The Canucks suffered a crushing blow to their playoff chances on Thursday night, but they still have a hope and a prayer to get into the NHL’s second season.
So what will it take to make the playoffs this year?
Yes, the playoffs. The short answer is a miracle, but it is possible.
Here’s how the Western Conference wild card standings looked after Thursday night’s results (including a Canucks overtime loss, a Wild regulation loss and a Coyotes shootout win). If the season ended today, Minnesota and Phoenix would be going to the playoffs, while the Canucks would get an early summer.
The top tow teams from the above list will make the playoffs.
Before we dive into how many wins it is going to take to get into the playoffs, we should probably outline the playoff format. The NHL has a new format this year and has changed its tie-breaking procedure in recent years. Many casual fans that I know don’t know the format and even some more hardcore fans aren’t completely familiar with it.
The NHL moved from a conference-based playoff format to a mostly divisional-based playoff format before this season. That means that teams 1-3 (San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles) will compete in the Pacific Division playoffs for the first two rounds, while the top three Central Division teams (St Louis, Chicago, Colorado) will play-off separately.
The division winners will play the two wild card teams. The division winner with the most points will play the wild card team with the fewest points, regardless of which division they play in. That means that Minnesota could compete in the Pacific Division playoffs and Vancouver (stop laughing) could compete in the Central Division playoffs.
|St Louis||max points:||101|
|San Jose||max points:||100|
|Tampa Bay||playoff teams:||5|
The hope for the Canucks catching Phoenix appears to be gone. The Coyotes have an easy schedule and are playing exceptionally well. Making up five points against them doesn’t seem possible, despite the fact they are playing with their backup goalie right now.
Dallas has the most games remaining, but they also have three back-to-back game scenarios and a reasonably difficult schedule with six road games.
Minnesota, who just a few days ago seemed safe, aren’t so safe anymore. The Wild have just about as difficult a schedule as you can imagine and they aren’t playing well. They are also playing with very suspect goaltending (take your pick between Darcy Kuemper or Ilya Bryzgalov) as Canucks fans saw on Wednesday night.
Predicting games in the NHL is never easy (upsets happen all the time), but I think we can make an educated guess with the four teams in contention for the final two wild card spots. If we assume that the teams will lose every game in which they are likely to be an underdog and win their remaining games in which they are likely to be favourites (this is a very simplified system, I’ll admit), here is how the three teams the Canucks are competing with will finish:
Phoenix: 94 Pts
Minnesota: 89 Pts
Dallas: 87 Pts
The above prediction assumes that Phoenix goes 5-3, Dallas goes 4-6 and Minnesota (the team with murderous schedule) goes 2-6. If that happens, the Canucks would need to go 5-2 in their final 7 games to finish ahead of Dallas and tie Minnesota (the Canucks would likely win the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker).
My scenario involves Minnesota losing their next three road games (Phoenix, Los Angeles and Chicago), and three home games (Pittsburgh, Boston and St Louis). It also involves the Canucks winning their next game against Anaheim (who are struggling of late), New York on Tuesday and their final three games against Colorado, Edmonton and Calgary.
So is this likely? Of course not. Relying on two teams to fall apart while relying on the Canucks to go 5-2 against excellent opponents probably won’t happen. But there’s a chance.