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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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Posted On Monday, 03.26.2012 / 10:17 AM

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

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.
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Posted On Sunday, 03.25.2012 / 12:11 PM

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

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.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.24.2012 / 11:52 AM

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

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.
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Posted On Friday, 03.23.2012 / 11:00 AM

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

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!
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Posted On Thursday, 03.22.2012 / 10:28 AM

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

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.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 9:33 AM

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

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.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 9:28 AM

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

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.
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Posted On Monday, 03.19.2012 / 9:20 AM

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

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.
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Posted On Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 9:58 AM

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

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.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 10:50 AM

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

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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Posted On Friday, 03.16.2012 / 9:33 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 16th

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 70 78 12 90 7

9th 71 75 11 85 9
10th 70 74 12 85 9
11th 70 71 12 82 11
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 73 81 9 90 7

9th 70 80 12 92 7
10th 71 80 11 91 7
11th 70 78 12 89 8

The Skinny:
During the course of a playoff race, it is inevitable to hear, "We have control of our destiny."

For the Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals, that is exactly the case. It doesn't get better than this on Friday night -- Washington visits Winnipeg, where the fans are rabid and have spurred their hometown Jets on to a 22-10-4 record at the MTS Center.

Math can be complicated but in this case it's quite simple -- a Jets' regulation victory moves them within two points of the eighth-place Capitals. A Capitals victory moves them six points ahead of the Jets. Just wondering but, is that why they're called four-point games?

Regardless, a win by the Jets will not only have their fans cheering, but joining in the applause will be the Buffalo Sabres' faithful, who will remain three points behind Washington in the East. A Winnipeg loss and they are faced with the improbable, if not impossible task, of trying to gain seven more points than the Capitals in the remaining eleven games. A Jets' win and it sets up another showdown next Friday in Washington, where control of destiny would be the main theme once again.

The Caps also want to keep pace with the Panthers and continue their quest for another Southeast division title. Oh, what a night it's going to be.

In the Western Conference, the Anaheim Ducks are hanging on to very faint playoff hopes. If they want to keep those hopes alive, they must win at home against the Los Angeles Kings. For the Kings, they are trying to keep pace with the pack of Phoenix, Colorado, San Jose and Calgary for the last two playoff spots.

The games on the ice are intriguing, but wouldn't it be something to get a glimpse of the other teams in the pack and see their reactions as this game unfolds? I'm guessing they will be cheering for the Ducks. The Flames will be busy in Edmonton, but they will sneak a peek now and again at the out of town scoreboard to keep tabs on what is happening in Anaheim.


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Posted On Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 9:41 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 15th

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 70 78 12 90 7

9th 71 75 11 85 9
10th 70 74 12 85 9
11th 69 71 13 83 11
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 72 80 10 91 7

9th 69 78 13 91 8
10th 70 78 12 89 8
11th 70 78 12 89 8

The skinny: On the marquis Thursday night in New York City, the Pittsburgh Penguins invade Gotham with Sidney Crosby in tow and their sights set on the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have a game in hand on the Rangers and play them one more time this season.

A win tonight against New York and Pittsburgh can continue their quest for first. A loss and it almost certainly becomes a scramble for home ice with the Flyers and Devils.

Colorado, after a last-second goal Wednesday to force overtime in a shootout win at Buffalo, faces the New Jersey Devils in Newark. The Avalanche are in a playoff spot entering play Thursday, but have played more games than their counterparts in the Western Conference. After this game, Colorado will have nine remaining and while they play Calgary two more times and Phoenix once, a win gives them a little breathing room -- but not enough to feel safe.

Speaking of the Flames and Coyotes, they match up in Calgary for a pivotal game. Phoenix won Wednesday in Vancouver, and the Coyotes are chasing the Dallas Stars for first in the Pacific while trying to hold down a playoff position.

It is incredible to think the Coyotes are chasing first (and a top-three seed, while still trying to hold on to a playoff spot. That is the definition of tight right there.

