The top six teams in the East are all set and the race for the Wild Card spots are in full bore as we get to the final full week of the NHL regular season. Here are how the standings look as of this morning:
Carolina and NJ still have to decide the Metropolitan Division champion (important to remember, considering they both play Wild Card contenders this week), but otherwise the top of the table is settling in as it has for months now with these top teams locked into their spots.
A continued Sunday Standings reminder: RW (regulation wins) is the first tiebreaker at the end of the season. The Pens are in deep trouble here, both NYI and FLA will beat Pittsburgh in this category. Therefore, tie will go to the other team, so the Pens will need to be at least one point AHEAD of their main competition..
Buffalo has won their way to get back into the fringes of the playoff conversation, the arrow has been pointing up for Florida and the Penguins are still trying to figure it out. The NY Islanders dropped the ball yesterday in a critical opportunity to put some distance in between themselves and Pittsburgh — that’s the one thing about this year’s Wild Card race is that no team is consistent or good enough to pull away.
Here’s the week that was for the contenders:
ttsburgh had reason to be invested in watching the scoreboard closely this time of year. Let’s spotlight that competition, with their record in the last week:
NY Islanders (2-1-0): It’s the results that matter, and the Isles impressed with a 5-1 win over New Jersey early in the week. NYI followed up by eking out a 2-1 shootout win in Washington that won’t win any style points, but more importantly put two points in the standings just the same. Then last night, with a chance to move five points clear of the Pens, the Islanders stumbled and left the door open following a 5-0 loss to Tampa.
Florida (3-1-0): On Monday night the Panthers lost to Ottawa 5-2, which marked their fourth loss in a row. It looked as if the season was spiraling away from Florida. But turnarounds and changes of fortunes in this Wild Card race are very real and very dramatic, and the Cats got right back into the thick of things with three straight wins to close out the week (TOR, MTL, CBJ). The competition wasn’t the best in the last two games, but Paul Maurice’s screaming words on the bench seemed to hit the right spot to help inspire a huge comeback win against Toronto.
Pittsburgh (1-2-0): The Penguins had their chance to pull away a bit from Florida on Monday and failed mightily, dropping a 7-4 game to Detroit that is just the latest in stinging losses that could really end up hurting them. Luckily for them, the Pens bounced back with a very fine effort in a 2-0 win over Nashville before coming up just short against Boston yesterday. Up, down, up, down. So it goes this season.
Buffalo (2-0-1): The Sabres are running out of time and often cutting it close (they lost in a shootout to Montreal and defeated the Rangers in overtime) but they’re hanging around just enough to be a factor this late in the season.
The Week Ahead
On the surface it would look like a challenging week for the Islanders and Penguins, and a more favorable setup for Florida. Then again, as a reminder, Florida is only a week removed from a four-game losing streak that included dropping games to Philadelphia and Ottawa.
Attempting to predict the future of unpredictable teams is an exercise that is virtually impossible. Sheer guessing or random selections are just as valid as logic.
That said, there’s a fun and potentially reasonable scenario where if NYI gets two points this week, Pittsburgh five and Florida four — all three teams could go into the final week of the regular season at the same spot with 89 points.
Tuesday’s FLA/BUF game could be a virtual eliminator if the Sabres lose in regulation, that should have a fun and desperate atmosphere of both teams knowing what is on the line.
Other than that, the time for messing around with non-playoff teams is over and Pittsburgh badly needs to take care of business against PHI and DET this week. Failure to do so would be incredibly damaging.
Modeling’s outlook on the Penguins’ playoff hopes.
It’s turned to coin flip or worse chances for the Pens now, after losing to Detroit and watching the Panthers get to a modest winning streak to close the week.
Being as there are three teams in close to a dead heat for two spots, the odds are going to swing wildly and drastically on all results until the end of the season. Even today’s game against a non-factor team in Philadelphia, the Pens’ outlook goes up 10%+ with a win and down 15% with a regulation loss.