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Sunday Standings: The final week of the regular season

Will the Penguins get the help they need to make the playoffs?

Pittsburgh Penguins v Detroit Red Wings Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

This is it, welcome to the very last week of the NHL season. The league officially wraps things up on the 2022-23 regular season with two games on Friday, but the Penguins’ season and the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference will be decided by Thursday.

Here are how the standings look on this final Sunday of the year:

At the moment Buffalo is still alive, mathematically-speaking, but for practical purposes are all but finished for this season’s playoff hopes. The NHL playoff race in the East has come into focus for what has been shaping up for weeks, if not months, with three teams (NY Islanders, Florida, Pittsburgh) playing a game of musical chairs that has two spots.

Florida (2-0-0): Florida took care of business with a 2-1 win over Buffalo on Tuesday and a 7-2 victory against Ottawa on Thursday. Alex Lyon is rapidly becoming an almost unbelievable late-season hero as a third string goalie who has emerged and played some great hockey for the Panthers. It’s one of the most unlikely of stories, but it has emerged at just the right time for the Cats. Lyon has started Florida’s last six games, has won each and every one of them with a .956% save percentage in this stretch. The Panthers would probably be lost without him, but now they sit in the best position of all three teams.

NY Islanders (2-1-0): The Islanders fell 2-1 to Carolina to start the week, but then hammered the depleted Tampa team 6-1 on Friday and coasting away from the Flyers for an easy 4-0 win on Saturday. Steady as she goes out on the Island.

Pittsburgh (3-1-0): The Pens held on to beat the Flyers last Sunday before getting blown out of the rink by New Jersey. That was the last straw, Pittsburgh played two of their most complete games with decisive wins over Minnesota and Detroit to finish out the week. Now how long can they keep it up?

The Week Ahead

The Penguins could know on Tuesday what their fate may hold, since NYI and FLA play their Game No. 81’s first on Monday. Toronto has everything locked up and Washington is banged up and playing without any pride these days, so conventional wisdom is pointing towards there not be any friendly results coming early for Pittsburgh. (But they play the games to find out).

The one remaining game that stands out on paper as a challenge is the FLA/CAR contest on Thursday. The Hurricanes could possibly need a result in that one in order to clinch the division and avoid seeing the Rangers in the opening round of the playoffs. The Hurricanes did the Penguins a favor by beating NYI this week. Will they end the season on a high note and trip up Florida, or will they too fall victim to Lyon?

For Pittsburgh, anything less than two more wins to finish out their schedule would be completely unacceptable It would be worthy of the Pens sitting out the playoffs if they can’t beat Chicago and Columbus in the season’s last week and hold up their end of the bargain.

Technically, the Pens season could be over by Tuesday night - should both NYI/FLA win on Monday and Pittsburgh lose in regulation on Tuesday, that would be curtains for their playoff chances. Pittsburgh, however, will not be able to clinch their playoff ticket until Thursday night, being as their future is linked at this point to the other teams.

Playoff chances

Selected models outlooks on the Penguins’ playoff hopes.

Hockey Viz: 42.8%
Money Puck: 42.9%
538 Hockey: 46%
Hockey Reference: 52.3%

At this point, you don’t need to have heavy stats to realize that the chances swing wildly on the results of the games. With things this close and three teams in (almost) a dead heat competing for two spots, every game is critical and a must win to have a chance at the playoffs.