mood. This has got to be the longest clinching process in recent history. With one win in its past eight games, Florida has stumbled mightily in its quest to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2000. It doesn't get any easier for them as they visit the Caps on Thursday. Florida has a cushion, but they don't have to use it all!

With only two games on the schedule -- and only one with playoff implications -- Wednesday provides a bit of time for reflection. For some teams, it is a time to ponder what could be and for other teams, sadly, it will be about what could have been.

There is still work to be done, but the Stanley Cup Playoff picture is finally becoming clearer.
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Posted On Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 9:35 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: April 3rd

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
7th 79 92 3 95
8th 80 88 2 90 2

9th 79 86 3 89 3
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
6th 80 98 2 100
7th 79 91 3 94 2
8th 79 90 3 93 2

9th 79 89 3 92 3
The skinny: Every day brings new opportunity in the quest for Stanley Cup Playoffs qualification.

For the Florida Panthers, Tuesday brings the opportunity to end the longest current playoff drought in the NHL. The Panthers have not participated in a playoff game since 2000, but that can end with a win Tuesday night. Not only would the Panthers be in, but they would clinch the Southeast Division after the Capitals opened that possibility with a loss to Tampa Bay on Monday. Heck, the Panthers don't even have to beat Winnipeg to get in. IF the Panthers lose in overtime or a shootout, they would clinch if Buffalo losses to Toronto in any fashion. If the Panthers lose in regulation, they would clinch a playoff berth if Buffalo loses in reegulation. In either of those two latter scenarios, the Southeast Division title would remain in play.

Speraking of Buffalo, the Sabres are also trying to take advantage of the generosity shown by the Caps in dropping Monday night's game. The Sabres can't rely on anybody to help them, they must help themselves. With a victory, Buffalo would jump back into a points tie with the Capitals, who play Florida on Thursday.

So, this is how Tuesday looks in the East; Florida needs to win but can hope for a regulation loss by the Sabres to clinch a playoff spot. Buffalo is cheering for Winnipeg to beat the Panthers just as it cheered for the Lightning to beat the Capitials. Washington is cheering for the Jets and Maple Leafs to win. If the Sabres lose at home to the Maple Leafs, Buffalo's playoff hopes would be on life support. Needless to say, the Jets and Maple Leafs have big says in the role of spoilers as to how the Eastern Conference playoff race finishes.

In the West, San Jose visits Dallas with both teams controlling their playoff destinies. The Stars hold the tie breaker with more ROW (regulation and overtime) wins so a victory by any means benefits them. A loss to the Sharks, however, forgeits the ability of Dallas to control its own destiny.

San Jose can still win the Pacific Division as it meets the Kings, the current first-place team, in its final two games of the season. Losing to Dallas is no loss of playoff destiny, but the road becomes a lot more difficult.

Sitting pretty are the Phoenix Coyotes. They're playing the League's worst team in Phoenix and the Stars and Sharks game can deliver two points to one team. It's even better, though, if there is no third point, courtesy of overtime or a shootout. But, to realize the potential for benefits, Phoenix must win its game  -- and that is no easy feat as the Blue Jackets have  won three in a row, including wins against St. Louis and Detroit.

There is a scenario where the Coyotes, Sharks and Stars could all end the night tied with 91. If that is the case, the Stars would move to No. 7, the Coyotes to No. 8 and the Sharks would be on the outside looking in.
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Posted On Monday, 04.02.2012 / 9:47 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: April 2nd

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
7th 79 92 3 95
8th 79 88 3 91 2

9th 79 86 3 89 3
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
6th 80 98 2 100
7th 79 91 3 94 2
8th 79 90 3 93 2

9th 79 89 3 92 3
The skinny: The Washington Capitals visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday with an opportunity to apply enormous pressure to the Buffalo Sabres.

A win by the Caps and the end will be near in Buffalo on Tuesday when the Sabres put their Stanley Cup Playoff hopes on the line against the Maple Leafs, who already beat Buffalo this past weekend to put the Sabres in such a precarious position. If the Caps win Monday, Buffalo will be four points out, and on the losing end of the tiebreaker. With just three games remaining, and a maximum of six points on offer, the Sabres realistically would need to win out just to have a chance.

