Updating the NHL Eastern Conference Playoff Picture with 2 Games to Go
With two games to go in the NHL's regular-season schedule, there are two playoff spots left in the Eastern Conference and three teams fighting for them.
The results of Monday and Tuesday night made the chase for the final two spots a bit more interesting; the Washington Capitals lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Buffalo Sabres rallied for a 6-5 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With the Sabres showing more heart in their efforts, they managed to tie the Capitals in points. Each have 88 with two games remaining. The Capitals sit above the Sabres, having 36 regulation plus overtime wins (ROW) to Buffalo's 32.
ROW is the first tiebreaker should two teams be tied in points at the end of the season. This means the Sabres will have to have more points than Washington in order to finish ahead of them.
The other team in the hunt is Southeast Division leader Florida Panthers. With 92 points, they are ahead of both Washington and Buffalo, but can still miss the playoffs if each of those teams win their two remaining games while Florida loses their final two in regulation.
The Panthers only need one point to clinch a playoff spot, which they should be able to pick up against Washington or the Carolina Hurricanes (32 wins, 48 total losses, 80 points).
Regarding the Florida vs. Washington matchup on Thursday night, Florida has yet to score a goal in the Verizon Center this season, losing 3-0 in October and 4-0 in February. Washington leads the overall season series 3-2 and could very likely win Thursday's game.
Who will miss the playoffs?
The Sabres must take on the Flyers Thursday night in Philadelphia. Buffalo is 0-3 against Philadelphia this season and was blown out 7-2 in the one game at the Wells Fargo Center in February. (The other two games took place in Buffalo.)
The best prediction is probably a Philadelphia victory in regulation.
Assuming this occurs alongside a Washington win in regulation, the teams would head into their final regular-season games as follows:
If Washington beats Florida and the Sabres fail to pick up a point against the Flyers, Buffalo is done.
Even if Washington were to lose their final game in regulation and Buffalo picked up two points in a victory (both teams finishing with 90 points), Washington would win the tiebreaker due to more regulation plus overtime wins.
Check back after Thursday for another update. For now, it looks like Florida and Washington will be getting the final two spots.
Jason Sapunka covers the NHL and the Philadelphia Flyers.
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