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Making sense of the Playoff Standings

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Brackets are easy to track, but the NHL’s reseeding format this year is a little more challenging.

Edmonton Oilers v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

If the Maple Leafs beat the Columbus Blue Jackets, who will they face in the first round of the playoffs?

In a bracket system, the answer to that is one of two teams, but in this current format, it’s one of four, the top four in the Eastern Conference. After the Qualifying Round sets the finishers five through eight in each conference, they will face the top four in Round One of the playoffs. Team five will play team four, team six with play team three, and so on in the usual way.

Eastern Conference

The top four teams in the Seeding Round are playing each other once, and the results of that set of games will determine the order of teams one through four in the first round. Ties will be broken by their regular season standings. They haven’t played enough to fully know the final order, but one thing was decided yesterday when Tampa beat the Bruins:

Eastern Conference Seeding Standings

Team W L OT PTS RP%* GF GA
Team W L OT PTS RP%* GF GA
Lightning 2 0 0 4 .657 6 4
Flyers 1 0 0 2 .645 4 1
Capitals 0 0 1 1 .652 2 3
Bruins 0 2 0 0 .714 3 7

Because the Capitals have the extra point from their shootout loss to Tampa, they will have three points if they win over the Flyers and lose to the Bruins. If the Flyers win over the Caps, that’s them with four points at least, so the highest the Bruins can finish is third.

That extra point could launch the Capitals up to first place if they win their two remaining games and the Lightning lose their final game. If the Lightning beat the Flyers and go undefeated, they finish in first place.

The three-way tie can happen if the Flyers lose to the Capitals and the Capitals lose in OT to the Bruins, while the Flyers beat the Lightning. The Bruins end up last and the other three are then arranged by regular season points percentage, which is the sole tie-breaker.

Meanwhile in the Qualifying Round, there has been one exit already, and that means we have narrowed the ranking the Leafs are able to achieve. For these eight teams, their regular season ranking is very important.

5. Pittsburgh (1-2)
6. Carolina (Series Winner)
7. NY Islanders (2-1)
8. Toronto (1-1)
9. Columbus (1-1)
10. Florida )1-2)
11. NY Rangers
12. Montréal (2-1)

Because the Hurricanes are ahead of Toronto in ranking, the highest Toronto can finish is now sixth and the lowest is eighth. The Hurricanes can finish no lower than sixth, and will take fifth spot if the Penguins get beat.

Finishing sixth, seventh or eighth means playing the first, second or third finisher from the seeding round, so as of now, the Leafs could still face the Bruins if they win through over Columbus, but it’s the least likely outcome.

Western Conference

Western Conference Seeding Standings

Team W L OT PTS RP%* GF GA
Team W L OT PTS RP%* GF GA
Avalanche 2 0 0 4 .657 6 1
Golden Knights 1 0 0 2 .606 5 3
Blues 0 1 0 0 .662 1 2
Stars 0 2 0 0 .594 3 9

No one has an extra point in the west (yet), so the Avalanche only have to beat Vegas in their final game to win it. If Vegas loses to the Blues today, then the Avs are winners. Vegas then can’t get more than four points, and the Avs hold the tie-breaker.

At the other end of the standings, the Stars need some help to not come last. They need to beat the Blues and for the Blues to also lose to Vegas. The Qualifying Round is where the action is in the west:

5. Edmonton (1-2)
6. Nashville (1-2)
7. Vancouver (1-1)
8. Calgary (2-1)
9. Winnipeg (1-2)
10. Minnesota (1-1)
11. Arizona (2-1)
12. Chicago (2-1)

No one has been eliminated, but the top two teams are facing that prospect, with both series resuming tomorrow. The Flames can eliminate the Jets today, the only potential elimination game on the day. Friday could turn out to be the last day at work for a few more teams.

If Chicago pulls off the upset, they get rewarded with (almost certainly) the Avalanche in round one of the playoffs. If Edmonton comes back, but Arizona bounces Nashville, then that’s their treat to look forward to. Meanwhile Vancouver could conceivably move up two spots and finish in fifth place, where they’d likely face the Stars in round one.

Games today start at 2:30, and by tomorrow this picture might be a little bit clearer.