Whoever runs the music in the Washington dressing room might want to crank up Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Takin' Care of Business" throughout the day because that is what this game is all about for the Caps. Washington is 3-1-1 against the already-eliminated Lightning this season, so there are no "mental" hurdles to overcome for the Caps. I'm a big believer that when teams have an opportunity to put themselves in an advantageous position, it best get done. Washington has already beaten the Bruins and Canadiens in shootouts to get a leg up in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Amazingly, they still have an outside chance to win the Southeast Division as the Florida Panthers stumble to the finish line. Washington and Florida meet Thursday in a game that could have huge seeding implications. But first, Washington must take care of business Monday.

Moving to the West Coast, the Kings are in an almost identical situation to the Caps.

With a win Monday against the Edmonton Oilers, the Kings can move three points up on the Sharks and four on the Stars before those two teams meet on Tuesday in Dallas. However, both the Sharks and Stars will have played one less game than the Kings, who sit in the Pacific Division lead at the moment. Phoenix is also in the mix with 91 points.

With the projection in the West being 93 points to qualify, Los Angeles will feel good reaching that total with a victory on Monday, but little will be decided. If the Kings win, the Avalanche, who have two games remaining, will not be able to catch Los Angeles and the loser of Tuesday's Sharks-Stars game will begin to "look smaller" in the Kings' rear-view mirror. But if the Kings fail to win, they will find themselves in a real fight for a playoff spot as they conclude the season with two games against the Sharks.

A team with playoff designs has to beat teams below it in the standings at this point of the season, and with the Oilers far below the Kings, this is a must-have two points for Los Angeles. The Kings can't take the Oilers lightly, though, as Edmonton has reeled off three consecutive road victories and has a record of 5-0-2 in its past seven road games.

The teams not playing on a light Monday schedule will likely be glued to TVs across North America. You can bet the Sabres will be watching the game in Tampa, as will the Panthers. The Sharks, Stars, Coyotes and Avalanche will have a keen eye on Los Angeles and might even break into chants of "Let's go Oilers" as Stanley Cup Playoff hopes will rise and fall throughout the night.

The standings will tell the story at the end of the night, so be sure to check NHL.com for the definitive word. Six days to go in the regular season and the race is intensifying.
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Posted On Sunday, 04.01.2012 / 11:40 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: April 1st

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
7th 78 90 4 94 1
8th 79 88 3 91 2

9th 79 86 3 89 3
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
6th 79 97 3 100
7th 79 91 3 94 2
8th 79 90 3 93 2

9th 79 89 3 92 3
The skinny: On the first day of April, the main focus returns to the Eastern Conference, and with just six days remaining in the regular season, so much is still left to be decided.

With just seven days remaining in the season, six playoff berths are still up for grabs. Four division titles, both conference titles and the Presidents' Trophy also are still to be decided.

One of those spots can be clinched Sunday if the Ottawa Senatrors can beat the New York Islanders in an afternoon affair at Nassau Coliseum. While the Buffalo Sabres, who suffered a blow to their hopes with a loss to Toronto Saturday night, could still catch the Senators at 92 points, Ottawa would win based on having more regulation and OT wins (ROW) than the Sabres, which is the first tiebreaker.

It's been a turnaround season for the Sens and qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs would be a great feat for head coach Paul MacLean and his players.

Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers visit the Motor City to meet the Red Wings with lots on the line for both teams. Florida can move to 92 points and ever closer to their first visit to the postseason since 2000. The Sabres can still catch the Panthers, if they cough up the Southeast Division lead to the Washington Capitals, at 92 points and would win the ROW tiebreaker. So, you can bet the Sabres will be cheering for a Wings victory as Buffalo has been reduced to looking for some help from others after not helping itself this past weekend. Buffalo lost at home to the Penguins Friday and were then upset by the Leafs Saturday.

As for the Red Wings, they find themselves tied with Chicago and one point behind Nashville in the race for fourth in the Western Conference. The fourth-place team at the end of the season will get home ice in what will likely be one of the toughest series of the first round. With a great home record that features just six losses in regulation, home ice in the first round should be incentive enough for Detroit in this game. This is Detroit's game in hand on Nashville. The Wings will still hold a game in hand on the Blackhawks, who play Minnesota Sunday night, less than 24 hours after clinching a playoff berth with a wild win against Nashville

In a likely first-round playoff matchup preview, the Flyers visit Pittsburgh in a nationally televised matinee (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) to take on the Penguins in a game that has home-ice implications as well. A Pittsburgh win and the Penguins move five points ahead of Philadelphia and almost certainly assure themselves of the fourth seed and home ice. The teams meet one more time this season so a Flyers' win Sunday can make that last meeting, on the final day of the regular season, one of major significance.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 11:30 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: March 31st

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
7th 77 88 5 93 2
8th 78 86 4 90 3

9th 78 86 4 90 3
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
6th 78 95 4 99
7th 78 89 4 93 3
8th 78 89 4 93 3

9th 78 88 4 92 3
The skinny: The Los Angeles Kings move to third from eighth in the Western Conference on Friday night with a win over Edmonton. The Stars fell to seventh from third with a loss to the Canucks and the Coyotes without playing dropped a spot to eighth.

