Friday was a good night in the National Hockey League: the Caps came back to beat the Islanders, the Penguins blew a late lead to lose to the Sabres, and the Hurricanes whipped the Blues 5-2 before doing another instant-classic storm-surge celebration. The end result of that big night is Washington and Long Island locked in a virtual tie for first place in the Metro, and the wild card race quickly gaining resolution. It’s going to be a bloodbath.
The Caps and Islanders each have 81 points, but the Isles have played one fewer game played and so hold onto the real first place spot as a result. For now.
Wayyyyyy down in the standings, the Penguins currently sit outside the wild card spot with 75 points. Columbus has the same total but have one more game left to play and would win a regulation-overtime win tiebreaker.
The Penguins have not missed the playoffs since 2005-06.
As of the start of March, the playoff picture will likely include Boston, Tampa, Toronto, the New York Islanders, and Washington. The remaining three spots will belong to all but one of these four teams: Columbus, Carolina, Montreal, and Pittsburgh.
Here’s how three sources rate the odds:
Note*: Numbers as of March 1. I will update these values when new data is available.
Barring a catastrophic late-season collapse, Washington’s playoff chances are very good. Early in the 2018-19 season I made a lot of noise about how difficult Washington’s schedule in March would be. It still is tough – three games against Tampa, two against Carolina – but there are some easier games in there too. Using Hockeyviz’s games remaining chart, I’ve circled games against likely non-playoff teams.
Washington has seven games against deadline sellers, including their next three games. Their final game of the season will be against the Islanders and may yet decide who will top the division.
Pittsburgh has an important home-and-home series against their biggest rival, Columbus, next week. But they will finish their season with three easy games against Detroit and the Rangers.
Carolina and Columbus have two soft games at the end of their seasons but also have some very tough stretches and will go head-to-head against their playoff competitors a few times.
Much has been made about the Metropolitan being a weak division this season. That might be true, but it’ll still be a vicious battle to the finish line. It’ll be fun to watch.
Headline photo: Mike Stobe
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