[SPORTS] NHL EASTERN CONFERENCE:…and down the stretch they come!

Every season 8 out of 15 teams from each conference make it to the post-season.  The teams are ranked 1 thru 8, but theDJ on ICE: Hockey coverage with DJ Sullivan rankings often don’t hold true.  Last year’s Eastern Conference final was between the 7th ranked Philadelphia Flyers and the 8th ranked Montreal Canadiens.  The #1 – #6 teams all bowed out while the least likely finals matchup became a reality.  Due to frequent upsets in the NHL there’s more importance given to making it in rather than a team’s ranking in the standings.  That being said rather than looking at each team’s ranking we examine each team’s chances of getting into the NHL playoffs.

There are approximately 15 games remaining on the 82 game NHL schedule.  Most teams are separated by one or two points in the standings.  With each game being worth 2 points there’s the potential for a team to move up 30 points.  The probability of one team winning 15 in a row while another team loses 15 is virtually zero.  But the way the numbers weigh out, no team has clinched a spot and even last place Ottawa has a mathematical chance at the playoffs.

1)    Philadelphia Flyers 88 pts99% chance of making the playoffs Before winning their last game The Flyers lost four in a row including a 7-0 loss to the Rangers and a 4-1 loss to lowly Ottawa.  Goalies Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky have shored up what was a glaring weakness last year.  The Flyers aren’t playing their best hockey but they’re 16 points ahead of 8th place Buffalo.

2)     Boston Bruins84 pts98% chance of making the playoffs It is incredibly difficult to score goals on the Bruins.  The B’s and their two headed goalie monster of Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask have allowed a league low 156 goals and the team has scored an even 200.  Milan Lucic is having a career year with 29 goals so far and Boston has 11 total players with at least ten goals.  Balanced offense, great goaltending, and a solid defense led by Chara and newly added Tomas Kaberle is the reason the Bruins are a lock to make the playoffs.

3)     Washington Capitals84 pts97% chance of making the playoffs The Caps have won all season with the same group of players (Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom) and there’s no reason to predict a slump.  At the deadline the Caps added Jason Arnott from New Jersey and well travelled offensive defenseman Dennis Wideman from Florida.  The Caps would seem to have offense to burn, however, a closer examination of the numbers reveals they have the least goals scored of any team currently in the top 8 of the Eastern Conference.  Perhaps they learned from last year’s early playoff exit and are focusing more on defense this year?

4)     Pittsburgh Penguins86 pts90% chance of making the playoffs The Penguins have been without the services of Evgeny Malkin and Sidney Crosby for over a month and they are still winning games.  The Penguins traded for more offense when they re-acquired 38 year old Alex Kovalev at the deadline.  The Penguins have a good team without the two stars and when Crosby returns they’ll rise back to elite status in the Eastern Conference.  They are simply too far ahead in the standings to conceivably think they might miss the playoffs.

5)     Tampa Bay Lightning82 pts85% chance of making the playoffs The Lightning are the only team in the current top 8 that have a negative goal differential (-4).  Good news on the puck-stopping front arrived on New Years Day in the form of 41 year old goalie Dwayne Roloson.  Roloson has shored up a glaring weakness on the offensively talented Tampa Bay roster.  Steven Stamkos is running away with the NHL goal scoring lead (41) and Martin St. Louis has a boatload of assists (52).  ‘Ning GM Steve Yzerman showed the rest of the NHL his team means business by acquiring defenseman Eric brewer from the St. Louis Blues at the deadline.  Tampa has been doing some losing as of late but remains only two points behind The Washington Capitals for the division lead which would automatically give them the 3 seed.

6)     Montreal Canadiens81 pts75% chance of making the playoffs The Canadiens have been racked by injuries all year and things didn’t get better Tuesday night as Max Pacioretty suffered a fractured vertebrae on a hit from Zdeno Chara.  Despite the injuries Montreal has won five straight and has a 10 point cushion between them and 9th place.  Goalie Carey Price has lived up to lofty expectations and forward Brian Gionta has scored enough to justify his captaincy.  PK Subban is a fiery young defenseman with a cannon of a shot from the point.  Montreal has nice balanced scoring from its defense as well as the forwards.  Nobody knows what will happen once the playoffs start, but you can bet the Canadiens will be a part of the action.