There will be more jockeying on Saturday in the West, and the minimum projected playoff point total remains at 94. San Jose is out of a playoff spot but the Sharks have full control over their playoff aspirations. They have four games remaining -- two with Dallas and two with Los Angeles. It says here that three regulation wins in those four games will see them in the postseason.

The same can be said for the Dallas Stars who can put three points between them and ninth-pace San Jose with a regulation win Saturday. Regardless, two points will go to the victor and inch them closer to the playoffs. Los Angeles visits Minnesota and a win gets the Kings to 92 points and needing one win in their reaming three games to 'hit' the magic number. With a visit from the Oilers on Tuesday, the Kings could be in a position to punch their ticket to the postseason.

The Coyotes entertain the Ducks and after beating the Sharks on Thursday, and they need a win to keep their trek towards the playoffs on the rails. A loss and then they are looking at needing five points in their remaining three games to reach 94 and that includes a game against the dominant Blues in St. Louis. They will get a little help because of the schedule with the Kings, Stars and Sharks playing against one another but there is nothing better than helping yourself.

The East has now become a heated race for the seventh and eighth spots. Ottawa, Buffalo and Washington are battling it out and it looks to be 90 points to qualify, but I'm beginning to think that 90 may not be enough. Finishing third in this race will get you a seat in front of your TV to watch the playoffs.

Ottawa has five games remaining and visit the streaking Flyers on Saturday. It is no easy task for the Senators but a win gets them to 90 with four games remaining. The Sabres visit the Leafs, who have not won a game at home since Feb. 6th. Buffalo doesn't have an advantage with the non-shootout wins tiebreaker, so that is why I think Buffalo may need 91 points to make the cut. The Sabres could finish with 90 points and be tied with either Ottawa or Washington, but that won't be enough.

The Caps entertain the Canadiens and when you are playing the Conference's weakest team at home, anything less than a win is a blow to your playoff hopes. Washington holds the tiebreaker, but getting a sole point takes away that advantage to a certain extent. You don't want to be losing any advantages at this time of the year. There is a scenario where after the games Saturday, there could be a three-way log jam in the standings with the Sens, Caps and Sabres all at 88 points with seven days left in the regular season.

For the teams chasing down a playoff spot, nothing else matters but winning today because a loss potentially means 'no tomorrow.'
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Posted On Friday, 03.30.2012 / 9:21 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: March 30th

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
7th 77 88 5 93 2
8th 77 86 5 91 3

9th 78 86 4 90 3
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
6th 78 95 4 99
7th 78 89 4 93 3
8th 77 88 5 93 3

9th 78 88 4 92 3
The skinny: The Stanley Cup Playoff race in the Western Conference is essentially about four Pacific Division teams -- Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose -- chasing three playoff spots.

Like musical chairs, when the music stops April 7, one team will be left without a 'chair' when the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. The top point-getter among those four teams will win the Pacific Division title and the No. 3 seed in the West, opening its playoff campaign with home-ice advantage. Two other teams will claim the consolation prizes of the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds. One will rue what could have been.

The Sharks were in the No. 3 spot in the West standings when play began Wednesday. But, after two consecutive losses -- including a 2-0 shutout loss to Phoenix -- they find themselves out of a playoff spot. Wins on Friday night by Dallas (against Vancouver) and Los Angeles (against Edmonton) would put San Jose in a deeper hole.

San Jose and Dallas begin a home-and-home series Saturday with their respective playoff destinies in their own hands.

Meanwhile, the win Thursday by Phoenix was a huge boost for its playoff hopes because the victory moved the Coyotes ahead of the Sharks in the standings and with the Sharks and Stars playing one another, only one of the two teams closest to Phoenix can take the two points each time. The Coyotes probably won't care who wins those games, but they will be rooting for them to end in regulation.

The Kings, who have seven wins in their past nine games, can continue to help their playoff cause with another win, this time against an Edmonton team already eliminated from the postseason.

The key factor to remember as we approach what should be a breathtaking final week of the season is that 94 points is the projection for the final playoff spot in the West, so every game these four teams play has significant implications for other three.