The Flames continue to roll with four straight victories. Their downfall last season was not winning against teams competing for one of the final spots (like the Coyotes) down the stretch. They want to build on the momentum of their win Tuesday against the Sharks and climb back into a playoff spot.

Down in the Sunshine State, there has been plenty to shine about in South Florida this season for the Panthers. The Boston Bruins make a visit there Thursday, and they are only four points ahead of the Panthers. Florida can think about second in the conference with a win.

George McPhee, general manager of the Washington Capitals said he can't watch his team on TV because it is too hard for him. Does he watch other teams, and how do those games feel? If he doesn't watch, he'll be logging on to NHL.com to follow all the action and get updates on the games in progress. You should too.
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Posted On Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 10:51 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 14th

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 70 78 12 90 7

9th 70 74 12 85 9
10th 69 72 13 84 10
11th 69 71 13 83 11
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 69 78 13 91 8

9th 70 78 12 89 8
10th 70 78 12 89 8
11th 71 78 11 89 8
The skinny: As the playoff drive continues, watching teams put pressure on their competitors is exciting. The Florida Panthers did exactly that on Tuesday in their victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Who did they put pressure on? The answer is the Winnipeg Jets, who may have seen their opportunity to claim first place in the Southeast Division fade further into the sunset. The win moves the Panthers seven points ahead of the Jets, which means Winnipeg needs to win four more games than Florida in the final 13 contests for both teams -- possible but very unlikely.

Further harm for the Jets on 'Terrible Tuesday' was the three-goal deficit the Washington Capitals overcame to beat the New York Islanders. The Capitals moved six points ahead of Winnipeg for the eighth spot. Talk about a left-right combination!

You want to see a 'must-win' game on the schedule? It's in Winnipeg on Wednesday night. The red-hot Dallas Stars are in town, and a loss for the Jets will make an already difficult task that much more so.

Interconference games usually aren't marquis ones at this point of the season but the Colorado Avalanche traveling to Buffalo to face the Sabres is. The Avalanche are in a fierce fight for a playoff spot in the Western Conference and the Sabres, who will be without the services of Tyler Myers for the next three games because of a suspension, are trying to stay in the hunt for the eighth spot in the East.

The left-right combination on the chin of the Jets with the results Tuesday night was felt in Buffalo as well. Colorado has played more games than their competitors in the West, so with games dwindling losses can't be absorbed. The Avs can move into a playoff spot with a win in Buffalo. A loss will put them into the 'we need help' category and that is not where teams want to be.

Phoenix, who was leading the Pacific Division on March 5th, has fallen into the battle for the final two playoff spots and it doesn't get easier for the Coyotes against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday before playing the surging Flames in Calgary on Thursday.

The games are dwindling and as teams win, like the Panthers and Capitals did Tuesday, they buoy their own hopes and at the same time put more strain on other teams' hopes. It will be no different Wednesday night.

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Posted On Tuesday, 03.13.2012 / 9:47 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 13th

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 69 76 13 89 8

9th 70 74 12 85 9
10th 69 72 13 84 10
11th 68 69 14 82 11
12th 69 68 13 79 12
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 71 78 11 89 7

9th 68 77 14 91 8
10th 69 76 13 88 9
11th 69 76 13 88 9

The skinny: The NHL has their own version of March Madness as teams jockey for position and nearly every possible playoff spot is at stake.

Florida, which is trying to end a long playoff drought, entertains the reeling Toronto Maple Leafs with a chance to move three points ahead of the Washington Capitals for first place in the Southeast Division. Just as importantly, in their quest to end the playoff drought there is an opportunity to move further ahead of the Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets, who are trying to chase down Washington in the eighth spot.

Winning this game would make it almost impossible for the Jets to catch the Panthers. The Jets would have to win four more games than Florida in their remaining games to pass them. This is called breathing room.

