Tag: playoff races

Washington Capitals v Florida Panthers

Breaking down the race for the East’s final playoff spots


Earlier this week, the NBC Sports Network gang took a look at the Eastern Conference playoff bubble, as you can see in the video below:

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Want a more detailed playoff picture? NBC’s standings page provides some extra meat, from games played to full records.

source:  (click to enlarge)

The Southleast

First things first, the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers look to be in a two-horse race to win the once-again-woeful Southeast Division. Both teams reached 55 points in 48 games, but Washington has four more wins (26 to 22). On the other hand, the Panthers have 18 home games and 16 road games left while the Caps will play 18 more road games and 16 home games, so this one could be awfully close.

As undeserving as they might seem, one of these squads will win one of the top three seeds. Let’s face it, it’s most likely to be No. 3. Whoever loses will be in a dogfight – likely for the seventh and eighth seed.

The battles for seventh and eighth

The second place team in the Southeast, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs will likely have the inside track for the top two spots at 55 points right now. The Devils have 18 home games and 16 road contests left while the Maple Leafs have 15 home games and 18 away matches remaining.

The Winnipeg Jets are probably the closest team to a “wild card” with 50 points. The Jets have 16 home games and 16 road games left, so they’re definitely facing an uphill battle to get back into the real mix.

Long shots

The Montreal Canadiens (47 points), Tampa Bay Lightning (46), New York Islanders (45), Buffalo Sabres (45) and Carolina Hurricanes (45) are all on their last legs.

Carolina might be the easiest to count out overall since they only have 31 games left this season and only 14 of those games are at home. Conversely, the one team that might have a sneaky chance to turn things around is Tampa Bay. Beyond the obvious talent on their roster, the Bolts play 20 of their final 34 games at home, so that might give them a chance to put together a run or two.


After reading this rundown, which bubble teams strike you as the most likely to take the Eastern Conference’s final spots? Do you expect the Panthers to surprisingly take the Southeast or will the Capitals find a way to make it happen once again? Let us know in the comments.

Dallas Stars face must-win (in regulation or overtime) game against Minnesota Wild

Mikko Koivu, Greg Zanon, Adam Burish

In case you missed it, the Chicago Blackhawks lost to the Detroit Red Wings in regulation, giving the Dallas Stars an improbable chance to make the playoffs after a season full of twists and turns. The goal is straightforward and simple, even if attaining it might not be: all the Stars need is a win in regulation or overtime and they’ll make the playoffs. Anything less — including a shootout win — and Chicago will be the eighth seed instead.

With that in mind, the question is painfully obvious: can the Stars do it? Here’s a preview of tonight’s all-or-nothing game.

The Stars’ recent dominant performances against the Wild

Going into tonight’s game, there’s really no doubt about it: the Stars own the Wild. They are 3-0-0 against Minnesota in the 2010-11 season, but the domination expands beyond that. Dallas is on a six-game winning streak against them and are 11-2-0 in the two clubs’ last 13 games.

There are two ways to look at this trend. An optimist (and probably a realist) would say the Stars are the odds-on favorites. Yet a pessimist might wonder if something has to give; can Dallas really keep beating up on Minnesota?

The historical aspect

Much like the Red Wings’ rivalry with the Blackhawks, the Wild might have a slightly higher amount of energy in this one based on the opponent they hope to spite, even if they will face their last game of the season while Detroit wanted to build playoff momentum. It’s probably true that Wild players don’t care that much about the fact that the Dallas Stars were once the Minnesota North Stars, but you know who does care?

Minnesota hockey fans, that’s who. Don’t be surprised if there’s a charged atmosphere because of that history.


As we mentioned in today’s starting goalies post, Jose Theodore is expected to be in Minnesota’s net while workhorse Kari Lehtonen will play for Dallas as usual. Avoiding Niklas Backstrom is obviously a bonus for the Stars, but Theodore has been quite efficient as his backup.

Here are the remaining starting lineups for both teams, via Hockey Wilderness.

(click to enlarge)


So, the question is: can the Stars finally make the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season? The numbers are certainly on their side and as a fan of legitimate competition, it’s exciting to know that a shootout win won’t cut it.

The Blackhawks have no one to blame but themselves for being in the situation they are in. Likewise, the Stars will face about six months of regret if they cannot beat the Minnesota Wild.

