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Updated playoff projections: March 18th

Sunday, 03.18.2012 / 9:58 AM

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

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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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