Breaking down the race for East’s final spot after Winnipeg’s win

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It’s looking more and more like every piece of the Eastern Conference will come down to an end-of-the-season battle.

The New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and maybe even Philadelphia Flyers have a chance to take the Atlantic/top spot in the East. The Northeast Division looks like a big jump ball between the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators.

While the Florida Panthers seem to be pulling away ever-so-slightly for the Southeast lead, tonight’s games only intensified the race for the conference’s final spot. The Washington Capitals had a chance to keep the heat on Florida and push the Winnipeg Jets deeper into playoff purgatory, but sticking to their season’s script, of course that didn’t happen as Winnipeg won instead.

Sure, it was an electrifying contest in the as-always charged-up MTS Centre, but the Jets’ 3-2 regulation triumph only muddies the picture. That’s great news for Winnipeg, Buffalo and maybe a couple teams with less realistic hopes and also fantastic news for fans of down-to-the-wire playoff races.

Here’s an updated look at the East’s race for No. 8:

8. Washington: 78 points, 11 games remaining (34 regulation/OT wins)

9. Winnipeg: 76 points, 11 games remaining (30 regulation/OT wins)
10. Buffalo: 75 points, 11 games remaining (26 regulation/OT wins)

(The East’s lower class is actually quite muddled and not that far off from a pure points perspective, but I’ll be honest; I don’t see anyone but maybe Tampa Bay posing a threat. Consult the full standings at your leisure if you disagree, though.)

If you’re interested in odds, Sports Club Stats breaks it down as such:

Washington: 66.3 percent chance to make the playoffs (down a whopping 11.3 percent with tonight’s loss)
Winnipeg: 28.9 percent chance (up 8.6 with win)
Buffalo: 9.3 percent chance
Tampa Bay: 2.8 percent chance

Schedule outlook

The Capitals have one game left against the Jets and one against the Sabres (both at home). The Capitals have six road games left this season versus five at home.

Meanwhile, the Jets have that road game against the Capitals but no contests remaining against Buffalo. They do have a rather unfriendly schedule, however, with a three-game road trip and four-game road trip remaining. Overall, just four of their last 11 contests are at home – which is an enormous factor for both the Caps and Jets (two teams with almost ridiculous home/road disparities).

Gut reaction

As excited and full-of-hope as Jets fans must be tonight, the Capitals have a significant set of advantages going their way at the end of this stretch run. It looks to be an exciting race for that eighth spot, though.