PHILADELPHIA - First thing's first.
The Carolina Hurricanes' playoff chances are 100 percent.
Not 77.6. Not 87.4. Not 99.99999.
One hundred percent. A mathematical guarantee. A certainty.
That much has been decided, and that's what's most important. Take a moment to drink that in and enjoy it. It's been a long time coming.
Still to be determined is playoff seeding and, in turn, first-round match-ups, and it will take the final two days of the 2018-19 regular season to settle everything.
The Hurricanes currently occupy the top wild card seed in the Eastern Conference and will face one of three opponents in the first round - the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning or New York Islanders - to be determined after game 82 in Philadelphia.
"It could turn out to be an important game in terms of how everything shakes out. It's kind of tough. That was an emotional night last night," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said on Friday. "You play a whole bunch of games, then we keep talking about the next one and now we have to regroup and try to find a way to win one more before we get going."
According to Money Puck, it's most likely that the Canes will finish in the first wild card spot (69.7 percent chance) and face the Capitals. The Canes could also still leapfrog the Pittsburgh Penguins for third place in the Metropolitan Division (12.4 percent chance) to square off with the Islanders in the first round or drop back to the second wild card spot (17.9 percent chance), currently occupied by the Columbus Blue Jackets, and face the Lightning in round one.
Should the Blue Jackets lose in regulation to the New York Rangers on Friday night, the Hurricanes will be guaranteed to finish no lower than the first wild card seed. If the Blue Jackets earn a victory of any kind, all three potential playoff positions remain in play heading into the final day of the regular season, and the Montreal Canadiens will be officially eliminated from contention. If the Blue Jackets settle for a point, all three playoff positions are still up for grabs, and Montreal could still manage to sneak in, creating for a chaotic Saturday finish.
These are the scenarios are in play that could drop the Canes to the second wild card spot:
- CBJ overtime or shootout loss on Friday AND CBJ win on Saturday AND CAR regulation loss on Saturday
- CBJ win on Friday AND CBJ overtime or shootout loss on Saturday AND CAR regulation loss on Saturday
- CBJ win on Friday AND CBJ win on Saturday AND CAR loss on Saturday
Regardless of what happens below the Canes in the standings, one scenario lifts the team into third place in the division come Saturday night:
- CAR win AND PIT regulation loss
Otherwise, the Canes will maintain their first wild card seed and square off with the defending Stanley Cup champions in the first round.
Got all of that?
Don't worry. These last two days could have been a lot more stressful. Instead, the Hurricanes already took care of the important bit.
"We put so much emotional and mental stress into this year, but I know the guys will play hard," Brind'Amour said. "The good news is, no matter what happens, we're still playing."