Caps’ playoff math

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Loose Pucks,Sports,Brian McNally

 

I hate math. I really, really do. Even the simple kind gives me a headache. But it’s time to power through and see what’s at stake tonight when the Capitals host the Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center.

Washington can clinch the Southeast Division and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference heading into next week’s Stanley Cup playoffs. All it has to do is win the game in regulation or overtime. That would put the Caps at 54 points. The Jets would be stuck on 51 and they have just one game remaining (vs. Montreal on Thursday). It’s so easy! That would be the simple solution. If anything else happens tonight then we’re all in trouble. So…uh….expect that, I guess.

A shootout win for the Caps gives them 54 points. But it also raises the Jets to 52. And the two teams would remain tied for the first playoff tiebreaker – regulation/overtime wins. They each have 22. Washington would have games left against Ottawa (Thursday) and Boston (Saturday). In this case even a single point from those games would mean the division title and the No. 3 seed.

Now, let’s go negative: A regulation win for Winnipeg vaults it to first place in the Southeast Division with 53 points. The Caps in that scenario fall all the way to ninth in the Eastern Conference. They would be tied with No. 8 Ottawa in points (52). But the Senators would have also played one fewer game and so would remain in eighth. They also just happen to arrive in town on Thursday for what could be an elimination game, but…let’s take a deep breath and wait on that one. The key here: Lose in regulation tonight and Washington falls all the way to ninth place and is, temporarily, out of a playoff spot with two games left.

An overtime win for the Jets still gives the Caps a valuable point. They would technically still be on top of the updated standings as the No. 3 seed and division leader with 53 points thanks to one fewer game played (46). But in reality Winnipeg would have 53 points, too, and would be the proud owner of the first tiebreak thanks to an extra regulation/overtime victory (23 to 22). That won’t be a comfortable scenario for Washington, which will then have to scoreboard watch to see where it stands in relation to the lower seeds. You know, in case that tiebreak comes into play.

And that depends on results from Tuesday’s New York Rangers (at Florida) and New York Islanders (at Carolina) games. Both of those teams start the day with 53 points. Seems unlikely. Florida is last in the 15-team conference and Carolina is 13th. The Islanders are currently the No. 6 seed. The Rangers are No. 7. Remember kids – Ottawa is the current No. 8, but doesn’t play today so will remain stuck on 52. And while none of that technically matters if this is the result tonight – it matters later in the week. I promise.

A shootout win for Winnipeg and all of the above remains true, right? Kind of. I don’t know. Stop asking me questions. Why would you think anything here would be easy? In this case the Jets would remain stuck on 22 regulation/overtime wins. Same as Washington. The two teams would both have 53 points and, again, the Caps would have the game in hand. But they’d also clinch the season series used as the No. 2 NHL tiebreak with five points earned to four. Remember, the first game in Winnipeg on March 2 – a 3-0 Caps win – is not counted under this tiebreaker. Don’t ask why. What’s wrong with you? It just doesn’t.

But, of course, that ROW category – regulation/overtime wins – could still fluctuate given the Jets-Montreal game on Thursday and Washington’s two contests against Ottawa and Boston. Until that’s wrapped up the No. 1 tiebreak belongs to neither team. Let’s just play some hockey.

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner