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Can the Leafs get home ice advantage against Boston?

Did the Leafs peak too late? But what about the Bruins, are they cooling off?

NHL: Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Leafs get home ice? The obvious answer is yes because they could win every game, the Bruins could lose every game, and the point spread would be large. We know that’s not likely to happen, however, no matter how non-impossible it is.

Most reasonable predictive models say the answer is no. The Leafs are overwhelmingly favoured to finish in third place in the Atlantic. More so than they were favoured to make the playoffs this time last year.

But let’s take a quick look at what would have to happen to give the Leafs home ice. Note: playoff team is defined as everyone legitimately in the race as of now by my own arbitrary criteria, so yes, Florida is one of them, Chicago is not.

Boston’s schedule

Boston's opponents Location Playoff team
Boston's opponents Location Playoff team
Montréal home
Detroit home
Philadelphia home y
Chicago home
Chicago road
Carolina road y
Florida road y
Tampa Bay road y
Columbus home y
St. Louis road y
Dallas road y
Minnesota road y
Winnipeg road y
Tampa Bay home y
Florida home y
Philadelphia road y
Tampa Bay road y
Florida road y
Ottawa home
Florida home y

Toronto’s schedule

Toronto's opponents Location Playoff team
Toronto's opponents Location Playoff team
Washington road y
Buffalo road
Pittsburgh home y
Dallas home y
Buffalo road
Montréal home
Tampa Bay road y
Nashville road y
Detroit home
Buffalo home
Florida home y
Islanders road y
Winnipeg home y
Buffalo home
New Jersey road y
Montréal home

Boston plays 20 games and Toronto 16, and they start out this morning with 86 and 85 points respectively. The games in hand are in Boston’s hands. The easier schedule is Toronto’s. Each of those things is a factor. But by the time Boston’s final two games against Florida come along, the Panthers might be a demoralized former playoff contender, and the Leafs’ “easy” games are against in-division rivals who hate them. How do you add and subtract that in your head?

Let’s try some non-complex math. The Leafs have 24 points in their last 15 games, the Bruins have 20. Extrapolate that out, assume both teams just keep on at that pace and you get the Bruins at 112 and some decimal places points, and the Leafs at 110 and a similar fraction. They are one win apart seen in that way.

But why just the last 15 games? Why assume the more recent play is going to hold true? If you use the whole season’s points pace, the Leafs get worse, the Bruins get better and boom, no chance. So, let’s use the first 15 games instead. That will do it because the Bruins were terrible in October. Doesn’t that seem like just picking out the source data to tell you want you want to hear?

Let’s look at Corsi then, we know it’s predictive. We do indeed know that, and the Bruins win there big time. But the funny thing about the predictability curve for CF% is that when you get to about game 60-something, it stops working. This is a concept that’s a little tough for some to wrap their heads around. First, you need to hold in your mind the fact that the outcome of any hockey game has a lot of random chance in it. Then you need to understand that the smaller the number of games left to play, the more likely it is that the impact of that random chance has a large effect. The technical term for that is puck luck.

Look at it this way: If you only need one win to make the playoffs, and you’re struggling to get it, sometimes the once and future Stanley Cup Champions come along and give it to you without ever intending to.

Random chance will have to come down hard on the Leafs side for them to get home ice advantage. But it isn’t impossible.