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Are the Montreal Canadiens really on the verge of flaming out of the playoffs?

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Will they suffer a monumental collapse?

NHL: APR 07 Canadiens at Maple Leafs Photo by Jeff Chevrier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. There’s less than 10 games left for the only team that matters, and everyone is making up silly scenarios where the lowest probability outcomes all coincide and their team flames out or suddenly makes a run and gets a spot. Basically, it’s a personality test, only with the word “if” and “points” used a lot. Do you like pessimism or hopeless optimism? The NHL has you covered as long as you don’t mind believing fervently in longshot odds.

Don’t get me wrong, things are not certain yet, and there are a couple of serious races for the fourth spot in two divisions. Dallas and Nashville are neck-and-neck with Chicago still in there as a very outside chance in the Central.

In the West, where things are so lopsided, the top three teams have already clinched, St. Louis and Arizona are both capable of taking the fourth spot, but they’re not as close as in the Central.

The East is nearly decided, with the Rangers close enough to lie to themselves, and Boston in an imaginary race that might make them work harder for their remaining games. It’s almost certain that the Rangers, with a goal differential bigger than the Leafs and the Capitals will deserve to make the playoffs but won’t, and they won’t be in the lottery either. Well, boo-hoo, considering they won it last year.

But what of the North? Is there really a chance the Flames can take over fourth spot? Can the Canadiens flame out? It’s not impossible, but it’s hardly likely. The angst is thick in the air in Montreal, though, and the pessimists are the standard bearers for their team.

The Canadiens have a points percentage of .533. That’s not very good. And the Flames aren’t close to even that bad result. They’re at .479 in P%, and the more serious threat to the Canadiens seems to be Vancouver. At a P% of .500, and with 15 more games to play, they have the edge on the Flames in record so far and in runway to earn more points.

However, before we imagine a narrative to make Jim Hughson happy, where the Canucks make it on the last day, let’s see how unlikely that is.

Moneypuck uses team strength, schedule, home ice advantage over the remaining games etc. to simulate results and generate odds (as opposed to just saying, well if the Habs lose every game, and if...). They have Montreal at a 72% chance to make the playoffs. Calgary and Vancouver split the remaining, with 22% for the Flames and 7% for the Canucks (rounding is the answer to the question you just asked). So their model tosses out Vancouver’s games remaining advantage and says the Flames are a better team and could more realistically beat out the Canadiens.

Which might be true, but that’s not how the season has gone thus far.

HockeyViz uses a different simulation model and has Montreal at 70% and the Flames and Canucks splitting the remaining chance almost evenly, which happens to reflect past reality more closely.

So what stands in the way of a Montreal monumental collapse — beyond just good sense and math?

This is Montreal’s remaining schedule:

@ Flames
vs Leafs
vs Jets
vs Senators
vs Leafs
@ Senators
@ Leafs
@ Leafs
vs Oilers
vs Oilers

They’ve already finished their series with the Canucks and only play the Flames once. The rest of the time, to gain enough points to hold fourth place, they need to beat the Leafs, likely at least once, maybe twice. The Canadiens have had the same trouble vs the Senators this year as the Leafs have had, but the Sens are running out of goalies again, so that might not be so difficult. And they finish against the Oilers, who might be battling with the Jets for position, or might be resting their stars, you never know.

Vancouver has a jam-packed schedule, with less rest, and that might hurt their chances to dump the Habs in the St. Lawrence more than the fact they’re just really rather bad. They play:

@ Senators
@ Senators
@ Leafs
@ Leafs
vs Oilers
vs Oilers
@ Oilers
@ Oilers
@ Jets
@ Jets
@ Flames
@ Oilers
vs Flames
vs Flames
@ Flames

Now do you see why the NHL scheduled all those Canucks games after their shut down? Their long series against the Flames will make it difficult for either team to win out over the Canadiens. They simply play each other so much, they’re more likely to split the points than take it in a rout.

The Flames have this left:

vs Canadiens
@ Oilers
@ Oilers
vs Jets
vs Senators
vs Canucks
@ Canucks
@ Canucks
vs Canucks

That’s a schedule with only one real road trip (down the highway to Edmonton does not count) and a lot of rest days. While just looking at the P% implies that the Flames have a harder time to pull this off, they really don’t.

Is it technically possible the Canadiens lose enough that the Flames can stumble backwards into fourth place? Yes. Is it likely? No. Should Montreal fans be tearing garments and wailing in agony? You better believe they should, because the team that stands between the Habs fans and utter devastation is actually... the Montreal Canadiens. They control their own fate here, and all they need to do to hold onto the last playoff spot by their fingernails is to win some games.

I’d be scared too.

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