Many Roads to the Wild Card

With the Islanders, currently in the middle of their nine-game road trip, much has been made about the difficult path that lies ahead for them.  But what lies ahead for the rest of the playoff competitors.  The top four in the Metro are set, the Atlantic Division along with the second Wild Card are what is up for discussion now.  There are currently five teams in the Atlantic competing for the three guaranteed playoff spots in addition to the one left over wild card position.  That makes the Islanders position more difficult, the teams in the Atlantic can secure any of the four spots available to them, while the Isles only have one spot available.  So let’s take a look at all the teams that are competing for a playoff spot but have yet to (all but) secure one.

New York Islanders. 

The Isles have 22 games remaining and are in the middle of their most difficult stretch to close out the season.  With most of the Barclays season already completed they will play 15 of those 22 games on the road, with just over half of them (12) coming against teams that are either competing for a playoff spot or are in the playoffs.  In addition, the last week of the schedule includes another four game road trip before finishing Sunday afternoon at home.  Their two biggest games remaining are both in Brooklyn, with a Saturday night March 25th matchup against the Boston Bruins and they close the year out with a Sunday April 9th matchup against the Ottawa Senators.  According to Hockey Reference.com and their standings predictor the Islanders have a 57% chance to make the playoffs and are considered the favorite to take the second wild card position.

Montreal Canadiens

With their current struggles the Habs playoff hopes have taken a big hit.  While many still expect them to hold onto their spot in the Atlantic, being only four points up on the final wildcard spot makes them anything but a lock.  The Habs have 21 games remaining on their schedule, with a fairly even split of home (10) and away (11) games.  In addition to a six game home stand they have their Western Canada trip still to go for the season.  Saturday night they finish their season series with the Maple Leafs, while March holds three huge matchups with the second-place Ottawa Senators, and they have two matchups with the Panthers.  12 of their 21 are against teams that are in the playoffs or are competing with them for a playoff spot. Hockey Reference has the Habs at an 82% chance to make the playoffs.

Ottawa Senators

The Sens are another team that is just above the group competing for the second wild card.  It’s likely they make the playoffs but it is far from a certainty.  They have 23 games remaining with 14 of them coming on the road, and 13 coming against teams in playoff competition.  Their season may be defined by the three matchups they have with Montreal in March.  Hockey Reference has the Sens with a 83% chance to make the playoffs only a collapse will keep them out.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs are in the group with the Isles, Bruins and Panthers that are competing for the final two playoff spots, they can keep an eye on what is going on above them as the Habs and Sens are not too far away.  Exactly half of their remaining 22 games will be played at the Air Canada Center in Toronto, and 13 of them will be against teams competing for a playoff spot.  After Saturday’s game with the Habs the Leafs go out to California for three games, and their schedule softens up afterwards.  In addition to Saturday, the biggest games remaining for the Leafs are March 14 and 28th against the Panthers and March 20 vs the Bruins.  It looks like a fun and exciting season for the Leafs will end with a playoff appearance as Hockey Reference gives them an almost a 58% chance to make the playoffs, with only a 7% chance to get the Wild Card.  They may be the most interesting and fun team in the Atlantic, don’t count out a Division Championship in Toronto.

Boston Bruins

On the outside looking in (at least at this exact moment) are the Boston Bruins.  Now that most of the league has caught up games in hand are no longer a concern (outside of the odd game or two).  The Bruins have played well after firing Claude Julien, and have kept up with the pack even without games in hand.  The Bruins have 13 home games and 8 road games remaining (21 total) on their schedule with 12 of them coming against playoff caliber opponents.  If the Bruins can keep it close during their Western Canadian swing in the middle of March, eight of their last ten are in Boston.  Hockey Reference has the Bruins with a 58% chance to make the playoffs but only a 6% chance at the Wild Card.

Florida Panthers

Finally, we have the Panthers, much like the Islanders their run to the playoffs was not taken seriously until recently.  Unlike the Isles though the Panthers run looks statistically unlikely.  They are the only team in this conversation with a negative goal differential they also have the fewest Regulation or Overtime Wins at 25 which is two less than Toronto and three less than the Islanders.  ROW is the first tiebreaker so it will be almost impossible for the Panthers to favorable break any ties.  They do have 22 games remaining 12 at home and 10 on the road.  The Panthers have 14 games left with playoff caliber opponents but the biggest thing on their schedule is 6 games against the teams they are actively competing against.  While it seems unlikely they do control their own fate and need very little help to make this run possible.  Hockey Reference gives them a 28% chance to make the playoffs with only a 5% chance to be the Wild Card.

Each team in the Atlantic looks to have the odds in their favor to make the playoffs mostly because of all the spots open to them.  The Islanders on the other hand need to outplay only two of these teams in order to get a ticket to the dance.  The last six weeks have really allowed the Islanders to control their own destiny moving forward.  The Isles do have the hardest schedule but with all the teams in the Atlantic playing each other, they should at least get the help they need.  93 points looks to be a good number to make the playoffs, that’s only a little more than NHL 500.

About Ryan Welsh

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