For hockey fans, this is what it’s all about. If you want to follow the action, stick with PHT and check out the game at 6:00 pm ET on NHL Network. If it’s anywhere near as exciting as the Red Wings-Blackhawks game, this game should be a real treat.

Game of the Week preview: Blackhawks could finish anywhere from fifth to ninth place

Marian Hossa

Considering the fact that the final regular season NBC Game of the Week (at 12:30 pm ET) also comes on the final day of the 2010-11 campaign, there was a serious risk that this could have been a meaningless game. Instead, the Chicago Blackhawks host the Detroit Red Wings in a contest that could rearrange the lower half of the Western Conference’s playoff tree.

To put it in the simplest terms, the Blackhawks could finish as high as fifth place in the West with a regulation or overtime win against Detroit. That’s a pretty high ceiling for a team fighting for their playoff lives, but there’s also the very low floor. If Chicago loses in regulation and the Dallas Stars earn a regulation or overtime win, the Blackhawks won’t even make the playoffs.

There are, however, some in-betweens among those two extremes. The most important thing to remember is that a single point will clinch them a playoff spot (and the seventh seed), but if you want the full rundown of the scenarios, check the bottom of this post.

Beyond the minute details of how/where they can end up in the playoffs, the most important question is: how are they approaching this game? CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers caught up with coach Joel Quenneville and the team, who realize that weeks of discussing must-win games boil down to a contest that really is the biggest of their turbulent 2010-11 season.

“Everything’s at stake for tomorrow’s game,” Joel Quenneville said after Saturday’s practice. “I don’t know how many times we’ve said that statement all year, but tomorrow it really is.”

If the Blackhawks want to get that one point – or two, which would actually be more to their liking – they’re going to have to bring the same dominant game they had in their 4-2 victory in Detroit on Friday night. The Blackhawks were stellar; as Brian Campbell said, they recognized the situation at hand.

Rinse and repeat.

“It’s the biggest game. (Friday) was the biggest before that, and the one before that. It’s been that way for a while,” Campbell said. “We’re still in the same situation. It’s probably going to be a playoff atmosphere so we’ll be ready to go.”

The defending Stanley Cup champions must wait until the absolute last day of the season to find out if they’ll even make the playoffs again. While their focus must have been centered on their own conference foes more than anything else on Saturday, there’s a good chance that the Blackhawks are also aware of the sorry fate of another former championship team: the Carolina Hurricanes.

Much like the Hurricanes, Chicago’s fate is in their own hands. Will they win that staring contest, or will they blink, allowing another team to decide their future? We’ll find out in the NBC Game of the Week.

Chicago’s possibilities beyond a regulation/overtime win or the worst case scenario:

A single point would earn the Blackhawks the seventh seed since the 98-point Los Angeles Kings don’t have as many non-shootout wins as Chicago.

There’s also a nail-biting scenario in which Chicago could stay in eighth place. They would “accomplish” this task by losing in regulation to Detroit while the Stars fail to win in regulation or overtime.

The final situation involves a shootout win for the Blackhawks. Chicago would end the season with the same amount of non-shootout wins as Phoenix and Nashville, but they hold tiebreaker advantages over both teams.* Ultimately, then, a shootout win would be just as valuable as a regulation or overtime win. The Blackhawks would earn the fifth seed in that situation.

(How did I get at that last point? Let’s just say it’s a complicated scenario, but Buddy Oakes at Preds On the Glass came up with the same conclusions.)


So, in the grand scheme of things, the Blackhawks can earn the fifth spot with a win and a playoff spot with an overtime or shootout loss. If they fail to earn a point, they are at the mercy of the Stars.

If you’re hoping for a playoff atmosphere in the last day of the season, look no further than Sunday’s game between the Red Wings and the Blackhawks.

West playoff update: Sharks lock up second seed, Ducks clinch fourth place

Kyle Wellwood, Ilya Bryzgalov, Ian White

Western Conference playoff race

pzs-1. Vancouver – 117 pts (0 GR)
ys-2. San Jose – 105 pts (0 GR)
ys-3. Detroit – 102 pts (1 GR)
xs-4. Anaheim – 99 pts (0 GR)
x-5. Nashville – 99 pts (0 GR)
x-6. Phoenix – 99 pts (0 GR)
x-7. Los Angeles – 98 pts (0 GR)
8. Chicago – 97 pts (1 GR)
9. Dallas – 95 pts (1 GR)

p- clinched Presidents’ Trophy
z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
s – locked in at current seed
x – clinched playoff spot
GR – games remaining

OK, before we get into the results themselves, here’s a look at where each team could land:

5th place: Nashville or Chicago
6th place: Nashville or Phoenix
7th place: Los Angeles, Phoenix or Chicago
8th place: Los Angeles, Chicago or Dallas

As you can see, the Blackhawks could land anywhere from fifth place to ninth place while the Stars can only take eighth. For a deeper look at the rather convoluted scenarios depending on how Chicago fares, read the upcoming post on their chances.