7)     New York Rangers74 pts60% chance of making the playoffs The Rangers win some and then they lose some.  They’ve won enough to stay among the playoff bound group of eight.  Marian Gaborik is back from injury, Ryan Callahan just scored 4 goals in one game, and they have an elite goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist.  The Rangers recently traded for Wotjek Wolski and scoring defenseman Bryan McCabe.  They certainly have the tools but they must be more consistent to stay in the playoff race.

8)     Buffalo Sabres72 pts55% chance of making the playoffs The Sabres recently climbed from 11th to 8th using a winning streak inspired by an ownership change.  Terry Pegula took over the reins, the Sabres traded for Brad Boyes and goaltender Ryan Miller has continued stopping pucks.  Team defense and top line scoring will determine whether the Sabres continue winning.  They’ll sure need to keep up the winning in order to stay in the top 8.  The Sabres are one point ahead of Carolina and 2 points behind the 7th place Rangers.  It looks like it’ll be at best either the #7 or 8 seed for Buffalo as they stand 9 points back of 6th place Montreal.

9)     Carolina Hurricanes71 pts50% chance of making the playoffs The Canes are a supremely average team.  They have one superstar in Eric Staal and one super rookie in 18 year old Jeff Skinner.  The Canes are fighting to make the playoffs but will two stars and a good goalie (Cam Ward) be enough to keep the ship afloat?  Carolina is only one point behind Buffalo for 8th place.

10) Toronto Maple Leafs68 pts35% chance of making the playoffs The Leafs have been unimpressive all year.  They have no superstars, and just traded away their best scoring defenseman in Brian McCabe.  The Leafs have all the makings of a team that will miss the playoffs.  But the fact remains that they’re only four points out of the 8th spot.

11) Atlanta Thrashers65 pts20% chance of making the playoffs Atlanta has been falling in the standings since mid-season.  They peaked around 6th place so they didn’t have too far to fall before being under the top 8.  Atlanta has an interesting roster including a 260 lb Defenseman who has 19 goals and 30 assists.  The trouble for Atlanta is that they’ve been posting more L’s than W’s and that’s not going to cut it at this time of year.  Bet against The Thrash making the playoffs.

12) New Jersey Devils64 pts30% chance of making the playoffs The Devils are 8-2 in their last ten games and have won 20 out of their last 25.  Since firing coach John MacLean and trading away Jamie Langenbrunner they’ve been climbing the long ladder out of the basement.  More impressive is the fact they started the streak without Martin Brodeur in net.  The Devils are scheduled to get back from injury scorer Zach Parise in the next few weeks.  The Devils have 16 games to make up 8 points.  Should they make it they’d be a challenging opponent for any #1 seed.  The only problem for the Devils is that every other team is trying just as hard to win and that’s why I’m putting their chances at a mere 30%.  The Devils traded away 36 year old Jason Arnott in a move that netted them a 2nd round pick and David Steckel who leads the NHL in face-off %.

13) Florida Panthers 63 pts10% chance of making the playoffs The Panthers simply don’t have enough offense.  Goalie Tomas Vokoun has played admirably but it hasn’t been enough to offset the lack of scoring.  Making the Panthers situation sadder is the fact that nobody cares whether or not they make the playoffs.

14) New York Islanders62 pts5% chance of making the playoffs The Isles have dealt with injuries to key players this season (Kyle Okposo, Doug Weight, and of course Rick DiPietro).  The Isles have won more than they’ve lost lately but will that be enough to gain the ten points needed to get in? …Probably Not!

15) Ottawa Senators55 pts1% chance of making the playoffs It’s not impossible but it’s sure as heck is not probable.  Ottawa was a seller at the trade deadline trading Mike Fisher to Nashville for a 1st & 3rd round pick.  Ottawa also jettisoned Chris Kelly and veteran Alex Kovalev.  Suffice it to say Ottawa is looking to the future and has no chance of making the playoffs this season.




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