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A Closer Look at the Eastern Conference Wild Card Race

The Eastern Conference wild card chase could not be any more confusing at the moment.

Three teams are fighting to clinch a playoff appearance, with no situation more pressing than the Detroit Red Wings. Their 24-season post-season appearance streak is on the line. If it is extended, it would tie the St. Louis Blues, a team that made the playoffs 25 consecutive seasons from 1979-80 to 2003-04.

The Boston Bruins have lost five consecutive games and have scored only six goals during that span which included four of five games on the road. The Detroit Red Wings are .500 in their last ten games and have struggled to score goals of late.

In the Metropolitan Division, things have changed dramatically in a short amount of time. Where the Islanders once held a significant points lead over Pittsburgh, the Penguins have won seven of ten and have leapfrogged the Isles for third place, relegating New York to the first wild card slot. And the Philadelphia Flyers, like Detroit, are within reach of third place in their division as well as the first or second wild card positions.

Like the Penguins, the Flyers have also won seven of their last ten contests and have surged up the standings. The Wings and Flyers sit tied at 85 points, but Philly has a single game-in-hand on Detroit.

For simplicity, we will call games against non-playoff teams easy games, bubble teams medium and playoff teams hard. Here’s a look at the three competing team’s schedules:

Boston: Toronto (easy), New Jersey (easy), St. Louis (hard), Chicago (hard), Carolina (easy), Detroit (medium), Ottawa (easy). 12 difficulty points for seven games, which is 1.71 on average.

Detroit: Pittsburgh (medium), Buffalo (easy), Montreal (easy), Minnesota (medium), Toronto (easy), Philadelphia (medium), Boston (medium), New York Rangers (hard). Assigning point values of 1-2-3 to that, and we get 14 difficulty points for eight games, which equals 1.75.

Philadelphia: Arizona (easy), Winnipeg (easy), Washington (hard), Ottawa (easy), Pittsburgh (hard), Detroit (medium), Toronto (easy), Pittsburgh (hard), New York Islanders (medium). 17 difficulty points for nine games, which totals to 1.89.

Analyzing only the schedule and taking the matchups at face value would seem to indicate that Philadelphia is the odd team out of this playoff chase.

Advantage: 1. Boston 2. Detroit

But let’s take a further look:

If all teams win their “easy” games in regulation and lose the rest, the standings would look like this:

Boston: 41-24-9 = 86 points (35 ROW)

45-27-9 = 94 points (39 ROW) Revised

Detroit: 37-26-11 = 85 points (35 ROW)

40-31-11 = 91 points (38 ROW) Revised

Philadelphia: 36-24-13 = 85 points (34 ROW)

40-29-13 = 93 points (38 ROW)

Advantage: 1. Boston 2. Philadelphia

If all teams lose just their “hard” games in regulation and win the rest, the standings would look like this:

Boston: 41-24-9 = 86 points (35 ROW)

46-26-9 = 96 points (40 ROW) Revised

Detroit: 37-26-11 = 85 points (35 ROW)

44-27-11 = 99 points (42 ROW) Revised

Philadelphia: 36-24-13 = 85 points (34 ROW)

42-27-13 = 97 points (40 ROW)

Advantage: 1. Detroit 2. Philadelphia

Now let’s analyze the home and away schedules for the upcoming games:

Boston: Home winning percentage: 42% / Away winning percentage: 62% / ROW: 35

Point percentage (games in which they have earned at least one point): 63%

Remaining schedule: 3 Home, 4 Away

 

Detroit: Home winning percentage: 51% / Away winning percentage: 49% / ROW: 35

Point percentage: 65% / Remaining schedule: 5 Home, 3 Away

 

Philadelphia: Home winning percentage: 53% / Away winning percentage: 46% / ROW: 34

Point percentage: 67% / Remaining schedule: 5 Home, 4 Away

 

All three teams have a schedule advantage favoring their preferred work locations. Boston has the widest margin of winning percentage from road to home, so that extra away game is likely to be more of a factor for them.

For Detroit, neither home nor away contests have proved to be more beneficial, but generally Detroit prefers the home crowd.

Philly has a home advantage like Detroit with a wider margin of home over away success.

Advantage: 1. Boston 2. Detroit

All three have nearly identical regulation-plus-overtime wins, which is the first standings tie-breaker.

HOHM Eastern Conference

Key Injuries

Neither Detroit nor Boston have any injuries that will have a dramatic effect on the outcome of this season. However, the Flyers have goaltender Michal Neuvirth on injured reserve (17-8-4, 2.28, .925) and now have to rely solely on Steve Mason (19-16-9, 2.55, .918). Mason has proved he can win important games. He is 3-1-1 in his last five games with a .940 save-percentage, but can that trend continue as the season nears its conclusion?

Conclusion

Boston and Detroit both squeak into the playoffs. The Bruins clinch third place, Detroit and either Pittsburgh or New York Islanders earn first or second wild card positions.

Kevin Sporka

Kevin Sporka

Kevin Sporka is the Senior Media Analyst and Detroit Red Wings beat writer at HOHM. He is also the author of the Fantasy Hockey Fridays, In Retrospect, Milestone Monday, and Legends By the Number segments.
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