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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

NHL Eastern Conference Playoff Picture

Let’s take a look at how the Eastern Conference playoff picture is shaping-up. To start, I will explain how the playoff positions are determined and how the teams are matched in the playoffs. Then I shall present the current Eastern Conference standings as of the morning of Wednesday, February 15th. Finally, I will comment on the performance of the teams and state who I believe will comprise the eight who will be playoff-bound. If you disagree please leave a comment and tell me why.

The top teams in each of the three Eastern Conference Divisions (Atlantic, Northeast and Southeast) are automatically seeded 1, 2 and 3 in the standings and all will make the playoffs no matter what. Then the top five other teams in points make the playoffs too. The Panthers could actually finish 9th in the Eastern Conference but if they are at the top of their Division they would be in the playoffs and in fact be the #3 seed (or 3rd seed if you prefer it stated way). In the playoffs the #1 seed plays the #8 seed, the #2 seed plays the #7 seed, the #3 seed plays the #6 seed, and the #4 seed plays the #5 seed. The highest seed always gets home ice advantage. The same type of procedure is carried over into the 2nd Round and the 3rd Round; and, then the winner of the Eastern Conference goes to the Stanley Cup Finals to meet the winner of the Western Conference.  

NHL Eastern Conference Standings as of Wednesday, February 15.

New York Rangers:  55 games played and 79 points. Atlantic Division leader and #1.

Boston Bruins:  54 games played and 70 points. Northeast Division leader and #2.

Florida Panthers:  55 games played and 65 points. Southeast Division leader and #3.

Philadelphia Flyers:  56 games played and 69 points. Atlantic Division.

Pittsburgh Penguins:  56 games played and 69 points. Atlantic Division.

New Jersey Devils:  56 games played and 68 points. Atlantic Division.

Ottawa Senators:  59 games played and 66 points. Northeast Division.

Toronto Maple Leafs:  57 games played and 62 points. Northeast Division.

Washington Capitals:  56 games played and 61 points. Southeast Division.

Winnipeg Jets:  58 games played and 58 points. Southeast Division.

New York Islanders:  56 games played and 56 points. Atlantic Division.

Montreal Canadiens:  57 games played and 55 points. Northeast Division.

Tampa Bay Lightning:  56 games played and 54 points. Southeast Division.

Buffalo Sabres:  56 games played and 54 points. Northeast Division.

Carolina Hurricanes:  57 games played and 53 points. Southeast Division.

Okay, now I would like to share what I am seeing and my predictions regarding which eight teams will be in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The New York Rangers, the Boston Bruins, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins will all make the playoffs—as everyone knows.

The New Jersey Devils will almost surely make the playoffs, barring a total collapse. The Devils have played great since the All-Star break and I highly doubt that they will fall apart. Remember last year they made a hard run at the playoffs after a horrible start and gave some teams a scare despite falling short. I believe that the Devils can do a lot of damage in the playoffs and could even go all the way if they get great goaltending—which they have not had this year. Am I crazy? Let us look at the Devils record against the Bruins, the Rangers, the Flyers, and the Penguins. The only team out of those four that New Jersey does not want to meet is Boston. Boston has won all three games this year, and two of them very convincingly. The Devils have split the four games against the Flyers, have won two out of three against the Rangers, and have won three out of four against the Penguins! So, clearly, the Devils would love to play anyone but the Bruins. The Devils will probably have to finish in 6th spot or higher to avoid a 1st Round meeting with Boston, and then hope that Boston is eliminated.

The Florida Panthers are currently on top of the Southeast Division and are therefore the #3 seed. The Capitals are only 4 points behind (but have played one more game). I believe that the Caps will find a way to win the Division. If I am right about that the Panthers could still make the playoffs if they keep playing well. Florida currently has one less point than the Senators but 4 games in hand.

Yes, that brings me to the Senators. They were tired from the All-Star break but appear to have recovered and beat the Lightning 4-0 on Tuesday. Ottawa should be strong enough to hold their ground and get the 7th or 8th playoff spot.

Toronto fans, I am sorry but I believe that the Leafs are going to fall short yet again. They are playing horribly right now: losing four games in a row including the 5-0 loss to Montreal.

The Islanders or the Canadiens could pull off a huge upset and make the playoffs if they put together some winning streaks and had some help in the form of the Senators, Panthers or Capitals collapsing.

The tension and excitement is building and it will be interesting to see who will earn the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

TJ Stanley