By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — If the season ended today, the Red Wings and Flyers would be skating to the playoffs, and the Bruins would be dusting off their golf clubs.
APRIL 8 UPDATE: A more recent version of the playoff scenarios is available here.
Unfortunately for Detroit and Philadelphia, people only say “if the season ended today” at times when the season is most definitely not ending. And so, there remains a very real chance of any one of these three teams being the one that gets bounced from the postseason picture.
For all three teams, the objective is quite simple: win the remaining games left on the schedule, and you make the playoffs. The Flyers are the team with a slightly larger window for error, as they have four games remaining while the Bruins and Red Wings each have three games apiece.
Here’s a look at exactly what the three fringe playoff teams have remaining on their schedules.
vs. Philly (Wed.)
@ Boston (Thu.)
@ Rangers (Sat.)
MAX POINTS: 97
@ Detroit (Wed.)
vs. Toronto (Thu.)
vs. Pittsburgh (Sat.)
@ Islanders (Sun.)
MAX POINTS: 99
vs. Carolina (Tue.)
vs. Detroit (Thu.)
vs. Ottawa (Sat.)
MAX POINTS: 96
Throwing a wrench right into any scenario is the fact that the Flyers and Red Wings play head-to-head on Wednesday, and the Red Wings and Bruins play head-to-head on Thursday, so those “max points” numbers are only theoretical. Those two head-to-head games could go a long way toward reshaping this playoff picture midweek.
For example, if Detroit loses in regulation to Philly on Wednesday and then loses in regulation to Boston on Thursday (and if the Bruins beat the Hurricanes on Tuesday as well), then the Bruins will have 94 points to the Red Wings’ 91 come Thursday night. In that scenario, the Bruins can clinch a spot as soon as Thursday.
On the flip side, the opposite is true. If Detroit beats Philly and Boston, the Red Wings will have 95 points, meaning the Bruins would not be able to catch them in the standings.
However, that wouldn’t eliminate the Bruins, because in that scenario, the Flyers could have between 91 and 93 points after Thursday’s game, while the Bruins could have between 90-92 points that night, even if they do lose to Detroit. At that point, the Bruins would need to beat Ottawa to get to 94 points and hope Philly face-plants over the weekend, thereby reopening the gate to the second wild-card spot and ousting Philly from the playoff picture.
It’s complicated, and that’s without adding in the mayhem that could result from overtime/shootout games. If Detroit and Philadelphia head to OT on Wednesday, that could be terrible news for Boston, who may desperately need one of those teams to miss out on a crucial point between now and Sunday. Additionally, the Bruins could win Thursday vs. Detroit while still losing if the game goes to overtime, because gaining just one point in the standings instead of two likely won’t be enough.
And then, you could get into the first tiebreaker, which is ROW — regulation and overtime wins. In that scenario, it’s possible that a Bruins victory via shootout doesn’t even really help the cause. Boston currently has 37 in the ROW column. Detroit has one more at 38; Philly has one fewer at 36.
(Theoretically, the Lightning and Islanders — currently with 95 points each and three and four games respectively remaining could each stall out and finish the year at 95 points. But that remains so unlikely as to not require examination.)
(One more thing that’s important to note: the second wild-card spot isn’t exactly desirable, unless you consider going up against the best team in the NHL, the Washington Capitals, in round one of the playoffs. Still, having some playoffs is better than having no playoffs — at least in theory.)
Again, it’s complex, but it can be simplified to say “win all your games and you’re in.” For the Bruins, that requires a win at home vs. Carolina on Tuesday night. If that happens, the picture becomes much clearer. If the Bruins lose to Carolina, then their maximum point total drops to just 94 points, at which point they’d have to go on to beat Detroit and Ottawa but also get some help. And that help may be hard to come by from teams like the Penguins and Rangers, who have already clinched playoff spots, as well as the Islanders, who almost certainly will have clinched a spot by Sunday.
The ifs and maybes can somewhat muddle the picture, but make no mistake: for these three teams, the NHL playoffs have already begun.