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Updated playoff projections: March 21st

Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 9:33 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 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.
Quote of the Day

I'm just excited about the opportunity. I've been on the ice earlier than usual and in the weight room, pushing around a little more weights than usual. Every day I go into a workout with a smile on my face and ready to go. When you do have a little more responsibility, you want to take your lunch pail and get ready to work.

— Brian Elliott to Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch on being the Blues' No. 1 goalie