The Avalanche meet the Flames in Calgary on Friday night with both having 'mathematical life,' but little realistic hope for the playoffs because the projected point total being beyond their capability. But, the loser of this game will see all hope die. Neither team has helped its cause down the stretch. The Flames went 1-3-3 in their past seven games and the Avalanche went 0-3-1 in their past four games.

An interesting game takes place Friday in Detroit. The Red Wings play host to Nashville in a game that has home-ice implications in the first round as Detroit tries to remain in the top half of the Western Conference bracket. Both teams have already clinched berths, but the Wings have just a one-point lead on Nashville for the No. 4 spot. Idle Chicago is just two points behind Detroit.

Detroit, which has an astounding 30-5-2 record at home, would love to claim home-ice advantage for what will be a massively difficult first-round series against either Nashville or Chicago.

In the East, the Sabres play host to the Penguins. The Caps kept the pressure on -- not to mention their playoff hopes alive -- with a win Thursday in Boston. With 92 points being the projection in the East, Buffalo (86 points) can move closer to that cutoff with a victory. A regulation loss and the idle Caps (also on 86 points) will move back into the No. 8 spot in the East, thanks to the tiebreaker.

The East race is another case of musical chairs, as the Senators, Sabres and Capitals vie for two spots. The math says the Sabres need to win three of their final five games to hit the magic mark in the East, A loss Friday and then the equation becomes three wins in four games. That's a big difference at this point of the season, especially because Buffalo does not currently own the tiebreaker on the Caps, which have five more regulation and OT wins.

As for the Florida Panthers, they are putting their fans through a bit of agony as they try to end their 12-year playoff drought. They have lost to the Oilers, Islanders and Wild in the past week. They are in Columbus on Friday and, with a win, they can essentially 'let the joy' begin in South Florida. Another loss and they won't be doing themselves any favors.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 9:26 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: March 29th

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 77 86 5 91 3

9th 77 84 5 89 4
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 77 88 5 93 3

9th 77 87 5 92 4
The skinny: The road to the playoffs for the Washington Capitals has become a little more difficult with their loss to Buffalo on Tuesday, and it doesn't get easier playing in Boston against a Bruins team that has won five of their past six games.

It is still a very tight race in the East with Washington, Buffalo and Ottawa vying for the last two spots. My projection for the eighth spot is 92 points, so the Capitals (84 points) have the least margin for error -- they need to win four of their remaining five games. While Washington holds the tiebreaker (regulation and overtime wins) over Buffalo and Ottawa, a loss virtually guarantees a zero margin for error in their final four games.

The Florida Panthers visit the Minnesota Wild with a five-point cushion ahead of the Caps for the Southeast Division lead. They need only three points in their remaining six games to get to 92. That is a far more enviable position to be in than the Caps find themselves in.

In the Western Conference, losses Wednesday night by the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche have seen their playoff hopes essentially vanish. My projected 'magic' number is 94 points in the West, and the Avs and Flames can max out at 93 with a sweep of their remaining four games.

The problem for these two teams is they meet in Calgary on Friday. One team will come up short again and no amount of help from other teams will be of assistance, while the winner will be left with the faintest of hope.

Phoenix has an important home game Thursday against the Sharks. Phoenix got some help for their playoff hopes Wednesday night when the Ducks beat the Sharks. A win by the Coyotes moves them ahead of the Sharks and Kings and only one point behind the Stars.

The Pacific division has one of the best races in the NHL and it will go down to final day (April 7th) before it is settled. It looks like three teams from the Pacific will be in the playoffs this year, and the Coyotes want to be one of them. A win will move them in that direction, and they have the added consolation of knowing the Sharks face the Stars and Kings two more times each.

A playoff race creates some of the fiercest games and rivalries as well as some of the strangest bedmates -- depending on where your team is standing.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 9:40 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: March 28th

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 77 86 5 91 3

9th 77 84 5 89 4
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 77 87 5 92 3

9th 76 86 6 92 4
10th 78 86 4 90 4
11th 77 85 5 90 4
The skinny: Calgary's Stanley Cup Playoff hopes are hanging by a thread.

A win Wednesday night against a Los Angeles Kings team also clawing to get into the postseason is mandatory. So, expect the Saddledome to be rocking as loud -- if not louder -- than what we witnessed at Verizon Center in Washington on Tuesday night.

