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Updated playoff projections: March 30th

Friday, 03.30.2012 / 9:21 AM

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

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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It's pretty crazy, but believe me when I say we didn't draft these players with the mindset we had to because they had good hockey-playing dads. It just turned out that way. But we're certainly glad they're a part of our organization.

— Arizona Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt regarding the coincidence that six of the organization's top prospects are sons of former NHL players