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Updated playoff projections: March 24th

Saturday, 03.24.2012 / 11:52 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 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.
Quote of the Day

A piece of scar tissue breaks off, pinches the nerve, and every time you move your leg it's almost like having a root canal in your stomach and groin.

— Detroit Red Wings center Stephen Weiss on his sports hernia surgery