As for the jockeying inside the top eight, look no further than the New Jersey Devils-Philadelphia Flyers matchup. Both of these teams try to chase down the fourth position in the conference and coveted home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

Looking to the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks won in Edmonton on Monday night to move past Calgary and can find themselves back in a playoff position with a win or even a single point Tuesday against the Flames. Those three point games are certainly loathed by teams not playing on a particular night.

The Flames have eight of their remaining 13 games at home, and those games are almost mandatory if they want to qualify for the playoffs. A year ago on this date the Flames were in eighth position, but they finished 5-3-3 -- including an 0-2-2 record against Phoenix, Los Angeles and Anaheim.

If you don't beat the teams you are competing with for playoff spots, you won't qualify. The Flames don't want to have a repeat of that this season.

As for the battles inside the top eight, Detroit, at the very least, wants to have home ice in the first round of the playoffs and with a win against the Kings, the Red Wings can move four points ahead of Nashville in that race.
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Posted On Monday, 03.12.2012 / 10:58 AM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 12

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 69 76 13 89 8

9th 69 72 13 84 10
10th 69 72 13 84 10
11th 68 69 14 82 11
12th 69 68 13 79 12
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 69 76 13 88 8

9th 69 76 13 88 8
10th 70 76 12 88 8
11th 67 75 15 90 9

The skinny: Buffalo finds itself in the thick of a Stanley Cup Playoff race, four points behind the Washington Capitals, who currently hold the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference.

Beating the teams below you in the standings and those with whom you are competing for a playoff spot becomes paramount at this point of the season.

While the projection may look daunting for the Sabres, they control their destiny with a game against Montreal on Monday (7 p.m. ET, TSN), followed by Florida and Tampa Bay before meeting Montreal again in nine days.

That run of games is pivotal for the Sabres because they play the Capitals on March 27, but it will not be a game of meaning if Buffalo doesn't obtain points in this critical stretch of games, which include three contests against teams currently out of the playoff picture.

San Jose finds itself out of the playoff picture as the week opens -- when was the last time that was the case?

The perennial Pacific Division champions have entered into a fight for their playoff lives.

That being said, the Sharks still project to the No. 8 position in the Western Conference -- largely based on having games in hand against the other teams in contention.

One of those games is Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers (9:30 p.m. ET, TSN), a team well below them in the standings. A win can give the Sharks a bit of breathing room as they head to Calgary to face the surging Flames on Tuesday.

Two wins by the Sharks and they can re-enter the race for first in the Pacific.

That's how fast things can change as the regular season enters its final stage.

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Posted On Thursday, 03.08.2012 / 1:19 PM

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

Updated playoff projections: March 8th

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 67 72 15 86 9

9th 66 70 16 86 10
10th 67 70 15 84 10
11th 66 68 16 83 11
12th 67 67 15 80 11
 
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Current
Position
NHL
Team
Games
Played
Current
Points
Games
Remaining
Projected
Points
Wins to
earn 8th
8th 65 74 17 91 9

9th 66 74 16 89 9
10th 68 74 14 88 9
11th 67 72 15 85 10
12th 67 68 15 81 12

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Posted On Wednesday, 03.07.2012 / 10:49 AM

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

Craig Button's formula for playoff projections

There are many variables to consider when factoring in probability, so what appears below is not based on probability. I don't take account of strength of schedule, record of remaining opponents, etc.

Utilizing a team's current points percentage, a projection is made on the assumption that they will continue at that rate for the remaining games. Using each team's remaining games, the season-ending projection is made based on the current points percentage.

Tabulating the top eight teams in each conference based on projected points at the conclusion of the season, the projected playoff positions can be established. Looking at the eighth-best projected total in each conference, the minimum point total is established for the teams with projected end-of-season positioning outside the Top 8. A projection is made based on their remaining games of how many wins and the corresponding win percentage a team must attain to gain the No. 8 position in the conference.
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