The Flames, though, need a very different result than the Capitals managed against Buffalo under similar -- although not quite as dire -- circumstances. A loss to the Kings and what little hope remains for the Flames will be all but be extinguished. If it is going to take 93 points to get into the Top 8 in the West (which is the Wednesday projection), Calgary would need to win its four remaining games after a loss Wednesday to reach that threshold. Yes, three of those four games will be at home, but two of the remaining four games are against a Vancouver team in the hunt for the Presidents' Trophy.

A win by Calgary on Wednesday paints a far rosier picture. The Flames would be right on the heels of Phoenix for the eighth spot and all the teams In the race for the final two spots -- San Jose, L.A., Dallas, Phoenix -- will play each other down the sdtretch. Favorable results for Calgary are possible in that cut-throat battle royale, but the Flames must first help themselves and then look for a 'little help from their friends.'

On the other side of the equation, the Kings can deal an almost fatal blow to Calgary while, at the same time, strengthen their quest for a Pacific division crown. A win in Calgary, coupled with a regulation loss by San Jose (we'll talk more about that in a minute) and the Kings could once again sit in first in the division and third in the conference. I would say that is incentive to chase the two points in what will be a hostile atmosphere.

Up the highway in Edmonton, the Dallas Stars play a depleted Oilers' team before a tough closing schedule that includes two games against San Jose and single games against Vancouver, St. Louis and Nashville. The Stars must gain two points against an Oilers team playing out the string. A win in Edmonton and a loss by San Jose puts the Stars back in control of the Pacific race -- especially with games left against the Sharks. A loss, however, and the slope is a bit more slippery.

Colorado plays in Calgary on Friday, but it will become a meaningless game for them with a loss on Wednesday to the Canucks in Vancouver. The Avalanche sit on the precipice with only four games remaining. A loss and the Avs will only be able to max out at 92 points.

That's not enough, according to my current projection. A valiant attempt to make the playoffs will fall short. The Canucks have added incentive to win as they try to keep pace with the St. Louis Blues for first in the Western Conference.

San Jose visits the Ducks and can maintain its Pacific Division lead with a win. If the Ducks don't end this game with two points, they will be officially eliminated.

How about a little recap?

If the Kings win and the Stars and Sharks lose in regulation, Los Angeles moves into first in the Pacific and third in the conference. If the Stars win and the Sharks get less than two points, the Stars move into the Pacific lead and the Sharks fall to seventh. If the Stars and Kings gain non-shootout victories, but the Sharks lose in regulation, the Sharks fall back to seventh. If Colorado wins in that same scenario, the Sharks actually fall back to No. 8 and the Phoenix Coyotes fall out of the playoff picture.

Those are just a few of the scenarios that could play out Wednesday. And people think this scoreboard watching and figuring out what the results mean in the standings is easy!
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 10:10 AM

By Craig Button -  Special to NHL.com /NHL.com - On the Playoff Button blog

Updated playoff projections: March 27th

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 76 78 6 84 6
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 77 87 5 92 3

9th 76 86 6 92 4
10th 78 86 4 90 4
11th 77 85 5 90 4
The skinny: Look no further than America's capitol city for the 'must-see' game Tuesday.

The Buffalo Sabres will be in town to face the Washington Capitals, and the winner moves into sole position of eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The projection for playoff qualification in the East remains at 91 points, so while no 'spoils' will go to the victor, that team can move a little closer towards the magic number and in turn, inflict some damage on the nearest competitor. A Washington win coupled with a Florida loss at Montreal and the Southeast Division crown also comes into sight for the Caps. Florida visits Washington one last time this season on April 5th.

Washington holds the tiebreaker over Buffalo, with more regulation and/or overtime wins -- the magical 'ROW' column in the standings -- by a wide margin.  A tie in the standings does not help the Sabres. With five games remaining for each club after Tuesday, the Sabres would have to gain three more points than Washington in those games to get past them.

It is a small number but with an equally small number of games remaining, it becomes quite a task to accomplish barring a Washington collapse. The Panthers need to help their own cause and not rely upon others to push them along. Winless in their past three games, including shootout losses to the Oilers and Islanders, a Florida win has significant repercussions for the East race. It would put them four points, at the very least, up on the ninth-place team.

Again, at this point in the season with the schedule dwindling, that is a significant number and a gap that would be very difficult to overcome for the team that loses in Washington. The winner on Tuesday in Washington will get a leg up and 'control their destiny' and the Panthers can 'kill two birds with one stone' with a win.
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Quote of the Day

It's always a little bit weird, but it moves on. They've got a good team, and they played well tonight. I think that's just part of it.

— Peter Laviolette on facing his former team (Flyers) for the first time since his departure