The NHL’s regular season draws to a close on Saturday night* and with most teams playing 81 of 82 games, the playoff picture is still really wide open in the East.
The Pittsburgh Penguins know they’re in the playoffs, but who will they play? That still is up in the air. We know it will be one of four teams, but we don’t know yet who it will be, or even who will have home ice.
(*OK, yeah, on Sunday there’s a BOS/FLA makeup game from a postponed one earlier)
Fairly cut and dry there. The Pens are in the best shape of all the teams in the mix with 97 points, and perhaps as important their 44 Regulation + OT Wins (ROW) means that Pittsburgh has earned the potentially important 1st tiebreaker over Columbus, New Jersey and Philadelphia.
So who is it going to be? Cue SportsClubStats
As it has been for most the immediate recent future, the Blue Jackets remain the most likely singular playoff opponent for the Pens. However take note that there’s a 57.4% chance that Pittsburgh WON’T be playing Columbus in the first round, this is still wide-open.
Also note that it’s really not up to the Penguins. Whether they win, lose or lose in OT tonight to the Ottawa Senators, their odds change very little for first round opponent. (Aside from the fact a regulation loss opens up the possibility of falling to the wild card to see the Caps).
The real answer to the question about “who will the Pens play” is going to be answered by what the other teams end up doing in their final game of the regular season, more so than it will by Pittsburgh in their final game.
OK, so how can each team be an opponent? Let’s break down all the possibilities..
The Penguins and Washington play in the first round if....
—Pittsburgh loses to the Senators in regulation tonight
—Columbus wins (any fashion) @Nashville tomorrow night
—New Jersey wins (any fashion) @Washington tomorrow night
The seemingly annual Pens/Capitals matchup could happen in the first round, but it remains highly unlikely, requiring the two Metro teams to win on the road against 1st place teams AND the Pens to punt on their “easier” game at home against an Erik Karlsson-less Ottawa team. Could it happen? Yeah. But don’t put your paycheck on it.
The Penguins and Philadelphia play in the first round if....
—Philly wins tomorrow (in regulation or OT) vs. NY Rangers
—Columbus loses (any fashion) @NSH
—NJD loses (any fashion) @WSH
It doesn’t matter what Pittsburgh does here, they’re already guaranteed to finish ahead of the Flyers in the standings. The Battle of PA could be the 2v3 Metro matchup but Philly has to do their part and win and hope the other teams in the mix lose. Statistically, not a great possibility here, but I see a real path. Both CBJ+NJD could lose on the road to tough teams and the Rangers have nothing to play for.
The Flyers inconsistent performances make them impossible to predict if they will get a win or lose but this scenario seems pretty feasible in theory.
The Penguins and New Jersey play in the first round if....
—NJ wins (any fashion) AND Columbus loses (any fashion)
—NJ loses (OT/SO) AND Columbus loses (regulation)
—NJ wins (Regulation/OT) AND Columbus wins (Shootout)
Columbus is in the driver’s seat, they have to lose to open the door for Jersey. The Devils also have to walk through that door by getting a result in their final game (@WSH).
The Penguins and Columbus play in the first round if....
—NJD loses in regulation AND Philly loses in any fashion
—CBJ wins (ROW) AND PIT wins/loses OT
—CBJ loses OT/SO AND NJD loses OT/SO AND Philly loses any fashion
—Everyone (PIT, CBJ, NJ, PHI) loses in regulation
—Everyone (PIT, CBJ, NJ, PHI) wins in Reg/OT
For Columbus to play Pittsburgh, it’s pretty simple, they just match or better the result of PHI and NJ and it’s PA vs OH in the first round again. CBJ’s more complicated scenarios come into play if they lose and the teams below them win, they could fall into the wild card. A Pens/Lumbus pairing has the best odds because it’s the simplest and most different paths (some I might have even missed above).
If everyone “does what they should”, it will be Pens/CBJ in the first round. However in NHL hockey games, especially when seasons boil down to a single game, not everything happens “as it should”.
Since the majority of Pittsburgh’s fate lies with others, we won’t know who they’re playing in the first round until the dust settles Saturday night on the CBJ and NJD games.
Who are you hoping the Pens draw in the 1st round of the NHL playoffs?
This poll is closed
Columbus Blue Jackets
New Jersey Devils