There’s a few playoff races left, and some lingering Leafs fan fears.
With every team save the Canucks at less than 10 games remaining to be played, this is the truly tedious part of the regular season. Unless your team is an a playoff race that is. There are a few left, but most of them are not races at all.
Starting in the West division, where the top three teams were the first to clinch, the race is on for fourth place, but it’s an unusual one. Arizona has played 50 games already, and they look better by points because of that. I’ve set the bar at 62 points for this division, but it’s very possible that spot will go to a team with even fewer points.
St. Louis has far and away the best chance to get to that point, and surprisingly, it’s actually L.A. that’s closest to them in ability to get there. Arizona needs a winning streak through all six remaining games and they need some help keeping the necessary points number down because the best they can really get is 59. The Blues have to play below .500 to allow Arizona the spot. The Yotes are done, they just don’t know it yet.
In the Central, where 62 points may also be enough, or more than enough, the top three teams have clinched, and the battle for fourth looks a little more real here. Chicago is a red herring, needing a near perfect finish over seven games, an unlikely feat, but the Dallas vs Nashville is a real tight race. Dallas has had the very slight edge for some time, winning just that small smidgeon more to keep the team that didn’t sell at the deadline out of the playoffs.
Now that Nashville only have five games left, their job is to win everyone of them and hope Dallas doesn’t. They play each other once, on May 1, and that might be the game that tips the scales. My money is on Dallas, as it always has been, but it’s no safe bet.
In the East, where no one has clinched yet, the situation is very volatile and the target points to make it is 72 not 62. The Islanders have fallen — gosh, that’s too bad — and the Rangers are the team most likely to look like they should have made it in only to be swept in the first round. The real race here is for order of the top four, and no one but them has a real hope.
Moneypuck’s odds have Nashville at 59% to make the playoffs and Dallas at 40%. St. Louis is at 89% with Montreal at 85%. And that brings me to the North Division.
With a target of 62 points as well, there really is no question. Yes Montreal lost to the Leafs, and yes they looked pretty scattered, disorganized and missing a lot of players they need. But the Flames gave this season away long before now, and the Canucks wouldn’t be able to climb this mountain without their top player even it the COVID outbreak had never happened. The only question here is the order. And since Leafs fans are chronically afraid of the next terrible event, like characters in the sequel to a movie about a meteor hitting the earth, let’s talk order of finish.
Edmonton has done a good job of staking a claim to being the second-best team in the division. This fits with a non-points or standings analysis of the teams, and they’ve won where they’ve needed to to get to 60 points already. Montreal is holding on, they aren’t moving up, and the Jets seem to be in a holding pattern, destined to be the away team in the first round matchup against the team that comes second.
If the Leafs go on a losing streak for seven games, and finish with 67 points, the Oilers need to play at .444 to beat them. So, yes, it’s possible the Leafs don’t finish first. But if the Leafs play a bad, but more probable remaining set and get .500, they finish with 71 points, and the Oilers need to play at .667 to get to 72. Again, not impossible, but does involve them playing above their season average down the stretch.
If the Leafs just carry on as they’ve been, they’ll finish with 77 points, and the Oilers would need to win every single of their remaining games to get to 78. In other words, the Leafs have to play below their season average and the Oilers above theirs for the Leafs to finish second.
Plotting out exactly how it can happen is for the lovers of low-chance schemes and plots, and the perpetually preposterously pessimistic. There is no real race in the North.
In the meantime, the Leafs play seven more games, three of them against the Habs, so at the very least we can spend the rest of the regular season remembering how annoying they are.