With a little over five weeks remaining in the regular season, we break down the Eastern Conference playoff picture and predict how each team will finish the season.
1. Philadelphia Flyers, 86 points Games remaining: 19 (9 home, 10 away) Sports Club Stats playoff percentage: 100% Tale of the tape:
Unless Sidney Crosby magically comes back in the very near future, Philadelphia has to feel good about holding onto the division lead. As for the conference; Boston and Tampa Bay are quality teams and the Flyers aren’t exactly setting the world on fire as we speak. But I don’t see either of them making up the ground to ultimately top Philly, who has the easiest remaining schedule in the NHL. They should be able to lock up the No. 1 seed. Predicted finish in standings: 1st East, 112 points 2. Boston Bruins, 83 points Games remaining: 18 (10 home, 8 away) Sports Club Stats playoff percentage: 100% Tale of the tape:
Courtesy of an impressive seven-game win streak, the Bruins are now closer to the Flyers at the top of the East than they are to the Canadiens, who sit in second in the Northeast. While the offense has been stagnant recently, the back end has made up for it in a big way. If they keep that up and start scoring some goals, Claude Julien could find his team knocking on Philly’s door (if they aren’t already). Predicted finish in standings: 2nd East, 108 points
3. Tampa Bay Lightning, 81 points Games remaining: 18 (9 home, 9 away) Sports Club Stats playoff percentage: 99.9% Tale of the tape:
After last night’s action, the Bolts are up by just one point on Washington in the division. Tampa Bay has an upcoming four-game home-stand where they could get back on track (which includes a key tilt vs. Washington). It looks as if their race with the Caps will go right down to the final days. They are starting to be plagued by injuries, so everyone needs to step up. The offense also has to find its form again; since putting an eight spot on Phoenix, they have scored six goals in four games. Predicted finish in standings: 4th East, 103 points
4. Pittsburgh Penguins, 81 points Games remaining: 17 (8 home, 9 away) Sports Club Stats playoff percentage: 100% Tale of the tape:
For the Pens to keep their grip on the fourth seed, Marc-Andre Fleury will have to be spectacular. The goal support isn’t great – how could it with so many injuries? – but ‘Flower’ has to be on his A-game from here on out. The fact of the matter is, Pittsburgh is 3-6-3 since Evgeni Malkin’s season-ending injury. I have doubts that they can hold on to their home-ice placement, as they only have a one point edge on rival Washington. Predicted finish in standings: 5th East, 99 points
5. Washington Capitals, 80 points Games remaining: 17 (7 home, 10 away) Sports Club Stats playoff percentage: 99.8% Tale of the tape:
Washington has won five of their last six games (all by one goal) and suddenly sits one point back from Tampa Bay in the division. To surpass the Lightning, they’ll have to survive a six-game roadie later this month (the Caps have been average on the road this year). Beating the division leaders head-to-head on Monday wouldn't hurt, either. If they continue to get stellar goaltending from Michal Neuvirth, this team could easily claim their fourth consecutive Southeast title. Predicted finish in standings: 3rd East, 103 points
6. Montreal Canadiens, 77 points Games remaining: 17 (7 home, 10 away) Sports Club Stats playoff percentage: 97.9% Tale of the tape:
The way it’s going, the Habs would really have to collapse to not make the playoffs; three straight wins after a slide have definitely helped their cause in making it. They do have more road games than at home – they’ve been inconsistent on the road – but some of the tougher contests will take place at Bell Centre. A re-tooled blueline has performed well, which makes me think they will stay in the top six. Predicted finish in standings: 6th East, 97 points
7. Carolina Hurricanes, 71 points Games remaining: 17 (10 home, 7 away) Sports Club Stats playoff percentage: 71.2% Tale of the tape:
Carolina has to keep playing well at home. They are 11-3-2 in their last 16 games on home-ice, where they still have 10 games left. The top line needs to continue to be dynamite, as well; Eric Staal, Erik Cole and Cory Stillman have jelled nicely thus far. The ‘Canes have a combined three games against the Sabres and Leafs; if they win at least two, Paul Maurice’s club should be in good shape.
