Want the NHL Play-off Picture? Do the math

With three days to go in the National Hockey League regular season and one of the closest Conference play-off battles in recent memory, I’ve decided to compile the mathematical possibilities of what each team still in the Western Conference play-off chase needs to clinch a play-off spot, and the likelihood of such an event. Those teams are (in order): the Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, Phoenix Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers (No. 10 Dallas Stars are officially eliminated).Before I begin, I want to explain the mathematical formula. Each team is assigned a number of points needed to clinch a play-off spot, a “magical point system” so to speak (similar to baseball’s magic number formula). A point can be earned in two ways:

1) A win or tie (regulation or overtime) by the team in question

2) A loss or just a single point by the team that is chasing or is being targeted by the team in question. For example:

Let’s say, in a hypothetical situation, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens are chasing for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Leafs are two points ahead and both have two games to play, and need a victory to wrap up top spot because they have a tie-breaker against Montreal (any tiebreaker). The Canadiens, therefore, need seven points to catch the Leafs, needing to win their final two games (four points) and for the Leafs to only gain a tie in their final two games (one Toronto loss = two points, one Toronto tie, with a lost point = one point. Three + four = seven points). However, Toronto can wrap up the division if the Canadiens lose their next game (two points for the Leafs), because the Canadiens would lose the tie-breaker. NOTE: A “loss” by definition is a regulation loss, a “tie” is either a regulation or overtime tie earned.

Now that I’ve bored you with the math lecture, we’ll get to the fun stuff. To begin:

6. Los Angeles Kings

Games Remaining: at San Jose, vs. Anaheim.

Points Needed To Clinch: One (by an Edmonton tie or a tie of their own in their final two games).

Reason: Won season series vs. Edmonton 2-1-1.

Prospects: The game against the San Jose Sharks should figure to be a tough one, as the Sharks are looking to nail down the second overall spot in the West. That game against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks is a “gimme”, so the Kings have no excuse to not win that game, but if the Kings get too confident, they might be caught flatfooted and face a spring of watching hockey instead of playing it.

7. Vancouver Canucks

Games Remaining: at Calgary.

Points Needed: Two (A victory over Calgary or an Edmonton loss or Edmonton ties in their next two games).

Reason: Have first tiebreaker vs. Edmonton (victories).

Prospects: The Calgary Flames’ game is a “gimme” for the red-hot Vancouver Canucks, but, like Los Angeles, getting too confident could catch them flatfooted. The Flames could do the Canucks a huge favour by beating the Oilers tonight, a result that would ensure a tie with the Oilers and, because of Vancouver’s tie-break advantage, the Canucks would be in.

8. Phoenix Coyotes

Games Remaining: vs. Minnesota, vs. Nashville.

Points Needed: Four (Two victories or a victory and an Edmonton loss).

Reason:Edmonton won season series 4-0-0.

Prospects: The Coyotes control their own destiny and couldn’t have chosen a better time to do it, with games against the Minnesota Wild and Nashvile Predators. While the Wild have been streaky and could break out of slumps unsuspectedly and the Predators also have their moments, this is clearly the Coyotes’ berth to lose.

9. Edmonton Oilers

Games Remaining: vs. Calgary, at Minnesota.

Points Needed: Five (Two losses by Phoenix combined with one Edmonton tie, two victories plus only a tie by Vancouver, or two losses by Los Angeles combined with two Edmonton victories).

Reason: Won season series with Phoenix 4-0-0, lost season series with Los Angeles, cannot catch Vancouver’s victory total (40 to only a possible 39).

Prospects: Not exactly as rosy a situation as one might think. Though Edmonton’s remaining games are against minnows- Calgary and Minnesota- the teams they’re chasing have almost the exact same draw, making the Oilers’ task a lot harder than it looks. While the weaker teams do have their moments, Edmonton is hoping for those teams to have those moments against their fellow race adversaries while not having their moments against the Oilers, which, to me, sounds like a monumental event. Nowhere has the Oilers’ mid-season swoon (7-13-5-1 from January to March 13) become so instrumental in deciding the Oilers’ fate.

What I think: The Kings and Canucks are almost assured themselves of play-off berths due to their excellent play of late (especially in Vancouver) and the monumental tasks that the teams behind them need to accomplish to catch them. The Coyotes and the Oilers are a bit of wild-cards, as the Coyotes’ post-Olympic hot-streak has died down quite a bit (5-4-0-1 in their last ten) and the Oilers have found their “on” switch of late (7-1-1-1 in the same span), but considering the Coyotes have winnable games vs. Minnesota and Nashville (both at home), I’ll give the Coyotes the play-off nod over Edmonton.

-DG

P.S. If any of you need help explaining the math, feel free to ask. It’s a complex mathematical formula and I don’t want any of you to get lost.

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