The NHL has helpfully provided a day where two powerhouses of losing, Philadelphia and Chicago, play the only game. With a few games left, we can sort out who is going to land where at the top of the Eastern Conference — the one that matters.
Eastern Conference Standings
All eight teams are set, Florida is in first place, and everyone has 100 points. Beyond that some things are still undecided.
1. No one can catch Florida. That one is obvious, as Carolina can only get to 116 points.
2. Toronto can come second in the east if several teams cooperate by losing.
3. The wild cards aren’t set, even though they sure seemed to be before Pittsburgh lost their starter. If Washington finishes ahead of Pittsburgh, they move from facing the Panthers as the second wild card team to playing whoever is second in the Metro instead. That’s a very meaningful difference.
4. Carolina, who have goalie troubles of near Leafs proportion, can fall to second in the Metro behind the Rangers, but no lower.
5. The Altantic is still up for grabs below the Panthers:
Toronto with 111 points have two games: Detroit and Boston
Tampa with 106 points have three games: Columbus, Columbus and the Islanders
Boston with 103 points have three games: Florida, Buffalo and Toronto
Tampa can overtake the Leafs. They have to win out their three games to finish with 112, while the Leafs lose both in regulation and finish with 111. Boston would have at least 105 points in this scenario, but would still be fourth.
Any point in either of the two final games for the Leafs means Tampa can’t overtake, and the Leafs will hold second place. Regulation Wins is the first tie-breaker, so all the Leafs need is one. Anything less than two points in any Tampa game in the final three and the Leafs immediately clinch second place.
Boston can’t overtake the Leafs. The best they can do is come third and play the Leafs in the first round, and they need Tampa’s help to do that. They will maintain the first tie-breaker over Tampa in this scenario, so all they need to do is tie the Lightning to move ahead of them. But they’d still just be in third place. Their best case scenario — win three games — puts them at 109 points behind the Leafs.
Tampa would actually drop to a wild card spot in the scenario where the Bruins overtake them. It could even be the second wild card, setting them up to play Florida in the first round. This scenario isn’t all that likely, but it is possible.
The most probable outcome is absolute status quo in the Atlantic with the bottom of the Metro too close to call. As uninspiring as a late April game against Detroit is, the Leafs can seal their own fate by just winning it, securing home-ice advantage in the first round, and leaving Boston and Tampa to sort themselves out.
Make it so, Leafs.