On the contrary, Staal and company have no room for error and can’t pat themselves on the back. Up three points on 9th-place Buffalo and four points on 10th-place Toronto without any games in hand means they must avoid any sort of slump down the stretch. Predicted finish in standings: 7th East, 92 points
8. New York Rangers, 70 points Games remaining: 16 (8 home, 8 away) Sports Club Stats playoff percentage: 62.9% Tale of the tape:
Henrik Lundqvist has to put this team on his back and carry them to the postseason – especially since the Rangers’ best forward and defenseman out of action. After two disappointing losses at MSG, John Tortorella’s club is 14-16-3 on home-ice; that’s not going to take you very far in this league. Those losses have pushed the Rangers to eighth place with a 4-10-1 mark in their last 15 contests.
Obviously, they won’t be printing playoff tickets in the Big Apple if they don’t turn it around. The Blueshirts have the fewest games left on the schedule in the conference with just 16. The schedule isn’t exactly Murderer’s Row and they finish with three home games… which, at this rate, could be a bad thing. Predicted finish in standings: 9th East, 89 points
9. Buffalo Sabres, 68 points Games remaining: 19 (9 home, 10 away) Sports Club Stats playoff percentage: 54.7% Tale of the tape:
How can you not like the way the Sabres are playing right now? Since Terry Pegula took over as owner, they are 3-0-2 and playing with a lot of energy. Ryan Miller has been lights out since giving up seven goals to the Islanders on Feb. 13, while Brad Boyes has scored in each of his first two games as a Sabre. Another key contributor has been Tyler Myers, who fought through a sophomore slump from the first half of the year.
Like the Rangers, this team is under .500 at home. No team has made the playoffs with such a record since the 1998-99 Edmonton Oilers (hat tip to Dave Lozo). However, Buffalo has games in hand on everyone around them and is gaining steam. It’s safe to say that I like their chances of getting in, but it will not be easy. Predicted finish in standings: 8th East, 90 points
10. Toronto Maple Leafs, 67 points Games remaining: 17 (8 home, 9 away) Sports Club Stats playoff percentage: 10.7% Tale of the tape:
It has been an incredible run as Phil Kessel and company have captivated Leafs Nation ever since the All-Star break. They are 10-2-4 since that point, and Kessel has turned his game up to another notch. So has Dion Phaneuf. So has James Reimer. So has everyone else on the team. The Leafs are finally playing consistent Ron Wilson-style hockey.
This is a confident group that no one wants to play down the stretch. Can they gather enough points to claim an unlikely playoff berth? If they keep up this pace, then yes. They have a combined three games left with the Sabres and Hurricanes, so they’ll obviously have to accumulate points then. That said, they have a difficult schedule and I think they will cool off eventually. Predicted finish in standings: 11th East, 85 points
11. Atlanta Thrashers, 63 points Games remaining: 17 (7 home, 10 away) Sports Club Stats playoff percentage: 1.1% Tale of the tape:
The Thrashers are a sinking ship that is just about out of fuel. There’s not one thing you can point to as the reason why they’ve struggled so much. Everything that went right in the first half simply has gone wrong in the last two months, causing them to plummet in the East. 10 of their final 17 games are away from home, which will be too tough of a hill to climb. Predicted finish in standings: 12th East, 78 points
12. New Jersey Devils, 60 points Games remaining: 19 (10 home, 9 away) Sports Club Stats playoff percentage: 1.2% How they make the playoffs:
With 19 games remaining and four teams to jump, Jacques Lemaire and company are still facing an uphill battle; but who’s to say they can’t keep up their current 18-2-2 run? The cutoff in the conference should be around 88 or 89 points. For the Devils to get to 90, they have to go 14-3-2; not impossible, but unlikely. They are 10 points away from the eighth-place Rangers with three games in hand.
Anything short of 28-30 points will cause New Jersey to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1996. But that shouldn’t subdue this fairytale-esque second half run they’ve been on. What they’ve done since mid-January is truly remarkable. Predicted finish in standings: 10th East, 87 points
13. Florida Panthers, 59 points
Games remaining: 18 (10 home, 8 away)
Sports Club Stats playoff percentage: 0.6% Predicted finish in standings: 14th East, 70 points
14. New York Islanders, 57 points
Games remaining: 17 (9 home, 8 away)
Sports Club Stats playoff percentage: 0.0% Predicted finish in standings: 13th East, 70 points
15. Ottawa Senators, 53 points
Games remaining: 18 (8 home, 10 away)
Sports Club Stats playoff percentage: 0.0% Predicted finish in standings: 15th East, 69 points
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.