Now, let’s take a quick tour of Saturday’s biggest games.

San Jose 3, Phoenix 1

The Sharks clinched the second spot in the West with this win, despite Ilya Bryzgalov’s best, stick-flinging efforts. Bryzgalov made a save of the night/week/year worthy stop in the third period, only to allow a Logan Couture power-play goal moments later. The animated Russian netminder was none-too-pleased, revealing his displeasure by throwing his goalie stick behind him. Antti Niemi did his part to frustrate Coyotes shooters, making 35 out of 36 saves.

Anaheim 3, Los Angeles 1

Corey Perry is obviously the biggest reason why the Ducks somehow found their way from a playoff endangered species to the fourth seed with at least one round of home ice advantage. That being said, this team also had a revolving door of heroes this season; to see evidence of that, look no further than their goalies. Ray Emery saved the day when Jonas Hiller went down and now Dan Ellis is saving the day in Emery’s wake, especially tonight. The backup known mostly for the ridicule he received on Twitter took over for Emery when he suffered an injury on Friday, even if that win was preordained. His real work came Saturday, when he stopped 43 out of 44 saves to help his new team earn two huge points in regulation.

St. Louis 2, Nashville 0

The Predators had a chance to earn themselves the fourth seed with just one point, but couldn’t manage a single goal against Jaroslav Halak. As pointless as this win might seem (pun somewhat intended), the Blues were determined to keep this year’s first round pick away from the Colorado Avalanche.

Tampa Bay clobbers Carolina 6-2; Rangers top Hurricanes for East’s eighth seed

Cory Stillman, Vincent Lecavalier, Brett Clark, Martin St. Louis

Earlier this week, it looked like the Carolina Hurricanes would need some help to get into the Eastern Conference playoffs. Instead, the Canes gained a win-and-you’re-in opportunity tonight and absolutely blew it. They will finish two points short of a playoff spot, as the New York Rangers finish ahead in the East thanks to today’s surprising results.

Hours after the Rangers rode a three-goal second period to earn a resounding win against their hated rivals from New Jersey, the Hurricanes allowed three first period goals by their own division foes from Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay 6, Carolina 2

There are plenty of excuses the Hurricanes can give for soiling themselves in this game. One pundit speculated that they might have been “too tight” in such a huge match. If you ask me, there might have been some fatigue involved too. The Hurricanes absolutely throttled the Atlanta Thrashers last night, but one must wonder if they kicked Atlanta around so vigorously that they didn’t have much juice left against the Bolts. Heck, maybe the Lightning wanted to win one for their former head coach John Tortorella.

You can call that previous paragraph a small list of reasons or a steady stream of excuses, but the bottom line is that Carolina got exactly what they wanted but couldn’t cash in on the opportunity. When you consider the upward trend showed by teams like the Thrashers, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs for next season, the Canes might be kicking themselves for even longer than expected.

Dominic Moore, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos scored in the first period to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead they wouldn’t yield. Brett “The Hitman” Clark padded that lead to 4-0. Cory Stillman found the net on a power-play opportunity late in the second and Chad LaRose scored 8:33 into the third to make it more interesting at 4-2, but empty-net goals by Simon Gagne and Martin St. Louis shut the door on any hopes of a comeback.

Mike Smith was outstanding in the game, making 42 out of 44 saves and nearly scoring a goal of his own on Carolina’s empty net. He only allowed one goal in the third period, even though the desperate Hurricanes put 17 shots on goal.

To continue the theme of missed opportunities, Carolina’s power play had plenty of chances to inject life into their comeback, but they only scored once despite seven man advantages. Stillman’s goal was that one ray of light, but the team needed a 5-on-3 to make that happen.

Carolina showed some serious spirit in staying in the playoff picture, but ultimately, the Rangers wanted it more and won the big game. It’s going to be a long, long summer for the Hurricanes because of one floptastic night.