The bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race is a bit of a jumbled mess at the moment with five times separated by six points for the final Wild Card spot.
Four of those teams are separated by just three points.
The latest team to try and enter into the fun is the Florida Panthers after winning four consecutive games heading into their contest with the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night. After their latest win the Panthers find themselves six points back of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, which normally would be a pretty insurmountable deficit at this point in the season, especially given the number of teams that are still ahead of them.
But the thing that makes the Panthers at least a little bit interesting is the fact that they have played fewer games than any other team in the league. Looking at the teams ahead of them they have two games in hand on the Columbus Blue Jackets, four games in hand on the New York Islanders, and three games each on the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes.
The varying number of games played doesn’t always give you the clearest look at the playoff race, so let’s take a quick look at each team’s point pace at the moment to get an idea as to how big the gap really is.
Currently the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets occupy the two Wild Card spots.
So that’s not exactly encouraging for the Panthers because even with the multiple games in hand, even with a four-game winning streak, and even with the Blue Jackets going through an ugly slump recently, that is still a ton of work to do.
Remember, games in hand do not necessarily mean “wins” in hand. And those other teams are going to win some games, too.
If we assume the pace for that second wild card spot stays at around 89 points (not a guarantee) the Panthers would need to collect 38 points over their final 31 games to hit the 90-point mark.
If there’s anything working in their favor it’s that the Panthers still have 17 home games remaining (versus only 14 road games). The Panthers are 13-8-3 on home ice so far this season.
This shows just how difficult it is to make up points in the standings this late in the season. You see a team like the Panthers six points back, with multiple games in hand, with still more than a quarter of the season to play and it would be easy to think they are still in the race. But when you look at the math and what they actually have to do it shows just how big that gap is.
The Panthers have a really intriguing young core of talent led by Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck, all of whom are having great seasons and they are trying to make this season interesting, but that slow start may have put them into too deep of a hole to climb out of. This recent hot streak might be a case of too little, just a little too late.